Bridge Generation (defined)—“Children born in America by the end of 1945 to at least one Filipino parent who immigrated to the United States during the early 1900s.”
-Filipino American National Historical Society—
National Conference, 1994
Cordova identified a morning daily newspaper, the Sacramento Union, as initiating the myth that a second generation of Filipino Americans does not exist when it wrote in 1974: “America’s Filipino community has a singular distinction—one generation is missing. . . . Middle-aged Filipinos born in this country are few. . . . Filipino (bachelor) immigrants generally couldn’t start families to raise children who in turn would have formed the second generation to build a community. There were few Filipino families for decades. Consequently, a visible Filipino didn’t materialize until new waves of Filipino men and women immigrated to the United States after World War II.”
The statement has yet to be refuted by the Sacramento Union or other mainstream media. It has not been refuted by Filipino American media. To the contrary—in 1994, twenty years after the Union article, Filipinas, perhaps the most widely read magazine among Filipinos in America, perpetuated the myth when it virtually copied the account of the Sacramento Union by stating, “bachelor workers, therefore, could not start families and produce new generations of Filipino Americans.”
The Sacramento Union story led most Americans and some Filipinos to buy into the myth. There may be an additional reason that Filipinos have embraced the myth, said Cordova. Some mistakenly equate speaking a native dialect with being Filipino and thus do not view the Bridge Generation—mostly English-only speakers—as Filipino.
Over the years many books, articles, and stories have been published about the manong generation—the intrepid souls from rural Philippine provinces recruited by American agribusiness—that immigrated to the United States by the thousands during the 1920s-30s. While academia turned its attention to the manong generation, continued Cordova, it has completely ignored the experiences and contributions of a significant group of Filipino Americans—the Bridge Generation, the sons and daughters of the pioneer manongs.
Members of the Bridge Generation are now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Through the years, many have passed away. Despite going through the same experiences and hardships—such as discrimination in the workplace, education, and in housing—as their Filipino immigrant parents, the Bridge Generation’s triumphs and struggles in assimilating into American life has not been documented.
The failure to recognize the contributions of the Bridge Generation has long been decried by Filipino/Asian American observers: “no history, no published literature, no nothing;” “least known and understood;” “not much is known about them.” In a related vein, Marie Hong writes in her 1974 anthology Growing Up Asian American that prose pieces of Asians coming of age in America is: “. . . relatively scarce. This is particularly true of Filipino American literature, which, despite its long history, consists mostly of poetry, stories of adulthood, and stories that take place in the Philippines.”
The dearth of coming-of-age accounts in Filipino American literature may be coming to an end. In recent years a number of Bridge Generation authors have published memoirs providing sensitive accounts of their personal experiences as second generation Filipino Americans.
Patricia Justiniani McReynolds’ autobiography Almost Americans recounts her years of growing up as a mestiza in Los Angeles.
Bob Santos’ often humorous life story Hum Bow, Not Hot Dogs includes rare glimpses into the day to day experiences of living with his boxer father in Seattle’s Chinatown.
Evangeline Canonizado Buell’s Twenty-five Chickens and a Pig for a Bride is an emotional and ultimately uplifting account of her life story.
I wrote of growing up in a farm labor camp with 100 manongs in my autobiography Growing Up Brown: Memoirs of a Filipino American.
As significant as these publications may be to the documentation of Filipino American history, however, they only hint at the broader aspects of the Bridge Generation’s experience in America.
Juanita Tamayo Lott’s Common Destiny: Filipino American Generations is a positive beginning step in changing direction. In discussing four generations of Filipinos in America, she categorizes the Bridge Generation as the “silent generation” as she concludes:
“My generation, the baby boomers, owes a debt of gratitude to the silent generation. The latter served as a bridge to the pioneer generation before them. The silent generation was clearly aware of the sacrifices of those who went before them. They were dutiful sons and daughters who went on to multiply, not just in terms of becoming parents but through their involvement in various aspects of American society, including education, employment, military service, organized labor, and home ownership. All this was accomplished within extended multiracial family settings, segregated neighborhoods, and in multicultural communities such as Seattle and San Francisco.”
In his ground-breaking book Filipino Americans: Forgotten Asian Americans Fred Cordova writes: “It has been a miracle that Filipino Americans—the second-generation in particular—retained a sense of ethnic pride. Too many factors abounded to destroy the Pinoy spirit—lack of role models, parental conflicts, insensitive community leadership, white-ethnocentric teachers, institutional racism, poverty, among them.”
Yet, despite these barriers and their negative experiences as brown Americans, the Bridge Generation has indeed survived and persevered. They came of age during the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean Conflict. They suffered through the tragic assassinations of President John F. Kennedy; presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy; and civil rights activist, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. And, they saw the rise of civil rights protections for ethnic and racial minorities, women, disabled persons, and lesbian/gay individuals. Throughout these years, the Bridge Generation was part of the millions of other Americans that helped make the United States the great country it is today. Their story is a story that is yet to be told.
In Filipino American literature, the only study devoting its entire attention to the Bridge Generation is Annalissa Arangcon Herbert’s 1996 unpublished thesis, “Growing Up Brown in America: the Filipino-Mango Athletic Club of 1938-1955”. Two theories form the framework of her thesis.
First, is Karl Mannheim’s theory of generations in which he postulates that in order to understand different generations one must consider the historical and social context in which the generations exist. In applying the theory to the Bridge Generation, Linda Revilla writes: “Filipino American ethnic identity is assumed to be the product of our historical and cultural backgrounds, and the process of negotiating and constructing a life in the United States.”
The second theory of Herbert’s unpublished thesis is from Yen Le Espiritu who theorizes that Bridge Generation Filipino Americans, by struggling between the culture of their parents and that of American society, created a culture that is neither but includes elements of both at the same time. While her exploratory study focuses only on San Francisco, Herbert concludes that Espiritu’s findings can be generalized to other Bridge Generation Filipinos.
Lott’s conclusions and Herbert’s theoretical framework as they relate to the Bridge Generation is discussed in my book, Vanishing Filipino Americans: The Bridge Generation. The discussion also interweaves anecdotal experiences as told by members of the Bridge Generation themselves. Where did they grow up? How did they survive? What were their challenges, their disappointments? What was the degree of their assimilation? What were their achievements?
Hopefully, this telling of their stories will help to begin filling in the void of the Bridge Generation’s role in Filipino American history.
Peter Jamero was born in Oakdale CA in 1930 and raised on a farm labor camp in nearby Livingston. He achieved “Filipino American Firsts” as Washington State Director for Vocational Rehabilitation; King County (Seattle) Department Director of Human Resources; Executive Director, Commission of Human Rights, City & County of San Francisco; Vice President for United Way of Seattle/King County; and Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington.
He was founding vice president and long-time board member of the Filipino American National Historical Society. Author of Growing Up Brown: Memoirs of a Filipino American and The Filipino American Young Turks of Seattle, his most recent book Vanishing Filipino Americans: The Bridge Generation was published in 2011. Retired, he lives in Atwater CA.