Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Guest Mentality

After my column about California State Senator Leland Yee appeared, I received an e-mail from an editor lamenting my criticism of the senator for putting the interests of his financial contributors above the education needs of his community. He emailed my column to Sen. Yee, he said, assuring the senator that “in the interest of fairness" he would publish his retort in the very next issue.
I did not have any problem with publishing Yee's response. In fact, I welcome it as it would be healthy to have a discussion of the issues. But I asked him why he had to go out of his way to email my column to the senator and offer to print his column.

When columnists of the Philippine Daily Inquirer criticize President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA), as they frequently do, does the Inquirer editor contact Malacañang and offer the president an opportunity for rebuttal in the "interest of fairness"?

I shared my observation with the editor that our Filipino American community newspapers generally have a double standard – one for Philippine politicos, another for local American politicos. We take a critical view of the former and a deferential approach to the latter. There are hundreds of Filipino community newspapers throughout the US; I doubt that there would be a handful of them that would carry criticisms of their local city, county, state or federal officials. I don't doubt that most of them would have no qualms about criticizing Pres. Arroyo or any Philippine politician.

I volunteered the observation that this double standard comes from a conscious or subconscious “guest mentality” which permeates our community and which is reflected in our community’s newspapers. As “guests” in the US, this mentality holds – we shouldn’t offend our “hosts” as that would be bad manners and show lack of gratitude. Nakakahiya.

In his e-mail reply to my observation, the editor averred that he didn’t think "guest mentality" is as much an issue now as it was during the first and second waves of Filipino immigrants. “Yes, there are still those among us who feel we should be thankful because the Americans allowed us in,” he wrote.

“But I think that with the higher level of education and professional attainment of many Filipinos in America now, especially those born and/or raised here, we, as a community, are more aware of our rights and duties as Americans.”

Our demographics don’t support his assessment. Of the 1.4 million Filipinos officially counted by the 1990 U.S. Census, more than 71 percent were found to be Philippine-born immigrants who came after the liberalization of US immigration policy in 1965. The 2000 census showed a 66% increase in population from 1990, primarily as a result of immigration. Thus, despite the fact that we are currently celebrating a century of continuous immigration to the US, the Filipino population in America is still primarily an immigrant community.

The 2000 census counted 2.36 million Filipinos, a figure which did not cover more than 500,000 Filipino “overstaying tourists” (TNTs). If our numbers increased by almost one million from 1990 to 2000, and we are already 76% into the next 2010 census, then our numbers are clearly more than 3.5 million now. The overwhelming majority of our burgeoning population is made up of first generation immigrants, even as they are becoming naturalized US citizens at a higher rate than any immigrant group in the US.

The two Philippine TV networks, which provide 24-hour cable programming to Filipinos in the US, have a combined paid subscriber base of close to 400,000 (260,000 for ABS-CBN and 137,000 for GMA-TV). These Filipino subscribers in America regularly watch Philippine game shows (like Wowowee) and telenovelas and are more familiar with Philippine issues than they are with US issues.

As has often been said, you can take the Filipinos out of the Philippines but you can’t take the Philippines out of Filipinos.
Former Filipinas Magazine publisher Mona Lisa Yuchengco observed that “it takes a while for first-generation immigrants to unconditionally embrace the United States as their country. It takes a longer stay to significantly erode the immigrant syndrome typified by guest mentality and compliant behavior.”
Yuchengco cited the example of young activists in 1970s who launched nationwide campaigns to combat discrimination directed against foreign medical graduates. “They had to overcome the usual recent immigrant admonition, ‘Don't bite the hand that feeds you,’ in reference to U.S. authorities.”

As we celebrate the 109th anniversary of Philippine independence this week, we should pause to consider declaring our psychological independence from the Philippines. We should assimilate into the fabric of America, asserting our rights and responsibilities as Americans, including our right to criticize local politicians like Sen. Leland Yee for actions that we would criticize if they were Philippine politicos.

“With assimilation,” Yuchengco wrote, “comes the erosion of debilitating immigrant syndromes among the foreign-born and a greater understanding that claiming one's place, self-organization, and advocating for group interests are as American as apple pie.”

Happy Independence from the Philippines Day.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Education Comes First

It all began with a column I wrote two months ago, criticizing State Sen. Leland Yee for putting the interest of his financial contributors over and above his own Chinese American community’s when he opposed the 16-story campus that City College planned to build in San Francisco’s Chinatown (“O Yee of Little Faith”, April 2, 2007).

I wrote that Yee's position was dictated by the interests of the Justice Investors group, owners of the 31-story Hilton Hotel Chinatown, who did not want a campus building that would block its hotel rooms’ view of the San Francisco Bay. After the column appeared on April 3, 2007, Adam Keigwin of Sen. Yee’s Sacramento office immediately emailed an “Asian Press Beware” advisory to various Asian community newspapers urging them not to publish my column because it was “filled with several lies and distortions regarding Senator Yee.”

Keigwin then prepared an attack piece on me entitled "Shame, Shame, Shame," accusing me of “conducting a ridiculous smear campaign” against Yee which, he wrote, was a product of my “twisted world” and my “attitude born of arrogance.”

Instead of putting his own name down as author of the diatribe, Keigwin sought out a Filipino American to use as the purported writer of the piece. He must have been informed of the Filipino crab mentality and our community’s known penchant for putting our leaders down. He likely would not have employed this obvious divide-and-conquer tactic with any other ethnic group.

Keigwin needed to find a San Francisco Filipino American leader as his article claimed that “San Francisco voters approved bond funds because we support the mission and purpose of the College”. But try as he might, he could not find any Fil-Am community leader in San Francisco willing to be its author so Keigwin had to settle for Daly City resident Ademan “Adie” Angeles.

To give Adie some credibility, Keigwin attached the title “President of the Fil-Am San Mateo Democratic Alliance” under his name. The only problem is, as Alice Bulos of the Fil-Am Democratic Caucus of
California notes, Adie’s organization is not recognized by the San Mateo County Democratic Party Central Committee because it only has one member.

After "Shame, Shame, Shame" was published, I called Adie to ask him why he allowed his name to be used by Keigwin. Adie’s response: “Ah, politics, pare.” It appears he owed Yee big time as Yee had endorsed his campaign for a city council seat in Daly City. Perhaps he had a lot to be grateful for because, with Yee’s endorsement, Adie avoided the cellar and placed second to last among the eight candidates who ran for the city council in the November 2006 elections. (The topnotcher, Fil-Am Mike Guingona, was not endorsed by Yee.)

Learning his lesson from the Ademan fiasco, Keigwin wrote another hit piece on me, this time seeking out a San Francisco elected official comfortable with the English language. The byline at the end of his next piece was “Aaron Peskin, President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.”

Keigwin's fingerprints were all over the piece. In the Ademan article, he charged me with having a “kill the messenger” mentality. In his article for Peskin, Keigwin claims that I have an “attack the messenger” mentality. But the barrage of attack pieces from Keigwin produced the opposite effect he intended. Instead of drowning the messenger, the attacks only served to increase exposure of the message.

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT Local 2121) emailed my article to1,850 faculty members of City College. World Journal, the largest Chinese daily in San Francisco, reprinted my article in Chinese. My article was now all over the Internet. When I attended a Filipino Bar Association dinner after it appeared on the Net, two Chinese American Superior Court judges came up to me to thank me for writing about Leland Yee. “Finally, someone had the guts to expose him,” one said.

On May 30, 2007, the SF Weekly (one of the largest publications in San
Francisco) published an exposé called “Shadow Play” about “who's getting money from the hotel opposed to the new City College campus in Chinatown.” The article reported that Leland Yee has “enjoyed financial support from the biggest opponents of the high-rise, the owners of the 31-story Hilton Hotel in the San Francisco Financial District…owned by Justice Investors, a limited partnership formed in 1967. Its point man is attorney Robert McCarthy, who is listed as "of counsel" for public affairs firm GCA Strategies.

“Records show that since 2000, (Yee) has received at least $19,000 in campaign contributions from parties connected with the hotel's interests. They include $3,300 from Justice Investors; $6,200 from GCA Strategies; $4,750 from McCarthy and/or his wife; $3,450 from Noto, and $1,500 from Debra Stein, GCA's president.”

Yee's unabashed kowtowing to his financial supporters was too much for the Chinese community. On Friday, June 1, 2007, a coalition of 81 Chinese American community organizations attacked Leland Yee in full-page ads that ran in five of the Chinese-language newspapers in the Bay Area for opposing the City College campus proposed for Chinatown. The ads carried the lead line: "You dare to rape the people's will, betray us, and threaten the community. Whose interests do you represent anyway?"

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “the advertisements were paid for by the Chinese American Association of Commerce and undersigned by 81 community groups, including dozens of prominent Chinese American families and influential regional associations. The fierce criticism directed at Ma and Yee is extremely unusual because Chinese elected officials are typically treated with deference by traditional Chinese community organizations and the ethnic press.

"It reflects deep anger. This has never been done," said Ling-chi Wang, a supporter of the City College proposal and retired chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at UC Berkeley.

On June 3, the Chinese community staged one of the largest rallies in
Portsmouth Square that Chinatown has ever seen, expressing the community's full support for the proposed 16-story City College campus in Chinatown. Carrying protest signs that read "Come Home Prodigal Son Leland Yee and Prodigal Daughter Fiona Ma," the crowd filled the square, signing petitions and listening to speakers demand that the proposed 16-story glass and steel structure be built immediately,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"We're putting people before profit," City Assessor Phil Ting told the crowd. "In our community, education comes first."

For some politicians, unfortunately, financial contributors come first.