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 MalacaƱang 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.

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