Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Right Partner

My wife, Edna, and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary this week. When we said “I do” to each other back in 1979, there were no guarantees our marriage would last. After all, in California, 50% of all marriages end in divorce so we had a 1 in 2 chance that our marriage would fail. But somehow we beat the odds and we are now just one year shy of a pearl anniversary. Through hard work and patience, through compromise and constant communication, we have managed to make our marriage work, so far.

But we can never take it for granted that just because it has worked so far, it will somehow coast along on automatic pilot for the rest of the way and we don't need to work as hard from now on. Wrong. To make a marriage work, you have to nurture it like a garden, providing it with constant attention and tender loving care, always.

At the recent Anchorage conference of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), my wife and I met up with our wedding sponsors, Fred and Dorothy Cordova, FANHS founders, who flew down to San Francisco from Seattle 29 years ago this week to be our ninong and ninang at our wedding. Anyone who knows them can attest to their amazing grace in exhibiting as much love, affection and respect for each other now as they did when they were married more than 53 years ago.

One of the most touching moments of the FANHS conference was the tribute to former Alaska State Rep. Thelma Garcia Bucholdt at the gala night on July 5. There were memoriams, accolades and tributes from the state's governor, speaker of the house and senate president and other notables delivered by friends and colleagues. After Thelma's husband, Jon, was introduced, he strode up to the podium, looked at everyone, nodded his thanks for their expressions of sympathy and then said "50".That’s all he said. "50". But he really didn't need to say anything else as he was conveying to everyone there that he had spent 50 wonderful years - 18,250 days – with his wife and that he was grateful for each second that they had spent together in their life adventure from California to Alaska to Washington DC and back to Alaska. Never was "50" said with such eloquence.

It is truly an amazing achievement to reach that golden anniversary. A couple who reached that milestone early this year is Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. What made their Las Vegas wedding in 1958 stand out was the special marriage vows which they composed themselves. Even after 50 years, it is still a classic:

“Happiness in marriage is not something that just happens. A good marriage must be created. In the Art of Marriage: The little things are the big things. It is never being too old to hold hands. It is remembering to say 'I love you' at least once a day. It is never going to sleep angry. It is at no time taking the other for granted; the courtship should not end with the honeymoon, it should continue through all the years. It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives. It is standing together facing the world. It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family. It is doing things for each other, not in the attitude of duty or sacrifice, but in the spirit of joy. It is speaking words of appreciation and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways. It is not expecting the husband to wear a halo or the wife to have wings of an angel. It is not looking for perfection in each other. It is cultivating flexibility, patience, understanding and a sense of humor. It is having the capacity to forgive and forget. It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow. It is finding room for the things of the spirit. It is a common search for the good and the beautiful. It is establishing a relationship in which the independence is equal, dependence is mutual and the obligation is reciprocal. It is not only marrying the right partner, it is being the right partner.”

Paul Newman is 83 and fighting cancer in a New York hospital with Joanne Woodward by his side, in sickness and in health. He is a great actor and an even greater human being as his Newman’s Own Foundation has given over $200 million to thousands of charities since 1982.

Our 29th anniversary wish is for Paul Newman to have a healthy recovery and for all of us to be the right partner.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Baldwin, Marina and Patricia

ANCHORAGE - The tiny little state of New Hampshire is one up on mighty California. With less than a hundred Pinoys, it has elected a Pinoy state assemblyman which California, with over two million Pinoys, has never quite been able to accomplish. The state rep, Baldwin Domingo, 81 years young, is serving his third term in the New Hampshire State Assembly.

I met up with Democratic State Rep. Domingo at the national conference of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) held at the Anchorage Hilton on July 3-5, 2008. Baldwin told me that he was born and raised in Maui, Hawaii and that he moved to the state of “Live Free or Die” (the state motto) more than 45 years ago.

Because of the pivotal position of New Hampshire in the US presidential primaries (the second primary state after the Iowa caucuses), Baldwin has had the opportunity to have virtually every Democratic presidential candidate visit his home to obtain his support. He actively backed John Kerry four years ago and he now supports Barack Obama whom he says is a “homeboy from Maui just like me.”

I also hooked up at the conference with former FANHS national president Marina Espina, the University of New Orleans Librarian Emerita who wrote the landmark book, “Filipinos in Louisiana” about the “Manila men” who settled in the Louisiana bayous of Barataria Bay in the 1760s.

Before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, I had the opportunity to visit Marina in her home which was conveniently a few blocks from the University of New Orleans (UNO) where she worked. But it was also only a few blocks from Lake Pontchartrain which overflowed when the levees broke during Katrina.

When I visited Marina at her New Orleans home, she showed me photocopiers of documents and photos that she=2 0had taken in Mexico where she pored over old records in Mexican archives to document the early Filipinos who settled in Mexico. Marina was particularly interested in the large colony of Filipinos in Acapulco who came as crewmen on board the galleon ships that plied the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade from 1565 to 1815.

Because it would take the crew about nine months to traverse the treacherous Pacific Ocean from Manila to Acapulco, most, if not all, of the “Luzon Indio” crew would refuse to return back to Manila fearful that they may not be as lucky. In Acapulco, they retained their identities as natives of the Philippine islands even as they integrated themselves into the local communties. Marina tracked down records of a number of these Filipinos crossing over the Gulf of Mexico from Vera Cruz over to Barataria Bay in Louisiana and setting up Philippine-style fishing villages there.

Armed with a Fullbright scholarship in 1983 and support from the University of New Orleans which gave her two sabbaticals and using her own savings, Marina presented her research findings to university audiences and was profiled in metropolitan newspapers and by the BBC.

But when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Marina and her family joined hundreds of thousands of residents who fled the city for their safety. When she returned to her home a week later, Marina saw her life’s work washed down the drain as water had risen up to 11 feet in Marina s home. Her worst fears were realized when she saw virtually all of her research papers and photos completely drenched

As Lydia Lum wrote: “For years, Espina went up and down the bayous and deltas of Louisiana, using word-of-mouth referrals to track down descendants of the Manilamen. She coaxed people into sharing family photos, birth certificates, documents and stories of their elders. All the while, she was making copies of whatever she could to piece together the broader history.”

After word of Katrina’s devastation of Marina’s research reached the FANHS national office in Seattle, a statement was released: “We as Filipino-Americans share h er loss. Espina's research was the foundation of Filipino-American history."

Marina and her husband have moved to higher ground, to Lafayette, some 200 miles east of New Orleans and about 100 miles past Baton Rouge, the Louisiana state capital. She is now starting from scratch to try to put the pieces of our history back together again.

At the conference, I also met Dr. Patricia Espiritu Halagao, a professor at the University of Hawaii who developed the “ijeepney.com, your online vehicle for Filipino American curriculum”. It is a phenomenal piece of work intended to guide Filipino American students and teachers to better understand and appreciate Filipino American history. The innovative curriculum includes about 25 downloadable lesson plans and a site for dialogue and offers a teacher’s kit of posters, DVDs and books.

When she was working on her PhD at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1996, Patricia and community activist Tim Cordova developed "Pinoy Teach" to provide a multicultural approach to incorporating Filipino American history and culture into the mainstream education curriculum.

If you want your kids to learn about Filipino American history, log on to www.ijeepney.com now. Learn about it first and then tell them to log on too.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Honoring Thelma

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The land of the midnight sun where the sun doesn’t set until past midnight was the perfect setting for the “25th anniversary” and 12th Biennial Conference of the Filipino American National Historical Society (Fanhs) held at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel from July 3-5, 2008. Only a city with that many daylight hours could accommodate more than 300 delegates from all over the United States attending 28 separate concurrent workshops and three plenary sessions.

“The Lure of the Salmon Song” was the theme of the conference referring to the tens of thousands of Filipino “Alaskeros” who worked in the Alaskan canneries since 1915. In 1930 alone, there were 4,200 Filipino cannery workers in Alaska. Their numbers swelled to 9,000 a decade later but by 1976, there were down to just 1,200. Their numbers are insignificant now.

A highlight of the conference was the Friday morning plenary session on the “Alaskero Experience” with former Alaskeros recollecting their time at the canneries. Dr. Alan Bergano, a dentist in Virginia Beach, West Virginia, was a student at the University of Washington when he and his girlfriend (now his wife), Edwina Lapa, worked several summers in Alaska to pay for their college education.

Also sharing their mostly bitter experiences were Larry Flores of Seattle, Oscar Penaranda from Union City, California, Ray Guimary from Portland, Ray Pascua from Yakima, Washington and Jesse Tabasa from Aptos, California. They spoke of working 16 to 23 hour days standing on their feet as they sorted tens of thousands of salmon, eating nothing but rice and salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner and living in crowded segregated bunk huts.

Anthony Ogilvie, Dean of Continuing and Professional Education at Seattle Central Community College and chair of the historic 1971 Young Filipino People’s Far West Convention held in Seattle, explained how segregation at the canneries worked. Because he was mistaken for being “white”, the cannery bosses gave him the easy job of doing mail call, where he spent most of his “working” days just sleeping in more comfortable quarters and getting paid far more than his brown-skinned brothers. (Yes, he felt guilty about it).

The Fanhs Conference was dedicated to the memory of Thelma Garcia Buchholdt, the former three-term national Fanhs president who initiated the holding of the Fanhs national conference in her home state of Alaska. Unfortunately, Thelma did not live to see the fruition of her efforts as she died of pancreatic cancer on November 5, 2007.

Thelma Garcia immigrated to the U.S. in 1951 and was enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas in 1956 when she met fellow student Jon Buchholdt. After they married in 1957, Thelma and Jon Buchholdt, and their four kids, moved from Los Angeles to Anchorage in 1965 where Thelma immersed herself in the local community. In 1974, Thelma was elected to the Alaska State Legislature from a mostly-white assembly district, becoming the first Filipino American woman elected to public office in the United States. In 1980, Thelma was elected the first Asian American president of the National Order of Women Legislators.

When their eldest daughter, Titania, enrolled at the Georgetown University School of Law in 1991, Thelma and her husband, Jon, joined her in Washington D.C. and enrolled at the District of Columbia School of Law. Father, mother and daughter all took and passed the Alaska bar.

In 1996, Thelma published her landmark book “Filipinos in Alaska: 1788-1958” (Aboriginal Press) which provides detailed information about the first recorded Filipinos to set foot in Alaska. Her research established that a British ship, the Iphigenia Nubiana, under the command of Capt. William Douglas, left Zamboanga on February 2, 1788 and landed in the Cook Inlet in Alaska on June 17, 1788 with a “Manilla Man” as part of the crew.

In that same year, Capt. Simon Metcalfe, an American fur trader, brought his ship Eleanora to “Manilla” for repairs and hired 30 “Manilla Men” to be part of his crew. Five of his “Manilla Men” were assigned to the other Metcalfe-owned ship, Fair American, in China. Both ships then sailed to Alaska where they landed with their “Manilla Men” crew in the summer of 1789.
When Thelma died in November of 2007, the state’s governor ordered all flags in the state to be flown at half-mast to honor Thelma Buchholdt and her contributions to Alaska.

On the last day of the conference, Dr. Joan May Timtiman Cordova, a Drexel University professor in Philadelphia, with a doctorate from Harvard University, was elected Fanhs national president. Elected as national vice-president was Evangeline Canonizado Buell from Berkeley, California, author of Twenty Five Chickens and a Pig for a Bride: Growing Up in a Filipino Immigrant Family. Elected Secretary is Ron Buenaventura from San Diego, California.

While Fanhs was incorporated in Washington State in 1985, it is celebrating its 25th anniversary because it traces its beginnings to the publication of Fred Cordova’s landmark 1983 book, Filipinos, Forgotten Asian Americans (edited by Dorothy Laigo Cordova). If the U.S. can celebrate the birth of its independence in 1776, instead of 1789 when the U.S. government was first established, then why can’t Fanhs do the same?

The next Fanhs national conference will be held in Seattle in July of 2010. Be there or be square. For more information, log on to www.FANHS-national.org.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


About 21 years ago, I wrote a short fable about the Filipino crab which I adapted from a Latino vrsion I heard. The tale was about a man who sold live crabs from his wicker basket at a local open market. As he was answering questions from a customer one day, his crabs began to pile up, one on top of the other, until several were poised to jump off. Although the customer called his attention to what his crabs were doing, the man did not bother to look at his crabs. “I don’t worry about those crabs," he assured his customer, "because they’re Filipino crabs. As soon as one of them is about to take off, the others will pull him down.”

In an updated version of this tale, I can imagine Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) assuring his GOP colleagues that they need not worry about the passage of S.1315 (the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Bill that will provide pension benefits to Filipino WW II veterans). “It will never pass the House,” he would say, “because Filipinos will find some way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. After all, they're Filipinos. It's their nature."

Sure enough, just when S.1315 was poised to be voted on in the House, after passing the Senate with a whopping 96-1 vote, the united front of the Filipino community cracked. A Filipino group in San Francisco sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats urging them not to pass S.1315, which was denounced as being “woefully insufficient.” The letter was signed by Regalado Baldonado, a Filipino WW II veteran and a board member of the Veterans Equity Center (VEC).

When the Washington DC veterans read a copy of the letter, they immediately contacted Baldonado to ask him why he wrote it. Baldonado told them it was not written by him but by members of the VEC and the Student Action for Veterans Equity (SAVE).

Dismayed by the Baldonado letter, the DC veterans led by Patrick Ganio and Guillermo Rumingan faxed me a copy of the letter and asked me to write about it, which I did (“Filvets Equity Bill Vote Delayed” May 24, 2008).

In response to my article, members of SAVE and VEC issued a press release, purportedly in the name of 30 Filipino American student organizations throughout the US, calling on me to apologize to them (“Call for Apology and Retraction After City College Trustee Rodel Rodis Attacks Student Coalition,” June 6, 2008).

The press release concedes that the Baldonado letter was “drafted and circulated by SAVE’s organizations” but nevertheless insists that the letter was not against S.1315 but in favor of full equity. The problem is that S.1315 is a compromise measure that provides partial equity for the 12,000 Filipino veterans in the Philippines ($300 a month) and full equity for the 6,000 Filipino veterans in the US ($900 a month). You can’t be for something if you’re against it. You can’t speak from both sides of your mouth.

These organizations know that the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP), which represents the veterans in the Philippines , wholeheartedly endorses the compromise which they know is the "last best chance" to get an equity bill passed by the US Congress. In fact, everyone in the Filipino community is on board S.1315 except VEC and SAVE members, who continue to insist that they “will not tolerate any deviation” from full equity.

The VEC and SAVE press release contended, however, that it was not the Baldonado letter that derailed the Filvets equity vote but rather a memo sent out by Rep. Buyer to his GOP colleagues that “blindsided” the vets. The only problem with their theory is that Rep. Buyer has always opposed Filipino veterans equity. When he was chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee under GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert, Buyer consistently refused to even hold a committee hearing on the Filvets bill. Blindsided?

The press release was written by VEC leader Roy Recio who has been personally vilifying me in online letters to the editor over the years, often employing coarse and vulgar language, I had generally ignored his petty personal attacks until he crossed the line on S.1315. My personal frustration with Recio and his drove me to write my column (“Conflicted on the Vets”, June 9, 2008) which included a charge that Recio had ideological motives for opposing S.1315.

I wrote that Recio is a member of BayanUSA because he is a close political associate of the Secretary-General of BayanUSA. In his reply to my column, an uncharacteristically subdued Recio denied being a member of BayanUSA, and that organization wrote to confirm that Recio is not a member (I guess even BayanUSA has membership standards). Regardless of his organizational affiliation, however, my point was that Recio’s extreme left politics informs and guides his opposition to S.1315.

This controversy has provided Recio with an excuse to personally go after me. At the regular meeting of the Board of Trustees of City College last June 26, Recio and his “band of true believers” distributed leaflets denouncing me, and used the open forum portion of the public meeting to charge me with “unethical behavior” and to demand that I be “censured” by the Board.

The Board was moved by the presence of several Filipino veterans who attended the meeting to support me. It was very touching to see these 88-year old defenders of Bataan - Filemon Mordeno (President of the Filipino WW II Veterans, Spouses, Widows, Sons and Daughters, Inc.), Gomercindo Bondat, Simplicio Yoma and Nestor Palma - show up on a cold night to defend me.

In a confrontation in the parking lot outside the Board meeting that evening, Mr. Bondat asked Jaymee Sagisi of SAVE why her group wrote the Baldonado letter. Sagisi insisted the letter was personally written by Baldonado but the veterans told the students that they know Baldonado is incapable of writing such a letter in English. The confrontation of the vets with the students was caught on tape by a Balitang America cameraman and shown in The Filipino Channel.

A few days after the Board meeting, Recio sent me email copies of his emails to the San Francisco Labor Council and to the local Democratic clubs urging them not to endorse me in the November elections. He wants me to know that his group will be actively gunning for me to ensure my defeat.

That’s the bad news for me, though I don’t believe they will succeed. The good news is that Recio and his cohorts have been so preoccupied with personally attacking me, they’ve stopped drafting and sending Baldonado-signed letters to Speaker Pelosi and members of Congress urging the defeat of S.1315. Perhaps now we have a decent shot at getting it passed.