By: Lou Maningas Cabalona
“America is para los dreamers”. I recently come across a picture of an artwork that flashes this quote in neon green enclosed by an orange rectangular border. It was displayed as a collection of statements in neon lights, with another one saying, “We may all have come on different ships, but we are in the same boat now.”
While the artwork clearly speaks about and on behalf of dreamers – individuals in the U.S. who were brought to the country at an early age without documentation and would have been eligible for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of the government, it struck me, it also very much speaks to us, Filipino Americans.
Fourteen years ago, I came to the United States in the most uncommon of circumstances. I had been living in Manila, Philippines my whole life and have spent the last four years working as a full time IT Professional and a full time professional actor.
I had two hit TV commercials and was getting recognition from producers and talent scouts that I received invitations to guest in primetime TV shows, one of which was Philippine King of Comedy, Dolphy’s show “Home Along Da Riles”. I was also about to act in a musical theater project that boasted having the most star-studded cast in Philippine theater.
Thinking it was the right time to focus on one career, I had a heartto- heart talk with my parents about pursuing my passion (and not what they paid tuition for me to learn) and then, handed in my resignation letter to my IT company. But in a strange twist of fate or perhaps, a clever manipulation, my company’s Managing Director convinced me into staying because he believes I can continue to excel in both careers at the same time. And somehow three weeks later, they sent a reluctant me to the US with a freshly acquired work visa on a 3-month project with our client, Walgreen Co. in Deerfield, Illinois.
Being surrounded by people who work in the medical field, I know many, many Filipinos in the US who came here to work as a nurse, just like my mother-in-law who brought her family here later on. Many others, I know, immigrated to the US through family visas that can be traced to a parent or grandparent who were World War II veterans or war brides. I also know some came to the US as a tourist and decided to extend their stay indefinitely.
Because the beginnings of my immigration story is not so typical, I am always interested to hear how other Filipino Americans came to live here and their stories.
Did they want to leave the homeland and why? Was it by choice or by chance? Or did they even have a choice? Only a few days ago, the biennial Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Conference was held in Chicago. My band SamaSama Project was honored to be invited to perform at the Welcome Reception of the 4 day event. There, I was reminded of many others whose journeys I have yet to learn about. I met Filipino adoptees from Michigan who grew up with white families in communities where minorities were rare. I also met children of Filipino farm worker pioneers in Stockton, California and descendants of the first Filipino settlers in Louisiana who came via the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade in the 1760s. Through them, I (and really all of us) learn of their and our descendants’ immigration story and their challenges living in pre-Civil Rights America.
But I don’t even have to look far. Only a few weeks ago, I discovered that many fellow members of the Filipino Musicians of Chicago, Inc. were already professional musicians back in the Philippines before coming here. While the wave of Filipina nurse migrants in the 60s was prevalent, there were also a number of musicians who migrated to the United States as talents of American agents slated to perform in clubs in Chicago and Las Vegas around the 60s to the 80s.
Serendipitously, I attended a girl friend’s son’s 1st birthday party the same week as the conference. She introduced me to a good friend of hers back in university. I was surprised to hear that, just like the Filipino pensionados came as scholars in the early 1900s, both of them got Master’s degree scholarships to study in a good university here — something that I didn’t even know was available to everyone.
It is true. Although, we are all Filipino Americans, we have come from different backgrounds, through different means and in different times in our lives (some at birth). But, we are all in the same boat sharing the same experiences in living in one of two countries we identify with.
The thing that unites us though is that all our stories reflect and magnify the fulfillment of many our peoples’ dreams – dreams of building a better career, dreams of attaining higher education, dreams of a better life for the family, even dreams of belonging to a family.
In my case, this country is where have built my dreams of a happy home with my husband and son and a life focused on our passion.
America is truly for dreamers.
Now, since we know we are all on the same boat, the question I have in mind for us is, as Filipino Americans, where are we going? And how can we row forward together?
Summer Music Workshops by FMOC
The Filipino Musicians of Chicago, Inc a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization is launching their 1st Summer Workshop for 3 consecutive Sundays on Aug 5, 12, and 19 from 2 to 4pm at the Elston Market Mix (next door to Seafood City Chicago) with a final recital on the 19th in front of a real audience. The workshop aims to teach individuals how to play guitar, keyboards, drums and bass as well as voice and guide them in performing with others as a band. All ages welcome and all levels of playing and music knowledge is accepted. Children under 13 will require a parent or guardian while at the workshop. Proceeds of the workshop will go towards the projects of FMOC. Please contact 708-528-6321 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up or for more info.
With presenters of “Pinays In the Kitchen”, Joanne Boston of the Filipino Food Movement and Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, a professor of History at the San Fransisco State University who spoke about the Filipino American women of Stockton who influenced history through their cooking.
With graphic artist Dan Moen, Tagalog language teacher at Philippine American Community Center of Michigan Nanette Maranan Green and two other delegates from Detroit.
Joanne Boston (top 2nd left) and Jason Tengco, NAFFAA Executive Director with SamaSama Project after performing at the FANHS Welcome Reception.
Members of FMOC during the planning meeting for their Summer workshop – (clockwise from top left) Baron Cabalona, Papa Phil and Merlac Fertig, Ed Sawyer, Patty Lou Soliman, Linda Arceo, Jesse Paulino, Rogel Arceo, Gerry Lomotan, Marilou Ventura, April Garcia, Louella Cabalona and Baby Reign Malaya, President Rudy Campos and Roland Del Rosario.
FMOC during their “Caroling in their Homes” fundraising during the holiday season.