Sharing a National Story
By Jon Melegrito
June was a busy month in the nation’s capital, bursting all over with momentous events.
There were three press conferences, two gala balls, a book launch, an art exhibit, a Philippine Embassy reception at the prestigious Reagan Trade Center, a community forum on undocumented immigrants and a showcase of Philippine Design, Textiles and Fashion.
In a way, they were all connected to the June 12 celebration of Philippine Independence.
But what highlighted for me the recurring theme of “No Filipino Left Behind” were two major issues of critical importance to the Filipino American community: the Filipino World War II Veterans’ long wait for US recognition, and the low enrollment of undocumented Filipinos in the Obama administration’s immigration relief programs.
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (left) presents Certificates of Appreciation to Filipino World War II Veterans (from left) Jesse Baltazar, Celestino Almeda, Rey Cabacar and Rudy Panaglima during a June 12 gala dinner in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jon Melegrito)
On the veterans, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret) used the occasion of a June 12 Gala Ball “to reflect and perhaps be more introspective why we assembled here tonight.” Excerpts of his keynote speech are worth reprinting here:
“It’s time to renew the purpose and values that make the Filipino American community, a community of community, to seek a strong sense of our presence and identity, to create another national story for a great generation of men and women who fought long and hard in a world war in the Philippines, where thousands have died and wounded for life, and are diminishing in population and will be forgotten.
“This national story is about the Filipino veterans of World War II. It was estimated that between 260,000 to 300,000 soldiers fought to defeat the Japanese Imperial Army and helped liberate the Philippines in October 1944.
“We know about the discrimination and injustice the Filipino soldiers faced during and after the war, and the Rescission Acts of 1946 passed by Congress, which denied them the benefits promised by the President of the United States.
“These are historical facts that have been largely forgotten and not taught in schools. History is deeply embedded in the minds and hearts of those who fought and experienced the brutality and consequential nature of war. We need their stories to be a national story to be told for generations to come.
“In June 2014, a group of leaders formed the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, whose mission is to seek the Congressional Gold Medal for the Filipino Veterans. I’m honored to report that the Congressional Gold Medal bill will be formally announced on June 11, 2015.
“I believe the approval of the Congressional Gold Medal is worthy of a national story, and appropriate for us to have unity in our community of communities to rally around the veterans for this small, but highly significant recognition for their loyal, dedicated and honorable wartime service to the U.S. and the Philippines.
“They will follow the other veteran minority groups – Tuskegee Airmen, Montford Marines, Navajo Code Talkers, Women Air Force Service Pilots, Japanese American Nisei soldiers and Puerto Rican Soldiers.
“I know you will agree with me that the veterans have earned it many times over. They have waited over 70 years for their story to be told. We, all of us, across this country, must tell their story and for the deepest gratitude we owe them for defending our freedom and livelihood which we often take for granted.
“The Filipino veterans fought long and hard, many paid the full measure for their courage and sacrifice, and they accomplished their mission. We must do our part to accomplish our mission for them with the Congressional Gold Medal.”
Taguba concluded his remarks by calling on everyone to write, call or visit their US Representatives and Senators and urge them to pass the Congressional Gold Medal legislation this year.
On Obama’s executive actions granting temporary immigration relief to so-called “Dreamers” (young people who were brought into the US as children by their undocumented immigrant parents, only less than a quarter of eligible Filipino youths in the United States have applied so far for the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
There are approximately 270,000 eligible individuals for the expanded DACA. While the US Citizenship and Immigration Services show the Philippines as the 10 largest filing country with approximately 6,500 DACA applications submitted since 2012, the figure is a small fraction of the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Filipinos, who are DACA-eligible.
“DACA can provide parents long desired peace of mind that their young people are safe and have a fair shot at the American dream with higher wages,” says Philippine Embassy Consul General Emil Fernandez. “DACA allows them to hold a job, eligible for a driver’s license, financial aid or a college scholarship, and protects them from deportation. Unfortunately, many Filipinos do not know about the program.”
Embassy officials are relying on community organizations to put the word out and encourage those who may benefit from this program to come out of the shadows.