During a Superbowl party at Fort McKinley (the restaurant), I got into a conversation about US politics with a group of Filipinos.
“I used to be a Republican,” one man said to me, “until I realized that, because of the color of my skin, I could only be a Democrat.” I didn’t press that matter then…but I will now. I can understand choosing a political party based on appetite for government control or on your stance on taxes or on a woman’s right to choice. But how does a skin color correlate to political party? How can this apply to Filipinos at large, many of whom have lived the American Dream, worked, saved, educated their children and now live to see their demographic ascendant in this society?
The logic seems to unfold like this: if your skin tone is anything outside of the Nordic spectrum, your politics must support higher taxes, central control, overbearing government, excessive regulation, impaired free markets, gender neutral bathrooms, fiscal profligacy, legislation from the bench and huffy puffy offense-taking at antiquated labels. So, if you fit in one box, must you crawl into the other? And who drew this box for us anyway?
I would like to introduce the idea that neither political party is evil. This is not the Philippines in the 1970s, when politics had a bleeding edge, when the dictator’s government was taking lives, taking freedoms, possessing assets. This is the United States. Even if both major American political parties fight bitterly, neither one is evil. They are populated by people who love their country, who value their society, who are seeking to do what they think is best. For me, I fall firmly in the Republican camp when it comes to economic concerns. But I don’t think the Democrats are evil. Maybe, they’re a little nutty, but not evil.
And yet, there are people who are under the impression that all minorities belong in the Democratic box. What happens to us after we are all in one box? What happens to the lid? Well, let’s see.
California’s 14th Congressional district is one of the most Filipino in the country with 12% of the population of the district. No Filipinos sit on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors (they are all white). No Filipinos or Filipinas have been elected to Congress from the Peninsula Congressional Districts (they are all white women currently). No Filipinos or Filipinas occupy the State Assembly seats in the Peninsula though we can proudly boast Rob Bonta in the East Bay. There’s a pattern here.
In terms of national office, there has been one Senator and two Congressmen of Filipino decent. Retired United States Senator John Ensign from Nevada is one-eight Filipino. Ensign was a Republican. Former Congressman Steve Austria of Ohio also belongs to the Republican party. Finally Congressman Bobby Scott, a primarily African-American Democrat from Virginia, is the only member of Congress with Filipino heritage, from his maternal grandfather. Outside the public eye, there are more Filipino-Americans among the higher ranks of the Republican Party than there are in the Democratic Party.
The most forgiving explanation for the lack of opportunity the Democrats have presented the Filipino demographic is that terms are long and, in Congress, unlimited. Existing legislators occupying their seats well past retirement age. Infusing a district with new blood and leadership and bringing it in alignment with the times, is a tall order in a single-party district.
That’s the most forgiving explanation. It doesn’t explain the election for District 5 Supervisor in 2016 when a Filipino (in my perfect world) should have joined the Board for the first time. I understand that patience has been a deliberate strategy. In this case, patience has not paid off.
The pendulum has gone too far and it is due time to swing back. I, for one, believe in free market capitalism and am willing to stand by that idea. But, wherever that pendulum goes, let it have the mark of the Filipino community. Let our political voice in the United States rise to match the significance of our demographic in all the other ways we have risen.