Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Being a Filipino and American

Let me start with a couple of memorable quotes:

I AM A FILIPINO—inheritor of a glorious past, hostage to an uncertain future. As such I must prove equal to a two-fold task: the task of fulfilling my obligations of the past; and the task of meeting my responsibilities of the future.”—Carlos P. Romulo, Former Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary

I AM AN AMERICAN. That’s the way most of us put it, just matter-of-factly,
They are plain words, those four. You could write them on your thumbnail,
Or you sweep them clear across this bright autumn sky.
But remember too that they are more than words. They are a way of life. So whenever you speak them, speak them firmly;
Speak them proudly, speak them gratefully. I AM AN AMERICAN.”—Purdue Marching Band, “I Am an American”

Analyzing the above quotations and replacing the word American with Filipino and vice versa, for many of us, these words would be as appropriate, as significant, and as meaningful.

As I opened the envelope that contained the absentee ballot allowing me to vote for the next national leaders in the Philippines, I remembered an argument I had with someone who insisted that by becoming a naturalized American, I had lost my Filipino citizenship. It was my contention that as a natural-born Filipino, I could never lose my citizenship. No foreign government by its own acts or law could strip me of my citizenship of birth. Neither can the Philippine government deprive me of what was granted to me by Divine Providence. I was born in the Philippines and of Filipino parents. My children who were born in the U.S. are natural-born Americans under the Principle of Jus Soli (“by Place”), which is the doctrine followed in the United States. But they are also natural-born Filipinos under the Principle of Jus Sanguini.

The Philippine Dual Citizenship Act validated my contention by allowing the exercise of the rights of citizenship by Filipinos who got naturalized by other countries to exercise the rights of both their Filipino citizenship and those of their naturalized citizenship.

As a naturalized American, I have been actively exercising my rights for several years now. While I grew up, spent most of my academic life, and initially practiced my profession in the Philippines, I have already lived in the United States longer. Correspondingly, my wife and I have embraced the American culture and way of life as we both raised our three children: two of them natural-born dual citizens, or Filipino-Americans, by virtue of having Filipino parents and being born in the United States; and one a natural-born Filipino and naturalized American, also dual. But never have we all lost our Filipino identity and culture.

In my Facebook note entitled “The Campaign Begins,” I shared the e-mail of President Barack Obama, which re-stated his favorite slogan, “Yes, We Can.” Facebook friend Professor Villegas commented, first, by thanking me for sharing, and then by cleverly and creatively re-writing Americans into Amer-I-CANS, explaining that the U.S.A. is a country of I-CANS, hence—We Can. This inspired me to do a little research and I found out that aside from the fact that America is named after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian explorer, the meaning of Amer is “everlasting and incurable.” Amer-I-CAN, therefore, means “everlasting and incurable desire to achieve” or “limitless/infinitesimal achievement motivation.” I thought of informing the professor about it.

Professor Villegas, in his response, said it was wonderful. Then I thought, it is wonderful indeed to be known as one who has an “everlasting and incurable desire to achieve.” It is no wonder that Americans always have the strongest will to win, be it in sports, such as winning the most medals in the Olympics, NBA World Championships, and the like; or going to the Moon, Mars, and other planets; or dominating any field of endeavor, including winning wars.

It would be even more wonderful if this everlasting and incurable desire to win is channeled into making good health everlasting, making all diseases curable, beating poverty, and ending wars while promoting peace.

The Philippines, in turn, is named after King Philip, or Felipe, of Spain, which financed the exploration of Magellan. The latter was the explorer who was discovered by our forefathers when he got lost looking for the Spice Islands. The name Philip got its roots from Philippoussis, meaning “lover of horses.” Filipinos, therefore, are rooted to love their horses and root for them to win a race, to ride, catch, and overtake somebody ahead; and even to horse around. In politics, Filipinos love to pick their horses and campaign as hard. They love to tell and listen to jokes as well as relating “Kuwentong Kutsero” (Coachman stories). For them, “a winner never quits, and a quitter never wins.”

Filipino and American: quite a combination. Proven during World War II, they fought side by side, and bet their lives in defense of freedom, with the common everlasting and incurable love to win the race for peace, independence, and prosperity. And WIN they did!

Paraphrasing that song written by Lee Green Wood,

“I’d thank my lucky stars, to be living here today.
Cause the flag still stands for freedom, And they can’t take that away.
I am proud to be a Filipino-American, where at least I know I’m free.
I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.”

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