Reclining on a dental chair, waiting for my oral health to be assessed, a tiny lady shuffled in. You’re not my dentist I thought. You must be the hygienist. I also figured out, though two thirds of her face was concealed by a surgical mask, she was a kababayan, a fellow Filipino expatriate. I reckoned by her hair, skin tone and eyes; by her body and movement; by that distinct accent – she could very well be a tita, an aunt.
After outing myself as Filipino, she became chattier. She had noticed that I knew the receptionist and was curious how I knew him. Church connections, I explained. Which church do you go to? When I said All Souls Woodley Park, she gave a puzzled look. It’s Episcopal. Oh. Her disappointment was apparent.
We managed a conversation between rinses and she eventually, invariably, inquired which presidential candidate I favored. Obama, though I had been an ardent Hillary supporter. She nodded, adding she too had been for Hillary. But now I will vote for McCain, she declared. Why, considering the Bush regime had crippled our economy and McCain would not help it any? Moreover, as immigrants, how could we support a party that is not exactly known for its hospitality towards people of color?
She had no beef with Republicans since Reagan welcomed her to the United States. Daniel T. Griswold of Cato Institute writes:
Reagan’s vision of an America open to commerce and peaceful, hardworking immigrants contradicts the anti-trade and anti-immigration views espoused by Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, Pat Buchanan, Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, and many others who claim to speak for the conservative causes Reagan largely defined …
Reagan’s words and deeds regarding immigration were equally expansive. At a ceremony at Ellis Island in 1982, he spoke movingly of immigrants who “possessed a determination that with hard work and freedom, they would live a better life and their children even more so.” As with trade, Reagan’s record on immigration was mixed. He signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which included stepped up border enforcement and sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. But that legislation also legalized 2.8 million undocumented workers. More immigrants entered the United States legally under President Reagan’s watch than under any previous U.S. president since Teddy Roosevelt.
I was about to deliver my speech about the need for people of color and other marginalized and oppressed groups to stick together and vote for change when I realized it was futile. She has already been assimilated.
Aside from being grateful for Reagan’s immigration policies, my kababayan is socially and economically secure. As a Filipino Roman Catholic, her conservative social values align with Republican “traditional” values. As an older female voter, she is more comfortable with McCain.
However, I can’t help but think that race has something to do with it.
We both come from a culture that places a premium on fair and mestizo features, a by-product of Spanish and American colonization. We had laughed at the looks and antics of Elizabeth Ramsey, daughter of a Filipina and African American G.I. We shopped at department stores that touted skin whitening products and displayed clothes on Caucasian mannequins. We applauded celebrities and beauty queens who were lighter hued and had prominent nose bridges. We devoured Hollywood, PX goods and everything state-side. We avoided the sun.
I can still see me and my brother making fun of our nanny, singing “Negritoes of the mountain, what do you eat …” likening our caretaker to the aborigines that once inhabited most of Southeast Asia. Yaya Estring might not have been from the mountains but she was darker skinned and from the provinces. I am still familiar with the insecure little boy who felt ugly, constantly reminded how he was not as tall or as mestizo as his kuya, his big brother. I can still hear my mom pointing out my flared nose, inherited from her father, and assuring me that one day we can have it fixed.
After Barack Obama won the Democratic primaries, I asked a high school buddy and kababayan in New York if he was ready for a Black president. I don’t think so, he courageously admitted.
It looks like Little Brown Americans might not be ready for a Black American president.
Photo from Kapisanan Philippine Centre.