Becoming American

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This week, I become an American citizen, 27 years after coming to the United States.

Like most immigrants, I emigrated to the United States for its promise of opportunity, freedom, and equality. My parents had sacrificed much to send my brother and me to the best private school in the Philippines, but it was not enough to secure financial stability, much less upward mobility. As a young gay man, I was stifled by the cultural and social expectations of the time. I decided that moving to New York City would allow my family to save face and me to live and love openly and with integrity, while pursuing opportunities waiting for me. Like millions of other immigrants, I shared the American Dream of prosperity and happiness.

The seeds of this dream were planted over a century ago, when the United States colonized the Philippines in 1898. The fact is, immigration is an unintended consequence of imperialism. At the turn of the twentieth century, Filipino farm workers were recruited to provide cheap labor in Hawaiian sugar plantations. At the same time, Filipino students were sent to the U.S. mainland to be educated as future administrators of the Philippines. Life for these men was difficult but they persevered and many stayed, building new lives that seemed golden to many back home, including my maternal grandfather.

Lolo Pedong loved everything American. He named his first child, my mother Georgena, after the first president of the United States. He regaled us, his grandchildren, with World War II stories and praised MacArthur for keeping his promise and saving Filipinos from Japanese perdition. He repeatedly told us the story of young George Washington and the poor cherry tree.

It is no surprise then that my uncle settled in rural Mississippi in the 1960s to serve poor whites, blacks, and Choctaws as their general physician. Thanks to the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, he was then able to bring my grandparents and unmarried uncle and aunts to the United States in the 1970s. This change in immigration policy also permitted my paternal aunts to stake their fortune in America. But the law had its limits and my family remained in the Philippines.

Nonetheless, my family never stopped gazing at America. How could we not? Life under the Marcos dictatorship was hopeless and good things came from my aunts and uncles in America: U.S. dollars and balikbayan boxes filled with mac and cheese boxes, Spam tins, Hershey’s chocolate, name-brand clothes, and other American delights. We were weaned on Sesame Street and entertained by Hollywood.

On July 7, 1990, armed with my parents’ blessing and $1500, I came to America and never looked back. I put myself through grad school, received my Master’s degree, then my doctoral degree, I’ve had three careers in small business, nonprofits, and now, in academia. I met and married the man of my dreams and we live comfortably in the greatest city in the world.

But until this week, something was missing. A sense of stability and rootedness. A basic confirmation of who I know I’ve been for quite some time now: an American.

Citizenship had been elusive for me, not for lack of desire or want of trying. Immigrants can become citizens through employment or marriage. Employment was never a viable option and marriage was denied to me and my husband until 2010, 12 years after we got together. Our union was not recognized by the federal government until 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision finally paved the way for me.

America has its flaws and my path to becoming American has been long, and at times, challenging. But America is in my heart. This is my home, this is my land, and these are my people.

Originally published on HuffPost.

 

 

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World Records Broken at Walkathon for Philippine Typhoon Survivors

February 16, 2014; ABC News (Associated Press)

Last November, super typhoon Haiyan ravaged the central islands of the Philippines, killing 6,200 people, destroying 1.1 million homes, and rendering more than four million people homeless. To date, nearly 2,000 people remain missing. The United Nations warns that millions of survivors are still without adequate shelter.

“The authorities, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, and the Filipino people should be commended for the pace of progress…but we cannot afford to be complacent,” UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for the Philippines, Luiza Carvalho, said. “The need for durable shelter for millions of people whose homes were damaged or destroyed is critical.”

Among the Filipinos worldwide responding to the continuing crisis in their homeland are followers of the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), an independent and indigenous Christian group. Members participated in a walkathon staged in the Philippines and 55 other sites in Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States, and in the process broke a couple of Guinness World Records.

Guinness adjudicator Kirsty Bennett certified that 175,509 congregants marched in Manila on Saturday, breaking the record set 14 years ago in Singapore when 77,500 people walked to promote healthy living. Bennett also confirmed that 519,221 Iglesia ni Cristo members worldwide set a new record for the largest charity walk in multiple venues, more than doubling the previous record set in Canada seven years ago.

Edwil Zabala, a church spokesperson, said funds raised would be used in constructing new homes and providing livelihoods for survivors of typhoon Haiyan. “The amount that will be raised through this activity will be allocated by the church through the FYM (Felix Y. Manalo) Foundation as additional assistance to our countrymen especially our brethren, who were devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda.” The total amount raised has not been released. Walkathon participants contributed a 250 Philippine peso (approximately $5.63) registration fee.

This is not the first time Iglesia ni Cristo members broke Guinness world records. In 2012, the group set new records for the largest dental health check, the biggest number of blood pressure readings, and the most numerous blood glucose level tests, conducted in eight hours.

Iglesia ni Cristo established its first congregation in 1914. Today, it has at least 5,500 local congregations in about 100 countries and territories.

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Quarterly.