Boxed InBy Philip Dominguez Mercurio
ANOTHER presidential season has come and gone, and hopefully everyone who could have voted in their own special way, did this November.
Delegates of all forms sprang into action en masse, enticing “newbies” to fill out those all too wonderful voter registration forms.
Now, I could never understand these registration forms.
They seem straight forward. Just fill out your full name, your address or describe where you live if you don‘t have a roof over your head, Social Security number and California ID. Then answer a couple of residency questions and you are all set.
Then there’s that optional ethnicity question, placed there for the purposes of figuring out later which ethnicities voted more one way or the other on a particular candidate, party or issue.
Two months ago, I happened to be filling out registration forms for my girlfriend and her mother, who both happen to be Indonesian. Approaching the optional ethnicity question would have been a snap had it not been for the way the ethnic boxes were strewn. There was an Asian box which would have easily classified me and her, a Pacific Islander box and another box for … Filipinos.
Apparently, by California standards, what was once the singular API (Asian Pacific Islander) community has split into three classifications.
Now, I just could never understand why Filipinos have become the lonely one out of this. I guess if you are the very nationalistic type, perhaps you’d be inclined to be joyous about the end result of all this and say “Hey, We’re not Asian. We’re not Pacific Islander… We’re Filipino!”
Well, hooray. We can now identify ourselves from the pack, and Filipinos who have always been confused on either checking the Asian box or the Pacific Islander box could now have one sure, definite bet. No more confusion. But I’d like to know what criteria were used to exclude Filipinos from the relative designation of Asian.
Geographically-speaking, Filipinos should be considered Asian since the Philippines is considered part of the continent known as Asia. At times our country appears in some geography books as a separate insert with the English-speaking countries of Australia and New Zealand, but generally speaking, the Philippines along with countries along the Malay peninsula and archipelago like Brunei and East Timor are collectively known as Southeast Asia.
There are some people though, Asians in particular, who argue that because we are so far off the coast, hanging completely off the South China Sea, we’re not part of the continent of Asia.
In fact, the name, Philippine “Islands” already affirms that we are “islands” in the Pacific, and therefore we should be considered part of the Pacific Islands like Palau and Guam directly to our west.
They totally have the wrong idea though because we are not the only islands in the Far East. Japan, China Taipei and the thousands of islands of Indonesia should also be reclassified as Pacific Islands since they are also islands in the Pacific.
Not only that, but the Philippines is relatively close to the southern tip of Taiwan by tens of miles and it’s just a motorboat ride away from the northern islands of Sulawesi. In fact, those from Sulawesi and islands further south are even further away from the Asian mainland than Manila itself. But apparently, those from Sulawesi would be easily classified as Asian.
In terms of ethnicity, the classification of Filipinos has been hotly contested even before the recognized independence of the Philippines in 1946. Records show that a debate was raging about where Filipinos lie along the ethnic spectrum all the way back to the infancy of the Filipino American community in the early-mid 20th century.
The importance of the Filipino classification during this time was in reference to the prevailing anti-miscegenation laws that were in place to restrict non-white races from marrying into the white majority.
As researched by Henry Empeno, at the turn of the century, laws in many states were already in place prohibiting the issuance of marriage licenses for interracial unions between whites and those who were either classified as “Negroes and Mongolians.” Though the white ethological definition of Mongoloid was clearly applied to the Chinese and then the Japanese who followed them, it was not clearly defined for the third Asian immigrant group: the Filipinos.
By anthropological definitions, Filipinos were not classified as Mongolians but Malayans and therefore were not specified within the certain civil codes at the time. Different interpretation of what Malayans were in respect to Mongolians caused considerable confusion in the courts, especially during the decade before 1931.
In the state of California alone, there was a decade or so of conflicting cases where Filipinos were either issued or denied marriage licenses based solely on how the courts defined the racial classification of Filipinos.
In 1921, the Los Angeles County Assistant General, Edward T. Bishop, ruled that Filipinos/Malayans were not classified as Mongolians and some other court cases that followed concluded with similar decisions. But within that same span of time, the Los Angeles State Superior Court and the State Attorney General Office gave decisions that denied Filipinos’ marriage licenses, asserts that Filipinos were Mongolian.
It wasn’t until January 1933, in the case of Rolden v Los Angeles County the California Court of Appeals came to a final decision, concluding that Filipinos were Malayans, not Mongolians and therefore not prohibited from marrying whites. Two months later, legislation was passed swiftly through the California assembly adding Malayans to the list of ineligible races allowed to marry those of the white race.
Today, though those anti-miscegenation laws have been discarded by 1948, the race known as Malayan or its more politically correct term, Malay is still being used.
Those considered Malay do not only encompass the Philippines but also extend below through the islands of Indonesia, East Timor, the Sultanate of Brunei, city-state of Singapore, Malaysia and all the way to the recently troubled provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani in southern Thailand.
Now here lies the peculiarity that could be just as confusing as the classification of Filipinos 70 years earlier… are the Malays from those countries considered Asian or Filipino by the California 2004 election form?
Geographically, Asian would be the prime choice.
But ethnically, there definitely could be some debate. Just remember, by California’s classifications, because Filipinos are Malays, the Malays from those countries should also be considered Filipino since Filipinos are now classified as their own stand-out race apart from the general “Asian” context.
If we could consider Filipino as representative of the “brown” race so to speak, other “brown” races, even if they are not from the Philippines, should fall under that category as well. Geography be damned!
Now, if the box was not based on any geographic or ethnic considerations, then what could possibly be the reason behind the segregated box? Perhaps the Spanish and American colonization of the Philippines has so impacted the country’s cultural society to the point where Filipinos literally have been ripped from the contextual definition of “Asian” where neither its geographic or ethnic relations to its neighbors hold anymore relevance.
Or perhaps being the only country subjected to 333 years under the cross then another 50 some years under the stars and stripes, has caused the over 7,000 or so islands to hang in limbo, lost somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, even more isolated than the Hawaiian islands which made it pertinent that it and its people had to be classified alone – on their own – no matter what.
Hmmm. But perhaps the very reason Filipinos have been separated could be easily explained by just reading the title of Emil Guillermo’s last column in AsianWeek: “Asians for Kerry, but Filipinos for Bush.”
Emil found Filipinos at odds with the greater Asian community, backing Mr. Bush with 56 percent of the vote on the grounds of moral and veteran rights compared to the Asian vote of 74 percent for Mr. Kerry. As our voting record stands, perhaps we rightly deserved our own check box.
Now, I’m sure the Filipino box had good intentions, perhaps placed there so Filipinos could indeed find their own voice within the pan-Asian coalition, bolstering new life in our own political participation which at present, according to Professor Daniel Gonzales of San Francisco State University, could be described as abysmal at best.
But invigorating the Filipino political base by this means has undue detrimental effects. Confining us to our own box would not only alienate us from the broad pan-Asian community, but also confuse our own identity as Asians and would legitimize the notion that Filipinos indeed have no connection to any of its Asian neighbors whatsoever.
The Philippines may straddle the American-Spanish-Chinese divide incorporating a European religion and Western customs but the fundamentals, which the country was rooted upon, have more in common with Indonesia than any of the other foreign influences. With that said, it is essential to refocus where Filipinos indeed belong… with Asians.
Enough of the systematic isolation. As the saying goes, “Texans are Americans but not all Americans are Texans.”
So too should Filipinos be in relation to Asians. However culturally-separated or politically-disenfranchised we are from other Asian Americans, it is essential we remain united with them as a solid Asian block, ready to present all our issues to the broad American public who many mute us out.
There is no need for a separate box. -PDM