FILIPINOS HAPPY WITH LIFE IN U.S., BUT LACK UNITED VOICE
by K. CONNIE KANG, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times 26 January 1996
An unprecedented public opinion poll of Filipinos in Southern California paints
a picture of a vibrant and confident community of people, satisfied with where
they live and work but groping to define their cultural identity and to turn
their growing numbers into political influence
The findings show a diverse community of predominantly white-collar workers,
imbued with old-fashioned Filipino emphasis on the family, education and hard
Although 85% of those surveyed are foreign-born, virtually all think they speak
English well, and immigrants say they want to become U.S. citizens as quickly
as they can qualify.
Filipinos, whose homeland was once a U.S. territory, idolize American culture,
feel secure about their finances and say they encounter somewhat less discrimination
here than Asians as a whole, the Los Angeles Times Poll found.
But they also cite factionalism, rivalry and lack of community spirit as chronic
problems that keep California's largest Asian community--at nearly 1 million--from
speaking with a strong voice.
They express concern about intergenerational conflicts, gangs and drug and alcohol
Many feel assimilated, the survey of 750 Filipinos in six Southern California
counties found. But assimilation may have a price: More than two out of five
said they have integrated so well into the mainstream culture that they have
lost their identity as Filipinos.
The Times poll was conducted in English and Tagalog between Dec. 4 and Dec.
22, 1995, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The field work was done by Interviewing Services of America. The survey was
supervised by Susan Pinkus, acting director of the Times Poll.
The community's generally upbeat self-appraisal does not surprise Filipino American
philosopher Enrique dela Cruz.
"Filipinos come here thinking they know America because of the education
they get in the Philippines," said the Philippines-born assistant director
of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. "Identifying with the United
States and believing in the superiority of American culture is very strong among
However, the survey indicates a wide-ranging concern about the effect of assimilation
on Filipino identity.
"You ask a Chinese American or Japanese American who they are and they
know. Not so with the Filipinos," said Filipino American historian Fred
Cordova, author of "Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans."
Many parents don't teach their children Filipino history and culture, said Roy
Morales, a UCLA lecturer and author of "Makibaka: The Pilipino American
Nearly half of younger Filipinos--47%--don't speak Tagalog well, the survey
"There is a backlash now," Morales said. "A lot of young, second-generation
Filipinos are saying, 'We missed out--we want to catch up.' " His "Filipino
American Experience" is a popular course at UCLA.
In a 1993 Times poll about Asian Americans in Southern California, one criticism
that emerged was that Asians are too insular. A substantial number of Asians--41%--said
they should try harder to mix with other Americans.
Filipinos do not fit that pattern, according to the survey.
Three-quarters say that they have friends among whites, blacks, Latinos and
other Asians, the survey found. This is true even for 56% of the elderly and
59% of recent arrivals.
"We pride ourselves in being friendly and mixing with other people,"
said Tania Azores, president of the Los Angeles-based Pamana Foundation, which
supports Filipino cultural projects. "We have a word for it--pakikisama.
It means smooth interpersonal relationship, and it is one of the highest Filipino
The ability to blend in has enabled Filipinos to disperse throughout Southern
California. There is no Filipino equivalent of Chinatown or Koreatown in Los
Angeles--even though Filipinos are the largest Asian group in the city.
"We won't ever get ourselves a Monterey Park," said Roy Gorre, former
publisher of a Filipino newspaper in Los Angeles, referring to the predominance
of Chinese in the San Gabriel Valley city.
No matter what their age or how long they have been away from the Philippines,
overwhelming poll data buttress the view that Filipinos are glad to be here.
"Filipinos have been in love with America for almost a century," said
Morales, who was born in Los Angeles in 1932. "Every time I make one of
my sentimental journeys to the Philippines, my relatives are always telling
me, 'Take me with you.' "
Filipino Americans maintain strong connections to their ancestral land, according
to the poll. Almost all have relatives and friends there and 85% said they had
Three out of five visit the Philippines at least occasionally, and 66% send
money, 21% regularly.
"The Filipino community in the United States is the biggest source of hard
currency in the Philippines," said Leo Pandac, executive director of Pacific
Asian Alcohol and Drug Program in Los Angeles.
Although the bulk of the immigrants have come since 1965, the Filipino connection
to California goes back a long way.
The first wave, mostly young men, came here by the thousands in the 1920s and
1930s, lured by the stories of what was possible in the "land of the free
and home of the brave."
Instead, they were met with signs that said "Dogs and Filipinos Keep Out"
and shouted at by bigots.
Filipino American poet Carlos Bulosan summed up the wrenching experience in
his autobiography, "America Is in the Heart": "I feel like a
criminal running away from a crime I did not commit. And this crime is that
I am a Filipino in America."
Six decades later, only 10% of Filipinos surveyed say they have experienced
a great deal or a fair amount of discrimination. That compares with 14% for
Asians overall, 30% for blacks, 15% for Latinos and 11% for whites in the 1993
"One needs to take this with a little grain of salt," Dela Cruz cautioned,
emphasizing that some Filipinos may not recognize varying manifestations of
"It takes a while to say, 'Hey, wait a minute--something is wrong here.'
Similarly, Dela Cruz said Filipinos' spoken English may not be as good as they
"Many Filipinos speak with a strong accent," he said. "When it's
time for them to converse with Americans, there is a strong sense of inferiority
that they feel. But their reading and writing are fine."
Virtually all Filipino immigrants said their life here is as good or better
than they expected.
Only 4% said reality here falls short of their expectations. In earlier polls
of other Asian groups, 24% of Korean immigrants and 8% of Vietnamese said their
life in America was worse than they expected.
For a predominantly immigrant community, Filipinos have a high citizenship rate
Of noncitizens, a sizable majority said they plan to become naturalized as soon
as they qualify.
"There are more Filipinos becoming American citizens every year than any
other immigrant group, barring none," said Alex Esclamado, longtime publisher
of the nationally circulated Philippine News in South San Francisco.
Nearly 90% Filipinos say they are satisfied with where they live. In the 1993
Times poll, 81% of Latinos, 77% of Asians, 69% of whites and 58% of blacks said
they were satisfied with the communities in which they lived.
"We are more easygoing and we don't rock the boat," said Pandac. "We
have learned from the Spaniards and Americans."
Named after King Philip II of Spain, the Philippine Islands were under Spanish
rule from the 16th century through the 19th.
Coming from an archipelago of 7,100 islands with more than 80 dialects, Filipinos
have fierce regional loyalties. The United States acquired the Philippines in
1898 when it won the Spanish American War and ruled there until 1946. During
that period, the American educational system was adopted and English was made
the official language.
Many factors--Americanization, the influence of Christianity, sharp class distinctions,
the huge gap between the rich and the poor, racial and cultural diversity among
the Filipinos--distinguish them from other Asians.
"We have an Asian face, but our heritage and traditions are more western,"
said Filipino American attorney Cas Tolentino, who taught UCLA's first class
on the Filipino American experience.
And because most Filipinos have Spanish surnames, they are often mistaken for
Latinos, further contributing to their invisibility as a distinct ethnic minority.
Not Active in Politics
There is much talk of political empowerment and the need to unify, but most
Filipinos are not active in politics.
Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said they do not belong to a mainstream
American political group. Eighty-four percent said they do not belong to a Filipino
Among U.S. citizens, 70% are registered to vote. Of those, 40% are Democrats,
38% Republicans and 17% independents, and 5% belong to other parties.
"Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it," Dela
Cruz said. "I don't know what it will take to galvanize the community."
Stewart Kwoh, president of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, doesn't
think Filipinos are any more factionalized than other groups. "Many communities
are divided and not organized," he said.
With their population expanding by a higher percentage than that of any other
U.S. ethnic group, Filipino Americans could wield political leverage. The 1990
census counted 1.4 million Filipinos nationwide and 731,685 in California--home
to the largest Filipino community in the country. By 2000, Filipinos are expected
to surpass 2 million, becoming the nation's largest Asian group.
Filipinos could become a major force in California's future because of their
numbers, high citizenship rate and predominance of well-educated professionals.
But it will take time, most say--perhaps another generation.
The nation's highest elected official of Filipino ancestry is Hawaii Gov. Ben
Cayetano. In California, a handful of Filipino Americans occupy elected local
"Our political participation is low," said Joel Jacinto, executive
director of Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, a key community services agency
"If we are not willing to vote and affect issues, we're not assimilating
in the full sense of the term," he said.
"We're a young immigrant community," Dela Cruz said, adding that Filipinos
need to learn the rules of politics here.
"We have to learn to collaborate," said the Rev. Ric La Paz of the
Filipino Christian Church. "Filipinos are generous to non-Filipinos but
not to each other," he lamented, explaining that Filipinos, like other
groups, sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture and get bogged down in their
Despite their overwhelming positive assessment of life here, Filipinos appear
to be no different from other Southern Californians when it comes to social
About a third said Filipino gangs are common where they live.
More than a third--36%--said alcoholism and drug abuse are common among the
Filipino families they know. But compared with drug and alcohol abuse in the
larger society, Filipinos and other Asians have relatively low rates, according
A majority of the Filipinos admit to intergenerational tensions. But younger
Filipinos consider this more of an issue than their elders.
Parents and elders tend to chide their children for not following traditional
Filipino ways, La Paz said. For example, he said, in the Philippines the young
show respect to their elders by following the tradition of mano--kissing the
hand. But in America, they don't do that anymore, he said.
On the whole, La Paz finds younger ones more open to reaching out.
"I'm very much encouraged by them," he said.
The diverse Filipino community speaks resoundingly with one voice on one issue:
what it wants to be called.
Almost all--95%--said they view themselves as Filipinos, while the rest were
almost evenly divided between Asians and Pacific Islanders.
But the long-standing debate over whether to use "Filipino" or "Pilipino"
A majority--55%--chose Filipino. But 40% preferred Pilipino-- to remain true
to Tagalog, which has no "f" sound.
The P-F debate dates to the Asian American civil rights movements of a quarter-century
ago. "P" proponents see that usage as an expression of ethnic pride.
"We wasted more energy on 'to P or not to P,' " said author Cordova.
HOW THE POLL WAS CONDUCTED
The Times Poll interviewed 750 adult Filipino residents in six Southern California
counties--Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura--by
telephone between Dec. 4 and Dec. 22, 1995. Interviews were conducted in Tagalog
and English by Filipino American interviewers at Interviewing Services of America
Inc. of Van Nuys. Tania Azores, a lecturer in UCLA's applied linguistics department
and a research associate of the Asian American Studies Center, was a consultant
to this project. A list of Filipino surnames was used to draw the sample from
phone directories in the six counties. Results were adjusted slightly so the
sample would conform with census information about gender, age and region. The
margin of sampling error for the entire sample is plus or minus 4 percentage
points. The sampling error for other subgroups may vary. In addition to sampling
error, poll results can be affected by factors such as question wording and
the order in which questions are presented. Also, surname samples of this type
do not allow for the sampling of people with unlisted telephone numbers or Filipino
residents who do not have Filipino surnames.
HOW FILIPINOS SEE THEMSELVES
Most Filipino Americans agree that the Filipino community lacks a single strong
voice. But they are in almost total agreement that they want to be called Filipino
rather than Asian or Pacific Islander. The most distinctive characteristic of
the Filipino people, they say, is that they are hard workers.
"Filipinos have integrated themselves so much into mainstream American
culture that they've lost their own Filipino identity."
Don't know: 4%
"Rivalries within the Filipino community make it difficult for the community
to have one strong voice."
Don't know: 8%
How active are you in . . .
Mainstream Filipino community - Filipino political American cultural organizations
- organizations politics
Very active 12% 4% 4%
Somewhat active 25% 11% 22%
Not too active 27% 27% 25%
Not active at all 35% 57% 48%
Don't know 1% 1% 1%* * *
What do you consider yourself?
Pacific Islander: 2%
Don't know: 2%
What are the most distinctive characteristics of the Filipino people? (Two responses
allowed; six most frequent answers shown.)
Hard workers: 37%
Strong family ties: 14%
Friendly/Good natured/Fun: 10%
* "Pilipino" is an alternative term for "Filipino"; it is
preferred by some as an expression of national identity.
-- indicated less than 0.5%
Percentages do not add up to 100% because two responses were accepted from each
respondent and not all answer categories are shown.
Source: L.A. Times Poll
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