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Roots and Wings

FINDing an Identity:
The First Step in Empowering Our Youth

by Vladimir J.M. Manuel

Throughout the mid-80s up to the present, the population of Filipino students in the United States has been accelerating at a very high rate. As a result, we are also witnessing the proliferation of student and youth organizations mirroring the numerical growth of adult organizations in the metropolitan areas of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Organizations such as the United Filipino Youth Council, Inc. (UFYC), a coalition of New York-area organizations (founded 1989), and the Filipino Intercollegiate Networking Dialogue (FIND), a network of over 90 college-based organizations (founded 1991), are in place for the young adults to explore, cultivate, preserve and disseminate information on their identity.

FIND Speakers at Yale University, April 1991.Identity is a major concern of the Filipino youth as indicated in official and non-official, formal and non-formal functions of FIND. This issue has been addressed in four of the five conferences of the organizations at Yale University (April 1991), Harvard University (April 1992), Mount Holyoke College (November 1992), and George Washington University (March 1993). In addition, the keynote and opening addresses at these conferences dwelled on Filipinoness and Filipino Americanism. While the conference held at New York University (November 1991) did not hold any workshops on ethnicity or identity like the others, one of its highlights was a cultural program and the keynote speaker discussed the motivation behind the establishment of their organization: togetherness or pagsasamahan, an exemplary Filipino trait.

Members of this community have to address the cultural, structural, and institutional forces that shape the identity of our youth. If we apply the manana habit in addressing this problem, our youth may soon lose attachment toward our ancestral roots, seeing the Philippines as a country surrounded by Asian dragons or as a place where they have to visit every once in awhile because their parents have chosen it as a place for retirement.

To address this problem, we must synchronize our efforts and pool our resources in initiating, developing, and maintaining programs that focus on shaping the education of our youth. Since education is key to these efforts, and as education begins at home, the family is central to the solution. In addition to exposing children through the formative years to Philippine culture by filling their shelves with books on folklore and their coffee tables with picture books, they also have to be encouraged to interact with one another in social situations which will enable them to speak to one another in a Filipino dialect. This will serve to reinforce what they learn in their pre-school years.

Parents’ responsibilities do not end within the boundaries of the Filipino community. These extend to active participation in local community and school and Parent Teachers Associations (PTAs). For example, if we were more active in such, we would cause change in the classrooms by introducing Filipino language classes, as the Korean and Chinese communities have done with their own languages. If we are unable to attain this, we could duplicate the efforts of the Japanese community and hold language classes on Saturdays at our own centers. Holding language classes would bridge the communication gap between generations and instill in second generation Filipinos the value of their parents’ mother tongue. In addition, knowledge of our language would promote better understanding, leading to mutual respect for each other.

Part of the delegation from 30 colleges & universities at the first FIND conference at Yale University, April 1991.College students have to do their part by focusing their energies on organizing substantive projects. I believe that we do not need organizations for purely social functions. Since these college-based Filipino organizations interact daily with students of other racial origins, they should unite, aiming to impress change within their campuses, by actively participating in the legislative bodies of colleges and universities. In doing so, campuses may soon witness the inclusion of classes in Filipino, Philippine History, Philippine Diaspora, and last but certainly not the least, Filipino American History in their liberal studies. College and university administrations should extend programs for Study Abroad to Philippine institutions since a great number of Filipino students study in cities like Paris, London, Madrid, Sydney, and others for a semester or two. Why not Manila, Cebu, Davao, Baguio, or Zamboanga? Furthermore, this would offer Philippine universities a much broader audience who will experience the warmth of Filipinos firsthand.

Lastly, it is a fact that many college students seek experience in the workforce while they are in school. Internship and cooperative education programs should include Filipino-owned businesses, Philippine governmental agencies in the United States, multinational firms, and non-governmental organizations that operate in the Philippines. This will give students the marketable skills that they need in today’s economy and at the same time, enable them to experience Filipino values in a professional setting. Upon graduation from college, there should be programs instituted that will encourage Filipinos to serve non-governmental organizations in cities and rural areas. The experience will fulfill what our youth read in the stories of Filipino writers. The Philippine government should literally listen to youth concerns. This could be achieved, for example, by engaging more youth to participate in community-wide activities at its Centers abroad. As a friend of mine once remarked when he visited the Philippine Center in New York, "It really feels good just to be here."


The essay above originally appeared in Transitions, an official publication of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Foreign Information Council and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. The publication aimed to define RP-US relations after the closure of the bases and to commemorate the visit of Pres. Fidel V. Ramos to the United States in November 1993. The author is one of the founders of FIND and served as its first Chair.

Copyrightę by Vladimir J.M. Manuel, 1993.
This is one of many works in progress.





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