Column: A message for the conservative Fil-Am

Published on November 6, 2012 — several hours before the polls in the United States opened.

ON THE eve of the US elections, I cede my column space to a friend and labor organizer, Chandler Ramas III, now based in California. I hope you’ll agree that his analysis, which I sympathize but cannot fully agree with, is novel and provocative.

Bakersfield, California—The Filipino-American vote in US politics used to be difficult to determine, even to target, in the same manner as the Hispanic/Latino vote, which is famously courted even in local district or small town elections. Now that there are some tools to identify and count the Fil-Am vote a little better, I do not know if I should be excited or frustrated—because for the life of me, I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that Fil-Ams now comprise one of the largest minorities in the Republican party.

I am surprised not just because I am a registered Democrat but because I really see no parallelism between Grand Old Party ideals and the regular Filipino-American voter. I try, but fail, to comprehend how the common Filipino-American voter, from low-income to middle class, earning an average of $50,000-$70,000 a year (a lot even less), can identify with a party dominated by the rich, the corporations.

I mention income because people in this income bracket will surely be waiting for, if not depending on, Social Security and Medicare in their senior years, the very same entitlements Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan despise and vowed to turn into a voucher system if elected tomorrow. What that means is that when it is the turn of my generation (I am 40 now) to collect Social Security and avail ourselves of Medicare, the feds will give us voucher checks with a limited amount; for example, if they give us $5,000 a year and our medical costs hit $10,000 (remember, we will be in our 60s then), then we are on our own; we must look for the money to pay the difference. That follows the Republican mantra of individualism.

How many Fil-Ams, even those born in the United States, can actually afford a future like that? I know Fil-Am seniors today will not be affected by this change in case Romney wins; it is the folks in middle age who will bear the brunt of this voucher system. Elections are about putting a stake in our future, so why do Fil-Ams want to invest in a losing proposition for their children in the future?

One possible answer: Filipinos are socially liberal but ideologically conservative. Like their immigrant counterparts from Cuba, Fil-Ams shiver at anything that resembles socialism or communism—and they have bought into the spin of GOP right-wing conservatives (especially Tea Party extremists) that the Democratic agenda is, well, “socialist.”

Having lived in Miami for over three years, I witnessed how Cuban-Americans (the older generation; the younger generation couldn’t care less) despised everything about the Castros turning their country into a mule-driven agricultural economy, literally.

Our kabayan share the same fear because the Philippines has a long-running communist insurgency. Sadly, Filipino communists, especially those who became fixtures in street protests, have been perceived as a nuisance, without realistic alternatives to bring to the table. This is because the Philippine communist movement has focused more on ideological strategies instead of issues-based resolution of conflict. And this is why when you ask Fil-Ams about their concept of a union, they scamper away like you are the plague, or tell you that a union is like the “radical and violent” KMU or Kilusang Mayo Uno back home.

This experience of Filipino-Americans, especially those who were born and raised in the Philippines, makes them suspicious of the Democratic Party which espouses the common good for the common man. Naturally, the Republican Party has not wasted time courting the Fil-Am vote.

The question I would like to ask my fellow Filipino-Americans, especially those voting today, is this: Are you really wealthy enough to fight for the “1 percent,” the richest Americans? Are you really rich enough now that you can afford to live your sunset years without Medicare and Social Security? Wealthy enough to send your kids to private schools because—yes!—education will be voucherized too under a Romney presidency?

Don’t get me wrong. I do not hate the rich; I just want them to put in their fair share. Big companies earning $1.2 billion in profit each year but paying only a few hundred dollars in taxes (it is not illegal, they just get away with it)—that’s not fair. I believe that empowering the middle class pump-primes the economy, not the other way around.

I would like to say to my fellow Filipino-Americans and their families back home (because those are the people who matter too), that the choice today for the United States and the world is clear: Move forward with Barack Obama or go back with Romney to the old policies that failed us and the world in the first place. I know you have heard this on TV commercials, but there is no other way to put it as bluntly.

Conservative Fil-Ams, please remember this before you go to the polls: You say you do not like Obamacare, that Social Security and Medicare and other entitlements have “bankrupted” US society. (By the way, the US is not bankrupt; Wall Street has the money). Those were the same arguments raised when Social Security and Medicare were introduced decades ago. The liberals, the unions, the Democrats have done nothing over the years but push and pass legislation such as minimum wage, overtime hours, workman’s compensation, child labor laws, equal opportunity laws, break time, vacations, holidays, benefits and pensions—that is, the very same practices your Republican forefathers ferociously fought against but all Americans now enjoy.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

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