Jen Soriano

Filipinos, Midterm Elections and Political Power

In the week after the midterm elections I flew from the state of Washington to Florida to Puerto Rico — crossing over all that red territory to reach a colony and then back again.  I’ve also been through a state of denial, then of long term visioning which may just be another form of denial, only to land in a state of impatient confusion.

The confusion is not really about how we got here, to a Republican controlled Congress for the first time in 10 years.  The confusion is about how we get away from here, and not just to turn red to blue, but to get off the hamster wheel of our 2-party system and actually move forward.  Forward towards a society that will actually uplift the growing minority majority and free us up to lead.

I’m questioning political power, especially for Filipinos in America.  What is it?  Do we have it? If we did, would we know what to do with it? How much do we need?  Should we even be trying to build power around Filipino identity?   Maybe we would just keep playing the Filipino or not game instead (Prince – Filipino or not? Nope. Vanessa Hudgens? Yup. Bruno Mars? Aw yeah.)

When I say political power I mean whatever it takes to increase our communities’ resilience to oppression and, related to this, our communities’ ability to organize to develop influence and to win collective progressive demands.  I mean organized communities, organized sectors and connected networks unified by an almost taken for granted acceptance of Filipino identity so we can move on to real issues, and unified by a clear analysis of conditions for Filipinos in the US.  I also mean the work it takes to consolidate Filipino communities as a progressive bloc to influence key issues that impact everyone but in which Filipinos have a key stake, from immigration to climate change, health care to militarization, workers rights to women’s rights and more.

There are at least 3.4 million Filipinos in the US, most of whom have at least liberal if not progressive leanings.  More than two-thirds of Filipinos who voted in 2012 voted for Obama.  We are the second largest Asian group, with Asians as the overall are the fastest growing immigrant group in the country.  Organized progressive Filipinos in the US are a minority — but a strong minority — of the overall population of Filipinos as a whole.  We are members and leaders of labor unions, worker centers, student and church groups, feminist and human rights groups and much more.  We also have more than a dozen legislators serving in public office across the country, not to mention thousands of artists, academics, faith leaders and others who influence policy through culture.  Without these groups and leaders, domestic workers would not have legal protections in New York, California, Hawaii and Massachusetts, Filipino veterans would not have received partial benefits, and curriculum in California’s schools would not be required to tell the stories of these veterans and of the Filipino farmworkers who helped form the United Farmworkers.

These victories have come from community organizing in areas where large numbers of Filipinos have flocked.  Two-thirds of us live in the West (including California, Hawaii, Nevada, Washington and Alaska) with significant populations in New York, New Jersey,and Illinois.  There are also growing numbers of Filipinos in Florida, Texas and Arizona, which makes me wonder – what could organized Filipinos do in these states one day?  Could Filipinos in Florida along with Puerto Ricans eventually help turn Florida into a progressive state? Could Filipinos in Texas help organize a successful pushback against the Texas-sized war on women, and help sweep a second Wendy Davis campaign to victory?  Could Filipinos in Arizona continue to be involved in the intense in-the-trenches organizing to keep immigrants safe in Arizona, and to one day win a repeal of “secure” communities and SB 1070 and help turn the tide against anti-immigrant legislation state by state?  And beyond geographical borders, could the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the health care industry (anyone have an exact number on this?) become a key force to win a single payer health care program in our lifetime?

More questions coming from my state of impatient confusion, and I’d love to hear from you: what victories have we already won and what should we expand and replicate? what do we already have and what else do we need to build the political power of Filipinos in America, so that we can become a key force (not just a constituency) for progressive change in this country?




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