More young FilAms are signing up to voteBy Steven Raga
During this past month, we’ve watched Krystle Cruz on “The Next” where she wowed audiences with her singing, and JR Aquino on “The Voice” where he also garnered a well-deserved public praise led by no less than Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine. With both of these shows involving a voting component, friends and family of these two young Filipino American talents are probably deluged with a stream of Facebook posts, tweets and Gmail Chats requesting for votes.
However, votes are not for FilAm entertainers alone.
In August, after more than 20 years of fighting for full equity for Filipino World War II veterans, the Justice for Filipino Veterans (JFAV) ended its decades-long campaign. It’s been 2012 and our veterans still have not received the full benefits promised them when they signed up for active military duty under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s and ‘40s. In a dramatic protest worthy of a silver screen scenario, the Filipino veterans returned the medals they received for protecting the United States.
Every now and then, the question of “Why won’t the United States government give full equity to Filipino veterans?” would arise. With the limited budget the U.S. Congress has to divvy up among a wide array of constituent-based issues, there lies an increased importance of letting those in positions of authority know that we — as a community and potential voting bloc –understand that we could, should and must have a larger say in the affairs of the country. With this in mind, the simple act of registering to vote can mean the difference between continued invisibility and being noticed.
Within the New York/New Jersey area alone, organizations like the National Federation for Filipino American Associations Region 1, Philippine American Group for Aging Seniors in America (PAGASA Social Foundation), Pan American Concerned Citizens Action League, and Pilipino American Unity for Progress (UniPro), have been getting the word out and proactively helping Filipino Americans register to vote. Thus far, UniPro has more than 84 confirmed registrants — most of them students and young professionals — with more than 120 others pledging to register before their state deadlines.
Organizations have also made a conscious effort to encourage younger FilAms to vote. KAYA Filipino American for Progress has come out with a video of prominent Filipino Americans urging the youth to get out and register. In Virginia, the Filipino American Vote Coalition of Hampton Roads even held a flash mob at the Virginia Beach Town Center conveying the same message.
Needless to say, our community is beginning to take notice of just exactly how important this democratic process is. Many of the issues hotly debated this election season directly affect Filipinos living in America. Most especially with President Obama’s push for a more comprehensive immigration program, which includes the controversial DREAM Act and his June 15 initiative called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
These policies that directly concern Filipino immigrant youth in America have already garnered a reaction from GOP candidate Mitt Romney, who publicly stated that he would repeal the Obama initiative once elected. An unfortunate irony here is that those individuals who could use the power of the vote to advocate for a more comprehensive immigration policy, are those who don’t have any immigration issues themselves: U.S. citizens.
So are Filipinos Americans registering to vote more than ever before? With October 12th as New York State’s registration deadline and October 16th for New Jersey, all signs seem to point to a ‘yes’ this year. Voting is absolutely one of our most powerful tools in advancing the rights and dignity of Filipinos in America. Is it the only tool? Of course not. But it’s a privilege that our forefathers, both in America and the Philippines, have protested for, fought for and died for.
Before JR Aquino and Krystle Cruz, Filipinos across America were swept up in Jessica Sanchez’s meteoric rise on “American Idol.” Most voted. Many voted more than once even as the votes did not affect immigration policy, veterans’ benefits, the cost of housing, workers’ rights, or the increasing cost of higher education and college loan debt.
This is an exciting moment both for Filipino Americans who are registering to vote for the first time and those who are advocating non-partisan civic engagement. It is a time to hear a united voice from the community, whether the people we vote for are on television or not.
Steven Raga, founder of the Pilipino American Unity for Progress (UniPro), is an active member of the FilAm community in New York and has been previously involved with multiple young professionals, student and youth organizations.