In this bitter election, did I help encourage my community to vote?: A post-forum reflection

red line

red line

The author during the September 9 forum on ‘U.S. Presidential Election: What’s in it for me?,’ jointly organized by the Philippine Consulate and the Fil-Am Press Club of New York. The FilAm photos

The author during the September 9 forum on ‘U.S. Presidential Election: What’s in it for me?,’ jointly organized by the Philippine Consulate and the Fil-Am Press Club of New York. The FilAm photos

By Matthew Alonsozana

As go Filipino-Americans, so goes the United States. Will they choose to “Make America Great Again” or declare “I’m With Her”?

More than any other Asian American community, Filipino-Americans are social, economic, and political bellwethers of this country, and in a way, our community embodies a vision of the American Dream in constant evolution and consistent adherence to middle-class values. Because of this, getting the pulse of the Filipino-American community is sure to reveal or underscore issues that affect all Americans.

Moderate-minded Filipino-Americans are caught between two seemingly bad choices: one who represents a rigged status quo and the other who represents too much of an extremist rejection of convention. It should come as no surprise that among Filipino-Americans I have talked with they find the current Republican and Democratic nominees for president to be intensely unlikable and the political process as a whole to be dispiriting – in a manner similar to the great majority of all Americans. With no clear reasons to be engaged, what is there to encourage Filipino-Americans to vote in the current election, let alone become more active in the political process?

The Fil-Am Press Club of New York with the Philippine Consulate General in New York organized a forum on September 9 that should go a long way in reminding all Filipino-Americans, and Americans as a whole, that political involvement is perhaps more crucial now than it has ever been.

I was privileged enough to be asked to participate as a Republican representative at the forum, but up until it was my turn to speak, I truly had no idea what to say.

Behind-the-scenes political staffers like me usually find comfort in keeping our private beliefs private, especially in this controversial and degrading election cycle, but being a part of this public forum caused me to reflect deeply upon the situation in which we now find ourselves.
Though a former Republican National Committee staffer, I found it not to be my personal obligation to defend or make sense of Donald Trump’s incendiary rhetoric. As the eldest of four brothers, it’s not the type of language or treatment of others that I would use with strangers let alone my own brothers. And yet, as a private citizen, I found that Hillary Clinton has yet to fully resolve or hold herself accountable for untrustworthy, if not sheer unethical, behavior. Every day brings new disclosures that diminish every Americans’ perceptions of these candidates.

How then was I to help encourage a community to vote in the absence of major candidates to vote for and not against?

Panel speakers were Jason Tengco and Loida Nicolas Lewis (top) for the Democratic Party, and Jeff Coleman and Alonsozana for the Republican Party.

Panel speakers were Jason Tengco and Loida Nicolas Lewis (top) for the Democratic Party, and Jeff Coleman and Alonsozana for the Republican Party.

Luckily enough, I had the pleasure of speaking last after speakers much better than I: Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis and Mr. Jason Tengco, for the Democrats, and Mr. Jeff Coleman, my Republican colleague. I admired and respected Ms. Lewis’s and Mr. Tengco’s fierce advocacy of Secretary Clinton, and Mr. Coleman articulated an empowering vision of the Republican Party that I agreed with more than any other I had heard over the past few months. Though speaking in a partisan manner, all three of them were gracious and building up causes greater than themselves.

Listening to them, I wasn’t impressed with specific talking points so much as I was humbled by the sheer depth, talent, and leadership resonant within the Filipino-American community. I may have been disillusioned with the political process, but listening to my fellow forum speakers, re-doubled my belief in Filipino-Americans.

We are a people united by our immigrant heritage, inspired by the opportunities to create better lives for our families and ourselves, and strengthened by values forged in the family and exercised daily. We are undeniably Filipino and American and uniquely Filipino-American. But with these great blessings bestowed upon us, we have a moral obligation to make the most of what we have been given – to not only stay involved in America, our home, but also to lead the way in making this country a better home for our children and one we can grow to be more proud of.

As I got up to speak, I didn’t just see a room full of nameless faces and unknown names but a community in which I believe and respect, and so I committed myself to telling the truth: we are facing immense challenges in this country that no candidate alone can solve, but together we, especially as Filipino-Americans, can make life better. It was not my message, but the sum of value of all of the speakers.

It is not a flashy message, but it’s one woven into the founding of this country and lives on in our clubs, our meeting halls, and places of worship. It is liberal on its reliance on others and conservative in its timelessness. It is quintessentially American, and by extension, Filipino-American.

As the forum went on, the rest of my remarks flowed easily. Surely, the discussion was not a blasé recitation of talking points between camps, but a political discussion with the community in good form. There should be more forums like this all across the country where people can freely admit agreement on topics instead of being weighed down by too much partisan point-scoring. True, different sides will have disagreements, but even the existence of the forum itself was proof that we can still come together to promote a common good.

After the forum, I do not know if we succeeded in energizing the community in voting let alone becoming more involved, but it was an effort we should have all been proud of. I like to think that this forum, rather than the capstone to a bitter election, is a beginning to a new constructive dialogue. And as an American, I pray for this.

For the next two months, Filipino-Americans will be bombarded with even more dispiriting news and confronted with ever more causes for disillusionment, and in many cases, this information will be accompanied by those omnipresent, partisan slogans “Make America Great Again” and “I’m With Her.”

But, during that evening in New York City, I hope Filipino-Americans were reminded that America is already great and can always be made great again when we work with each other.

As go Filipino-Americans, so goes the United States.

Matthew Alonsozana is the Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Percipient Strategies LLC, an international competitive intelligence firm. He was the former Senior Research Analyst for Special Projects at the Republican National Committee. He can be reached at

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