Fil-Am voice remains in the sidelines at GOP convention

PINOY Newsmagazine
October 2004

Text and photos by Ted Regencia

NEW YORK — As the Republican Party nominates President George W. Bush for a second term, issues being advocated by Filipino-Americans remain in the sidelines, with the attention focus on terrorism, national security, the economy and health reforms.

In his acceptance speech September 2 at the Madison Square Garden, President Bush made no mention of immigration, one of the major concerns of Filipino-American voters. This, even as he aggressively courts the largest immigrant group, the Hispanics, with specific and targeted proposals.

The immigration issue aside, the Filipino-American community’s other major concern: Full recognition of Filipino American World War II veterans, was also unheard of at the convention floor.

Further complicating efforts to advance its causes is the almost absent representation of the Filipino-American community in the Grand Old Party’s (GOP) convention delegates. Of the 2,509 delegates, only 104 or two percent are Asians with an undetermined number of Filipino Americans. This despite statistics showing the 2-million plus Filipino American community is the second largest Asian group in the US.

It should be noted, however, that this year, minorities make up 17 percent of total delegates as compared to 10 percent in 2000. “(This is) the most diverse group of delegates in our party’s history,” Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie said in the GOP website.

Immigration issue
Of the few Filipino American delegates, PINOY interviewed two, and both did not mention immigration or equity for Fil-Am veterans as among their top concerns.

Filipino American Mark Ellis, one of the delegates from the state of Maine, said it’s Mr. Bush’s stand “on tax cuts and the economy” that he was most passionate to hear about. Ellis, a computer expert, was born in the Philippines.

The 43-year old Ellis from Augusta, Maine played a major role in the Republican Party as one of the 110-member platform-writing team. He was involved in the aspects of the platform that dealt with terrorism and homeland security.

Another Filipino American delegate from Hawaii, Vivian Welsh Aiona, stressed homeland security, education and family values, as among her concerns. Aiona was not disappointed when Bush addressed her three concerns during his acceptance speech.

“This is my first time to attend a Republican National Convention and I am really very excited. My kids are also very excited,” added Aiona, wife of Hawaii Lt. Gov. James Aiona and mother to Makana, Ohulani, Kulia and Kaimilani. She traces her roots in Cebu, the province and birthplace of her mother.

When pressed on her stand on immigration and undocumented immigrants, Aiona said “immigration laws need to be fixed” and that she favors faster process of “family reunification.” She did not elaborate.

Thorny issue 
Meanwhile, Susan Fischer, a Republican delegate from Texas told PINOY that undocumented immigrants should be sent back to their respective countries.

Nancy Acevedo, a Florida delegate of Hispanic descent was more conciliatory. She said Republican leaders in Congress need to “fix the problem”, given the reality that thousands cross the US border from Latin America every year.

When asked what problems in immigration need fixing, Acevedo said that it is up to the legislators to determine it.

Immigration is a thorny issue for both the Republican and the Democratic Party. According to published reports, a slight majority of Republican delegates, 52%, think legal immigration into the US should be kept at its present level. A similar number of Democratic delegates said so in July. But Republican delegates are more likely than their Democratic counterparts to want decreased immigration: by a two-to-one margin, Republican delegates say immigration level should be decreased, while the Democratic delegates said immigration should be increased by 23% to 14%.

Nationally, voters of both parties want to see decreased legal immigration, with 53% of Republican voters and 48% of Democratic voters saying so.

Pinoy New Yorkers

While Republican faithfuls carried on with their four-day affair inside Madison Square Garden, life went on in the streets of New York.

At Union Square, Anita, a middle-aged caregiver from the Philippine island of Cebu, and long-time resident of Queens, was enjoying her late lunch while people-watching.

Asked about the upcoming presidential elections, Anita casually commented in her native Cebuano that Bush “would probably win re-election, because the wife of John Kerry (Teresa Heinz-Kerry) does not look like a first lady.”

Anita would also relate her “harrowing” experience during 9/11 when she had to walk for five hours to get home; and the 2003 Blackout, when she was trapped in the subway.

At the other side of Union Square, Stephanie Valera, a Fil-Am graduate of New York University, was busy chatting with her friends. They have just witnessed an open-air exhibit dubbed Eyes Wide Open featuring hundreds of combat boots representing the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq. One pair of boots was labelled: Spec. Solomon Bangayan, Vermont. Bangayan, originally of Sudipen, La Union, Philippines was killed in Iraq last January 2, 2004.

“He is universally hated here,” Valera said, never mincing her words in criticizing President Bush and his decision to go to war in Iraq.

Earlier, another Filipina, artist June Pascal, formerly of Quezon City, chanced upon this reporter at Station 96 of the R subway. The conversation immediately turned to politics, with her expressing her “disgust” towards the Republicans. “I hate them. I hate them. That’s why I am moving out of here,” she she before announcing that she is moving to the Dominican Republic.

Still, another Filpino-American from Vigan, Ilocos Sur said he “does not want to get involved in or comment about politics.”

Fifth Avenue corporate office workers David and Jade Zapanta, on the other hand, were taking the temporary Republican onslaught in New York with calm demeanor. Both are supporting Bush’s opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

Bush ahead among Pinoys
Filipino American supporters of Kerry, however, may be disappointed to learn of the survey showing majority of their kababayans (countrymen) are voting for Bush. According to the New California Media, which conducted the survey for the Republican Tarrance Group and the Democratic Bendixen & Associates, 56 percent of Filipino Americans back President Bush.

Overall the nationwide poll of 1,004 Asian Pacific and Islander Americans “likely to vote” on November 2, shows Kerry leading Bush 43-36. Filipino Americans composed 19 percent of the total polled.

The NCM poll projects 2.9 million Asian Americans, out of the estimated 3.5 million registered voters, will go out and vote in November.

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