Today, Louisiana Filipinos, like those around the country, are quite assimilated personally and professionally, though most also make time for Filipino activities as well. American Filipinos can often be heard referring to themselves as "Pinoys," in a very similar spirit. According to Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, now an assistant professor at San Francisco State University specializing in Filipino American history, and others whose families have used the term "Pinoy" or "Pinay" as far back as the 1920s, the term was originally used by Filipinos in the United States as a self-description, to distinguish themselves from Filipinos still residing in the islands. Among contemporary Filipino Americans, the term "pinoy" has also come to be an affectionate reference to people, things, sounds, and flavors of Philippine background, rather like some might use the expression "down-home." An example is one cook's assertion, describing her recipe that weds Filipino to Louisiana ingredients and techniques, that "This special ingredient is what puts the pinoy in my gumbo!"
D.H.K.: I think Yellow Perilism, or anti-Asianism more generally, persists. This is especially clear if we look beyond large coastal cities, like San Francisco, or contexts like the academy. There is a whole lot of America between the urban dots in which Asian-Americans are beginning to appear more familiar, and there are many realms of life outside of the university, a place where Asian-Americans are regarded as a model minority. In many of these other locations and contexts, Asian-Americans are often not welcome. And in these places as well as the ones where they are more familiar, they are often welcomed in a conditional fashion: they have to be “good” Asians, politically compliant and sometimes even white-identified.
The Philippine Heritage Celebration is held on or near Philippine Independence Day each year. When Independence Day occurs on a weekday, regular work schedules must still be maintained, so it is celebrated either the weekend before or after June 12. In 2008 the festivities, sponsored by the New Orleans Filipino American Lions Club but organized and attended by Filipinos who were both members and non-members, opened with an invocation by Deacon Patrick Dempsey. In his opening prayer, the island-loving priest of Irish descent declared, with enthusiastic sympathy, "We are all Filipino!" This was followed by the United States Pledge of Allegiance, then the United States and Philippine national anthems, and finally a song of importance to all Filipinos, one that is learned by everyone at an early age. Robert Romero, the president of the Filipino-American Lions Club, explains the importance of this song, called "Ako Ay Pilipino" ("I am a Filipino"), and also discusses the importance of gathering together as Filipinos to remember and celebrate freedom, culture, and community:
In Louisiana, the largest non-religious Filipino celebrations is Independence Day, which is an occasion to commemorate the country's history and the journeys taken by those who now make their homes here. Filipinos have traditionally celebrated June 12th as Independence Day, but this date was not recognized by the United States government, in favor of the July 4th date on which independence was granted from the United States, until Republic Act No. 4166 was passed by Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal in 1964. Currently, Filipinos in the Philippines and in the United States observe June 20th as Independence Day, and celebrations typically focus on customs and foods from home. Philippine Independence Day celebrates independence from both Spain and America. For local Filipinos, the most recent celebration was special because it marked the 110th anniversary of the first declaration of Filipino independence.
Second, Asian-Americans have to see themselves as part of a larger community of color. We are often hoodwinked into believing the model minority story and that we should be grateful for our successes. Note that such gratitude, apparently compulsory, frames our interests or affiliations in an unethically narrow fashion and invites a kind of political affiliation with whiteness. But the America of blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, Middle Easterners and so on is also a part of our America. The killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are but the tip of the iceberg of anti-black racism; Latinos are hunted by I.C.E (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and the tragedy of border crossing is a human rights issue for which subsequent generations will judge us; Asians have arrived on an already occupied land, one filled by peoples for whom virtually every treaty was violated. And with the same logic as the Japanese internment, so many Middle Easterners, Arabs and Muslims are being held without trial, and more generally they are profoundly ostracized in our “war on terror.” Thus, with a wider sense of ethical community, I’ll have to reserve my gratitude for the day when a deeper democracy is achieved.
It's always a great feeling of accomplishment after I have performed a dance. The stress of learning the dance and wanting everything [to] be executed perfectly all falls away once you are finished and everyone tells you how much they have enjoyed watching you perform. As a half-Filipino and Caucasian American, [this] always leaves me feeling closer to my Filipino heritage. You obviously feel that you know yourself a greater amount when you do learn more of where you come from. This has to be my favorite thing about traditional dancing. Everything and anything that I do take away from it, I would like to teach my future children.
In addition to families and neighborhoods, Filipinos also gather in social, professional, and charitable organizations. Many of these raise funds to assist new arrivals from the Philippines while they settle in Louisiana, to support victims of disasters in the Philippines or in Louisiana, to support favorite charities unrelated to cultural groups, or to support ongoing community activities. One of the earliest important social clubs, with a clubhouse in the Faubourg Marigny area in New Orleans, was the Filipino-American Goodwill Society. According to Rhonda Richoux, new arrivals from the Philippines were quickly welcomed into the local Filipino clubs. The clubs celebrated holidays and maintained customs from the home country, and also embraced local customs. This helped immigrants to learn about new customs by participating in them with fellow Filipinos. One example is Mardi Gras; individual Filipino clubs held their own Mardi Gras balls and elected their own carnival courts. Rhonda Richoux describes the activities of the Filipino-American Goodwill Society, nicknamed "The Flip Club" by its teenaged members, to which her family belonged:
G.Y.: What has to change in America, more generally, for you, as an Asian-American, to feel affirmed? And what, specifically, in the professional field of philosophy?
Growing up in New Orleans, I didn't feel out of place with my Cajun name, Richoux, and my brown skin, courtesy of my Filipino grandparents. At home, my Cajun and Filipino American relatives exchanged recipes and family stories-for example that my Filipino ancestor Felipe Madriaga worked in the Filipino fishing villages of St. Malo and Manila Village and, with his Irish wife Brigett Nugent, ran a small restaurant at one time. With so many diverse cultures, each neighborhood seemed like the center of the universe to its inhabitants. It was certainly the center of my universe, because just about everybody I knew and loved lived in the Faubourg Marigny, right outside of the French Quarter.
Louisiana Filipinos have organized mutual aid societies since their earliest communities were established, and social clubs offered their members places to gather and strengthen community ties. Working together, cultural organizations served not only to provide community to people missing family and routines from home, but also to advocate for the good of the group. One example is the successful repeal of a prohibition against Asians owning land. Today there are about 21 social, cultural, and professional organizations of Louisiana Filipinos. Almost half are local chapters of national organizations; all are geared toward improving the lives of Filipinos living in Louisiana. A good number of them operate charitable activities that benefit residents regardless of their cultural background. Some people, like Marina Espina, the first female president of the Filipino-American Goodwill Society of America and the founder of the Asian Pacific American Society, wonder whether the multiplicity of organizations has the result that "Filipinos lack a sense of unity" and that perhaps this means that "the Filipino community becomes less visible to New Orleans society." Others contend that there is a strong core of very active community members who maintain memberships in multiple organizations.
According to Marina E. Espina, who remembers spending summers in Manila Village as a girl, the fishermen who worked there also had homes in the Faubourg Marigny on the outskirts of the French Quarter, and after Hurricane Betsy this neighborhood was home to the highest concentration of Filipinos. Rather than segregate themselves, the Filipinos-while maintaining close ties and strongly identifying as Filipino-socialized freely with their German, Irish, French, and African-American neighbors. Filipinos in Louisiana, from the earliest arrivals of single fishermen, have a long history of racial tolerance and intermarriage. The majority of Filipinos in Louisiana today cheerfully absorb relatives-by-marriage who come from other cultures, and welcome their children as full members of the Filipino community.