Pinay Power!

The history of Filipinos in America, from the arrival of the first Luzon indios in Morro Bay, Calif., in 1587, to the coming of the Manilamen in Louisiana in either 1763 or 1830 to the immigration of sakadas to Hawai‘i in 1906, is the history of Filipinos in America. It is not the history of Filipinas in America.

There were thousands of Filipino men who served as mariners onboard the Spanish galleons that plied the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade from 1565 to 1815. Many of these mariners thereafter boarded other commercial ships that traveled throughout the Americas and Europe.

Some later lived in communities like the ones established in the Louisiana bayous in the 1800s. Throughout this 319-year period (from 1587 to 1906), there is no record that any Filipino woman ever served as a mariner on any of the galleon ships, or were any among the first 15 sakadas.

This thought came to mind while attending the Filipina Women’s Summit from October 27-29 at the Philippine Center in San Francisco.

I joined other Pinoys who were invited to join Pinays at “Coming Together as a Community” to discuss “How to Advance Filipina Women in the U.S.,” a project of the Filipina Women’s Network (www.ffwn.org) of Marily Mondejar.

An observation I shared with the delegates to this conference is that Pinays have advanced more in the political and economic spheres in the U.S. more than their Pinoy counterparts.

Under U.S. presidents before Bill Clinton, the only Pinoys in the White House were cooks and stewards. Newsweek once reported that under the first President George Bush, the residents of Kennebunkport, Maine, would always know when the president was in town by the large number of Filipinos who were shopping for food at the local grocers.

A Korean American White House official told a Filipino community forum in 1989 that “the last persons the president sees before he sleeps at night and the first persons he sees in the morning when he wakes up are Filipinos.” How proud we must be, he said. [“We want to go through the front door, not the back door!” Dennis Normandy told him].

This changed under President Clinton when he brought in Maria Mabilangan Haley as his White House director of personnel, Irene Bueno as his assistant director on Domestic Policy, Dr. Connie Mariano as his White House physician, Kathleen Flores as his director for Asian Outreach, Irene Natividad as a Fannie Mae director, Mona Pasquil as a special assistant in the White House Political Department, and Gloria Caoile and Tessie Guillermo as members of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans.

Haley went on to become a director of the Export-Import Bank, the first FilAm to ever go through and receive a U.S. Senate confirmation. Dr. Mariano was later promoted to become a Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy.

Aside from being professionally competent and politically astute, they were all Filipinas.

This trend was not just with a democrat. With President Bush, we saw the rise (and fall) of Susan Bonzon Ralston, as a special assistant, with perhaps more power and influence than any previous Filipino in the White House. And, of course, there was the appointment of the White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford.

In the economic sphere, there are role models like Loida Nicolas Lewis (CEO of TLC Beatrice), Josie (Josefina Almeda Cruz) Natori (CEO of the Natori Company) and Lilia Calderon (CEO of Calderon Capital). [The Pinoys have Dado Banatao.]

At the national empowerment conference of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations held in Honolulu recently, the three top officials elected by delegates from throughout the U.S. were women: Alma Kern (national chair), Rozita Lee (national vice chair) and Joann Fields (National Youth Chair).

I would say, without fear of contradiction, that our Filipinas can mentor our Filipinos any time of the day, 24/7.


Rodel Rodis, a Bay Area attorney, is two-time president of the Public Utilities Commission and a long-time City College trustee. Reach Rodel Rodis at rodel50@aol.com.

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