Legislative Wins on Filipino American Heritage Month

Franco Arcebal, Filipino American Veteran

October is Filipino American Heritage Month! This month Governor Brown also signed a slew of bills into law. As a Filipino American, I am excited about the Filipinos in World War II School Curriculum Act and the California DREAM Act. The Filipinos in World War II School Curriculum Act asks schools to teach students about Filipino American veterans who fought side-by-side White Americans. This law ensures that we remember the courageous Filipino Americans who fought for freedom and democracy. For example, Cenon Antonio only had a knife to protect himself during WWII yet he saved the lives of American soldiers by giving them food and medicine. In return for their service, the US Government promised citizenship to more than 250,000 Filipino soldiers. The US also promised them veteran benefits. Sadly, when the war was over, the US broke all its promises. The Filipino soldiers were ignored. It took more than 60 years for the US to finally give my people some credit. In 2009, Filipino American veterans were given $15,000 for their military service. Those who were unable to become US citizens were given $9,000. These payments were not enough for what the soldiers had to go through. Still, I accepted the news as a bittersweet victory. Finally, people like Antonio were recognized. Governor Brown has gone one step further. Having these stories in our children’s homework will benefit everyone. Learning the complete history will repaint the picture of an “American soldier” during WWII. Now, textbook heroes will not always look like Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan. Instead, students in California can also learn to picture veterans like Franco Arcebal, above. Governor Brown also signed the California DREAM Act, Part 2. This law allows undocumented immigrants access to financial aid for California colleges. Now more Californians will have the opportunity to go to the best universities in the world. My best friend in high school left the Philippines when she was 12 years old. Her dad obtained a work visa and brought the family to California. But then he died and my best friend became undocumented. Even though she was just as smart as I was, her immigration status limited her opportunities. I felt lucky to be born in the US. But it felt unfair. I received financial aid to study at UC Berkeley because I was born here. She didn’t receive financial aid because her dad died. The DREAM Act changes this and that makes me proud to be a Californian. Some critics say that the DREAM Act does not go far enough. I agree. Indeed, it does not offer citizenship for successful college graduates. But I believe giving undocumented immigrants access to education is a significant step. It is a huge step to comprehensive immigration reform. On an individual level, let’s all start by learning rewritten histories. In the process, let’s also pledge to drop the i-word.