Homecoming and Coming Home for Filipino American History Month

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This post is the latest in the series “Connecting All the Dots” an ongoing discussion about and across movements. While connecting two dots only makes a simple line, connecting ALL the dots can create a completely different picture that can help provide new insight on the issues of the day.

One of the time honored traditions at many high schools and colleges in the United States is “Homecoming Weekend.” Usually connected to a school’s home schedule for their football team, it becomes an opportunity to bring the community together and welcome alumni who “come home” to visit. For my experience, Homecoming never seemed to be a big part of my school traditions growing up, or at least as big a part compared to other school’s traditions as far as I could gather. As the son of immigrant parents whose own schooling did not include US traditions of homecoming though, I never really had much of a point of comparison.

The concept of “coming home” is one that is often fraught for immigrant families. When parents and children draw on their own experiences of their upbringings from different cultural milieux, the idea of a cultural home becomes a hybrid experience. The Filipino American experience, drawn as it is from a Filipino culture that has its own legacy of American cultural contact and exchange because of its “special relationship” of colonialism, takes on an even more particular interplay between cultures of origin and cultures of arrival.

Learning to look at my history and culture through an historic lens and thinking about these very esoteric notions of “homecoming” and cultural contact took place as part of my own schooling, where I was fortunate to be able to learn and examine my own assumptions and understandings of the world through a critical lens.

It was in the course of my schooling as well where I learned about not only my own culture, but my community’s history and connect the two not only to each other, but to the conviction that social justice for me needed to address the historic legacy of discrimination and racism that they shared.

In high school, growing up as a racial minority and as someone grappling with his sexual orientation, I developed a sharp sense of fair play and my education and upbringing allowed me to develop an ethic of equity and a sense of the wrongs that racism and homophobia had in New Jersey during the 1980s, when anti-Asian sentiment against the Japanese and the “Dot-Busters” that targeted South Asians mixed with the rampant discrimination during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

When I went to the University of California- Berkeley, the heady environment of the campus’ legacy of free speech and social justice met with the demography of the Bay Area’s large Filipino American and Asian American communities, as well as the active LGBT community that figured San Francisco as its cultural epicenter. It provided me with an educational grounding as well as vibrant and engaged communities that became my “alma mater” in a real sense, the nurturing mother that became a cultural and political home for me.

This weekend, dear friends, fellow alumni, and family are converging at UC Berkeley to celebrate its annual Homecoming Weekend. The entire campus community is offering a slate of activities and events to welcome alumni from around the world back to familiar institutions like the Campanile, Bowles Hall, and Memorial Stadium. The Pilipino American Alumni Chapter is holding a slate of events that I am missing with a heavy heart. Three years ago, I went to Homecoming to celebrate my own 20th year reunion and helped plan PAAC events that have led to this weekend’s celebration of the organization’s re-charter and emergence as a vibrant member of the Berkeley alumni family.

I am missing Homecoming in order to recognize and celebrate accomplishments of my current political and spiritual home in Washington, DC. This weekend, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Twenty years ago, I had just moved to Washington DC with stars in my eyes and dreams of changing the world. NaFFAA was where I joined other people who were young then to push for an intergenerational space where we could articulate an inclusive agenda for the entire community. As a consultant, volunteer, and supporter, I have followed NaFFAA’s journey to empowerment for the Filipino American community. It hasn't always been a smooth ride but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

On October 25, the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project is gearing up for a National Celebration when the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal will be presented to approximately 20 living veterans and 300 family members and advocates we are bringing to Washington. That evening, we will hold a National Gala Celebration where the community will again come together, this time to more intentionally demonstrate the adoration of a grateful nation to the veterans whose service is being recognized on such a distinguished national platform. My political and spiritual homes will converge that night in a homecoming of a different sort as we honor the veterans who are shining beacons in the Filipino American community.

As I have thought about Homecoming in recent years, whether it’s because my alma maters are focusing more attention and resources to their respective Homecomings than they used to, or whether as an alum, I am attracting their attention for outreach, I have become more in touch with Homecoming traditions. As UC Berkeley celebrates its Homecoming this weekend, I remember my roots and the history of where I’ve come from as I turn my thoughts now to the Homecoming our Filipino American veterans will be enjoying as we honor the history they’re making now.

Ben de Guzman is on the Executive Committee of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. For more information about the activities this week, go to filvetrep.org. GO BEARS!