Making Filipino, American, and Filipino American History

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.

As we wrap up Filipino American History Month today, I’m still awash in feelings over an eventful month for our veterans. A week ago today, a standing room only crowd in Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol gathered for an historic moment- the presentation of the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal. The team at the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP) worked to bring over 300 participants into the room for this momentous occasion- including 20 living veterans and over 200 next of kin and other family representatives of veterans who were recognized with the highest civilian honor that the Congress can bestow. Later that day, FilVetREP hosted a Gala that presented 300 Congressional Gold Medal bronze replicas to these veterans and family members and held a national celebration that showered the collective joy of a grateful nation onto these recipients.

Mr. Celestino Almeda, 100 year old Filipino WWII Veteran, earning a standing ovation from Members of the Senate and House of
Mr. Celestino Almeda, 100 year old Filipino WWII Veteran, earning a standing ovation from Members of the Senate and House of Representatives and a packed Emancipation Hall

The Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, which was signed into law as Public Law 114-265 on December 14, 2016, called for this honor to be bestowed on soldiers meeting the following criteria:

  • Honorably at any time from July 26, 1941, to December 31, 1946;
  • In an active-duty status under the command of the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE); and
  • Within the Philippine Commonwealth Army, the Philippine Scouts, the Philippine Constabulary, Recognized Guerrilla units, the New Philippine Scouts, the First Filipino Infantry Regiment, the Second Filipino Infantry Battalion (Separate), or the First Reconnaissance Battalion; or
  • Commanding or serving in such a unit as a U.S. military officer or enlisted soldier.

In essence then, this Congressional Gold Medal has been earned by Filipino soldiers called into service under USAFFE, Filipino American soldiers who signed up in the U.S. in the First or Second Infantry units, and American soldiers who served in the Philippines in units under the command of USAFFE. Filipino, Filipino American, and American veterans and their families made history that day and it was a moment of a lifetime to be in the room when it happened.

Looking to the future then, our work at FilVetREP continues on the following fronts:

  1. Regional Activity: We are working with local communities around the country to support Regional Presentations where veterans and families who could not make it to Washington can share in the historic moment and receive their own Congressional Gold Medal Bronze Replicas. These events are in the process of being planned and announcements will be made on social media (Facebook and Twitter) and on our website in the coming weeks and months.
  2. Building Awareness and Support: We will continue to reach out to let veterans and their families know that we continue to build our registry of eligible veterans and to raise the funds necessary to put a Congressional Gold Medal replica in their or their family’s hands.
  3. Education Program: We are engaging organizations and institutions such as the Smithsonian to create an Education Program that will support activities such as curriculum development and online resources that will ensure that the legacy of these Filipino, Filipino American, and American soldiers will endure for generations to come.

As the month wrapped up, history making of a more personal nature was taking place for the families involved with the Congressional Gold Medal. On Friday, October 27, Dr. Alex Rojas, the son of Dr. Erlinda Rojas, who received a Congressional Gold Medal replica for her late husband, became naturalized as an U.S. citizen. His husband, Dennis Tucker, serves on the Citizens Coinage Advisory and accompanied his mother-in-law to Washington.

(L-R) Dennis, Ava, and Alex celebrating Alex’s naturalization
(L-R) Dennis, Ava, and Alex celebrating Alex’s naturalization

On the same day hundreds of miles up the Interstate 95, my cousin in law (and recent mother second time around) Beanne de Guzman became a U.S. citizen in her own right.

Beanne de Guzman holding her new citizenship documents
Beanne de Guzman holding her new citizenship documents

U.S. Citizenship is causing much consternation in this partisan political climate. For the newest recipients of the newest Congressional Gold Medal, citizenship is a critical piece of the puzzle for the Filipino, Filipino American, and American soldiers who served. Citizenship was the first major benefit to be restored in the Filipino WWII veterans’ journey towards equity and recognition, a journey that took a major step last week. For Alex and Beanne, U.S. citizenship marks their journey from Filipino to American, and ultimately, Filipino American. It is a meaningful way to mark the end of this year’s particularly eventful journey of Filipino American History Month.

Ben de Guzman is on the Executive Committee of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. He believes that capturing the feelings of this past week and past month in 700 words has been the most difficult project of Connecting All the Dots to date.

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