Monday, March 23, 2009

A Day of Remembrance

Mizraim Martinez

To be a minority within this nation is a strange thing. One breathes the same air, shares the same space and believes in the same inalienable rights that were bestowed upon its people so very long ago. With César E. Chávez Day approaching, one can only look back and reflect on how over the past 40 years many battles for immigrant and minority rights have been fought; some were won — while others lost.

One such battle that lives in the minds of many Chicanos is the Boycott of Delano Farms. It was in this fight that the power and resilience of the minority worker was brought to light. The unity created within the Mexican American and Filipino communities shined, while proving to the nation that they would stand united in the struggle no matter how long it took to succeed.

Just as this struggle dominates the minds of many Chicanos, there is also such struggle and injustice that to this day resides in the minds of many of our Filipino brothers and sisters. To put it simply, it was a promise that was never kept.

During World War II, the United States called upon its people to fight in a war that still holds consequences today. As reported by CNN on Feb. 23rd, in addition to fighting for one’s country, "The U.S. military promised full veterans benefits to Filipinos who volunteered to fight." It would be a promise that would not come to fruition for another 64 years, and even then the "benefits" would be limited.

At the time of the war, 250,000 Filipino volunteers signed up to fight. Of those, only 15,000 still live today. It is an astonishing number that only sees the true injustice when one realizes that the "benefits" promised are as follows: those "[W]ho have become U.S. citizens get $15,000 each; non-citizens get $9,000." Even then, the families of those who have passed away waiting for these benefits are not eligible.

Although the recent action by President Barack Obama to finally recognize the service of these veterans is a step in the right direction, this small monetary compensation, "[D]oes not correct the injustice and discrimination done … 60 years ago," as Franco Arcebal, a leader of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, stated to CNN.

While President Obama has not made any follow-up comment regarding the funds to be distributed, I call on him to give these men their just compensation. As a man who ran on the platform of change and equality, he should realize these men deserve more. It was because of the promise of a better life that these men signed up; a promise that was erased as quickly as it was offered.

President Harry S. Truman wrote in a letter to the House and Senate in 1946, "The record of the Philippine soldiers for bravery and loyalty is second to none. Their assignment was as bloody and difficult as any in which our American soldiers engaged." If for no other reason, these veterans — those here and those who have since passed on — should be rightfully and justly remembered.

While this may be an issue that has been fought over in the highest levels of government for decades, it does not have to end there. With César E. Chávez Day approaching, we should take the time to remember our fellow "Brown Brothers" who fought in the war, and make it known that the Latino community has not forgotten about the Filipino community.

By celebrating them, we also celebrate the accomplishments that they helped trigger in Chicano history and in our own lives. ¶

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