Monday, May 07, 2007

Disabusing Second-Class Citizen Label

There is a quiet though common perception in the old homeland that Filipinos immigrating to the US eventually are treated as second-class citizens.

One could easily dismiss this as part of an old-wives tale with not much basis in fact, since speaking of current laws and practices there is nothing to suggest that tiers of citizenship are practiced in the US.

A second-class citizen may be generally defined as an informal term used to describe a person, being a member of a discriminated group, who is systematically discriminated against within a state or other political jurisdiction.

But are there so-called second-class citizens in the US? Or do certain Americans treat others as second-class citizens?

I would have no hesitation answering in the affirmative to both questions.

Now, there is continuing discrimination in the US and there are no two ways about that, but it definitely is not state-countenanced nor is it legally embodied in any existing laws. But people being people and man’s innate inability to legislate on what people can or cannot think, certain isolated discriminatory practices continue and will continue to be practiced. But happily, there are many watchdog groups, private and governmental, tasked specifically with making sure that these undesirable practices are not allowed to prosper or fester. And the body politic has been so acutely sensitized about discrimination that it has not been allowed to rear its ugly in public for longer than the speedy haste that vigilant people can denounce it.

So that being set aside, why do many of my compatriots in the old homeland continue to spout the bromide that Filipinos become second-class citizens in the US?

Just the other day, surfing and scanning through a blog authored by a rather intelligent and perceptive young man, deep into political activism, I again ran across this inference, this time that his migrant parents in the US are treated as second-class citizens. And with no provision of any proof for such a damning charge, maybe other than that the parents may consider themselves second-class citizens.

Knowing Filipinos and of course, being one myself, let me advance a couple of possible plausible reasons why migrant Filipinos may have on their own consigned themselves to second-class citizen category.

First and foremost, many Filipinos are not wont to barter away their packaged cultural, social, and personal identities even when they find themselves in strange new places. There appears an almost implacable resistance to part with any trait or quality acquired in the old homeland, in order to begin the process of assimilation or integration in the major culture of the new host country. While a good part of it may be adamant resistance, I suspect unchecked cluelessness, or even misplaced nationalism, may also be thrown into the mix. The lack of dispassionate awareness that certain ways of thinking and acting will have to be exchanged so not only can at least a modicum of social acceptance be had, but importantly so one can be part of and participate in mainstream society and thus avail of the inherent benefits accorded it. Such critical benefits as educational and employment opportunities. Or simply, social acceptance.

Full citizenship does require one to integrate at least, if not assimilate, with the rest of society. And in the US, the presence of many cultural minorities notwithstanding, everybody knows what the majority culture still is, representing almost 70% of the population.

Another thorny issue that may drive Filipinos to count themselves as second-class citizens may even be considered baseless or unfounded. And may simply be a form of cop-out. Many Filipinos come into the US holding temporary or visitor’s visa. They look for and find work, circumventing laws and/or contravening provisions of their visa. Then, they prolong their stay way beyond the expiration of their visa and thus become overstaying illegals, armed with and encouraged by the firm hope that their extended stay could be parlayed into legal status in the future, with able assistance from the number of immigration lawyers willing to handle their case.

In the meantime, their numbers stealthily operate in the shadows of the underground economy, unable to participate and avail of all the benefits available to those of legal status or those here in the country with visas valid for regular employment. And truly, they become second-class, but not even as second-class citizens because they are not.

In this second instance, while this intrepid and most-times selfless measure resorted to, done all for family and loved ones, should be admired, it is still first and foremost an illegal way.

And rightfully, nobody in this situation can have any expectations other than those of second-class status.


  1. I'm sure everyone has their own experiences that might make them think they are being treated less than as a "full" citizen. Being a foreigner in the Philippines, I can assure you that I KNOW what it feels like to be treated as LESS than second class. For the most part, we are looked at as either interlopers or as cows to be milked. And you can tell those whining so-called "second classers" that in most other nations they would more than likely be treated much worse. For instance, no matter how long I live here, I will NEVER be regarded as a Filipino. Second class or not, the complainers you speak of ARE Americans.

  2. Good points raised, Phil.

    And I feel bad about your negative experiences. And worse, because in our case, we go back there and are treated no differently than when we left.

    We simply "change gears" and become the persons we were before we left and nobody notices the difference.

  3. Being of college age when I arrived in NYC, I immersed myself immediately in its local culture. Eventually, I met and became close friends with a couple of born-and-raised-New Yorkers who made assimilation a rather fun experience for me. Yet, through it all, I never lost sight of my individuality and heritage, which made them appreciate me as their friend even more.

  4. SE, I think you must realize that your New York experience could easily have been different if YOU hadn't made the effort... I've lived in places where I was outright hated, ironically, most of those places were within my own home country... As I said, every place is its "own" experience. Making the best of where you live is best. Another observation: Funny how Americans never seem to worry about "their" heritage or forgetting about where "they" come from. At least I never did... nor did my friends. All I ever do is try to be myself and that is good enough. And if we pick up the traits of the people we live among, so be it. Why not?

  5. I share the same sentiments as you, Phil, regarding one's individual past or heritage as Eric views it.

    To me, my heritage is the cumulative experiences I have collected in life regardless of where they originated from. And I am not really sure what exactly heritage as traditionally understood denotes. Given what we individually have gone through.

    For example, I think in English and this was confirmed when I became delirious during an operation, and have difficulty reading and writing in the dialects I grew up with.

    And I am finding myself quite estranged or maybe alienated from a lot of practices or attitudes that typically could be considered common in the old hometown I grew up in. And these not from any conscious effort to be or to feel different.


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