Monday, May 07, 2007

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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.