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Speech delivered by Virgil Yalong at the inaugural FilAmFest gala, June 14, 2012.  Speech & photo reprinted with permission from the author.

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Before I begin, I must point out my stance and understanding of what it means to be Filipino or Filipino American.  First and foremost, I was born in the United States to my parents who were naturalized citizens from the Philippines, making me an American of Filipino ancestry or in other words an American of Filipino descent.  That in its simplest form is what makes me a Filipino American and stems as the reason why I identify myself with or being a part of the Filipino American community.  Beyond that if others believe that my upbringing and life in America makes me less of a Filipino then I would stand my ground and say they’re wrong. If others say that my inability to speak the mother tongue makes me less Filipino then I would say they’re wrong.  If they were to say to me that living in America and never stepping foot in the Philippines itself makes me less Filipino, again I would stand my ground and say to them that they are wrong.  If any person stood in front of me today and identified himself as a Filipino, I would accept them as a kababayan.  If that is wrong, then I ask, if a man couldn’t speak at all, does that make him less human? Is a man less of a man if he couldn’t step foot unto his mother’s country because he couldn’t walk?  What, if anything, makes a man less human than any other?  What makes anybody more Filipino, or more American than any other?  The point that I am making is that there is no quantifiable measure that can justify the statement of being a “true” Filipino, nor a “true” American.  Ako ay Filipino. I am American.  My name is Virgil Yalong.  What is quantifiable and what I do look to define are people’s active involvement in their “self identified” Filipino American Community.  So the question is are we “truly” active? Are we 100 percent involved?

It is without a doubt that our Filipino American Community has worked hard to achieve success in our beloved San Diego.  Many of us have had the pleasure of working and living towards that success and being recognized for it.  From the Philippines we carried with us a strong work ethic and the spirit of bayanihan. Our pride swells when we see our kababayans flourish in the American limelight.   But just as much as we have accomplished, we are not even close to being halfway to where we could be as a community in our beloved San Diego.  [Second place and leaving it to the hands of the judges isn’t enough…] Trouble and strife within our community and organizations have set us back from achieving the progress that we can make.   We, and I say “we” because I too am a perpetrator of this trouble, we come together at the table and some hold our tongues out of respect while others lash out in spite, we brandish words that have us nodding our heads in agreement like, collaboration, bayanihan, and even the word “one” or “as one” or “be one.” But lets not kid our selves, “One” can never be part of our working vocabulary.   How can we be one when our mother country is one thousand islands?  Regions and dialects separate us and that regionalism, although somewhat displaced here in America, still exists.  Just as much as one of us can call ourselves Visayan or Ilocano we have already regionalized and separated ourselves here.  One example of that is I myself am a southside Fil-Am while others carry themselves differently from the north.  This separation is inherent in our upbringing and just like so many other characteristics this is the root cause of what keeps our Filipino American community from finding progress.  We can’t connect.  The divisiveness that separates us isn’t the Pacific Ocean, nor is it the 8 Freeway, nor is it our age.  We, you and I, can be in the same room and still be divided sitting at the same table and talking like we’re an ocean away from each other. The gap that exists between us is the inability to communicate.

Our lack of communication has set us up for complacent activism, talking about what must be done without having actually done it, sending us on a perpetual ground hogs day waiting and hoping for tomorrow.  Now as I understand it, in these eight years of productivity with the FilAmFest and 50 years with the House of Philippines, the collaboration of our forward thinking community leaders and organizations present today from the older generation to the younger, we can honestly say that tomorrow has come.  The time for action, involvement, funding, leadership development, etc. has arrived.

My own experience with our community reminds me of Aesop’s Fable “The Council of Mice”.  In the fable a council of mice convene to debate on how to best protect themselves from their common enemy, the cat.  After much talk and deliberation one mouse of some stature speaks up and says, “We should tie a bell around the neck of the cat to act as a warning for when it is near.”  To this, many mice on the council agreed and determined it to be a grand idea but as the excitement began to swell another mouse stood up quietly and asked the council, “Who will bell the cat?”

So we ask, who will it be?  We, and again I must emphasize as I did before, we means you and I, and we, even if you are inactive in the community, we includes you too because it would be foolish to believe that an inactive member of a community won’t have an impact, [inactivity is a guaranteed negative impact, while some activity has a chance to make a positive impact.] WE is anybody that identifies themselves as part of our Filipino American community.  That includes anybody, northside, southside, Ilocano, or Visayan.  Whether you were born in the Philippines or here in America, I will join in with you.  If you come from the old guard and feel invigorated to march for one more day or if this is your first day to march, I will join in with you.  If you are ready to put in work, if you’re ready to help in every way you can, so when they ask,  “Who will help gain progressive weight in the Filipino American community?”  Our answer is,  “We will.”  When they come to our leaders and they ask,  “Who will move our community to a new level of political maturity?”    We say,  “We will.”  Because we’ve worked our whole lives to reach this point and want to see it move further.  As a community of students and teachers when they ask,  “Who will stand for education and keep it in our schools curriculum?”   We answer,   “We will,”  for it will soon be our time to take up the reigns and continue to honor our legacy and build the future.  How can we do that without knowing our past? Who will put in the effort? Who will spend the energy and time? Who will answer the call when we are needed, even for a day, for a movement that is necessary to our community, necessary for our Asian community, necessary for our San Diego community, that is necessary for our kababayans across America, or even necessary for our family at home?  Who will?  We will. We will.  We will with all the experience and support of the generations before, we will with all the vigor and hunger of the generations to come, we will with all the spirit and wisdom of those present today.  We will.

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