(First of a Series)

By A. S. Agcaoili

Among the ranks of the socially aware and advocates of citizenship rights and duties of this country, they feel the need to advance the Asian Pacific American cause.

"Asian Pacific American" is a panethnic term that lumps together a multitude of languages, histories, cultures, and/or immigrant experiences of peoples from about 50 countries in Asian and the Pacific Islands.

The term is a fiction, a construct to account the otherwise disparate ethnic groups that have come to the United States for a variety of reasons and have established themselves in the country as citizens or permanent residents.

The term includes.

The term also excludes.

It includes a large geography of origins and pains borne by all immigrants as they scratch out a life in their new country.

It includes every Asian Pacific American's need to find his voice, discover his language to express that voice, and reclaim his mind that has been otherwise lost in the tangle of many minds and many thoughts in the new county.

In the Kallautang Notes, for instance, we have imagined the APA this way: "To speak about the APA without the double hyphen--one after the 'Asian' and another after the 'Pacific'--is to imagine America in a different light."

There are reasons for this imagination and re-imagination.

We go back to the Kallautang Notes: "In the coming years--with the immigration reform making headway for immigrants to have a fair share of the goods of the American earth--it is now becoming more urgent for this group of immigrants to find their voice and discover the possibilities and promises of that voice.

"The need is urgent--and it is grounded on the fact that the United States is a nation formed out of the need to address head-on the requisites of justice, fairness, and equality. It grew out of a war that was necessary to purge itself of its murky romance with that which was not humanly productive because its social institutions stifled the growth of peoples, communities, and sensibilities."

The term APA excludes--and it conceptually excludes the African Americans, the Hispanic Americans and the many European Americans that have also called the United States their home.

It excludes those groups of people who have benefited from the arrangements of political, economic, and cultural institutions at the expense of others--the same groups of people that cannot see fit the need to recognize, acknowledge, and welcome the others into the fold, those people who make it sure that the project to "other" other peoples must continue because that act of "othering" guarantees the maintenance of status quo.

But the United States cannot close its eyes on the insistent and sometimes pestering presence of APAs. At least, there is one now in the White House kitchen concocting the best of the menus for the Bush family.

In 2005, President George Bush proclaimed the month of May as the Asian American Heritage Month. Executive Order 13339 aimed to "improve the quality of life of approximately 14 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders" living in the United States or its jurisdictions.

The recognition of these racial minority groups in the United States by an official and administrative act dates back to the 1978 when, in a joint resolution, the US Congress established what it called as the "Asian/Pacific Heritage Week." The heritage week was supposed to cover the first ten days of May, with May earmarked to commemorate the coming of the first Japanese to the US in May 1843.

The US Census Bureau, in its "Facts for Features," reported of the reworking of the heritage week by splitting the "slashed" Asian/Pacific category into two separate and different categories. With this splitting came the "Asian" and the "native Hawaiian or other Pacific islander."

The 2000 census data are instructive.

Asians constitute 13.5 millions or 5 percent of the total US population. Of these, 4.6 millions are in California. Of the various states where the Asians are, Hawaii registered the highest number of Asians at 58 percent.

APAs, by nature, are recent immigrants, at least to the US Mainland, with the exception of the special history of Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders in Hawaii. Of the 14 million APAs, about 60 percent or 8.7 million were not born in the United States. This translates to 25 percent of all those who are foreign-born.

But the key here is this: those who are eligible to apply for naturalization show a preference to do so, with close to 5 million electing to become citizens as soon as they are eligible.

In terms of education, 5 of every 10 Asians in the 25 and above age group have a bachelor?s degrees or higher. This makes Asians as the ethnic group with the highest proportion of degreed individuals as opposed to other ethnic groups. That national proportion is less than 3 for every 10.

About 9 or every 10 Asians for the same age group are high school graduates. The national proportion is less than 9 for every 10.

Asians with advanced academic degrees such as masters and/or doctorate in philosophy, doctorate in jurisprudence, and doctorate in medicine is about 2 of every 10 for the 25 and above group. The national proportion is about 1 of every 10.

Of the foreign-born APAs, China is in the lead followed by the Philippines, India, Vietnam and Korea.

Asians who served in the military number 276,000.

Of the languages spoken, Chinese is the most widely spoken at 2.2 million, followed by Tagalog at 1.3 million, Vietnamese at 1.1 million, and Korean at a little less than 1 million.

Of the age distribution, those 18 or below comprise about 26 percent while those 65 or over are 8 percent.

For the native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders, the 2000 Census gives us the facts below.

A little less than 1 million are "native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander or native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander in combination with one or more other races." This translates to 0.3 percent of the population. Of the total population comprising this category, a little less than 300, 000 are in Hawaii, thus making this State as leading all states in terms of the native Hawaiian and Pacific islander population. The Hawaiians and Pacific islanders comprise 23 percent of the population of Hawaii.

Only a little more than 27,000 speak Hawaiians at home in contrast to the Asians who tend to retain their ethnic languages.

Compared to the Asians, only 16 percent of Hawaiian and Pacific islanders age 25 and over are college degree holders; 82 percent of those 25 and over have high school education; and only 4 percent have advanced degrees.

At 33 percent, there are more Hawaiian and Pacific islanders who are 18 and below compared to Asians. In addition, at 5 percent of the population, there are lesser Hawaiian and Pacific islanders 65 and over.

With its highly educated and young population, the APA cannot help but become a force in the political life of the country. The Asian Pacific Americans for Progress (APA) estimates that there were a total of 2.5 million APA voters in 2004 or 2.2 percent of the national vote.

During the 2000 Presidential elections, the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) estimated a voter turnout of 2 million or 43 percent of the national turnout.

Realizing this potent capability of the APAs to take active participation in the political life of the nation, both the APAP and the NCAPA put forward what the former calls as "a progressive agenda" and the latter its "2004 Call to Action: Platform for Asian Pacific Americans National Policy Priority."

APAP lists its goals as follows: "to develop a national network of APAs interested in progressive politics, increase our members' involvement in local and national politics, offer opportunities to network with progressive APAs at the local level, and increase our members' awareness of APA issues."

Its call to a direct involvement in harnessing political power for better ends is seen in the concrete in the goal of its APAP Funds: "to directly assist APA candidates who represent progressive values in running for local and regional offices."

Founded in 1996, NCAPA, on the other hand put together the blueprint for APA political program of action it appropriately titled "Call to Action." The Call, by 2004, has been endorsed by nearly 20 APA organizations.

NCAPA, like the APAP, recognizes the richness of the possibilities and promises of the APAs who come from 50 countries and ethnic groups. The APAs speak about 100 languages. With a high naturalization rate at 43 percent, 76 percent of APAs are citizens in contrast to 61 percent of Hispanics. NCAPA, citing studies from the University of California at Los Angeles, says that 80 percent of immigrant APAs become citizens.

The APAs today are regarded as the largest racial minority in California, with highest concentration of voters in California, Hawaii, Texas, and New York. In the whole of the country, the APAs are regarded as the "fastest growing racial group."

Realizing the need to enhance the voice of the APA, the 2004 Call to Action by the NCAPA pushed for the call to support for diversity and "for a multilingual America."

The 2004 Call to Action argues for the need to build upon all the language abilities of the peoples of the nation, including those of the APAs. The global market, the same Call to Action says, is not done in English alone but in the languages of the globe, in the many languages of the international market.

The Call to Action says: "America should take advantage of its tremendous diversity to become multilingual. Rather than limiting the use of foreign languages, it should build upon all language abilities to compete more effectively in the global marketplace."

The same Call to Action enjoins APAs to "support the concept of a multilingual America, including English Plus laws and programs that prioritize the learning of multiple languages, including English, by the American people."

(To be continued)

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