The Next 40 Years
OPERATION MANONG AND ITS LEGACY OF SERVICE
By Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
On March 25, Operation Manong will hold a big celebration at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu, Hawaii, to mark the fortieth anniversary of its founding.
At this gathering—dubbed a reunion—alumni of OM from all over Hawaii, and some from other places, are expected to take part and renew their commitment to the OM cause.
The alumni of OM have been afforded with a newer, smarter, sexier term: OMers.
OMers, of course, is Operation Manongers, that kind of a Philippine slang that can enchantingly turn a word into something suggesting action and actor.
It is neat and nifty way of affirming what one is part of.
The UH Office of Multicultural Services, now the new name of Operation Manong since 2000, has set the tone of the celebration in its website: ‘Yes, it’s been that long. A lot of memories to share. A lot of catching up. And just a good time to rekindle those days of working with youths and the community to make a difference in people’s lives.’
The forty years of Operation Manong’s narrative of service is history in the raw. It is also a spunkiness, of daring, of boldness.
That was in 1971, when about this time only a handful of Filipino students were enrolled at the University of Hawaii.
This situation only slightly improved in the early 80s, according to Agnes Malate, currently the director of the UH Health Careers Opportunity Program.
Malate says that when she was in college in those years, only about four percent of the entire student population of the university was Filipino.
It was not the university’s fault.
The circumstances did not allow many of the college-bound Filipino students to go to college.
There were bigger issues—as they still are bigger issues today.
The preference of Filipino students to go straight to the workforce is a bundle of contradictions.
But somewhere, it was—and still is—necessary, even demanded of them.
Many Ilokano parents in the Philippines, for instance, would invest on the education of their children even to the extent of mortgaging farmlands and homes just to see their children finish a career.
To have a degree in the old country is not a guarantee of a good life, but it opens a door of opportunity for those who have the diploma to show to prospective employers.
The contradiction is more prominent is Hawaii, with college-bound students ending up in the same menial jobs like those of their parents, many of them unable to transition to what could be considered as mainstream Hawaiian life.
The history of Filipino migration in the Hawaii and the United States mainland has always been like this: a history of shadows, a history of namelessness, and a history of the backdoor.
Filipinos did not have to be in the public space.
From 1906 onwards, they have moved around in the narrow confines of plantation work.
After more than a hundred years, there is no turning back the hand of time.
It is the same story of shadows.
There is comfort in not challenging the status quo, in sustaining it, in making Filipinos believe that their private and public lives are not for the front door, not for the display window.
The activism of the late 60s and early 70s in the Philippines—an activism that is connected in some way to the counterculture of the United States in those times, a counterculture that resisted the Viet Nam war and followed a path to nonconformity—spawned an idea beyond the claims of greatness as promised by then President Ferdinand Marcos.
Life in the Philippines was simply one defined by tragedy as a result of a culture of corruption, a self-serving system of public governance, and a continuing neglect of the poor by the very political leaders who ought to provide the underserved and the disadvantaged access to the resources of the nation.
When many of the East-West scholars came to Hawaii, they saw the same plot of lack of systematic and institutionalized deprivation, the marginalization of immigrants, and the commoditization of their labor.
The new immigrant needed to know the ropes—but there were not enough means and methods made available to them.
The new immigrant needed to navigate the dizzying processes and procedures towards the normalization of their life as potential citizens of the new land.
There were not enough people and support groups to show them how to get by.
OM’s mission says it well in response to these conditions in those times, conditions that remain until today: “(It) conducts student service programs and activities which ensure equal access and opportunity to higher education for ethnic groups and communities underrepresented in higher education.”
With the molting of the OM to OMSS, the goal is not to address the needs of Filipinos alone but “to promote cultural diversity and tolerance in the wider community” though the inclusion of all the underrepresented groups, including the indigenous Hawaiian students.
OM, now as OMSS, has continued to be sensitive to the needs of the underrepresented groups, and today, its mission includes the provision of “access to educational opportunities to the disadvantaged students.”
Julius Soria, an instructor of the UH Ilokano Language, Literature, and Culture Program and a doctor’s degree holder in education, also at the university, speaks fondly of his days as a beneficiary of the programs of OM.
Coming to Hawaii at 15, and completing his high school here, he moved to Leeward Community College and there took his liberal arts. When he moved to UH Manoa, OM helped transition to a broader academic environment.
At the time when he needed all the help he could get to complete his college degree, OM helped him obtain a tuition waiver for two semesters. This was in 1994.
Soria also saw how OM employed many of the Ilokano students enrolled in the UH Ilokano courses, a realization that came to him only much later in his college years, not knowing that his own Ilokano language, an absent discourse in his homeland, is given due recognition at his own university as one of the world languages programs.
“I think that across the years, OM has been able to live up to its own vision and mission,” Soria said in an interview. “All through the years—and I am a witness to what OM has done—it has lived up to its aim, to what it wants done for and in the name of immigrants, to college-bound students, to students needing assistance to transition to college and to a university culture of learning and studies.”
Malate, herself now an advocate of student rights and opportunities to go the careers in health and health care, speaks of OM as she found it, first as a secretary-general of a Fil-Am organization in 1982.
While she is not herself a product of the OM programs but as “a friend of OM” as she puts it, she saw how OM collaborated with other groups in the university in those days, including her organization, the joint language and culture club of the Ilokano and Tagalog programs of the university, and many others that advanced the cause of heritage rights, student development, leadership, career opportunities, and intensive programs in student teaching and youth development.
“I felt at home when I was with OM,” Malate explains. “We felt we had a home to go to. There was something in the welcoming environment that OM provided for us especially during those years that we were searching for what we were, what we could do, what we could offer to our communities.”
Through the years, OM has been involved in the recruitment and retention of students, in holding students conferences, in providing a wide range of exposures to high school to university life, in educating the community and parents of the need to push students to finish their schooling, and equipping students with the skills to give back to their communities.
OMSS remains as one of the many programs under the office of Student Equity, Excellence, and Diversity directed by Dr. Amy Agbayani.
OMSS is run by Clement Bautista as its director.
Adrienne Guerero and Tina Tauasosi-Posiulai, both program coordinators, assist Bautista in running the day-to-day affairs of the program.
In the next 40 years or so, OMSS, the former OM, shall have delivered most of the goods to the underrepresented groups of students.
By that time, they shall have produced more and more generations of leaders who will make sense because they are steeped in addressing the needs of their communities, the needs of their own people, and the needs of students needing guidance, assistance, and nurturing.