October came and went without much fuss in Connecticut if you looked through the peephole of Filipino-American History Month observed by the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) in Seattle since 1991 and officially recognized by the U.S. Congress in a resolution in 2009.
Who knew? And actually, who cares and who needs to know about Filipino-American history here in Connecticut?
But wait, last month a ginormous news story, by the seat of your pants captivating, all-consuming, gotta watch 24-hour cable news channels, sent many in the Filipino-American (Fil-Am) community around the country running for cover because a tidal wave of “hiya”/shame (the unspoken, social burden secretly borne by every Filipino when bad and shameful news befalls a fellow “kababayan”/ countryman, no matter how distant their immigration status from the homeland) struck when Cesar Sayoc, Jr. was identified and arrested as the alleged suspect, aka The MAGA-Bomber, of the potentially deadly mail bomb campaign against a who’s who list of Donald Trump critics.
The first sentence of a New York Times article last week described Cesar Sayoc as a “volatile nobody desperate to become a somebody.” The article went on to describe a disturbing portrait of a man in search of an identity, falsely claiming to be of the Native American Seminole tribe, and was upset when his own family reminded him that his father, who abandoned him as a child, is Filipino, and his mother of Italian descent.
Nationwide, Filipino-Americans immediately shuddered at the shameful recollections of Andrew Cunanan from 1997. Another lost soul of Filipino descent hopelessly searching for his identity in white-dominated America. The national media relentlessly described him for weeks as a “chameleon and ethnically ambiguous” during a nationwide manhunt.
Seasoned reporters could not articulate exactly what he looked like. “He’s white, he’s Asian. He looks Latino, at times. He can look any way he wants.” His Filipino father married an Italian mother, like Sayoc, and also abandoned him as a child. In the end, Cunanan took his own life, full of rage and resentment ungrounded about his identity, after a string of senseless and wanton murders across the country from San Diego to upstate New York to the front steps of the Italian designer Gianni Versace’s mansion in South Beach, his last homicide victim while trying to be somebody in America.
Perhaps there is a history lesson to be learned, to be understood, to be evaluated, to be taught in our multi-cultural, multi-racial democratic society that has been upended in the past two years by the Trump provocative, resentful, divisive forces offering “alternative” realities to “take our country back?”
What country was Cesar Sayoc, Jr. fighting for, with mail bombs, to take back? He wishes to be a Native American. He is half-white, immigrant American. Half Filipino-American; 100 percent lost and unsure of his own identity and similarly descended into a violent, unhinged rage like Andrew Cunanan trying to be somebody.
In the U.S., Filipino-Americans today number about two million, of whom approximately 200,000 to 300,000 are estimated to be undocumented or out of status. In a word, “illegal” as any other. In 2016, eligible Fil-Ams voted two-to-one for Donald Trump while knowing fully his position on immigration and undocumented residents, but yet joined the chorus of boisterous and gleeful chants to “build that wall!”
In their minds, that only applies to Mexicans, not to them — like Ann Coulter who does not considered herself a child/great grandchild of immigrants, but of pioneers. Many Filipino-Americans likewise delude themselves into believing that their out of status relatives and friends are not illegal aliens, but merely “T and T” or in Tagalog (Tago nang tago), just hiding. In the meantime, they work hard, they pay taxes, they’re not on welfare, they’re good people.
But so are almost all of the other out of status persons in this country. They cling to “alternative facts” that they are not illegal immigrants because they did not jump over the wall at the southern border nor swim across the Rio Grande to get here. These Trump supporting Fil-Ams are as delusional as Cesar Sayoc, Jr. believes he is of the Seminole tribe in Florida.
In the meantime, perhaps for some closure, let’s give Sayoc back the correct and proper pronunciation of his Filipino surname. At least, offer him a chance to anchor and ponder his Filipino-American personal history and heritage within our celebrated, all-embracing, ever-evolving, multi-cultural, multi-racial and multilingual United States of America.
For MSNBC or FOX newscasters and political pundits, Sayoc is not pronounced “Say-yack.” It’s “Sāh-yook.”
Also, it is not Andrew “Q-nay-nun.” It’s “Kōh-nāh nāh-n.” Remember, Saturday Night Live in the 1980’s with their endless parody of American news correspondents in Central America “…reporting live from Managua, Nicaragua…” All, long a’s.
Filipino-American History next October, anyone?
Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, Carlos Bolusan, Loida Nicolas Lewis, Felipe Tolentino, Ben Cayetano, Fred andDorothy Cordova, Jo Koy, Regie Cabico, Eleanor Mariano, Ramon Subejano. For Connecticut extra points: Nina Elgo, Joe de la Cruz.
Sylvester L. Salcedo lives in Orange. He is an attorney and a retired U.S. Navy veteran (LCDR, USNR) with 20 years of active and reserve service from 1979-1999.