As a Filipina-American born in an apolitical Florida suburb, I was not raised to be politically involved. Surrounded by predominantly white peers, I did not find my second-generation Asian American identity wholly represented in the southeast. It also didn’t help that my parents had a natural distrust of politicians having come of age under Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law.
These conditions piqued my curiosity: How do Filipinos embrace their role in democracy when one has so often failed them? More personally, how do I embrace my identity and worth as a citizen of a country that has historically underserved communities of color?
Student organizing in college opened the doors for me to learn the experiences of my community missing from our history classes, and I gained a greater sense of agency as an intersectional Filipina American. But my alma mater–a Southeastern conference (SEC) school–reflected much of the blasé political attitudes in the region, which many fellow Filipino Americans reflected.
In recent decades, there has been significant declines in political participation and growing levels of mistrust in American politics. The U.S. experienced its worst voter turnout in 72 years in the 2014 midterm elections. I remember canvassing with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) office I worked for on campus to register voters and often heard the logic “politics are messed up — I’d rather not get involved.”
Here’s the irony: This is the very reason why you should get involved. At the forefront of affecting change, someone needs to shake up the status quo, but this can’t be done in isolation.
Filipino Americans are facing issues in which they have a stake, from immigration reform, healthcare, and education. Are we aware of how policy could be affecting Filipino American World War II veterans, individuals under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or Filipino immigrants seeking family reunification?
It’s no surprise there is immense gravity to this election year, and who we elect into office may carry positive or detrimental implications to the advancement of our communities. Frankly this election cycle is foddering to the kind of problematic political rhetoric my parents’ families thought they left behind.
Let’s use this as a call to action to assure these detriments never touch our community, beginning with being aware. Education liberates, and we must use knowledge of ourselves, our community, and our history to deconstruct frameworks of marginalization and confront how policy affects us.
AAPIs are often lauded as the ultimate swing vote, Filipino Americans included. Since many in the community don’t exhibit strong tendencies toward one political party or issue, this is the time to use our voices and enact change. Our votes can sway the direction of swing states, and politicians should be chasing our votes.
Along with voting, participation is as simple as signing a petition or reaching out to your representatives through social media. This kind of civic engagement can give agency to communities. By forfeiting this right, Filipino Americans are forfeiting their stake in American politics and means in which their voices are heard.
For the millennial generation and the generation after us, advocating for the Filipino American community will be largely in our hands. But this is the Filipino American experience. We are trailblazers for some of our parents who have never experienced this level of democratic liberty, or for the generations after us, who will hopefully experience a country that aptly serves the needs of people of color. In any capacity, be present, active, and aware of what affects your community, because action can liberate.
Alicia Soller is a Filipino American writer, communications professional, and AAPI activist. She is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received her Bachelor’s in Journalism and began her involvement in AAPI community organizing. Alicia currently works as a Marketing Coordinator in Gainesville, Florida and continues to volunteer her time toward organizing efforts for AAPI nonprofits, such as KAYA: Filipino Americans for Progress.