Gila Leifer and Andrew Siy
Two strangers en route to NYC's
Stuyvesant Town; an area that stretches from Ave. A to the River…
The mission set before them is to assess what will become of the Filipino
community found there…
Andrew is a Chinese-American, born in Queens. His parents emigrated from
Gila is a Jewish-American, born in Israel. Her parents are
And so the quest began...…
The sky was gray as the rain was falling,
but Andrew and Gila-umbrellas in hand-anxiously began their walk towards
the Lower East Side. Although optimistic, they were unsure as to how they
would find the information needed, and both expressed their subjective
concerns. Gila feared that she would not easily understand the heavy
Filipino accents of those they were intending to confront, while Andrew
felt uneasy about approaching and interrogating strangers in general.
Luckily, the duo immediately learned that each perfectly balanced the
other's insecurities. Andrew, accustomed to hearing the accent in his
home, would fill in whatever points went over Gila's head, while Gila,
being the extrovert, was more than willing to initiate the necessary
dialogue. They knew that they would have no problem finding Filipinos to
talk with because there were reportedly 1,144 living throughout the
neighborhood (Newest New Yorker: 1990-6). With the division of labor
delineated, the adventure looked somewhat more promising.
The first site they stumbled upon was
Manila Gardens, a restaurant located on 325 E. 14th St.
Alongside the entrance was a menu mounted within a glass display case,
presenting a list of authentic Philippine cuisine. They apprehensively
entered the store, still a bit uncertain as to how the coming events would
unfold. Once inside, the two took in their surroundings. Although on
that dreary Sunday afternoon the tables were empty, the restaurant was
livened by the fitting music played over the stereo system, and was
decorated with culturally appropriate art and tapestries.
As planned, Gila introduced herself and
Andrew to the headwaiter, and almost immediately the interview turned into
a friendly conversation that, expectedly, was predominantly led by Andrew.
Ricky Lorovico, an immigrant born in Manila, Philippines, was extremely
cooperative and informative. After asking Mr. Lorovico about his mother
tongue he took the time to explain that while the native language of the
Filipino community is Tagalog, there are deep roots for the Filipino's
From 1898 through 1946 the Philippines was
under American control, therefore at that time its socio-economic
development was closely linked to the United States. As a result, the
urban areas of the Philippines have become rather Americanized; English is
used in television programming, American basketball is watched and
followed, restaurants carry American fast foods, pop music is popular,
etc. In fact, English speakers can effortlessly get around Manila and
other urban areas with no knowledge of Tagalog. Furthermore, being that
the general attitude towards America has been one of increasing
admiration, the schools teach in English as a way of stressing the
usefulness and importance of the language. Eventually this pressure led
to the growing desire to immigrate to America; the place constantly held
in high esteem.
Today, Filipinos are the 4th largest
Asian-American group in NYC (with a population of 60, 000), and are the
2nd largest Asian-American group in the nation. When trying to find out
information on the number of Filipino students enrolled in the local
schools, the only information deduced, from the lack of information
attained, was that since most of the Filipino students are first or second
generation American, they have no need for ESL or bilingual education.
The Immigration Act of 1965, which abolished the discriminatory national
origins quota system based on race, spurred the upsurge of immigration
into America by the Filipino community. Prior to that, the relatively few
Filipino emigrants from the Philippines went to Hawaii and the West coast.
Previous knowledge of English made for
facilitated assimilation into American culture and lifestyle, and in turn
the transition was increasingly bearable. For the most part, government
services are not needed in Tagalog, and thus are not provided, with the
exception of NYC's census information hotline that offers a separate
number for Tagalog speakers. Despite the fact that the Philippines is a
Catholic nation, which dates back to Spanish control in the 19th century,
within New York City there are no exclusively Filipino Churches or even
private services held in Tagalog. Medical services, usually a grave
concern for most immigrants, are not provided in Tagalog, again, because
there is no need for it, although many nurses are Filipino.
Interestingly, the concentration of
Filipinos in Stuyvesant Town specifically is largely a reflection of the
many surrounding hospitals: NYU Medical Center, Beth Israel Hospital, and
Bellevue Hospital. Amazingly, 80% of the nursing staff in Bellvue
Hospital alone is Filipino. In the 1970's, 80's, and early 90's, when the
U.S. had a shortage of nurses, Filipino nurses were sought out on the
basis of their fluency in English, and because of their training in
schools modeled after those in the U.S. All these factors combined not
only opened more job opportunities for Filipinos, but also ensured their
success once employed. As a result, the average salary of Filipinos is
$43, 000 a year, making them one of the highest earning ethnic groups in
Conversely, the existing bilingualism has
also had negative affects on the community. According to Mr. Lorovico it
serves as a threat to the continuity of Tagalog, as well as to the
Filipino culture in general. He explained that his daughter, along with
most of the second-generation, do not speak Tagalog but can understand the
language spoken by their parents. In spite of his inability to fully
understand and partake in the surrounding American culture, due to factors
such as accent and general way of thinking, he admits that he has raised a
completely American daughter. The fear exists that by the
third-generation the Tagalog language will be fully lost to English, and
that soon after the culture will dissipate as well.
In light of Mr. Lorovico's experience the
above mentioned pessimistic predictions seem almost inevitable. However,
when discussing the fate of the community with the owner of the New
Manila Grocery, an immigrant himself, the prospect of it enduring
looked rather promising. After questioning him about the survival rate of
Tagalog, he responded defensively. His personal observation was that most
families chose to ensure its stability by speaking only Tagalog within
their homes. As far as the Filipino culture on a larger scale, this
second interviewee provided an almost polar outlook to that of the first.
He spoke optimistically of the cultural celebrations and religious
gatherings within the community, and directed our attention to the
Filipino Reporter, a Filipino newspaper (written in English) that
among other things has a monthly calendar of such events.
This newspaper was an enlightening resource
that revealed links within the various Filipino communities spread
throughout New York, as well as those maintained between them and the
Philippines. Johnny Air Cargo, one such link, is a shipping
company exclusively used for deliveries sent to the Philippines. This
demonstrates that families living in America do not sever ties with those
still in the Philippines, rather they are constantly shipping U.S.
products abroad, sustaining their cross-country relationships.
Furthermore, those settled on American soil show a maintained connection
to their roots by choosing to not be buried in America. Utilizing the
service provided by a funeral home that ships caskets to Manila this is
made possible. Still, other services include the Philippine National
Bank (5th Ave. and 45th St.), the Filipino American Human Services,
Inc. (29th St. and Madison Ave.)- a general interest group involved in
promoting the welfare of Filipino Americans, and a number of restaurants,
the most esteemed being Cendrillon in Soho. There are also many
active social and cultural functions, but these are located in Queens
where there is even an even larger Filipino community. Overall, these
links within the community give sufficient room for people like the owner
of New Manila Grocery to be hopeful for Filipino-Americans continued
Ironically, this new founded optimism was
disconcerting to both Andrew and Gila. After properly executing the means
to the fulfillment of their task they were back where they started-
without a clear answer. In an attempt to find conclusive information
about the future of the Filipino community, they had only succeeded in
gathering diverging opinions. But upon further investigation it was
discovered that although they seemed to have been in opposition, in
reality they were representative of a one conclusion.
Mr. Lorovico was a relatively young
immigrant whose high school daughter and her Filipino friends did not
speak Tagalog. His longing for the Philippines was apparent, yet he said
he would never take back the life he provided for his family, even at the
expense of the Filipino culture. Is he a self-sacrificing martyr who was
willing to let go of his past for the sake of what he thinks is a greater
good for generations to come? Or is he being weak in giving up the
traditions set forth by generations that preceded him?
The owner of the grocery store, a
significantly older immigrant by comparison, insisted that the immigrants
he has had contact with pass on both the Filipino language and customs.
Is he a strong-willed community member whose ties to the Philippines keep
him active in ensuring its preservation? Or is there some hidden guilt
that disillusions him to believe that living in America is not hindering
the continuity of his culture?
Many conclusions could be made all
across the spectrum based on the questions just posed. The easiest one
being, that none can be made and that only time will tell. Although
tempting, Andrew and Gila steered clear of that approach and were bold
enough to state their speculative evaluation: that the two accounts were
pointing towards the same gradual process of decline.
The older of the two men interviewed,
displaying the strongest attachment to the Philippines, has himself
convinced that there is nothing at risk by living in America. The younger
immigrant, despite a strong connection to his homeland, realizes that a
trade-off does exist, but believes that the advantages of living in
America outweigh the losses. Further removed is Mr. Lorovico's daughter
who because of her American-born status and ease in which Filipinos
assimilate, has little understanding of what there is to hold onto. As a
result, even with her ability to understand Tagalog she has only a small,
if any at all, incentive to learn how to speak the language. One could
only imagine that her children will neither speak nor understand it.
In closing, Andrew and Gila emphasized that
although based on the information and data collected this is what they
concluded, they sincerely wish for a sudden change to halt the downward
cycle. Hopefully, that would then give rise to the strengthening and
eventual permanence of both Tagalog and the Filipino culture.
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