Filipinos Find Life in U.S. Familiar - except for Racism

Article excerpt

SOMETIMES, when professor Leo Paz walks around campus at San Francisco City College, he has to remind himself that he's not at the State University of the Philippines in Manila.

"Our schools were carbon copies of the U.S. education system, down to the buildings," Paz says. "Sometimes it's uncanny."

It's a cultural deja vu familiar to millions of Filipinos - whose immigrant experience in the United States has been indelibly shaped by American colonialism.

"Being American is more amorphous for Filipinos," said Oscar Campomanes, a Philippine-born professor at the University of California at Berkeley. "There isn't that classic movement from an old country to a new."

Yet that familiarity hasn't always sheltered Filipinos from culture shock, as they grapple with the realities of being a newcomer in this country and forging a Filipino-American identity.

"The problem is that the America they imagined isn't the America they begin to experience," Campomanes said. "The historic experience of racial discrimination butts against the ideal of America that they brought to this country. So they go through this apprenticeship of disillusionment. They have to deal with feeling American but not being quite accepted as one."

Filipino-Americans make up the second-largest Asian population in America, after Chinese-Americans. Between 1980 and 1990, the numbers of Filipino-Americans grew 82 percent, from 775,000 to 1,407,000, U.S. Census data show. More than half live in California.

Since most population growth among Filipino-Americans resulted from immigration after 1965, the majority - nearly 65 percent - are foreign-born.

Yet Filipino-Americans have long been part of the American landscape. They first arrived under the pensionado program in the 1920s, which sent bright Filipino youth to the United States to be educated so they could replace American civil servants in the bureaucracy that was set up after the 1898 annexation of the islands.

Others came as farm or plantation laborers after exclusion laws cut off Chinese and Japanese immigration.

Marlon Villa, 40, of San Francisco, is a second-generation Filipino-American. His father, Isabelo Villa, 84, came to America as a youth in the 1930s. The elder Villa worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps, drove a taxi and was a farmworker, "house boy" and chauffeur. …