Paul Victoria

December 17, 2004



The Learning Immigrant


     Filipinos seeking a better future migrate to the United States for more opportunities.  Most Filipino families I know come to the United States for their children’s future and educational opportunities.  In a document entitled “Valerie Corpus, a Skilled Filipina American, Reflects on Advantages and Disadvantages of Life in The United States, 1979” in Major Problems in American Immigration and Ethnic History, edited by Jon Gjerde, Valerie Corpus states “I have a degree in mathematics, and I want to work on a master’s degree in health care administration.  The pressure is on for me to get another degree.  Most of my cousins are getting master’s degrees…” (460).  I know Filipino families that put pressure on their kids to do well in school and most parents in these families work long hours and sometimes two jobs so their kids can concentrate on their studies.  Most Filipino children have a burden to finish high school and move on to college and acquire a degree.  Even though pressure is placed on a young Filipino(a), education is valued by a Filipino family as an empowerment tool that can be used to succeed in life.  American education is an important value and asset to Filipino immigrant families.

     The significant of the American education system to the Filipinos dates back from 1898 when the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain.  The first American teachers in the Philippines were U.S. soldiers until the arrival of the Thomasites.  The Thomasites were the first batch of American teachers that arrived in the Philippines aboard the transport Thomas in August 1901.  According to the article “Bicol’s oldest public high school remembers Thomasites’ legacy,” the author states that “[a]ccording to the website, 540 Americans and some of their families boarded the U.S. Army transport Thomas at San Francisco’s Pier 12 for teaching jobs in the Philippines.”  The first batch of Thomasites stayed in Naga City, Philippines and stayed for four years and had an estimated of 270 students.  The Thomasites were sent to the new acquired territory by the United States government to teach the Filipinos American values and democracy.  With the arrival of the Thomasites, the United States government established a public education system in the Philippines.  Before the establishment of public schools in the Philippines, education opportunities were only for the rich or elites.  The masses (average people who were not as educated as the elites) were now able to attend school and receive an education like the elites.  The masses saw the public school system as an opportunity to receive an education and become an elite. The American government also sent the Thomasites to the Philippines to teach the Filipinos English because during the occupation of the Spaniards, the Spanish teachers were priests who taught in the indigenous language.  The article “US official notes Thomasites” in Business World (Philippines), U.S. embassy charge d’affaires Michael E. Malinowski states that “[t]he Thomasites saw themselves quite openly and unapologetically as architects of social change, with public education as their instrument for liberating the common people.”  The Thomasites considered themselves as pioneers and missionaries that educated the people of the Philippines.  The arrival of the Thomasites educated the people of the Philippines and also made Filipinos value education.

     Filipinos have been coming to America for education since the pensionados started coming in the early 1900s.  The pensionados were a group of Filipino students who came to the United States to study in various colleges and universities in 1906.  In Home Bound, by Yen Le Espiritu, she states that “[h]ighly selected, these pensionados often were the children of prominent Filipino families whose loyalty the colonial regime hoped to win” (27).  Only the rich Filipino families sent their children to study in the United States.  These rich families were known as the elites—well-educated Filipinos who stood high in the class.  Even though the pensionados were members of the elite class of the Philippines, they faced discrimination and racism when they came to America.  Today, there are more education opportunities and less discrimination in America.  Jonathan Y. Okamura and Amefil R. Agbayani’s article “Pamantasan: Filipino American Higher Education” in Filipino Americans:  Transformation and Identity, edited by Maria P.P. Root, the authors state that “[t]here is no question concerning the Filipino value placed on education, particularly higher education, which parents view as the best legacy they can bestow on their children for latter’s future socioeconomic security” (184).  The immigrant parents desire their children to succeed in school to earn good money in a respectable job.

The culture clash of American born Filipinos and their immigrant parents plays a role on the values of education.  In “Pamantasan:  Filipino American Higher Education,” the authors state that “[a]lthough immigrants come with relatively high levels of college education, their children and other American-born Filipinos generally are unable to replicate these high levels” (187).  Some Filipino Americans that are born or raised in the United States do not see the importance of higher education like their immigrant parents.  In the article Pamantasan:  Filipino American Higher Education” the authors write that a survey conducted for incoming freshmen in the University of Hawaii at Manoa in fall 1990 reported that a substantial amount of Filipino Americans (60%) indicated that it was their parents’ desire for them to go to college, unlike other ethnic groups who had a lower percentage like the Chinese American with 42% and Whites with 32%.  In addition, a significant amount of the Filipino American freshmen were receiving money for school from their parents or family members. 

Filipino American students used education to empower themselves in their communities.  In the San Francisco State strike of 1968, Filipino Americans like Orvy Jundis used education to be an active Filipino demanding the people in charge of San Francisco State University to have classes relevant to people of color.  Another example of Filipinos using education as a tool of empowerment is the Filipino students at Skyline College started who formed the Kababayan Program and the Filipino Student Union to reach out to the community and educate other Filipinos as well as other ethnic groups about Filipino American history.  These Filipinos are only a few Filipinos that empower their respected community.

Orvy Jundis is a Filipino American instructor of Pilipino Martial Arts who strongly believes on education as a tool for empowerment.  Orvy was born in Leyte, Philippines and immigrated to the United States in 1954.  In the interview I conducted on October 29, 2004, he has stated how he used education for self-empowerment. Orvy learned education could empower when he attended Lowell High School in San Francisco.  Also, he states that his father surviving from cancer has taught him the sacrifices parents make for their children.  He continued his quest for education and attended City College in San Francisco and was a member of the Filipino Club, which later the members would become the foundation of the Filipino American third world literary movement with members such as Oscar Penaranda and Dan Gonzalez.  After attending City College, Orvy transferred to San Francisco State University and was part of the 1968 San Francisco State strike.  As a martial arts instructor, Orvy teaches beyond the physical aspects of martial arts and also teaches the philosophies, spiritual aspects, and the mystical aspects.  He teaches his martial arts students the language, the myths, and the history, and why Filipinos act the way they do—mannerisms, behaviors, and ways of thinking.  Orvy uses Pilipino instead of Filipino because Pilipino means to choose what is best for you.  From the Tagalog dialect, pili means choose and pino means fine.  Orvy also believes that Pilipino is practical, powerful and progressive.  Orvy believes that there is no limit to the future of the Filipino American community.  He concludes the interview with the advice of respect your elders, respect yourself and knowing your history. He concluded, “If you know who you are, you can determine where you want to go.”


     In Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of empower is “to give authority or power to.”  To empower oneself is a great achievement that one should be proud of.  Self-empowerment can be acquired by formal education (school) and informal education (street knowledge), also by respect, determination, and hard work.  Sky is the limit on how much one can empower oneself, as Orvy Jundis said, “it’s unlimited, the possibilities are out there.”
















Works Cited

Agbayani, Amefil R.  and Okamura, Jonathan Y.  “Pamantasan:

Filipino American Higher Education.”  Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity.  Ed.  Maria P.P. Root.  USA: Sage Publications, 1997.  183-197.    

“Bicol’s oldest public high school remembers Thomasites’

legacy.”  Asia Africa Intelligence Wire 19 Dec.  2002.

Espiritu, Yen Le.  Home Bound.  California:  University of

     California Press, 2003.

Jundis, Orvy.  Personal Interview.  29 Oct.  2004

“US official notes Thomasites.”  Business World(Philippines)

30 Aug.  2001.

“Valerie Corpus, a Skilled Filipina American, Reflects on

Advantages and Disadvantages of Life in The United

States, 1979.”  Major Problems in American Immigration

and Ethnic History.  Ed.  Jon Gjerde.  Houghton Mifflin

Company, 1998. 460.

Webster’s Dictionary.  1999 ed.