Like it or not, Americans and Filipinos have a very long history as foes and later allies. Hey, we were once called America’s “little brown brothers.”
The Americans bought us from Spain, and that “sale” had something to do with an event 123 years ago, on June 12, 1898. It was on that date that Filipinos declared independence from Spain, triggering a series of events that would eventually form the American-Filipino love-hate relationship.
Love, because Americans fought alongside Filipinos in World War II; hate, because the United States annexed the Philippines as part of its peace treaty with Spain — the United States was ceded the Philippines in 1898, as part of the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War.
Here’s the gist of that Treaty: Independence for Cuba and the ceding of the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States for $20 million.
Not long after Filipinos declared independence from Spain, the Philippine-American war started in 1899. It lasted until 1902 and resulted in the deaths of more than 4,200 Americans and more than 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine and disease.
True to American symbolism, the United States granted the Philippines its independence on July 4, 1946, shortly after World War II.
So, for a while the Philippines and the United States shared the same “Independence Day.”
The Philippines ceased celebrating the Fourth of July as Independence Day in 1962 after then President Diosdado Macapagal ordered the celebration back to June 12.
Then on July 4, 1984, President Ferdinand Marcos issued a proclamation, declaring July 4 as Filipino-American Friendship Day, also known as Republic Day, to commemorate the liberation of the Philippines by the joint effort of the two countries’ forces against the Japanese occupation in WWII.
Do we celebrate July 4 or June 12? No wonder Filipinos are confused — there is an old saying back home that the Filipino culture and way of thinking is cockeyed as a result of 400 years in a convent (as a Spanish colony) and 50 years in Hollywood (the American occupation).
The issue of Independence Day celebration in the islands is a constant debate, even among Filipino-Americans who strive to merge the celebrations/commemorations into one giant adobo, pansit and menudo party.
Commentaries are written this time every year from both sides of the aisle. I’ve read quite a few of them, and there are plenty of opinions that moving the date back to June 12 was a mistake.
Here’s my take:
The June 12, 1898, proclamation was for the sovereignty and independence of the Philippine Islands from the colonial rule of Spain.
True that the Treaty of Paris basically sold the islands to the U.S., but June 12 remains, and should remain, a symbolic date for Filipinos. It is on that day that Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, et al, broke the chains of a 400-year-old bondage.
In one voice they cried, enough. Blood was spilled, and alliances were broken, but lest we forget it took centuries for Filipinos to mount a movement that would eventually create the archipelago’s identity.
Indeed, the country went through turmoil after that, with the American occupation, then the Japanese conquest, but on that warm day 123 years ago, the flag with three stars and a sun proudly flew.
For the record, I celebrate the Fourth of July here in the states — although I’m often working.
So, I get to celebrate both the independence of my homeland from the Americans, and America’s independence from the British.
Top that with my “Pinoy Pride” June 12 fiesta.
But here’s the deal, unless you were born abroad, especially from a poor country, it is difficult to truly appreciate how America is still viewed as the last refuge for those seeking freedom and unlimited opportunity. Those who are born here can often lose sight of the extraordinary privilege they have.
It’s an amazing country, a nation full of possibilities. I still believe that the good people coming into the U.S. have the very best intentions, and their hearts, our hearts, are set on the ever-elusive American dream.
And, as I have written in an editorial years ago — the truth is, the American dream doesn’t promise anything but a chance: a chance to change your life and reinvent yourself.
A chance for a good life through hard work, diligence, patience and perseverance.
A chance — nothing more, nothing less.
John Mangalonzo is the editor of The Paducah Sun. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @jmangalonzo.
Editor’s note: A portion of the context in this column originally appeared in the USA Today Network.