Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Welcome to Pinoy County, USA

Pinoy in US Counties | Welcome to Pinoy County, USA
Los Angeles is the US county with the most Filipino immigrants.

She writes...

Maraming Filipino doon (there are many Filipinos there),” was the top description of friends and acquaintances about Los Angeles when they found out that it was where I would be living with Ray.

The second was, “when you’re a Filipino living in LA, you are often mistaken as TNT (Tago ng Tago or an illegal immigrant in hiding) even if you’re legal.”

Although I have very limited engagement and socialization, I have known that the first paragraph is fact – Filipinos are everywhere in LA. From the church and malls to grocery stores, beaches and parks, there is almost a 50 percent chance of bumping into a kababayan (fellow Filipino) or hearing one of the major Philippine languages spoken.

The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) even puts LA County as the top county in the US where most Filipino immigrants reside, with a population of 237,700, followed by San Diego County at 94,700 and Honolulu at 79,600.

I am not sure about the veracity of the “TNT” reference because I have yet to meet one. While MPI estimates show that LA County has more than a million of the 11 million-plus unauthorized population (the biggest among all US counties), their data does not provide a breakdown by nationality.

US illegal immigrants | Welcome to Pinoy County, USA
Los Angeles is also the county with the most number of unauthorized population.

One of the perks of being a foreigner in a strange land is the opportunity to prove or disprove preconceived notions by observing the new environment. Just watching events unfold here – how they put out brush fires, rescue stranded hikers, and the general acceptance of self-promotion – has been an education.

I've never been to the U.S. before immigrating. So what I knew about the country, and California in particular, was limited to what I read, watched and heard. Since I don’t go out much, most of what I know is still based on the results of my web research on Filipino immigration.

As of the 2013 US Census, California is home to 1.5 million of the 3.6 million Filipino Americans nationwide. Statistics aside, I would have assumed the same as soon as we arrived at the Tom Bradley International Terminal five months ago.  

Fil-Am population | Welcome to Pinoy County, USA
The top 5 states of Fil-Am residence in the US.

When we deplaned, I expected cultural disorientation to seep in, but there were only a handful of non-Pinoys who towered over us. Instead, everyone looked familiar and it became easy to identify because there were so many Pinoys working at the airport. That there were LAX staff and employees who greeted and conversed with us in Filipino made me feel that we landed in one of the local Philippine airports instead of the United States of America.

Except for a Mexican lady who announced that an Iranian interpreter was on her way, the immigration officers who processed the papers of us new immigrants at the LAX were Filipinos. While I was signing forms and getting fingerprinted, the Fil-Am immigration officer and I did a bit of catching up about the latest news on VP Binay.

He asked me about what I did in the Philippines and where I was from. When he learned that I was from Abra, he pointed to the officer reviewing documents and stamping our passports as apparently from my hometown, Bangued. I didn’t get a chance to chat with my fellow Abrenian, but it was nice knowing that we came from the same northern Philippine town.

Although the airport was a giveaway about the presence of Fil-Ams in the county, the various places Ray and I visited reinforced all I had heard about the Filipino presence in Los Angeles. Even in San Francisco and San Diego, where we spent our first Christmas together, the Filipino presence was just as apparent.

Los Angeles is a melting pot, a host to different cultures, including immigrants from the Philippines. As such, I don’t stick out and can blend in easily with the crowd. Except in rare instances when someone can’t speak English, I can interact with others, free of the barriers of presupposition or assumption of my background or who I am.

The few times that I considered living abroad consisted of either getting a short journalism fellowship or a one- to two-year postgraduate degree through a scholarship.  But between a fellowship and a project that would give me fieldwork experience in one of the Philippine localities, I’ve always chosen the latter because I wanted to grow more roots. Perhaps it was prescience – I had the gut feeling that I wouldn’t be settling down in my own country.

Sure, my friends and I often joked that our "target market" or the loves of our lives belonged to the other side of the world, but we said it more facetiously than seriously. Emigration was a distant consideration, given that the tropical allure of the Philippines would be enough reason to settle down there. Yet I believed that I would only leave my country for love – and so in a self-fulfilling prophecy, I did.

And given my sense of Filipino identity, perhaps it's a blessing to be based in LA County, the Pinoy County in the US. #



No comments:

Post a Comment