DH: During the Symposium I had the pleasure of interviewing Victor Ordoñez, a Senior Education Fellow at the East-West Center, Hawai’i. We are reprinting here his presentation to the Symposium, followed by a transcript of our conversation about the Filipino presence in Hawai’i and the potential of the overseas community — ‘the Other Philippines’.
Prof. Victor Ordoñez
It is not my role today to give an overall framework or keynote address on the very important theme of this conference. But rather, as a panellist, to provide you with a few specific ideas that may be helpful in deliberating on today’s sub-theme: “Weaving Cultural Harmony and Solidarity.” For this reason, I have chosen to present within my limited time only five key concepts that I hope may serve as building blocks for our discussions on this theme.
Let me say from the start that this session finds itself at the heart of why we are here today. The overall symposium theme, “Cultivating wisdom; harvesting peace,” articulates the very core of UNESCO’s, and my, understanding of the way to achieve peace. For peace is not just the absence of war, but something that can be harvested only after something else has been planted, and that is, an understanding — a frame of mind — in every individual that enables him or her to tolerate, accept, deal with, indeed celebrate cultural and religious diversity. As UNESCO’s oft-quoted preamble states, “Since war is made in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be built.” And that is merely another way of saying, if we are to harvest peace, we must cultivate wisdom.
And so allow me today to contribute five specific building blocks to the defenses of peace in our minds, or to change the analogy, to contribute five seeds of wisdom for cultivation in our education systems and in ourselves:
1. The first idea is a way of resolving the dilemma of religious conviction vs. religious tolerance. I was brought up as a Christian Catholic, and for many years I grappled with two seemingly contradictory ideas: On the one hand, I was taught that my religion was the true one for salvation, and therefore it was unacceptable for me to think that one religion was as good as any other. On the other hand, I was told that my God was a God of all mankind, and I could not see how He could condemn to damnation, as some of Christian faiths do, the three fourths of the world’s population that were not Christian.
My crisis resolved itself in a most curious and experiential way. As a graduate student, I had decided on majoring in oriental philosophy, which I thought more relevant to me than all that Western thought. So I embarked upon writing a doctoral dissertation on one aspect of Hinduism. Because I had to understand my subject profoundly, and from the inside, I ended up absorbing the ideas, and indeed living the lifestyle of a sect of Hinduism. It came to a point where a religious identity crisis of sorts arose. Was I now a practicing Hindu, and could I still be a Christian at the same time? Not only practices, but also basic beliefs and world view elements from the two major religions kept colliding with each other in my head — reincarnation vs. resurrection, karma vs. heaven or hell, etc. But I eventually realized that both faiths had intellectually coherent and internally compatible thought systems, and contradictions arose only when I would pit a specific idea or belief divorced from its context in one religion and measure it against the thought system of the other religion, which was definitely unfair.
I therefore concluded that the world in its naked and complex reality is too blinding to explain itself, and if one looks at the world to understand it, one needs a set of “glasses” or filters, with which to make sense of it, whether it be Christian glasses, or Hindu glasses, or Buddhist glasses, or even atheist glasses.
This resolved three things for me: First, it made me see the unfairness of evaluating an article of belief in another person’s world view, if one were looking at it with a different set of “glasses.” Secondly, and more importantly, it made me realize I needed to make a firm and committed choice of which “glasses” I would choose to wear; perpetually shifting glasses would only make me cross-eyed or even blind. Thirdly, it allowed me to resolve the dilemma I originally mentioned: I could truly say that according to my “glasses” I had the best and true faith, but I could respect and understand those with “glasses” different than mine.
2. The second idea is the idea of multiple identities. Perhaps no concept, no word, is as overused these days in conferences as globalization. Nevertheless the reality of ever-greater interdependence is an irreversible tsunami. How we prepare for it, how we channel it, how we allow it to determine our lives and our school systems, however, is not predetermined. Indeed, as the Delors1 report reminds us:
“We cannot ignore the promise of globalization nor its risks, not the least of which is the risk of forgetting the unique character of individual human beings. It is for them to choose their own future and achieve their full potential within the carefully tended wealth of their traditions and their own cultures, which can be endangered…” 
Indeed it is the context of maintaining the balance between tradition and modernity, between the global and the local, that fostering the concept of multiple identities is so crucial. In maintaining the balance between these dimensions, education must avoid the pitfall of looking at this polarity as a zero-sum game, that emphasizing one aspect must be at the expense of the other. It is not a question, for example, of designing a curriculum that engenders international solidarity more and national identity less, or vice versa. Paradoxically, if handled carefully, one can actually re-inforce the other. There are ways, of course, of developing national pride that can deteriorate into chauvinism, jingoism or intolerance of all things foreign, just as there are ways of championing a version of globalization that belittles and tramples upon local and national identities. But these are not the only alternatives. Throughout the world, examples exist of sub-cultures equally proud of their ethnic and sub-national origins as they are of their national citizenship or even regional/global identity. There is no contradiction between being totally proud of being Cebuano, and being equally proud of being Visayan, and of being Filipino and of being Asian. Thinking or teaching that one must be sacrificed at the expense of the other is a false dilemma, and denies the individual’s inherent multiple identity, and leads to aberrations like ethnic conflict and intolerance (as can be seen in another part of the Philippines, for example).
3. The third idea is the distinction between faith and ethics, between a belief system, which varies from religion to religion, and a moral code of conduct, which in the main is common to all religions. One deals with the “how”: How to live or behave in life, the other deals with the “why”: why one should live that way — the motivation and frame of mind for following the moral code. Recent initiatives in educational systems towards reinforcing values education in schools do not always make this distinction in their efforts. To be sure, how values education is handled varies significantly from country to country.
In some countries, many of which are the cradles of ancient civilization and thought systems blending religion and philosophy of mankind, values education is inextricably linked with religious education. This is but natural, and its validity has endured through the centuries, giving individuals a frame of reference beyond the material and beyond the present tense, within a comforting socio-cultural context and a sense of social identity. It is only important that, as contexts and social identities alien to their own come into increasing contact with them, a healthy spirit of tolerance and respect for diversity matches their sense of their own social identity.
On the other hand, there are countries, many influenced by the Church-State dichotomy tradition of their former colonizers, where there is an attempt to separate out from the educational system, not just religious proselytizing, but all forms of sectarian-inspired values education. The irony of course, is that it is impossible to not teach values education. Just as not to decide is to decide, so also not to deliberately engender a value system is to engender a value system that is indifferent to values, or confused about them. Ignoring or giving little importance to specific values, such as honesty and cleanliness, for example, engenders the opposite values or behaviours. The practical question that arises for both sets of countries is: How does one deal with values education in a way that neither violates each individual’s personal belief system, nor advocates a specific configuration of values that are not universally upheld by humankind?
4. The fourth idea is a companion idea to the third: operationalizing the difference between teaching and preaching. The former is to enlighten, and basically address, the mind; the latter is to inspire and motivate, and basically addresses the heart and the will. Schools are not churches or mosques; classes are not religious revival sessions or liturgy. Values have a place in a program of study, but in an educational context the emphasis on a deeper understanding of the concepts, the implications, yes, the value of these, not on the exhortation to practice them. Even in the great institutions of religious thought, there is the classical distinction between theology, which is the intellectual and rational analysis of the foundations of faith, and homiletics, which is the cultivation of the facility to persuade, move, inspire, to transform abstract faith foundations into living allegiance and devoted practice. Hopefully, but not necessarily, practice follows understanding; nevertheless, without understanding, practice becomes less sustainable and reliable.
5. The fifth and final idea I would like to leave with you is the distinction between the secular and the materialistic. There is a strong temptation within schools in a multicultural society, and in public schools in church/state separation countries that are secular by definition, to confuse this, to think being secular must mean being materialistic. But there is a difference between being secular, that is, not being clearly aligned with any specific religion or sectarian affiliation, and being materialistic, that is, clearly disavowing any dimension beyond the sensory. Schools that are secular are not, and should not be, necessarily materialistic. But they can stay faithful to their secular, public, and democratic character if the values they embody and engender remain firmly within the body of those values universally accepted regardless of creed, race, or religion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, endorsed by practically all nations on earth and opposed by no major religion, is one of several starting points. Only when secular schools start to propagate a sub-set or interpretation of these values particular to a specific historical, religious, or philosophical tradition do they betray their secular character.
These then, ladies and gentlemen, are the five ideas I wish to bring to our discussions, with the hope that they will trigger more dialogue and thought. I recognize that some ideas, and indeed the themes of this symposium are complex, delicate, and to some people quite controversial. But this is so precisely because it is a subject of utmost importance for our troubled times, and cultivating the seeds of dialogue and understanding on these themes are more urgent today than ever before. No one has expressed more forcefully this sentiment than the report of the UNESCO Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century, and I would like to end with the pertinent quote from that landmark document:
“Often, without realizing it, the world has a longing, often unexpressed, for an ideal and for values that we shall term “moral.” It is thus education’s noble task to encourage each and every one, acting in accordance with their traditions and convictions and paying full respect to pluralism, to lift their minds and spirits to the plane of the universal and, in some measure, to transcend themselves. It is no exaggeration on the Commission’s part to say that the survival of humanity depends on it.”
1. ‘Report on economic and monetary union in the European community’, European Council, Committee for the Study of Economic and Monetary Union chaired by Jacques Delors, 1989. The Delors report set out a plan to introduce the Economic and Monetary Union in three stages and it included the creation of institutions like the European System of Central Banks, which would become responsible for formulating and implementing monetary policy.
He can be contacted at:
You can read the papers presented at the symposium online at the Multi–Faith Centre’s website http://www.griffith.edu.au/centre/mfc/
DH: Victor Ordoñez is the only Filipino I’ve ever met who has lived in Hawai’i, so I was curious about the Filipino community there and Victor’s view of the economic and political potential of overseas Filipinos.
VICTOR: The unique situation in Hawai’i is that the Filipinos who are there were recruited. They didn’t apply to go, they were actually picked from the villages and farms of the Ilocos. I just recently learned this because of the research I’ve been doing for a coffee table book we are preparing in celebration of 100 years of Filipino presence in Hawai’i.
In 1906 when the so-called first wave of Filipino migration came to Hawai’i, there were just a couple of hundred. The majority of the labour force were Japanese-Americans. In about 10 years, Filipinos became 70% of that work force; about 40,000 were recruited. By 1929 there were already over 100,000 and Filipinos had replaced the Japanese as the largest ethnic group of plantation workers.
In 1934 the Tydings-McDuffie Act created a Philippine Commonwealth with a transitional government until independence would be granted in 10 years, Filipino migration into the U.S. was severely restricted. But the sugarcane plantation owners, needing labour, got an exemption for Hawai’i and a clause was inserted in the Act saying Filipinos cannot go to the U.S., except for the Territory of Hawai’i. The planters in Hawai’i took advantage of the clause. 
So the answer to your question about the number of Filipinos is that today there are 150 to 170,000 Filipinos in Hawai’i which is almost 15% of the population. Only about 7% of the population is Hawaiian, so there are fewer native Hawaiians than Filipinos. I ran into another interesting statistic: if you include the hapa-Filipinos, which is the mixed blood Filipinos, it is up to 40%. Hapa is a term used in Hawai’i to mean mestizo; it’s a corruption of the word ‘half’; like ‘mestizo’, it means ‘half-cast’. So, Filipinos make up a large percentage of the population, but they’re mainly visible in only certain industries, such as the service industry in hotels and restaurants.
Agriculture as a whole has pretty much died down, it’s really tourism now. The sugarcane fields have been converted into housing developments and shopping malls and such like. In fact sugarcane fields have just about disappeared altogether in Hawai’i. There are still some pineapple plantations left but not sugarcane, so it’s really changed. What happened was that the Japanese, who were replaced by Filipinos on the farms, became the truck drivers, the service people, the clerks, the office workers. Then they moved into political power, and as the farms closed down, the Filipinos moved into being the truck drivers, and service employees; and so on.
The phenomenon of the 1934 Act was that not only did they allow Filipinos to enter Hawai’i, but they also applied the rule that they could bring in their families. From 1906 to 1935, when they were bringing thousands in from the Ilocos, they were only men. There was a ratio of 14 men for every woman. There was a social imbalance and so they allowed in the wives and children. So by way of petitioning there’s now a second and third generation of Filipinos in Hawai’i descended from the plantation workers that were recruited from the poorer areas of the Philippines. And Filipinos are still coming in. The largest number of immigrants to Hawai’i are Filipinos. Why? Because it is a better life, because they do come from very harsh environments. The U.S. is still the land of opportunity and the labour conditions are better — thanks in part to the sacrifices made by the Filipinos who organised the first unions at great expense, not only in time and effort but in blood too — a lot of people were killed.
DH: Could you tell me more about that?
VICTOR: I think the reason the Filipinos were imported was because the plantation owners wanted to break the stranglehold of the Japanese labour unions. They thought that if they brought in Filipinos who did not understand Japanese, they would be a counter force. In the beginning that worked and that is why the Filipinos became the majority in the work force. Then in the 1920s, the first labour movement of Filipino sugarcane farm workers organised. A number of workers were killed, their leader was exiled. But you can’t kill a union forever, and in about 10 years it reared its head again. And once they joined the ILWU they became a strong force and conditions improved. So there was a very strong Filipino presence in the Hawaiian labour movement, in fact they were a dominant labour presence from the 20s to the 40s.
DH: Did the gender balance of men to women change?
VICTOR: Having started out at a 14 to 1 ratio at the early part of the century, by the 1930s and 40s the women began to arrive in numbers. The ratio was not yet at that time 1 to 1, but the families were encouraged to come. It was also one of the ways of taking the edge off the militant Filipino labour movement. When their families and children are present, the men think twice about striking. Today, the ratio of Filipino men to women is more or less balanced.
Also today, the nature of the work is different. There are now unions of hotel chambermaids. They don’t have the same labour conditions as the farmer who would have to physically shoulder the sugarcane; damaging their ears as the cane would rub against the side of the head they could lose their ears as a result. It was hard labour under the sun; harsh and very dramatic working conditions. But there are valid causes that remain, there is still negative discrimination. So there are causes that keep the labour unions alive.
For example the teachers went on strike in Hawai’i and unlike most others in the U.S., the entire state is one district and when that district goes on strike the whole state is paralysed. That happened a couple of years ago, and almost the entire state shut down. For a number of weeks while the strike lasted, the kids were not going to school, which was really quite alarming. The strike was about wages basically, because teachers in Hawai’i are paid lower than the rest of the mainland. It might have been conditions as well. I had just arrived so I was not intimately familiar with all the issues.
DH: When did you arrive in Hawai’i? Did you have any problem integrating with the Filipino community?
VICTOR: I got there about 4 or 5 years ago. I was with the UN before that — in Bangkok heading the Asia office and I was in Paris heading the Basic Education campaign. I have participated in community activities, for instance I’m working on the forthcoming centennial book which will come out next year during the centennial celebrations.
This centennial book has the support of Filipino community organisations and from the state government as well. The coffee table book is one of many activities celebrating the centennial. It is just one of many projects, but it’s an interesting one because it forces us to research and write up the history and I found out the unique history of why Filipinos are in Hawai’i and that eventually half of them went to California, some went back to the Philippines and the rest stayed.
DH: Was there much response in Hawai’i to overseas voting?
VICTOR: Out of 150,000 Filipinos in Hawai’i, only 800 voted. The reason is because the law specified that if you vote, you are declaring your intention to return to the Philippines in three years — which is a silly provision. On the other hand, people who are committed U.S. citizens but have an interest in the Philippines, feel they want a voice. Filipinos in Hawai’i are not transient, they are settled. People like me, who come in for a few years and then go away, are not the majority. Transient Filipinos today go to Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia where they vote in the thousands because they are returning.
But let me comment on the wider picture. I’ve spent five years in Bangkok, five years in Paris and five years in Los Angeles, so I have a sense of Filipinos who live in these different environments. There are about 10,000 Filipinos in Paris, but probably 30,000 in France overall. Many are domestic helpers; they are very articulate and they have a voice. The Filipino community in Los Angeles numbers half a million, maybe closer to one million now. In Bangkok there’s a Filipino ex-pat community which is very educated and articulate running regional offices of many corporations. So I have a sense for the potential and diversity of Filipinos overseas. And when this issue of the overseas Filipino vote came about and President Arroyo was in Hawai’i, I was asked to talk about it on a television show. It forced me to reflect on the potential and the power of the overseas Filipino.
Economically speaking, I think the Filipino economy would be down the drain if it weren’t for the remittances that the eight million Filipinos overseas are sending home. I came across some statistics, which I cannot prove or disprove, stating that the collective income of overseas Filipinos is more than the collective income of Filipinos in the country now. In other words, Filipinos abroad are making more money than Filipinos at home, which is a startling statistic. The economic power is there and it’s keeping the country afloat.
Now, because of email and because you can read the Philippine press on the Internet from anywhere in the world, you know what is happening politically and socially on a day to day basis. Plus there is a Filipino satellite television channel now. It’s expensive, yet I see second generation Filipinos in Hawaiian homes glued to the shows. There are also thousands at sea in marine vessels. Filipino merchant marines are the most numerous in the world now.
The point I’m about to make is that although Filipinos overseas are numerous, they are disconnected. And, because of interconnectedness and technology sooner or later the disparate Filipinos are going to interrelate and they’re going to connect. Once they do, that’s a tremendous political force that Filipinos in the Philippines can no longer ignore. What I’m saying is that there is another Philippines outside Philippine shores with a combined population bigger than the population of Switzerland. I think that Filipinos overseas, no matter how long they stay, do still have a heart for the country and if you work it right they could come home on a full or a part time basis, permanent or temporary, and they can be a real force.
Once you unleash the potential of what I call the ‘Other Philippines’, the ‘Old Philippines’ is going to have to recognise that and change. And since it’s so difficult to find a reason for optimism looking at the ‘Old Philippines’, because of what is going on, we have to say let’s wait for the next generation, let’s wait for the sleeping giant, the ‘Other Philippines’, to wake up because sooner or later it will. They’ll connect with each other, they’ll recognise their power, and they’ll make a difference, hopefully for the good. I don’t know how and I don’t know when, but I think it’s inevitable.
DH: What you’ve said, Victor, gives us hope that Filipinos abroad will not become totally assimilated and we will not lose our identity.
VICTOR: You know, I wrote a novel about an American soldier and the sister of Gregorio del Pilar, one of the Philippine heroes at the turn of the 20th century, and I’m surprised by the thirst that overseas Filipinos have for the book because it’s set against Philippine history. It’s a love story called “With Hearts Aflame”. Within the storyline of boy gets girl, the fellow meets Jose Rizal and gets involved in the battle of Manila Bay. He’s a soldier and he’s helping to overthrow Spanish rule, but when the Philippine-American war breaks out, suddenly he and the girl are enemies. The girl feels betrayed, she says: you were the greatest but now you are the new colonisers killing more Filipinos than the Spanish in the last 30 years. The novel is in this context. What I am saying is that overseas Filipinos have a thirst for their heritage. I mentioned this in a convention at the East-West Centre of public school teachers. Some participants said they teach the kids about the Philippines but students prefer a love story rather than a history book, so they’re using it in the classroom. Hopefully the book will be made into a movie some day.
2. The Tydings-McDuffie Act or the Philippine Independence Act (Public Law 73 127) approved on 24 March 1934 is a piece of U.S. legislation which reclassified all Filipinos living in the United States as aliens for the purposes of immigration to America. A quota of 50 immigrants from the Philippines per year was established. At this time Hawai’i was still a Territory of the United States. Having been formally annexed in 1898, Hawai’i did not achieve statehood until 60 years later in 1959. The full text of the Tydings-McDuffie Act is available online at http://www.chanrobles.com/tydingsmcduffieact.htm.
3. International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union. For more information about the historical struggle to unionise Hawai’i’s almost feudal plantation social system visit the Education Section of the ILWU Local 142 Hawai’i web site at http://www.ilwu142.org/ilwupages/educationpages/education0905.htm
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