“Latinos of Asia” book explores Filipino-American racial identity

“The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race” has been out since March of last year.

For its author, Fil-Am associate professor at Cal Poly Pomona Dr. Anthony Christian Ocampo, the book is a collection of history and personal experience that helps define what race is or can be.

Ocampo acknowledges that the title was to grab people’s attention, and that he has received some on-line hate from netizens disagreeing with the title; however, just like the old saying goes, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

“I think when people read the book they’ll realize at no part in the book do I say that Filipinos say ‘I’m Latino,’ but what’s important to know is that race and identity isn’t just about saying ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that,’ or checking a box on a form,” Ocampo said. “It’s also about those moments when you feel in your gut that there’s this collective identity that doesn’t even need to be said.”

Ocampo weaves together interviews of kababayans growing up in Southern California, and highlights historical parallels between the Filipino and Latino communities.

Ocampo says that many of these parallels between Filipinos and Latinos go unnoticed, because they blend into each other’s communities well.

“During the time when Filipinos started to migrate to the United States on the West Coast they weren’t allowed to marry. They were mostly men with a ratio of 14:1. And they weren’t allowed to marry white women, because of racist laws at the time. And so they would often marry with Latino and create what a friend of mine Rudy Guevarra calls ‘Mexi-pino’ communities and Mexi-pino families.”

Ocampo also points out how some Filipinos can never fully identify themselves in surveys asking for ethnicity.

“I think the problem is when you think of the word Asian, you’re not thinking of a brown kid with the last name Rodriguez wearing a rosary around his neck, and that is sort of your quintessential picture of what a Filipino is. And so when I started to notice this difference, I thought I was the only one.”

The book, he says, was created through a decade and a half of research, and he hopes it would inspire other Fil-Am stories.

“What I always say about this book is that I never want this to be the book on Filipino-Americans. I want it to be a book,” he shared. “I want this book to be a catalyst for other Filipinos to tell their versions of what Filipino-American life is like.”

Ocampo says that new generation of Fil-Ams have already taken a unique opportunity to create their own definition of what it means to be Filipino in America and he hopes that whatever they choose to do, whether traditional or unconventional, they do it loudly enough to let the world know Filipinos are doing big things everywhere.


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