Our Community is Making Progress, But We Have More Work To Do Toward Achieving True Empowerment

A simple definition of empowerment – individual and community – means having the ability to control our own lives and destiny. It means being situated in a position of strength to be able to have not just one or two options, but many options in most facets of our lives.

When members in our community speak of Filipino empowerment, usually we are referring to political empowerment. Why politics? Because politics is broad, far-reaching and has a direct impact on the lives of all of us as individuals and the subgroups (or communities) we identify ourselves with.

Politics is the realm where laws are made and can make a difference in how we access education, access healthcare. Politics is involved in banking regulations; that, in turn, gives us access to loans for our homes, cars and material possessions we find as essential.

Politics is where opportunities are created. It co-supports businesses of all sizes and our ability to grow money. It is also where we turn to consumer protection and establishing fair business practices in all industries from product-based industries, service-based industries, intellectual property-based industries like technology, entertainment and the arts. Politics helps to fund and support science. It aids in the good work charities do; and plays the double role of assisting people in need of charity.

Politics helps to feed people, our sick, our elderly. For some, it could determine whether we are able to enter and stay in this country or get deported. It gives us human rights, environmental rights, renters rights, voting rights, religious rights, animal rights, rights to dignity and equal treatment under the law and policing — rights of all kinds. It is a dream maker for some; and at the same time a dream breaker for others.

There is no greater area of societal influence than in politics.

Adequate representation in politics is a must
For all these reasons, this is why it’s critical for our community to have at the very least adequate and equal (to our population) representation of Filipinos in politics. The logic is a fellow Filipino or Filipina knows us, knows our needs and would fight on our behalf.

But it’s not just about ethnicity – or that our values and interests would even be best left in the hands of our fellow Filipinos. Non-Filipinos who share our values and interests could also be our strongest advocate. As we’re already aware of, there are “window dressers” in politics, meaning a woman not necessarily would mean she would be the best person to fight for women’s rights or that an immigrant would best handle immigrants’ needs.

It could also be that a Filipino politician be a window dresser, which is why knowing a candidate’s stand on the issues, his or her platform, and sometimes political party-philosophy is more important than ethnicity on its own. This is one major reason why our editorial board has never endorsed a Filipino candidate just because of ethnicity.

Progress made, but same strata exists
It’s curious but true that an ethnic group’s longevity (years present in a locale) in the community they live in doesn’t necessarily guarantee that empowerment (improved status) will be achieved. But the likelihood for progress to occur becomes higher.

It’s fair to say, Filipinos have made progress and is closer to “empowerment” than 10, 20, 40, years ago. More Filipinos are entrepreneurs, professionals, and leaders in government than decades past.

But while Filipinos have made measured progress, the same societal strata exists as it were 10, 20, 40 years ago — meaning Caucasian, Chinese and Japanese still have an edge in many areas socioeconomically over Filipinos and Pacific Islanders. The gap may have closed in some areas, but it hasn’t changed much in other areas, which is perhaps why as a community we are still talking about political empowerment each election cycle.

Voting matters, Unity matters
It’s also curious but true that empowerment doesn’t necessarily happen as an ethnic group’s population rises.  Filipinos are the largest ethnic group and has the largest number of immigrants to Hawaii each year that continuously expands our population. But we have yet to maximize our strength politically. Arguably we have the highest potential (thus we’re labeled the sleeping giant) for achieving major political clout in our state because of our size.  But without dramatically increasing our voter turnout and fielding the best political candidates, we will just continue to make incremental progress but never actually transition to being equals in Hawaii’s top strata.

We are always welcoming of progress. But true empowerment is a relative concept to an extent, relative in a sense as to how we are doing in the overall strata in our state, compared with other groups.  A concrete example could look like this:  improving our condition at number four in higher education attainment (which is where we are) among Hawaii’s groups, but not making enough improvement to jump ahead or be equal to number one or two – still makes us number four.

If we are moving closer to equality to other ethnic groups at the top (moving up the strata), this is when we are moving closer to achieving true empowerment.

But before the necessary leaps forward can even begin, as most leaders in our Filipino community have been saying for generations, we must work on cementing our unity as a people, as one community.  And Filipino leaders must set this example of unity, work together, and raise each other up.

It’s also important to stress that unity doesn’t mean that we have to be alike, have no diversity, which have been reasons why factionalism existed so long within our community.

In fact, the closer a community is to achieving true empowerment, it’s characteristic to find that that community becomes increasingly diverse. But can still be united.

Next year is an election year. We’ve chosen Filipino empowerment as a cover story precisely at this time to give our community a heads up to prepare for the 2022 election. If you are thinking about running for political office, it’s time to start organizing and planning now.

We are thankful for our many esteemed political pioneers who have brought us to this point. We are hoping our new generation of Filipino leaders will move us further along to where we should be.


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