Students March for Veteranos
UC Irvine’s Alyansa ng mga Kababayan, meaning Alliance of the Countrymen, walked alongside the Filipino American community on Veteran’s Day in Hollywood for the 67th Justice for Filipino American Veterans march. They marched to honor and support the veteranos, Pilipino WWII veterans, who were denied benefits and compensation.
Streets were blocked off, policemen and women on foot, on bikes, in patrol cars, surrounded Ivar Street. A sea of black and blue shirts made its way to the intersection of Hollywood and Vine holding banners that displayed support for the veterans.
Justice for Filipino American veterans is a Veteran’s Day march led by community organizations such as Kabataang Maka-Bayan, (KMB) a pro-people youth group, various student directors and Arturo Garcia, also known as Mang Al. KMB is a progressive organization that encourages the mobilization of issues affecting the Filipino community, those oppressed in the Philippines, and other issues regarding pro people youth around the world.
As Kababayan’s community advocacy advisor, I have kept close contact with Mang Al, on behalf of UCI Filipino organizations. The mass of students that filled the streets of Hollywood that morning made quite an impression on Hollywood residents. Tourists kneeling on the sidewalk to take photographs of their favorite celebrity and actor stars on the Hollywood walk of fame shifted their attention toward the middle of the street.
Students from UCI’s Kababayan, Fusion, PASS and PUSO organizations joined the wave of Filipinos in various chants and helped create solidarity among all the schools present.
“Don’t say NO-NO to my Lolo,” the marchers shouted in unison and once the chants started to increase in volume, passers-by raised their smart phones and cameras to capture the event. These chants were complemented by the many banners and posters that read, “Know Justice, Know Peace” and “Makibaka Huwag Matakot” which means “struggle, don’t be afraid!”
Twenty-five hundred thousand Filipino men enlisted to serve in the US Armed Forces in 1941. And 25,000 women served as nurses. The marchers recognized that the veteranos, who were considered American nationals before and during WWII, risked their lives and are not receiving the rights they deserve.
“If my grandpa wasn’t active in the war, I probably wouldn’t be in the U.S. and what JFAV does is that it allows for us to recognize that they sacrificed so much for us and one of the best things that they can have is security, whether it is financial security,” Joel Andrade, fourth-year biological sciences major and one of the Alyansa co-chairs, said.
Most of the Filipino veterans today are living off of the Supplemental Security Income, which consists of Food Stamps and Medicaid, and die without having veteran’s burial benefits. This is due to the Rescission Act, which Congress passed in 1946. The act denied Filipinos of the benefits that they were promised.
The U.S had already given the Philippines $200,000,000 after the war, but the veteran supporters chanted about how the funds did not get distributed properly. Many of the students that participated in the march were very vocal about the issue at hand, and others had personal ties to it as well. Alyansa co-chair, Brittney Sia, third-year social ecology major, said that this was her second time being involved in JFAV, although it was her first time organizing students to participate in the march.
“Because my grandpa was my only connection to my culture, it saddens me, but at the same time it makes me happy that I am involved in the Filipino community to help our people. I wish he was here to see what I am doing,” she said. At the very end of the march, veterans lined up in their uniforms, hats subtly laid on top of their heads, pins and patches displayed on their chests with such prestige, all lining up to say closing remarks in front of the highly visited Chinese theatre. Almost out of breath and pausing between each word, the first veteran spoke:
“Before the war we faced so many brothers and sisters, administration of Japanese forces, and we suffered too much.”
The student marchers applauded and the momentum sped up imitating the beating of a heart and ended with everyone yelling “ISANG BAGSAK,” meaning “one rise, one fall.” This term signifies the solidarity between one’s community or communities. As a Filipino American student, it was empowering and inspiring to see all these students stand in support for these veterans.
We, the youth, owe it to them, to keep fighting alongside them and their cause because they sacrificed so much for this country.