Filipino activists push for more Filipinos to become US citizens

Ruxandra Guidi

John Lopez of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center tries to get older Filipinos to become U.S. citizens, and vote.

Filipinos are one of the fastest-growing Asian immigrant groups in Los Angeles. In an effort to get more of them involved in American life, a citizenship/voter drive is reaching out to those who have been here the longest.

Located on the edge of Historic Filipinotown, Silver Lake Medical Center employs Filipino health care workers, provides services to immigrants and reaches out to the elderly. On the sixth floor, the Filipino American Service Group hosts a citizenship clinic for old-timers, many of whom are Filipino veterans who served with the U.S. military during World War II.

After seven years in the United States, Jerusalem Montellano is ready to become a citizen. The 62-year-old came to the Center on Friday to fill out the form for naturalization.

“I want to understand how elections work in the U.S.," said Montellano. "I want to get to know candidates and figure out what they can do for our community. Filipinos need help in health care and jobs, like everyone else, but we have trouble voicing our concerns.”

There are an estimated 3.4 million Filipinos and Filipino-Americans nationwide. Around half a million Filipinos are believed to make Los Angeles home. Getting this rapidly-growing community more politically- and civically-engaged has been a priority for groups like the Asian Pacific American Legal Center for the past couple of years.

John Lopez is a legal advocate with the legal center and a Filipino immigrant himself.

“They don’t think it’s that important," said Lopez, speaking about the push to legalize. "They’ve been living in the country for 20 to 30 years [...] like my grandmother, who just never thought to become a U.S. citizen because she didn’t feel the need to. In every sense of the word, they are American, but they can’t fully participate in the community that they live in. Ultimately, they’re doing the disservice to themselves.”

Organizers like Lopez are hoping to get older Filipinos (who can be generally skeptical of politicians and elections) to become U.S. citizens and vote. Then, maybe, they can make the case to their kids and grandkids, just in time for November’s election.

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