It’s close to lunchtime, and cars are starting to pull in to the parking lot of Bahay Kubo, a restaurant in LA’s Historic Filipinotown.
Phillip Anthony Mirenda has staffed a volunteer table right outside the restaurant since eight in the morning. Mirenda is a 37-year-old Marine vet who was living on the streets until recently, when a shelter run by the nonprofit Filipino American Service Group nonprofit took him in. He isn’t Filipino, but he’s volunteering on behalf of the organization, and learning as he teaches.
“We’re hearing a lot of things," Mirenda explains. "'Do I have to register, since I’m already registered?' 'No, you do not.' 'What’s this for?' 'This is for a presidential election which is coming up this November, which is every four years here in America'… Questions like ‘Well, I’m not a citizen yet; do you have to be a citizen?'Well, yeah! You have to be a registered citizen, of course!”
On this day, Mirenda has a lot of explaining to do. Immigrants and new citizens want basic information about elections and voting. Sometimes they want it in Tagalog. That’s when Mirenda turns to his sidekick, Nepomuceno Tec, a Filipino who’s a naturalized US citizen.
This morning has been slow: Tec says they’ve registered fewer than 10 people - Filipinos, Latinos, and the ones he calls “I-don’t-know-whats.”
About 500,000 Filipinos live in Southern California. The US Census reports that LA County, the Asian/Pacific Islander population increased by 46% since the year 2000. That’s a faster rate than any other racial or ethnic group in the last decade. Filipinos rank at the top of that growth spurt.