Monday, July 5, 2010


The United States turned 234 over the weekend, and Pinoys from Metro DC, New Jersey and Pennsylvania joined the celebrations where it all started, in historic Philadelphia.

It was the first time Fil-Ams joined the Independence Day parade which kicked off along Chestnut Street, passing in front of Independence Hall – traditionally the birthplace of the United States.

It was here that the US Constitution was debated, drafted and signed. The Liberty Bell used to hang from its pinnacle.

Many minority American groups also joined the parade for the first time.

We recognized many of them as fixtures in past Independence Day parades in Washington DC.

Organizers in Philadelphia evidently wanted to highlight America’s rich diversity.

A Fil-Am doorman in one of the hotels near Independence Hall beamed with pride at seeing kababayans at the parade.

“I’ve been working here for eight years but this is the first time I’ve seen Filipino Americans in the parade. I wish they will do it every year,” he said.

Many American political traditions began here. The adjacent two-storey Congress Hall institutionalized a bicameral legislature – the upper house (so called because it occupied the 2nd floor) gave equal power to all the states regardless of size, and the lower house which gave proportional representation according to size.

The practice of calling the House of Representatives the lower house and the Senate, the upper house, has been carried through the centuries and in many countries, including the Philippine Congress.

Philadelphia perhaps rivals only Washington DC in terms of historical significance.

The Liberty Bell was used to call the Pennsylvania Assembly to meetings.

Some accounts say the bell pealed to summon the people to hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence. But historians say by the 1770s, the tower had been rotting and some felt ringing the bell might cause it to topple. Nonetheless, the revolutionaries believed it was important enough to be hauled away from Philadelphia when the British invaded the city.

It has become a symbol of the great struggles that have rippled through America – from the abolition of slavery to the fight for suffrage to Dr. Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights movement.

The Liberty Bell has now also become a rallying symbol for immigrants.

President Obama last week made his strongest pitch yet for immigration reforms.

“We are heartened by President Obama’s strong statement to keep his promise to make immigration reform a reality this year,” said NsFFAA (National Federation of Filipino American Association) president Greg Macabenta.

Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) executive director Arnedo Valera said Mr. Obama’s speech was “very timely for the celebration of American Independence Day. A comprehensive immigration reform now is good for the economy and enriches the cultural heritage of America.”

“Filipinos have the longest waiting time for petitions to be approved,” Macabenta said, “It’s imperative that we use our voices and our votes to urge our national leaders to act boldly and decisively now.”

Just as the Liberty Bell has symbolically called the collective attention of the nation, NaFFAA vice chair Rozita Lee stressed, “We must remind America that we are a nation of immigrants regardless of where we came from or how we came here, our shared values strengthen America’s global standing as a beacon of hope around the world.”

Valera warned, “the broken immigration system only foments racial bias and promoted discriminatory practices against various ethnic groups.”

The Fil-Am participants, under the auspices of the MHC, marched through the narrow, ballast stone-paved streets of historic Philadelphia. Some Philly Fil-Ams shouted “Mabuhay” as they passed.

The US Navy’s battleship New Jersey which saw action from World War II all the way to the liberation of Kuwait, and guided-missile destroyer Buckley were berthed on opposite banks of the Delaware River to help celebrate America’s birthday.

A lot of young Filipinos have served on those warships.

Click here for video of the Independence Day parade

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