Friday was April 13, 2018 — an ordinary day, but my work schedule allowed me to take the commuter train to New York City to pick up my newly issued Filipino passport.
Sixty-one years after being born in Minneapolis, Minn., and after six decades of continually proving my Americanness to others and myself each day, I accepted finally a second citizenship from the country of my parents’ birth. “Republika Ng Pilipinas” is stamped on the passport. Republic of the Philippines.
For years, dual citizenship was neither appealing nor desirable to me. People have different reasons for obtaining dual citizenship, but it was not for me until now.
Leaving the Philippine Consulate, I walked from 5th to 8th Avenue and down to 38th Street to a nondescript office building to watch a documentary film titled, “Memories of A Forgotten War” about the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902/1913. It was narrated by a Filipina-American film maker who spoke painfully of the history of being a perpetrator and a victim of America’s colonial ambitions at the expense of a nascent, hopeful, democratic nation at the turn of the 20th century, the American century.
The film reminded me that my parents (Dad born 1921, mom in 1925) who gave me this Pilipino citizenship, were not born in a nation, but in an archipelago ruled by a Harvard medical doctor and U.S Army officer, Major General Leonard S. Wood, as the appointed Governor General of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. From 1899 to 1946, all Filipinos were categorized and treated as U.S. nationals. They were born and lived under the rule and protections of the U.S flag, but had no legal rights as American citizens. They were U.S. nationals, whatever that meant, just like their Puerto Rican counterparts until World War I, when wartime exigency granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship and drafted over 20,000 into the war effort in 1917.
Two decades later, on December 8, 1941, one day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they attacked the Philippines and my father, then a 20-year old college student, under mandatory ROTC training as a U.S. national, was drafted into the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces of the Far East) as a sergeant/E-5 under Gen. Douglas MacArthur by the orders of President Roosevelt. He was sent to defend Bataan and was lucky to survive the infamous Bataan Death March of 1942. After Liberation, he married my mother and they attended graduate school in Minnesota. My mother was the winner of a prestigious scholarship.
I was 3 years old when my parents returned to the Philippines in 1959. One day in 1968, a maternal aunt, an anesthesiologist from Boston, visited the family and after some whispered meetings by the adults, it was announced that a cousin and I were selected by our maternal grandmother to become the adopted son and daughter for our aunt who married late and was childless. Suzanne and I were chosen because of our proximity in age and because we were Americans by birth.
Obedient, duty bound and very excited, my cousin and I went on to boarding schools in the Berkshires, then to Vassar for her, Holy Cross for me. To further cement my Americanness, I joined the Navy after graduation, but failed to qualify as a ship driver due to seasickness and became a shore-bound naval intelligence officer. But persistent unfair treatment by senior officers forced me to spend half my Naval Reserve career fighting the chain of command to serve and maintain my Top Secret clearance as a badge of my true Americanness in the intelligence community.
For years, I resisted the idea of obtaining Filipino dual citizenship to keep open the recall option to serve the Navy again. But today advancing age and having minor children changed me. In 20 to 25 years, when snow-shoveling chores become tiresome, if not physically impossible, and the children are grown and independent, perhaps the warm climate and elderly care in the Philippines may be too irresistible.
Meanwhile, here in Connecticut, as a veteran and now dual citizen, there is one more fight to ensure that the Connecticut Veterans Memorial in Hartford finally recognizes and chisels in the “Philippine-American War” in honor and memory of those who sacrificed their lives in that forgotten, conflict-soaked war long ago at the dawn of the American Century.
Sylvester L. Salcedo of Orange is a retired Lieutenant Commander, USNR. He is an attorney in private practice and a Small Claims and Traffic Infractions Magistrate with the Judicial Branch of the State of Connecticut.