Mindanao Times

Fil-Am ‘fired up’ as Tagalog added to Nevada ballot


MANNY Pacquiao, roast pig dinners and prayer services: Activists are using every tool possible to get the booming Filipino-American community in Las Vegas to the polls for Saturday’s Democratic nomination vote. Overlooked in the past, Filipinos have rapidly become the western desert state’s largest Asian-American community, almost 200,000 by some estimates, in a state of three million people, forcing candidates to take notice. For the first time, the Tagalog language will be used on voting cards along with English and Spanish at the Democratic caucuses. “We’re proud that they are recognizin­g us,” said Margie Gonzales, a Filipina community leader. “It means a lot -- it means recognitio­n.” Gonzales, who chairs the county’s Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) commission, has also begun training politician­s to speak a few Tagalog words. “When you start knocking on doors, it helps if you greet a Filipino family opening the door in Tagalog,” she said. “That’s a way to make that person smile -- you feel welcome.” Feeling welcome is key for a minority community in which immigratio­n and xenophobia are major concerns. Like Latinos, Filipino-Americans tend to vote Democrat. “When Trump talks about not bringing in relatives and things like that, that same thing applies to Asians,” said Tick Segerblom, a commission­er for Clark County, where Las Vegas is located. “So Trump has really been a boon as far as organizing Asians.” But traditiona­lly Filipino-Americans have not voted in large numbers. To counter that, Gonzales and her fellow activists introduced a tradition commonly found during election campaigns back in the Philippine­s -- the Kamayan, a large communal feast. These typically see politician­s mingle at long tables covered in banana leaves, with a whole roast pig on the menu. The feasts hosted in Las Vegas by Gonzales so far have not endorsed specific candidates. A grand Kamayan is planned once the Democratic Party settles on a nominee, but that has not stopped those in the race from reaching out. Democratic candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who is Hawaiian, has made inroads, as have Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren. “This is an overlooked and often ignored community and I feel like Elizabeth Warren celebrates our existence and doesn’t use us as props,” said Filipina campaign volunteer Ninna Diaz, 27. The community is “definitely taking notice,” she added. More recently, Gonzales has conducted Tagaloglan­guage caucus training for campaigns including that of Bernie Sanders. “The mere fact that a lot of politician­s are calling me and other Filipino-American leaders, it shows you that we are becoming important,” she said. “They are paying attention to us, because they know now that we vote.” She added: “Our voice used to be like the squeak of a mouse... But we are getting fired up now.”

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