BOOK REVIEW Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race by Anthony Ocampo

Latinos Of Asia

Questions of identity are integral to young Filipino-Americans struggling to assert and find their voice in the 21st century. Books like Anthony Ocampo’s The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race and E.J.R. David’s Brown Skin, White Minds: Filipino-American Postcolonial Psychology demonstrate a profound shift to centralize the narrative around the Filipino-American experience as we face the population growth of our community in the U.S. With 3.5 million people of Filipino heritage currently living in the U.S., Filipino-Americans are the second largest Asian-American group in the country and the largest in all of California. But you still wouldn’t know it by flipping television channels or peeking into board meetings of major American corporations.

In Los Angeles especially, where Filipino-Americans are oftentimes the majority, Filipino-Americans are making sense of their experience of otherness in relation to other Asians as well as Latinos from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, with whom they share names, religions and language.

Dr. Anthony Ocampo’s The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race charts the ever-complex state of racial identity, dynamics and formation of Filipino-Americans in the U.S. today. Through qualitative research, interviews and personal accounts from 87 different individuals, Dr. Ocampo delves into the nitty gritties of Filipino-American identity. Namely, the legacy of Spanish colonialism, a culture of in-betweenness (definitely Asian, probably American and a little Latino), the propensity towards self-denial, and the sticky “model minority” stereotypes that inform immigrants’ expectations of their second-generation children.

Latinos of Asia demonstrates how Filipino-Americans blur the racial lines of difference based on traditional categories of race, ethnicity and heritage. Amidst the backdrop of “melting pot” Americanism, Ocampo challenges the notion of panethnicity, the blending of various unrelated ethnic groups from Asia, which are nevertheless perceived as a distinguishable group within the context of larger multi-racial society. Historically, the panethnic identity has been politically useful as it has allowed Asian-Americans to band together for shared political representation. Yet, panethnicity has a tendency to erase the nuances of specific experiences and histories of Filipino-Americans as a whole. 

One may argue that Filipino-Americans feel more empowered now than ever. We are one of the fastest growing Asian-American groups in the U.S. With more and more Filipina women in leadership positions throughout the country, it’s no doubt that we’re in the midst of incremental change towards increased representation. 

What does it mean to be American in an increasingly multi-cultural society? Meaningful dialogues around identity spearhead young Filipina millennials’ push for representation, empowerment and advancement. I, for one, am eager to confront the tangled web of race, history, and culture through books like Latinos of Asia to make sense of who we are, where we came from and where we’re going.

- Raissa Alvero, FWN Fellow