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Growing Up Brown: Memoirs of a Filipino American by Peter Jamero


"I may have been like other boys, but there was a major difference - my family included 80 to 100 single young men residing in a Filipino farm-labor camp. It was as a 'campo' boy that I first learned of my ancestral roots and the sometimes tortuous path that Filipinos took in sailing halfway around the world to the promise that was America. It was as a campo boy that I first learned the values of family, community, hard work, and education. As a campo boy, I also began to see the two faces of America, a place where Filipinos were at once welcomed and excluded, were considered equal and were discriminated against. It was a place where the values of fairness and freedom often fell short when Filipinos put them to the test." - Peter Jamero

Synopsis (from the back of the book):
Peter Jamero's story of hardship and success illuminates the experience of what he calls the "bridge generation" -- the American-born children of the Filipinos recruited as farm workers in the 1920s and 30s. Their experiences span the gap between these early immigrants and those Filipinos who owe their U.S. residency to the liberalization of immigration laws in 1965. His book is a sequel of sorts to Carlos Bulosan's America Is in the Heart, with themes of heartbreaking struggle against racism and poverty and eventual triumph.

Jamero describes his early life in a farm-labor camp in Livingston, California, and the path that took him, through naval service and graduate school, far beyond Livingston. A longtime community activist and civic leader, Jamero describes decades of toil and progress before the Filipino community entered the socio-political mainstream. He shares a wealth of anecdotes and reflections from his career as an executive of health and human service programs in Sacramento, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco.

Challenge #1: Embracing Filipino Culture

Asian American literature receives little to no coverage (other than Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club) in most high school curriculums.
Within that, Filipino literature is even more obscure. Peter Jamero's Growing Up Brown: Memoirs of a Filipino American is a pleasurably, easy read that students will find engaging. I plan to invite a family member (my wife's aunt) into our class to give us some background on her family history as well as some details about the culture (climate, political status, food and customs, folk tales, etc.). If you don't have access to a representative, I would suggest utilizing Asia Recipe. This website offers cultural information about the Philippines and many other Asian cultures. This festive event will be a perfect way to wrap up a unit. Students love it when you can apply some of the rituals and customs of the literature into the classroom (i.e. food and drink, music, costumes, etc.).

Challenge #2: Dealing with Blatant Racial Discrimination

In chapter seven of his memoir, Peter Jamero and family along with some of his Filipino friends are evicted from a predominantly white community. They are outraged at the injustice and write a letter to the San Jose Mercury, the San Jose News, and the campus newspaper at San Jose State University. He and long time friend Bee signed the letter as two Korean War veterans with the hope that these titles would receive sympathetic attention. Although many college students staged protests, Peter never received any sort of compensative justice. Getting students to recognize this act of discrimination is an essential part of understanding Jamero's experience.

I would like my students engage in a similar act to Jamero's. My plan would be to have students write a letter to a person or organization of authority: a newspaper editor, a politician, a superintendent, school board member, or principal, etc. This activity would be preceded with a discussion about racial discrimination. Their essays would fit into a persuasive writing unit.


Additional Resources

Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity by Maria P. P. Root
Throughout the United States, many Filipino Americans, especially students, are beginning to want to know more about their cultural heritage and future. Overall, there has been very little written to transmit knowledge about Filipino history, ideas, and values, even though Filipinos make up the largest Asian ethnic group in the United States. Compilation of this volume marks the centennial of the beginning of the decline of Spanish rule in the Philippine Islands....

Literary History.com: Filipino-American Literature
The bibliography focuses on signed articles by recognized scholars, articles published in reviewed sources, and web sites that adhere to the Modern Language Association.

Filipino Americans.net
This website provides information and resources about the immigration of Filipinos to the United States and their history, culture, traditions, and way of life. Filipino Americans.net also provides Philippine news from Filipino news sites around the world and original Filipino recipes from many websites.

Filipino American Literature
An essay which describes the study of Filipino American literature.

Filipino American Hip-Hop and Class Consciousness: by Michael Viola
This essay is an attempt to write about Filipino American hip-hop from a historical materialist perspective with the deeper understanding that hip-hop is an art form that was created "for the people." The author begins with an analysis of hip-hop and its absorption into a culture of capitalism. He argues that its absorption has not occurred in a vacuum but is actually related to a larger weakness of U.S. society and the progressive left. Viola also claims that, for Filipino American hip-hop to effectively resist its co-optation, it must revive the anti-capitalist and anti-racist perspectives embodied in the cultural work Carlos Bulosan. Lastly, he looks at Filipino American hip-hop artists Native Guns as a timely case study. Viola shows that their music continues the long history of Filipinos in America who use their cultural work to resist and challenge structures of exploitation, domination, and an ideology of racism. The piece has an excellent bibliography.

Asian American Authors
This site offers selective bibliographies of Asian American authors in various genres.

A Step From Heaven by An Na
This is an example of one Asian American adolescent book that could be taught along side this text. Although it is based on a Korean family, it is a valuable resource for understanding the Asian American experience and, because of the female protagonist, could serve as a strong connector for female students.

by Peter VanGorp