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Highlighting San Diego's Asian and Pacific Islander Community, Part Two

as published in the San Diego Daily Transcript

by Vince Vasquez

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This month, the White House is officially recognizing the historic struggles and contributions of Asians and Pacific Islanders in America, and desires to bring greater public awareness to their modern-day collective challenges. Addressing this issue in San Diego today should begin by taking a critical look at the largest Asian ethnic group in our region.

For more than a century, the Filipino community has helped shape San Diego's civic and economic landscape. Historians document their arrival first as students in the 1900s, enrolled at what is now San Diego State University, and later as private sector laborers and brave recruits in the U.S. Navy. Today, U.S. Census figures indicate that nearly half (43 percent) of San Diego County's Asian and Pacific Islander population claims ancestry from the Philippines. In all, an estimated 158,505 county residents are full or part Filipino, which are actively pursuing the American Dream.

Compared to the overall regional population, Filipinos are more likely to have college degrees (32 percent vs. 21 percent), own their residence (66 percent vs. 57 percent), and have higher median family incomes ($81,999 vs. $63,727). On workforce placement, Filipino residents tend to be more heavily concentrated in the education, health care and social service industries, and less so in construction, arts and food services than the public at large. Though these numbers are due for a decennial update, they provide a clear picture of the major demographic dynamics of the local islander community, including the strong, active bonds to their ancestral homeland.

Like most Asian ethnic groups in San Diego, the majority (55 percent) of local Filipinos were born outside of the United States. The overwhelming majority of these residents have gone on to become naturalized U.S. citizens, but family ties and business opportunities continue the need for many to travel to the Philippines and stay engaged in public life there. However, with more than 7,000 miles between our region and their homeland, assistance with complex legal and regulatory issues is hard to come by, stifling trade and social progress. As our region continues to grow in the coming decades, local leaders should consider addressing this issue by encouraging the establishment of a new "consulate office" in America's Finest City.

Consulate offices play an important role in promoting the economic, cultural, and civic interests of foreign countries in a host nation. From fostering international business partnerships, to helping both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals navigate red tape, consulate representatives build goodwill and neighborly relations, particularly here in San Diego. The city of San Diego's web site currently lists 25 foreign consular representatives, including the Mexican consulate, which operates an office in Little Italy that promotes Baja tourism and processes constituency paperwork. However, no representative from the Philippines is a member of our local consular corps, a missed opportunity that is ripe for change.

The nearest Philippines Consulate General office is in Los Angeles, which is more than a two-hour drive (without traffic) from downtown San Diego, and is responsible for providing services to the largest Filipino population outside the island nation. According to the Consulate General's web site, the L.A. office oversees the needs of more than 1 million Filipinos spread throughout Southern California and four states in the Southwest, a vast territory that regularly keeps foreign officials on the road. Throughout the year, the Consulate General conducts one-day outreach service events in large metropolitan areas including San Diego, helping thousands of Filipinos with complex paperwork issues such as passport renewals, document notarization, and applications for dual citizenship. Already this year, the Consulate Office has provided more than 753 services to San Diegans across three one-day trips to our region, and in 2009, the Consulate made at least nine one-day trips to sites in Chula Vista, National City and the city of San Diego, providing more than 2,721 services in all. As 58 percent of local Filipinos speak a language other than English, and nearly 24,000 are non-U.S. citizens, it is vital that case workers are physically available to answer questions and offer assistance on a routine basis.

Making the case today for a permanent Philippine consular office in San Diego would not only streamline the constituency caseload, but it could also foster economic growth in a time when our region needs it most. Data finds that San Diego County is already a significant trading partner with the Philippines; according to the Kyser Center for Economic Research, San Diego exported $4.3 million worth of goods to the island nation in 2008, while importing $21.9 million worth of goods. Having an official government representative available that could participate in economic development discussions with local business groups, and clearly communicate the investment opportunities in the Philippines may foster greater synergy between our two communities that creates local jobs and stimulates spending.

With the prodding of the City Council, the city of San Diego's Office of Protocol could send a letter to the Philippine national government and officially request for officials there to consider opening a satellite consular office, offering to provide any assistance they may require for site selection or other logistical issues. Philippine Independence Day is just weeks away, and may provide the high visibility local boosters would need to garner public support for the idea. Though the island government may ultimately decline our request, if we never take a chance to find out what's possible, we will fail to mature as the true global community we aspire to be.