A Patriotic Celebration of Civil Liberties

Human Rights

Last November, I became an American citizen after more than 20 years of living in this country. I had been eligible for citizenship several years before, but I was biding my time. For what? I really don't know. But 9/11 changed my perspective and affected me in more ways than I could have imagined. I'm sure many of you also went through life-altering situations as a result of that tragedy.

Watching the horrifying images on TV, I instantly felt an emotional bond with my fellow Americans who died that day. At the same time, I was outraged that this act could be perpetuated on American soil. Whether I knew it or not, I had become American in thought and feeling, even if my legal papers stated otherwise.

I, like millions of Americans, supported President Bush in his campaign against terrorism. How could we not, when the images of people jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center were still fresh in our minds, when the bodies had not yet been recovered?

But it was the months that followed that made me realize just how important it was to be an American. None of us expected that we would now have to contend with Homeland Security, the Patriot Act and other new bureaucracies created in the aftermath of 9/11 in the hopes of preventing another attack. These may have been necessary, but in the process we lost some of our civil rights and liberties: the right to due process in immigration proceedings; the right not to be profiled by race or ethnicity; the right of non-citizen immigrants to work as airport screeners; the right to be protected against undue invasion of privacy.

Civil rights and liberties are something that we, including myself as a resident of the United States at that time, have taken for granted. I became very careful of what I said, afraid that if I disagreed I would be labeled a traitor and deported. And you know, for a journalist, keeping opinions to yourself is one of the hardest things to do!

I am still in favor of the campaign against terrorism, but I disagree on the methods being employed. I believe security and freedom are not mutually exclusive. What's the use of security measures if they chill the climate of freedom that's at the core of the American way of life?

When I turned 21 there was martial law in the Philippines and the electoral process was suspended. So last March was my first time to vote, ever. Yes, this 53-year-old grandmother of one finally voted! I was very diligent about researching facts and figures and seeking out different opinions. And on election day, I was so confident of my choices. Sadly, every person and bond measure I voted for, lost. But if I want things to change for the better I will vote again and again, regardless.

It was more the pride of finally making choices and having a say at those choices, regardless of the outcome, that was important to me. If we do not vote, then we have no one to blame but ourselves when things go wrong. For minority groups like Filipino Americans, who have very little political clout, it is imperative that we exercise our voting power to the fullest so that our voices can be heard. It is our responsibility to be involved in the civic process, to understand the way the government works and how we can become engaged in the political process in a meaningful way.

This year is an election year for both the Philippines and the United States. Although Filipino Americans have one of the highest naturalization rates, studies indicate that voter turnout is very low. Our elected Filipino American officials may be small in number so far, but they represent the collective leadership of the community. It is their way of giving back to the community and giving us the voices we lack in the corridors of power.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "One of the greatest liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. But today, our very own survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant, and face the challenge of change." Let us answer Dr. King's call to remain awake. Vote.

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