This is a column about immigration, but a quiet one. No nastiness. No political correctness bullying. No nativist wailing. No racism name-calling. No argument that I can think of (but don’t feel you have to surprise me).
The members of this immigrant family come from a country that fought a bloody war at our side and bore the brunt of the suffering. As have their countrymen, they adopted American values and culture and have often shown us how citizenship should work.
Among their people are, obviously, some criminals and deadbeats, but they don’t seem to be good recruiters.
This story starts on Dec. 8, 1941, 10 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Filipino Quintin Ramil is a sailor in the U.S. Navy when Japanese planes attack Manila, the capital of the Philippines. As the submarine on which he crews races for deep water and refuge in Australia, he looks back and sees the neighborhood where his wife and young son are living explode into a firestorm. He tells himself their survival is not possible. Then his submarine dives and disappears.
His presumption would later cause tension in the family.
His wife, Fausta, and their 3-year-old son, Quintin Ramil Jr., did survive. But as Japanese troops approached Manila, she knows that they, as American military dependents, will be high on the target list.
Fausta’s father, who lives 30 miles to the north, knows that as well. He walks to Manila, fighting through a headwind of thousands of fleeing refugees, and brings his daughter and grandson to safety.
Fortunately, he has a brother who owns a farm in a mountainous area, and that becomes their haven from Japanese abuse. They live peacefully on that farm until the end of the war.
The Ramil family may have avoided the brutal occupation, but historian Max Hastings writes that up to 1 million Filipinos lost their lives in the war. However, they took their pound of flesh. Guerrillas so terrorized the Japanese that they controlled about 60 percent of the country, and enemy troops didn’t venture far from towns unless in force.
Although it’s a fact often unspoken, it is generally accepted history that up to 80 percent of the captured soldiers on the Bataan Death March were Filipinos.
Later in the war, Quintin senior was stationed in Panama and fathered a daughter there. When he finally learned that his family had survived, he hurried home. Before leaving, he asked a Filipino subordinate to care for the girl and her mother.
His friend went beyond that. He married the mother and adopted the girl. Years later, father and daughter moved to San Diego where a meet-up with her half-family was inevitable.
Now, decades later, Quintin Ramil Jr. is a man a few days shy of 77. He sits talking into my recorder. He is a short, stout man with the mahogany skin most Filipinos had before they started marrying Irish. He’s friendly and open. However, I am starting to fidget.
This is not what I wanted. I was looking for someone who had firsthand endured the depredations of the Japanese occupation. However, the Ramil family was sitting on a farmhouse porch while the war went on without it.
So, I am wondering how I can tell this pleasant fellow that his story is not the one I’m looking for. With my declining interest, the conversation starts to run out of energy and drifts into small talk.
Quintin happens to mention that a few years after his father retired from the Navy, the family immigrated to Northern California — first to Vallejo in the mid-1950s, then to Stockton and later to Livermore in the ’70s. My attention sharpens. I used to live there, a Livermoron, as we used to call ourselves. Naturally, he and I did that little “Did you know …?” chitchat thing. However, that empties the conversation tank pretty fast, and I’m still looking for my exit when he happens to mention that his two sons graduated from the Naval Academy, and that his brother became a high-ranking jurist.
Excuse me? Annapolis? Both sons? Let me ask you about that, Quint.
When the family first arrived in California, the Ramils paid their dues by picking fruit on farms in the Stockton area and generally did the whatever-you-gotta-do thing to anchor their lives. Quintin joined the Navy in 1957. His career was a mirror of his father’s: service on submarines and a rise to the rank of chief. He retired in San Diego in 1977.
For the next 30 years, with his Navy pension as security, Quintin became a self-employed marketer. As the saying goes, if it weren’t nailed down, Quint would sell it, from starting a factory to make and market the Filipino dish called lumpia, to insurance, to real estate, to burial plots. He never stopped hustling (in the good sense). He paid his bills and supported the family: his wife, Teresita, and their four children.
Both sons served in the Navy after graduating from Annapolis. Both daughters also graduated from college; one is a teacher and the other a musician. His younger brother outgrew a youthful hippie foray, went to law school and eventually became a justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.
Quintin helped found the Filipino-American Association of North County and served as an early president.
(He has published a family history, “Father and Son, USN Retired,” available on Amazon.)
Local Filipino-American neighborhoods traditionally have been in National City and Mira Mesa (“Manila” Mesa). Residential clustering, though, has inevitably been breaking down; the Ramils, for example, live in Rancho Peñasquitos.
When the meeting in San Diego with the half-sister inevitably happened, the secret of her birth was not revealed. Quintin says his mother was still alive and had long been sensitive to her husband’s infidelity. Also, the man who adopted the girl wanted to keep the relationship secret until he died. Because of that, years passed before the woman learned the truth about her birth.
Though the family’s relationship with the half-sister is cordial, and all the “old folks” involved have died, there has been too much awkwardness for strong bonds to take hold, Quintin says.
Today, there are about 200,000 ethnic Filipinos in the San Diego area, both immigrants and American-born, according to the Migration Policy Institute and the U.S. Census Bureau. That high number is something of a shock because they don’t make much noise in their quiet drive for success. Their rate of college graduation is well above the national average. Nursing seems to be a favored profession, especially among immigrants.
(Have you ever heard of a hospital patient complaining about a Filipina nurse? Her smile is the equal of a squeeze on the morphine pump.)
Doctrinaire multiculturalists might bewail that the Ramils and others have sold out their culture, but they shrug off the charge. Those who care are at ease in both cultures and honor both. But they are here, not there. They march with the words on the Seal of the United States – E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.”
Quintin is asked about assimilation.
“I don’t think that even became an issue for us. We just grabbed Americanization hook, line and sinker. We’ve been the (ethnic group) quickest to assimilate. Our children have pretty much forgotten the Filipino language Tagalog. They just know a few words here and there.
“The Philippines were a commonwealth of the United States, you know. We fought a war together, shed blood together. A lot of the culture is American. Schools are based on the American (model). English is the medium of education.
“Today, the only people who don’t want to emigrate to the U.S. are rich people.”
Judged by today’s fast-twitch attention span, this story might be edging close to boring. It’s just about some middle-class folks who will never become a TV reality show.
We can’t generalize about every individual, but don’t be surprised when you see Filipinos assimilate, give their kids Iowa-sounding names such as Lisa and Brian, and then send them to college. They’ll often intermarry. They’re among the most steadfast Christians. You can expect them to root for the Padres, pay their taxes and keep their yards well-groomed. If you think nice yards are boring, drive by some others in the neighborhood.
Sing we now in praise of boring.
Fred Dickey’s home page is freddickey.net
His email is firstname.lastname@example.org