By Mayor Christopher Cabaldon
That a young Irish-German woman from a small Iowa town was asked to become director of the Filipino Community House of Chicago as World War II raged encapsulates the rich story of America’s immigrants welcoming America’s next immigrants. The Asian-American immigration experience has been as rich as America itself. I know, because this is my own family’s story.
Leona couldn’t have imagined the unexpected journey that America would take her on as she made her way from West Liberty, Iowa, to Davenport, the big city down the highway. She earned her wages playing piano at the five-and-dime store, when a young Filipino student from the local chiropractic college started coming in to sing with her. The unlikely singing couple got married, and soon my grandmother was born.
The Great Depression meant few had the money for elective spinal manipulation, so the family moved to Chicago to start another new life. Leona took over management of the Filipino Community House and the Manila Café. There her daughter—my grandmother—met a young man who had immigrated from the Philippines, which was a U.S. territory. He joined the Army and they got married, and my father was born at Fort Ord at the height of WWII.
After discharge, the family moved to Stockton, California, home to the largest Filipino population outside of the Philippines. There, they might work the fields during harvest and then operate the local soda fountain and pool hall in the city’s Little Manila district. They faced hatred, ignorance, and discrimination—“No Filipinos Allowed” signs littered Stockton—but the fight for justice and the networks of belonging gave them the chance to achieve America’s promise.
The Asian American immigration experience isn’t just about borders and Ellis Island. It is about the “welcomes” we have received, the homes that we’ve made, the struggles we’ve won, in every single part of this wondrous country. It is about Davenport, Stockton, Chicago, Plano, Virginia Beach, Reno, and every corner of the land.
That’s why I’m excited about Pete Buttigieg as the next President of the United States. Pete is the son of an immigrant and the mayor of a city that has been shaped and enriched by generations of immigrants, he is deeply committed to making America a place of welcome. He knows how central our story is to the story of America, in part because it rhymes with his own.
Last June, I joined a bipartisan delegation visiting detention facilities in Tornillo, Texas, to voice the anguish and outrage of our communities. When Pete is president, he will end the ugly immigration policies of this administration and protect our southern border as well as those who arrive there with smart and humane border management. And he will take immediate steps to reunify families who have been ripped apart by this administration’s callousness.
Pete will modernize our immigration system so it boosts our economy, protects our communities, and promotes our values. To ensure that immigrants like my grandparents can bring their talents to our communities, Pete will create a new employment-based visa system that will adjust to the changing needs of our economy. He will expand the number of immigrant doctors who can come here and create a “Community Renewal” visa so that areas experiencing population decline can attract the immigrants that will help them grow. He’ll push for work authorization for H-4 visa holders, the overwhelming majority of whom are South Asian women.
Pete will also ensure that families are not waiting years, or even decades, in a visa backlog by increasing resources and the number of alloted family-based visas available each year. He will fight to eliminate discriminatory annual per-country caps. After a month in which our nation accepted zero refugees for the first time, we will reaffirm our commitment to resettling refugees and address new challenges like climate change that are contributing to global migration.
Above all, Pete is committed to ensuring that every new American knows that they are a part of this country. For the 11 million undocumented people who call this country home, including residents of my own city, Pete will create a path to citizenship so they can fully participate in our democracy. He’ll also restore and extend temporary protections such as DACA and TPS. He’ll make it easy and affordable to become a naturalized citizen and create a new Office of New Americans to support immigrants and refugees in participating fully in their communities.
The “No Filipinos Allowed” signs are gone from Stockton now, replaced by “Lange Luntao for School Board” signs. My grandparents’ Little Manila, and the entire city, now has a Filipino school board president. He’s supporting Pete Buttigieg, too.
Belonging to this country has been the dream that drew generations across oceans and deserts. Under Pete Buttigieg, America will be that place once more.
West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon was the founding co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus of the League of California Cities. He served as national president of Asian and Pacific Americans in Higher Education, founding chair of the Asian Pacific Youth Leadership Project, Sacramento-Yolo chair for the National Association of Filipino American Associations, treasurer of the National Filipino American Youth Association, and president of the Asian Pacific Legislative Staff Caucus. A Leadership Academy Fellow with the Asian American Institute for Congressional Studies, he has been honored as executive of the year by the Filipino American Chamber of Commerce, with the president’s award from the Asian Pacific State Employees Association, and for outstanding historical contribution by the Filipino American National Historical Society.