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                  A Face for an 'Invisible Minority'
                  Filipino Americans, Nation's Largest Asian Group, Seek to
                  Flex Their Political Muscle

                  By William Branigin
                  Washington Post Staff Writer
                  Sunday, October 18, 1998; Page A06

                  For years they have been the "invisible minority," underrepresented
                  politically in the United States, wracked by divisions within their ranks and
                  generally more interested in the political life of their homeland than their
                  new life here.

                  Now Filipino Americans say they are coming together as a force to be
                  reckoned with in their adopted country. They hope to emulate other
                  minorities -- notably Hispanics -- and translate their growing numbers into
                  a major increase in political clout in the 21st century.

                  Such "empowerment" was the theme this weekend during a three-day
                  Washington convention of the National Federation of Filipino American
                  Associations, an umbrella group formed here last year with the aim of
                  uniting more than 2 million Filipinos and Americans of Philippine ancestry
                  living in the United States. The group estimates that at least 60,000 live in
                  the Washington area.

                  "We're the fastest-growing minority group after the Mexican Americans,"
                  said Jon Melegrito, the federation's director. Immigrants of Philippine
                  descent also make up the largest share of the country's Asian American
                  population and may be the biggest Asian minority group in Virginia, thanks
                  largely to the presence of tens of thousands of Filipino Americans in the
                  Norfolk area as the result of high Filipino enlistment in the U.S. Navy.

                  Despite their large numbers, Filipinos have had little success at making their
                  political presence known in the United States, either in state or national
                  politics. There are no Filipino Americans in Congress and only six in state
                  legislatures, including one in Maryland -- David Valderrama -- and another
                  in West Virginia -- Don Amores. In addition, one Filipino American holds
                  a governorship -- in Hawaii -- and three are mayors.

                  "Forming [the federation] was a political act for a group that's been
                  predominantly invisible politically," said Irene Natividad, a Filipino
                  American who runs a Washington public relations firm and chairs the
                  president's National Commission on Working Women. "The larger you are
                  as an entity, the more people listen to you. We learned from other
                  immigrant and civil rights groups that have done this successfully."

                  "We're working our way out of invisibility," she said. "We're becoming
                  players. Before, we weren't even on the map."

                  Filipino Americans say they have largely overcome divisions that beset
                  their community during and immediately after the rule of former president
                  Ferdinand Marcos, who was driven from power in 1986. Once
                  preoccupied with politics in their homeland, they are becoming more
                  attuned to political life here, a trend especially notable among young
                  Filipino Americans, Melegrito said.

                  Among them is Rodney Salinas, a 23-year-old graduate student at George
                  Washington University who makes no secret of his desire to run for public
                  office. The son of a Filipino veteran of the U.S. Navy and a nurse who live
                  in New Jersey, he wants to start with local Democratic politics in

                  As a community, "we want to be put on the radar screen of every person
                  in America, and I think that's what [the federation] is accomplishing," said
                  Salinas, one of the convention organizers. He said his own role model is
                  Democratic Gov. Gary Locke of Washington, a Chinese American who
                  built an effective multi-ethnic coalition and won decisively in the state two
                  years ago.

                  "I don't see any limit to where I can go," said Salinas. "I'm ambitious."

                  On the whole, however, Filipino Americans are "still pretty much
                  ambivalent about who they are," Melegrito said. Because they generally
                  speak English and have a "Western outlook" -- as the result of U.S.
                  tutelage during the first half of this century -- they have tended to assimilate
                  more easily than many other immigrant groups.

                  "We never really quite saw ourselves as part of a pan-Asian community,"
                  Melegrito said. As an island nation and the only predominantly Roman
                  Catholic country in Asia, the Philippines has always seen itself as a case
                  apart, making it "difficult for Filipino Americans to identify with the larger
                  Asian community," Melegrito said.

                  In fact, he said, Filipino Americans seem to have more in common here
                  with Hispanics than Asians, including religious and cultural values stemming
                  from more than 300 years of Spanish rule. And the community increasingly
                  is looking to Hispanic organizing as the model for its own quest for political
                  power, Melegrito said.

                  It is for that reason that the convention has invited Raul Yzaguirre,
                  president of the National Council of La Raza, to be its keynote speaker.

                  "We want to emulate what they've accomplished," Melegrito said. "We
                  want to follow the same path of empowerment."

                           © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company