FIRST FILIPINO Olympic gold medalist Victoria Taylor Manalo Draves is feted by then President Fidel Ramos. Born in San Francisco, Draves, whose father Teofilo Manalo was a musician from Tarlac, won 2 gold medals in the London Olympics in 1948. Another great FilAm Olympian is Natalie Coughlin of Vallejo, California whose mother Zenaida Aguillon was from Cavite, harvested 12 Olympic medals, four of them gold.
By ALFRED G. GABOT
SAN FRANCISCO (PhilAmPress/PhlTodayUSA) – The United States government once again is recognizing the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans, including Filipinos, and Pacific Islanders to the nation.
This as US President Donald J. Trump renewed on April 28, 2017 a proclamation declaring May as Asian and Pacific Islander Month.
Mr. Trump acknowledged that “The Congress, by Public Law 102–450, as amended, has also designated the month of May each year as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.”
In his proclamation, President Trump stated that “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have distinguished themselves in the arts, literature, and sports. They are leading researchers in science, medicine, and technology; dedicated teachers to our Nation’s children; innovative farmers and ranchers; and distinguished lawyers and government leaders.”
Mr. Trump also said: “There are more than 20 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. Each day, through their actions, they make America more vibrant, more prosperous, and more secure.”
“Our Nation is particularly grateful to the many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have served and are currently serving in our Armed Forces, protecting the Nation, and promoting freedom and peace around the world,” the American leader stated.
“I encourage all Americans to learn more about our Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander heritage, and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities,” Mr. Trump added.
Filipino and Filipino American leaders and institutions, including Philippines Today and PhilAmPress which services the Filipino and FilAm community in the United States and Canada, lauded President Trump for issuing the proclamation.
They noted that Mr. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, issued a similar presidential proclamation during which the celebration which featured a travelling Asian American and Pacific Islanders exhibit of the Smithsonia National Museum of American History adopted for its theme one of the acclaimed poems of the great Filipino writer, labor union and workers’ and minority rights activist Carlos S. Bulosan titled “I Want the Wide American Earth.”
Konrad Ng, director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and a brother in law of President Obama, said then that Bulosan’s poem was selected as the theme and title of the exhibit because “it captured that aspiration and that vision of America” being home for everybody, specially for Asian Pacific American immigrants. Bulosan’s poems and stories deal mostly with the racism and discrimination he experienced as an Asian immigrant in America. “You have someone who was born in the Philippines and, soon after the US-Philippine war, lived in the United States in pursuit of better opportunities. Like most immigrant communities, the life in the land of opportunity became an experience of hardship. And Bulosan wrote these great poems and stories [about the experience],” said Ng, an Indonesian American and a confessed fan of Bulosan.
Bulosan is considered the most prolific and most popular Filipino writer of his time in America. His works – short stories, essays and poems – were published in leading magazines of his day, like The New Yorker Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s Bazaar, Town and Country, Arizona Quarterly and Westways, among others. Ironically, he was lesser known and appreciated as a workers’ union organizer and fighter than what he has became famous for – as a writer in America in the league of Pulitzer Prize winners Will Durant, Booth Tarkington, and Stephen Vincent Benet when they co-wrote under commission by then US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt the famous “Four Freedoms” essays for his inauguration. It was in 1943 that Bulosan was commissioned by President Roosevelt and The Saturday Evening Post to write one of the four freedoms for the presidential inauguration. Bulosan’s essay, “Freedom from Want,” was published by the magazine side by side with “Freedom of Speech” by Booth Tarkington, “Freedom of Worship” by Will Durant and “Freedom from Fear” by Stephen Vincent Benet, and illustrated by famous American artist Norman Rockwell, making him in the league of those famous writers. Tarkington, Durant and Benet were all Pulitzer Prize winning authors and among the most popular American authors of the 20th century. The fact that Bulosan was commissioned along with the three famous authors is a testament to his literary prowess and success.
Bulosan wrote many stirring stories, poems, essays, plays, and editorials, including “The Romance of Magno Rubio” which has been transformed into an award-winning play and shown in the US, Canada and the Philippines; “As Long as the Grass Shall Grow,” “Letter from America,” and “The Voice of Bataan.” Bulosan chronicled the painful struggles of Filipino workers and other minorities in the US. He captured their often cruel stories with a sensitivity that tugged at the heart of every Filipino. His vivid account of these struggles is carefully woven into his soul-stirring book “ America is in the Heart,” first published by Harcourt Brace & Co. in 1946 and republished later by the University of Washington in Seattle. So powerful is Bulosan’s presentation that thousands of copies of the book have been sold, and even up to the present, it is a required reading in Asian American studies in high schools and colleges in the US, especially in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Arizona whose farms and canneries and the harsh conditions of the workers were cited in the book. Dr. Domingo G. Landicho, a book author and educator from University of the Philippines, echoed what National Artist Nick Joaquin observed: if “Noli Me Tangere” is the greatest Filipino work in Spanish, and “Ibong Mandaragit” by Amado V. Hernandez in Filipino, then “America is in the Heart” is the greatest book in the English language.
In issuing the proclamation, Mr. Trump cited Katherine Sui Fun Cheungs, stating she “embodied the spirit of this month. In 1932, she became the first Chinese American woman to earn a pilot license. At the time, only about 1 percent of pilots in the United States were women. As a member of The Ninety-Nines, an organization of women pilots, she paved the way for thousands of women to take to the skies.”
In the proclamation, President Trump cited also Dr. Sammy Lee, a Korean American who passed away last December, saying he “exemplified the spirit of this month.” Trump continued: “ Dr. Lee was the first Asian American man to win an Olympic gold medal, becoming a platform diving champion at the 1948 London Olympics only 1 year after graduating from medical school. To fulfill his dreams, Dr. Lee overcame several obstacles, including his local childhood pool’s policy of opening to minorities only once per week. Later in life he was subject to housing discrimination (even after 8 years of military service). Dr. Lee nevertheless tirelessly served his country and community, including by representing the United States at the Olympic Games, on behalf of several Presidents.”
Unfortunately, the proclamation of President Trump, however, missed out another great Asian American in the same 1948 Olympics in London whose story and feat far outweighed that of Mr. Lee because this athlete won not just one gold medal but two gold medals (out of 38 gold medals US athletes won in London) in both platform and springboard diving events, she was a woman and she had to fight racial discrimination to be an American champion and US bet to the London Olympics. Thus with the twin Olympic gold medals, she became the first woman in Olympic history to win gold medals in both diving events in the same games and the first swimmer or diver to win two individual gold medals in the Olympics. She was also the first Asian American and the first Filipino American with that rare accomplishment. She is Victoria Taylor Manalo, born in San Francisco, California whose father Teofilo Manalo was from Tarlac in the Philippines and mother, Gertrude Taylor, was an Irish American. To overcome discrimination and be able to compete in the United States, Victoria or Vicki, who stood only five feet and an inch tall, changed her name to Victoria Taylor. On her way to achieving the unprecedented Olympic glory, Victoria Taylor ran away with the US Junior National Diving championship in 1942 and the 1946, 1947, and 1948 US National Diving Championships platform diving gold medal, as well as the 1948 springboard diving gold medal. And being a Filipino, she had to marry her coach, Lyle Draves, in 1946 to overcome racial discrimination to be able to compete in the US and Olympic games. She thus won the two Olympic gold medals as Lyle Draves.
President Trump had also missed out on another great Asian American Olympic hero who hauled 12 medals in three Olympiads, including one in London also, four of which were gold medals. She is Natalie Ann Aguillon Coughlin, whose father James Coughlin, an Irish-American, is a policeman in Vallejo, California and whose mother, Zennie Aguillon, is a full-blooded Filipina from Cavite province in the Philippines. Coughlin is one of the winningest American Olympic medalists and the winningest Asian American and Filipino American in the history of the Olympic Games with four golds, four silvers and four bronze in swimming. The young Coughlin stands five feet and eight inches (1.73 meters) tall and loves “lumpia” and “adobo. ” Coughlin swam her fastest time ever, 58.96 seconds, in the 100-meter backstroke to get the gold in the Beijing Olympics where she took home five other medals – two silver medals in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay and 4 x100 meter medley relay and three bronze medals in the 100 meter freestyle, 200 meter medley and 4 x 200 freestyle relay. Coughlin was also the winningest female American athlete in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens where she took two golds, two silvers, and one bronze or a total of five medals. With her Athens Olympics feat, the young Fil-Am swimmer became the third American woman to win five medals at one Olympics (the others are Mary Lou Retton and Shannon Miller). In Athens, Coughlin took gold in the 100-meter backstroke and the 800 freestyle relay, breaking the world record in that event. She also won silver medals in the 400 freestyle relay and the 400 medley relay, and a bronze in the 100 freestyle. In winning the gold in 100-meter backstroke in Beijing, Coughlin duplicated her golden feat in the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in 2004 in the same event and became the first woman to ever defend her title in the event, In the last Olympics in London, she hauled a gold medal even without splashing into the pool as part of her winning team. In that same Olympiad, a promising young Filipino American, Kyla Briana Ross, only 18 then, went home with a gold medal as a member of the gold medal-winning women’s gymnasts team. A psychology graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Coughlin, prior to emerging as the winningest American woman Olympian, was dubbed the greatest female swimmer in California history having won 12 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles with the Golden Bears — the second-most career titles for a woman swimmer in NCAA history. She was also a three-time NCAA and Pac-10 Swimmer of the Year.
Missing out two great Filipino American Olympic medalists and other Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in his presidential proclamation may not have been intentional and President Trump can certainly still make amends in any event or at the conclusion of the month-long celebration of Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month. (Alfred Gabot/PhilAmPress)
(Editor’s Note: A book author, veteran journalist in the Philippines and the United States and university professor, the writer is a former senior editor of Manila Bulletin in the Philippines, former president of the National Press Club (NPC) during which he signed a reciprocity agreement with the National Press Club in Washington, and a former commissioner of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. He currently teaches in a university where he served as a member of its Board of Regents for almost 12 years. He pioneered in news and features dissemination between the Philippines, the United States and Canada through Phil-Am Press which was founded in 1989.)