Focus on Hawaii to send first Filipino to Congress
Two Filipino Americans are struggling against long odds and a crowded field of candidates -- including each other -- to become the first member of Congress from one of the nation's largest immigrant groups.
Filipino organizations nationwide are pushing for either state Sen. Ron Menor or Honolulu Councilman Nestor Garcia to win the Democratic primary in Hawaii's 2nd District.
In a race with 10 Democrats, both Menor and Garcia are hoping to gain an advantage by pulling votes from Hawaii's 275,000 residents who claim Filipino ancestry. The winner of the Sept. 23 Democratic primary is heavily favored to take the seat.
But both Filipino Americans face a difficult road to the House. While no candidate has emerged as a clear front-runner, four Democrats in the race had raised more money than Menor or Garcia as of July 31. The winner in the Nov. 7 general election would replace U.S. Rep. Ed Case, who is trying to take the Senate seat of fellow Democrat Daniel Akaka.
More Filipinos immigrated to the United States in 2003 than citizens of any other country except Mexico and India, according to immigration statistics. About 2.4 million Americans identified their ancestry as Filipino in the 2000 census, more than several other national groups that have been represented in Congress for years, including Hawaiians and Japanese. Most Filipino Americans live in California, Washington, New York and Hawaii.
"The pulse of the Filipino community is that they're really looking at it now," said Lynne Gutierrez, president of the Oahu Filipino Community Council. "They're really into it."
Several Americans who trace their roots to the former U.S. colony have sought and failed to win seats in Congress. "We've been trying over the years to send Filipino Americans to the U.S. Congress," said Jon Melegrito, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Federation of Filipino American Associations. "They haven't been able to mobilize the kind of money and resources and votes to get them elected."
Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, who served two terms ending in 2002, was the nation's first and only Filipino governor and the highest Filipino-American officeholder ever elected in the United States.