By Jannelle So
Before I permanently moved here to LA, I was going for months every year to visit my siblings who were then studying at USC (University of Southern California.) And in those visits, my cousin who was born and raised here, another girl my age, would take me out. In one of those nights out, as we drove up the 405 freeway to get on Sunset, she asked: “Do you have ‘American Idol’ in the Philippines?”
At the time, the star-maker reality show had just been launched and was quickly gaining popularity and undeniably claiming big chunks of viewership in the US. But of course it hasnâ€™t arrived in the Philippines yet. So I had no idea she was actually talking about a hit show when she said “American Idol.” So oozing with FOBulosity, I replied: “Yeah, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake…”
There was silence inside the car. I was seated in the backseat, sandwiched in between my brother to my right and sister to my left who both nudged me with their elbow. But because weâ€™re all taught to be polite, it took a while before anybody said a word. My sister gave out an embarrassed laugh – embarrassed for me, and perhaps slightly ashamed to be my sister, â€œNo, she meant the show where people sing to be the next American star.â€
Yikes! Talk about awkward!
Of course, I would know “American Idol” – the show (My cousin shouldâ€™ve clarified that and qualified her question, anyway.) – from then on. And I would eventually interview kababayan finalists like Jasmine Trias and Camille Velasco. But through the seasons of the show, we would also hear of Filipino singers being idolized by Americans – Charice Pempengco, Arnel Pineda; and before them, Lea Salonga.
Sure we’re proving to the world that Filipinos are talented entertainers – singers and dancers. Certainly, this is not all we can do; or the arts is not the only thing weâ€™re good at. But why is it taking a while for us to get ahead in the corporate world? Is it because we come from a culture where parents push their children to become either of only two things – actor or a politician? The fall back (or third choice) being a nurse or anything in the medical field so they can get the chance to work and live abroad?
According to LEAPâ€™s Latest Report, Only 96 Asians Hold Board Seats in the Fortune 500. LEAP stands for Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc.
“A minuscule 2.08 percent of the total 5,520 board seats in the Fortune 500 are held by Asian and Pacific Islanders, said J.D. Hokoyama, LEAPâ€™s President and CEO. “Even more disappointing is the fact that only 98 of these companies have API inclusion on their boards.
And more sad news for Filipinos, according to one of LEAP board members, Giancarlo Pacheco, who also happens to be Filipino, among the 96, and within that 2.08 percent, only one is Filipino. Her name is Marissa Toledo Peterson and she is on the board of Humana, a health insurance provider.
“I think itâ€™s about education. A lot of these corporations arenâ€™t necessarily familiar with having Asian Pacific Americans on their board,” Pacheco said in a recent interview on Kababayan LA. â€œLocation is also another factor. A lot of these Fortune 500 companies are located where thereâ€™s not a lot of Asian Pacific Americans,â€ Pacheco further explained when asked about barriers to Filipinos and, on a larger scale, Asians, getting board seats in big companies.
Organizations like LEAP help educate the corporate world on the skills and exceptional work ethics of Asians. As far as location is concerned, it may be a tough battle. Pacheco sites Minnesota as one of the states thatâ€™s home to a lot of Fortune 500 companies. â€œAnd the population there, as a whole, not just of Asian Americans, is a lot lower,â€ he added. Understandably, not too many Asians and Filipinos, in particular, dream of living outside of California.
But thereâ€™s one other factor Pacheco cited that I think we can actively do something about – developing role models and cultivating â€œinternal wantâ€ to excel in the corporate world.
Marissa Peterson is one model our community could look up to. She was born in the Philippines in 1961 and graduated class valedictorian from the Manila Science High School. A General Motors fellowship (GM) Fellowship brought her to the United States where she earned a bachelorâ€™s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Kettering University (formerly General Motors Institute) in Flint, Michigan; and then later completed her MBA from Harvard University.
Among the highlights of her career was 18 years with Sun Microsystems, Inc. (now Oracle America, Inc.) where she held several high profile positions such as Executive Vice President of Services, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Operations, and Sunâ€™s Chief Customer Advocate. Without a doubt, she has done well for herself.
â€œA lot of times we are looking for stability. Thatâ€™s why we push our kids into the healthcare industry,â€ Pacheco pointed out. â€œBut there are so many opportunities in these corporations. There just has to be inner want in Filipinos for these types of career.â€
Itâ€™s time we Filipinos showed the world that we are not just good in the arts. That we can also run companies, head consulting firms, manage big responsibilities. Pacheco advised: â€œWe have to be visible. We have to understand the corporate structure and learn how to navigate it.â€
For one, we have to be assertive. Our tradition teaches us to be respectful and polite. But these two traits are far different from being submissive and subservient. We have to know the difference.
So let me borrow my cousinâ€™s questions, albeit a bit modified so that unlike me, you could respond appropriately: Who are your Filipino idols?
If you missed the Interview with LEAP, all “Kababayan LA” shows are uploaded to YouTube. Catch us at http://www.youtube.com/kababayanla18. We are also available on Time Warner Video on Demand. Just click on International category, then select â€œFilipino.â€