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Sep 30th
Home Sections History The American Dream from the Perspective of an Aging Filipino Ambassador of Goodwill
The American Dream from the Perspective of an Aging Filipino Ambassador of Goodwill PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - History
Written by Benjamin G. Maynigo   
Sunday, 05 September 2010 18:58


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A ugust 28, 1963, was the day I first set foot on U.S. soil. I arrived in San Francisco, California, together with a planeload of teenagers coming from Asia. We were designated as the “Ambassadors of Goodwill”. I was one of the American Field Service (AFS) International Scholars selected from several countries. We first assembled at the beautiful campus of Stanford University and then we were dispersed all over the United States to live with American families and to study our senior year of high school. We were commissioned to learn the American culture, customs and traditions and, as well, to impart our own native culture to the local American community we lived in.

August 28, 1963, was also the day that marked the realization of a boyhood dream. As a boy coming from the rural town of Rosales, Pangasinan, Philippines, who used to walk past the “Hanging Bridge” over the Totonogen Creek daily, I felt triumphant reaching the “Golden Gate Bridge” over the San Francisco Bay, to finally land in the place which Daniel J. Boorstin described “… a land of dreams. A land where the aspirations of people from countries cluttered with rich, cumbersome, aristocratic, ideological pasts can reach for what once seemed unattainable. Here they have tried to make dreams come true.”


Truly, “It Was Beyond Forgetting”


As the Philippine contribution to the evening talent show in Stanford University, I became part of a trio who rendered the song entitled “Maalaala Mo Kaya?” (Do You Remember?). Yes, indeed. I still remember that day and that night. Paraphrasing the words of Filipino poet, Rolando Carbonel, “it was beyond forgetting – part of my dreams, my early hopes, my youth and my ambitions – that in all my tasks I can’t help remembering …”


August 28, 1963, was also the day when about 2800 miles away, at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his now-famous, meaningful and historical speech, “I Have a Dream.”


And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

I arrived in Seal Beach, California, the next day to start a year of learning and teaching new ways. I attended the Huntington Beach-Marina High School, which I understood to be the most-modern high school in the United States at that time. A school of no-black enrollment, I was one of only two foreign students – the other coming from India. On inquiries regarding the Philippines and India, we both became “call centers”. With John F. Kennedy (JFK) as President, and Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) as Attorney General, it was a year of great inspiration, high achievement motivation, and definitely, of big dreams. JFK spoke of landing on the moon within a few years and exhorting the American people to, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” RFK made famous the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Some people see things as they are and say, why? I dream of things that never were and say, why not?”


The American Tragedy at Dallas


It was also a year of turbulence, challenges and excitement. I still remember vividly where I was and what I was doing when JFK was assassinated. It was in a speech class – the class which gave me opportunities and challenges to represent our high school in speech tournaments involving original oratory, impromptu and debate. The opportunities won me several 1st-place trophies and gold medals, a Philippine Free Press Magazine feature and an interview with the Washington Post. Living in the beautiful beach cities of Southern California in the year of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones in the middle of a sexual revolution, it was an era full of excitement and “Happy Days”. Meeting with Robert F. Kennedy in Washington, D.C., at the end of a year-long journey was obviously the most exciting and unexpected consequence of a realized boyhood dream.


The Philippine Politics of Big Dreams and Bigger Hopes 

“I shall leave you now with a heavy heart. But believe me I shall be coming back. When I do, you shall be proud of me,” said my valedictory address. Back in the
Philippines and proud as a hometown boy making good in America, I entered college with even bigger dreams. We had to dream big, for as Johann von Goethe said, “dreaming small dreams has no power to move the hearts of men.” Becoming president of the Student Council, graduating with Magna Cum Laude honors and recipient of San Beda’s Abbot’s Award, the highest award on Academic Excellence and Student Leadership, I was luckily recruited to join the Christian Social Movement and became the leader of its youth arm. We called it the Young Christian Socialists of the Philippines (YCSP).


Together with some noble, idealistic, visionary and patriotic men and women, we had a dream: “the creation of a Philippine society based on human dignity, built on justice and dedicated to progress – where every man may develop and fulfill himself according to his ability and in the service of his fellowmen.” We also dreamt of political equality, economic parity and social equity for all.

As Dom Helder Camara said, ‘When we are dreaming alone, it is only a dream. When we are dreaming with others, it is the beginning of reality.’

L eadership of the said youth group brought me to places like the Vatican successfully advocating for Post-Vatican II church reforms, and to several countries in Europe and Latin America joining other members of the International Union of Young Christian Democrats (IUYCD) in espousing the democratization of Christianity and the Christianization of democracy.

About seven years (1970) after rendering that song “Do You Remember?” in Stanford campus, I came back to the U.S. as one of the youth delegates to the World Youth Assembly in New York City sponsored by the United Nations. As in 1963, it was also a year of turbulence. The Vietnam War was raging, liberation movements were being born and rapidly growing and the youth worldwide were restless. Outside the assembly was another conference which brought together the revolutionary movements in the
United States. Invited as one of the speakers, I met representatives of the Black Panthers Party, the Puerto Rican Young Lords, Women’s Liberation Movement, Gay Liberation, Gray Liberation, Black Community for Self-Defense and many more reform-minded organizations. I made sure to visit the headquarters of the Puerto Rican Young Lords at the Bronx, New York City and that of the Black Panthers Party in Oakland, California before going back to the Philippines.


For many Americans, Martin Luther King’s dream remained as one, and the means to achieve it progressed or retrogressed from peaceful to a more radical aggressive manner.


A Second Coming to America as a Political Refugee

A nother seven years later (1977), I came back to the
United States with my family, as a United Nations-registered political refugee, having fled a country run by a dictator. Disguised as Muslim barter traders, we traveled via kumpit (pump boat), chased by pirates in the high seas and escorted by Muslims armed with sub-machine guns and a Badjao (seaman) navigating a compass-less boat.

Living in the
United States was always temporary for me. I never adjusted to permanent residence and citizenship status until many years later despite being qualified much earlier. As we got absorbed by the American way of life, and as we raised our natural-born Filipino and American children, our dreams were also “deeply rooted in the American dream.”

Never losing our Filipino cultural identity, and having benefited from the struggles, sacrifices, advocacies and challenges faced by both our Filipino and American forefathers, my family joined the ranks of dual citizens who are very appreciative of what they have achieved and dedicated.


What the American Dream Is All About

L ife is all about dreams. “Dream, dream, dream,” sang the Everly Brothers.

“Dreams are the touchstones of our character”, said Henry David Thoreau. “Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions,” Edgar Cayce also said.

Eleanor Roosevelt told us, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” while Robert Conklin asserted that “Dreams get you into the future and add excitement to the present.”

August 28, 2010, was the 47th year anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. The latter spoke of his dream, his hope and his faith. Mormon Glenn Beck also spoke of MLK’s dream but focused on restoring honor and faith. Christian preacher Al Sharpton also commemorated MLK’s speech but spoke more of still unfulfilled dreams.

To many others, they echo Edward Kennedy’s words, “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.”

To Joe Darion, “Dream the impossible dream. Fight the unbeatable foe. Strive with your last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable star.”

To me, by all means let us all dream. For it is dreaming that we hope; it is in hoping that we live; it is in living that we fight; and it is in fighting that we succeed. # # #

E ditor’s Notes: Benjamin Maynigo is an International and Cyber Lawyer with an LL.B and LL.M; an Educator with an M.A. in Human Resource Development. He is also an IT Chief Executive Officer with M.B.A.; Community and Trade Association Leader; Lecturer/Speaker/Writer; Political Strategist; Technology Pioneer. Please click on this link to

View his complete profile


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