True patriots -- an Asian-Pacific American story

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Mitchell Mercadal
  • 65th Air Base Wing
Every Asian-Pacific American has a story to tell of his or her journey to the states -- and most are quite incredible.

My story began with my father back in 1954. He was recruited by the U.S. Navy to become a supply cook on the Philippine island of Mindanao.

One day his friend broke the news the Americans were in town looking for applicants who wanted to join the Navy. At first my father was reluctant, because it seemed too good to be true, especially for a poor Filipino like him.

Coming from a very humble, poor, hard working family, my dad learned to strive hard at an early age. He woke up at the break of dawn to do his chores, walked barefoot three miles back and forth to school, and traded fruits and vegetables for a piece of paper or pencil. If he couldn't trade, he used banana or taro leaves to write on, and he would dry the ink in the heat of the sun to read it legibly by the end of the day.

Talk about a hard-knock life! Yes, indeed! To this day it still baffles me to imagine those things. With God's blessings, my dad became proficient in speaking and writing Cebuano, Tagalog, two other Filipino dialects, Spanish, and English. And he eventually passed the U.S. Navy entrance exam.

My father served honorably for 20 years, retiring as a petty officer first class. But shortly before his retirement in 1975, he made the biggest decision of his life ... he became a U.S. citizen, which made me and my family Asian-Pacific Americans.

I was born in the Philippines a couple years after my dad retired. When I was a kid, I bluntly asked, "So, why are we American citizens? We weren't born there and we don't look like them."

And then he gently looked at me and said, "My son, I didn't exactly know what I signed up for when I joined the Navy -- all I knew was to work hard and not complain. I spent years at sea and a lot of times in the Vietnam War side-by-side our fellow Americans. I've also left your mother, brothers and sisters for 16 years in the Philippines, while I was serving this country and fighting for its freedom.

"I sacrificed a lot, and I believe I deserve to be an American citizen. The United States has done a lot of good things for us. If it wasn't for them, you'd be plowing the fields right now with me using a carabao (water buffalo), so be thankful to God and be proud that you are a Filipino-American," he added.

Last year, I visited my father in the Philippines after my one-year tour in Korea. His body showed signs of deterioration, and I told him, "Dad, without you, we wouldn't be in the states. I wouldn't be an Airman right now, as I dreamed since I was 12. Thank you."

Then, I stood straight up and rendered a salute. To my surprise, while he was sitting in his wheelchair, he looked up at me and rendered back a salute, without saying anything.
"Diversity, leadership, empowerment and beyond" is this year's theme for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, and I think my father's great story encompasses this theme.

For me and my family, it feels great to be American, and it's worth dying for!