Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Peter Grande, Military Correctional Complex chief of staff, shared his father’s experiences as a Filipino — including the struggles he had to overcome to marry a white woman and instances of racism that he faced — in his remarks at the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth Asian American/Pacific Islander Heritage Month observance May 21 in Eisenhower Hall’s DePuy Auditorium.
Grande said his father, Cecilio Rosario Grande, went from being a dreamer, to a field laborer, to a cook and chauffeur, to a graduate of the University of Berkley, to a soldier in World War II to a Department of the Army civilian to a television repair business owner, but it wasn’t without struggle.
Because of the Philippines status as a U.S. colony following the Spanish-American War, Filipinos were able to travel to and from America freely without a visa; however, the population was seen as an economic and racial threat because of the jobs they were taking from the Americans, Grande said.
In response, anti-miscegenation laws, which made it against the law for whites to marry minorities, and the anti-Filipino professional law, which kept minorities from receiving professional licenses, were enacted in West Coast states.
“If you got east of the Sierra Nevada mountains you were probably good,” Grande said.
It’s this fact that allowed Grande’s father to marry his mother. While serving with the 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment at Camp Cooke, Calif., during World War II, Grande said his father’s white commander chartered buses to Mexico so Filipino soldiers could marry their white girlfriends.
Although the laws that restricted Filipino rights were abolished in the following years, Grande said his father still faced instances of racism and recalled the first time he noticed it at age 11.
“I didn’t realize my dad was Filipino or my dad was dark,” Grande said.
Growing up in New Jersey, Grande said it was an even divide of Italians and Puerto Ricans living in his neighborhood.
“My father fit in right there, and he was a very humble man. Everybody liked him,” Grande said. “But we went to Expo 67 (in Montreal, Ontario, Canada), and we were coming back across the border, and we got stopped at the border. They gave (dad) a really hard time. They wanted to see a passport, and he said, ‘I don’t have a passport. I’m a naturalized American citizen.’
“That was the first time I realized that people were (being racist toward) him,” he said.
Grande concluded his remarks by noting recent attacks against Asians and the Stop Asian Hate Movement featured in a recent issue of The Kansas City Star.
“We want to celebrate Asian American/Pacific Islander Month, and I wanted to flavor it a little bit with my history,” Grande said.
For Grande’s full remarks, visit the CAC Facebook page.