I just finished working on a story for KQED about a local Filipino World War II veteran named Regino A. Nacua.
Regino A. Nacua is a Veterano, a Filipino national who fought on behalf of the United States against Japan in the pacific during World War Two. The Filipino soldiers had expected to be treated as full American veterans like other foreign nationals fighting under the US flag. Instead, in 1946 congress passed the recision which stripped them of their status. So began a 63 year campaign these veterans and activists to reinstate their status and entitlement to veterans benefits. I met Regino in 2006 while working a documentary on the subject and I met a lot of men like him; men who came to the US on the remnants of a 50 year old promise in search of a dream.
In 1992 he came to the US and lived with a friend on Silver ave before moving to the city of Richmond. He spent about 4 years out there, working with other veterans new to the country, helping them get their paperwork in order to apply for citizenship. It was during this time that he also was able to bring over his two youngest children who were still under 18.
In 1996 Regino moved back to the city, taking an apartment near downtown and selling the San Francisco Chronicle on the street to supplement his Social Security income. He lived there until 2004 when he moved into a senior residence building on Arguello in the Richmod district of San Francisco. Throughout this time, he’s bee an active member of the American Coalition for Filipino Veterans, lobbying congress for access to health-care, pensions, and Veterans status.
In 2009, Senator Inouye and Congressman Daniel Akaka successfully attached a provision to the stimulus bill rescinding the 1946 Recision Act and granting the Filipinos a one time $15,000 payment ($9000 for those outside of the US.) Regino said that he is saving this money to bring over his remaining sons once the Family Re-unification bill, for which he and the other members of the ACFV are lobbying, is passed. He is traveling back to the Philippines this month to see them for the first time in 15 years.
What strikes me most about Regino’s story, is how closely it parallels that of my own family. Both my Grandfathers, one a Chinese immigrant, the other the son of an Irish butcher enlisted during World War II. Both shipped out to California where they saw themselves receive engineering degrees bestowed upon them thanks to the generosity of the United States government which turned out to be the first rung on their way up the ladder towards a comfortable middle class existence. When I think about this, the fact that, simply by virtue of the country in which they lived, the fates of these three men – my Grandfathers and Regino – so severely diverged at one crucial point, I can understand why some say it’s not enough. Ultimately how can you put a price on that? What amount of money could balance that debt?
That’s not to say that he’s let these dissapointments stop him from living. Regino, who will be 82 years old Sept 7th, has just gotten re-married to his second wife. The two of them attend church every Thursday and Sunday and are, according to him, very happy.