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Fil-Am photographer pays tribute to 'America’s second-class veterans'

Using his camera, Filipino-American photographer Rick Rocamora gives outsiders a glimpse of the struggles of Filipino World War II veterans – from how hard they cling to their hard-earned medals to how hard they also try to survive America’s toughest neighborhoods. With his photo-documentary book titled “Filipino World War II Soldiers: America’s Second-class Veterans," the 62-year-old Rocamora expounds on the fight of Filipino veterans for equal treatment from the US government. “They (veterans) arrived in the US at the juncture of my career change. I saw the need to document their lives while they wait for equity, not only as photo-documentarian, but more so as a Filipino," the award-winning photographer told GMANews.TV. The Fil-Am photographer will have a book signing activity at the Fil Arts Fair in San Pedro, California on September 15. The event is part of a book tour which includes San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Las Vegas, and Boston. “It is an event covered by the media that gives a good light to efforts of Filipinos and Filipino organizations for their support of the veterans struggle for justice and equity. The event is about our heroes and about who we are as a community," he said. Aside from pictures, Rocamora’s book contains a foreword by US Congressman Bob Filner and well-known photographer Kim Komenich, an essay by US-based Filipino journalist Rene P. Ciria-Cruz, historical anecdotes, and a chronology of events.
With such powerful visual and textual content, many critics have lauded the project and Rocamora's approach to photography. Sandra Phillips, senior curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, said Rocamora focuses on the people he wants readers to look at and think about – the neglected Filipino soldiers who fought alongside the American soldiers during World War II in the Pacific. “Rocamora reminds us, in these quiet and dignified pictures, of the value and integrity of these people, and of their strong sense of community which sustains them, even as they suffer from careless neglect," she said. Sheila S. Coronel, director of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at the Columbia University, said the photos show how the dignity of these soldiers is “undiminished." “They seem unbowed by the humiliations they had suffered in America, hopeful, despite all that they had been through here, that they will get the justice they deserve. The pictures—and the stories—in this book will break your heart," said Coronel. Retired US Army Major General Antonio Taguba described the book as “an incredible study in courage and inspiration." Rocamora said the book was published in May 2009. It was launched at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. last July. During the launching, embassy officials presented him with a certificate of recognition. Philippine Ambassador to the United States Willy Gaa commended him for “taking on the challenge of documenting (the) veterans’ long and arduous fight." “Filipinos and Filipino-Americans should not forget the unjust treatment that our heroes received from the country they shed blood and lost limbs for during the war. That our heroes sacrificed so much, waiting to be treated as equals," said Rocamora. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 aims to correct the injustice suffered by Filipino veterans. Under this law, they should receive a tax-free, one-time $9,000 (for non-US citizens) or $15,000 (for US citizens) non-service connected compensation. Many Filipino veterans, however, have yet to receive the lump sum benefit. Many others are hoping that the US government would grant them citizenship. - GMANews.TV