JFK’s unfinished business
(The Philippine Star) - March 18, 2018 - 12:00am

On Nov. 22, 1963, an assassin’s bullet ended the life of the leader of the most powerful nation on earth. The whole world was stunned at the murder of John F. Kennedy, a young and charismatic president who ushered in the “Camelot era” and inspired Americans to support him in facing a “New Frontier.”

As fallen heroes go who left this world in such a tragic and dramatic way, the tragedy immortalized JFK and made him larger than life. His thoughts and words reached iconic proportions, inspiring worldwide generations to take a unified action with such powerful exhortations like “Fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America can do for you; but ask what together we can do to insure the survival of mankind.”

While JFK was unable to complete his term and therefore had a lot of “unfinished business,” he is probably the president with the most number of monuments, schools and other buildings named after him. As his daughter Caroline put it, he is “a historical figure” whose legacy and values are timeless, continuing to live on this very day.

I took the opportunity to visit the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (photos will be featured in next week’s “This Week on PeopleAsia” column at the Allure Section of the Philippine Star) during the 2018 Seafood Expo North America in Boston where several Philippine companies participated.

Designed by I.M. Pei, the nine-story building serves as a repository of documents, photos and memorabilia about JFK, his family, his presidency and his legacy. The library is a well-thought out tribute to the well-loved and revered president, with several exhibits that provide a glimpse of JFK as the man and the president.

The replica Oval Office features the desk that JFK used to sign bills, agreements and executive orders. There’s also the rocking chair with the seat cushions embroidered with USS Kitty Hawk, Commander-in-Chief. The popular president always sat on the rocking chair because of lingering back problems, so much so that his aides would bring his favorite rocker on Air Force One whenever JFK traveled. Everything in the Oval Office exhibit are the original items used by JFK when he was president, except the “HMS Resolute Desk” (made from an abandoned British ship) that has been used by many presidents, and where the young JFK Jr. was photographed peeking out from the “FDR kneehole” while his father worked.

Everything in the library and museum tells the story of the life and times of JFK, starting from his family’s roots in Ireland, to how the Kennedys became immigrants to America to escape poverty and build a better life in the land of opportunities. It all started with Patrick (the great grandfather of JFK) and his wife Bridget Murphy – who sailed to America in 1849 and worked as a cooper or barrel maker. As each new generation was born, the Kennedys also rose in stature, with Patrick J. Kennedy successfully entering politics, becoming a Massachusetts House Representative and then State Senator.

The story of the Kennedys is actually one that overseas Filipino workers can relate with as it is a classic tale of immigrants: the struggles they go through, and the rewards of hard work, grit and determination, with the Kennedy clan now an undisputed political force in Massachusetts – home of such great educational institutions like Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

I spoke with members of the Filipino-American community in the New England Area in West Roxbury and encouraged them to engage in programs that would help accelerate the level of representation of Filipinos and Fil-Americans in mainstream society, and be part of the decision-making process.

I also interacted with students, faculty members and administration officials during a session at Harvard University. One of the students is Michael Vea, a FYLPRO (Filipino Young Leaders Program) alumni who is at Harvard for his PhD in Education. I told the students that they are very privileged to attend Harvard, and advised them to leverage on the unique advantage of being exposed to two different  cultures to open up opportunities for themselves and the communities where they live in.

An important part of my visit to Massachusetts was my meeting with Congressman Joseph “Joe” Kennedy III – grandson of the late senator Robert Kennedy and grand-nephew of JFK – at his Constituency Office in Newton. The meeting was very cordial, with the young politician even injecting a bit of levity when he said, “Believe it or not, some people think I’m Prince Harry!”

He strikes me as a very bright young man who was very direct in his questions about the human rights situation and what is happening in the Philippines. He seems very well versed on the issues faced by the Philippines, also expressing concern about the situation regarding China and the South China Sea.

Congressman Joe Kennedy was with a US Congressional delegation that visited Leyte in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Like me, he became emotional when I told him about the help provided by the US which spelled the difference between life and death for many victims of Haiyan. I related to him about how luckily the USS George Washington was in Hong Kong at that time, giving the US Pacific Command the opportunity to dispatch help expeditiously. 

Congressman Kennedy is also into climate change, and he expressed high hopes that the government will vigorously pursue climate change on its agenda. I assured him we have legislators like Senator Loren Legarda, an environmental advocate who will continue to be a strong voice in climate change.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com.

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