Essays: Wrestling With Angels
BY ADOR PEREDA YANO
Published in the Pacific Northwest Filipino American Chronicle (2020-21) WWW.PNWFILAMCHRONICLE.COM
FILIPINOS IN THE TIME OF ANTI-ASIAN HATRED
We are in a state of shock. As if the clinical and social challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic have not been enough, as if having one-third of the nurses who have died of it being Filipino nurses were not grief enough, our Filipino American community and the whole Asian American community are now confronted by an increasing threat of violence against us.
The recent anti-Asian attacks, some against our elders, have been triggered by the insidious association of the coronavirus with anyone who looks Asian.
Our immediate, emotional, and communal reactions must be vented in rallies and protests and condemnations to stop anti-Asian hate.
They must also be accompanied by hard questions to interrogate how we got to this troubling present and even harder questions of how we — ourselves, our communities, our state, and our whole nation — must confront the larger causes of our current dilemma.
We must not ignore that the violence and the demeaning responses by some public officials are not new manifestations, but are part of the long-term dehumanization of non-whites built into America’s history.
Decades of racial exclusions, racial scapegoating, and the country’s conveniently subordinated history of military and economic colonization play their part in current attitudes towards Asian Americans — the perpetual foreigner, the exotic carriers of diseases, the convenient scapegoat.
First, we grieve
The Atlanta murders that targeted Asian businesses resulted in the deaths of Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yuan, Paul Andre Michels, Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue.
Six women of Asian descent — four immigrants from South Korea and two from China — working in three separate Atlanta spas, were among the eight people killed in that rampage.
Ms. Park was the oldest at 74 years old. Ms. Grant was a 51-year-old single mother who worked long hours to support two sons. Ms. Kim was 69 and a grandmother. Ms. Yue was 63. Ms. Tan was 49 with a daughter, and the owner of one of the spas; Ms. Feng, 44, was one of her employees.
Journalist Arthur Tam, who is familiar with the medicinal tradition of Asian massage, wrote in Washington Post about the women who worked in these massage spas:
“These hardworking women, matriarchs and providers, channeled their immigrant grit and determination in their unglamorous workplace. Not only did they break through knots in their clients’ backs, they pushed through socioeconomic barriers to improve the lives of the next generation. These were strong women. Now that they are gone, there is a tremendous loss that cannot be quantified or valued simply by their work. They were grandmothers, mothers, wives and friends.”
Asian Americans feel threatened because the Atlanta murders struck our communities as a sharp escalation of the simmering antagonism towards the Chinese and those who look Chinese — yes, Filipino Americans — that have been recently growing amid political exploitation about the spread of the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
In July 2020, a few months after the start of the pandemic, PEW Research published a survey that reported that Asian Americans are more likely than any other group to say they have been subject to slurs or jokes because of their race or ethnicity since the coronavirus outbreak: 31% say this has happened to them… About a quarter (26%) of Asian Americans … say they feared someone might threaten or physically attack them.”
After a year of the pandemic, Russell Jeung, Aggie Yellow Horse, Tara Popovic, and Richard Lim wrote the report that documented 3,795 hate incidents (verbal harassment, shunning, physical assault, civil rights violation, and online harassment) against Asians from March 19, 2020 to February 28, 2021. Physical assault (11.1%) comprises the third largest category of the total incidents.
Filipinos have been targeted in this anti-Asian trend. According to this report, Chinese are the largest ethnic group (42.2%) that reported experiencing hate, followed by Koreans (14.8%), Vietnamese (8.5%), and Filipinos (7.9%). Of the more recent violent assaults, the shocking attacks against 68-year old Filipina Vilma Kari and 61-year old Filipino Noel Quintana in New York have become notorious examples of anti-Asian hate crimes.
Before the Atlanta murders, incidents of verbal and physical attacks against Asians were dismissed as one-off incidents. The shocking murders of six Asian women in Atlanta — and the initial police response that downplayed the perpetrator’s motives — are the lynchpin that brought into national focus the complex connections of these seemingly disparate events and the general awakening to a national problem.
Why were verbal incidents in 2020, like the Filipino American family accosted in a restaurant by a software company executive who told them they don’t belong in this country, easily forgotten as an isolated incident of racial bias?
And why were the targeting of Asian massage spas and murders of Asian women initially characterized by a dismissive Atlanta sheriff as the action of a man with sexual addiction having a bad day?
With regards to Atlanta, there were widely accepted assumptions at play – about the sexual reputation of Asian spas, about the sexualized images of exotic Asian women, about the seedy businesses where these Asian women worked. Tam, the Washington Post commentator, posed this pointed scenario:
“If Young’s Asian Massage, Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa had specialized in Swedish or sports massage, no one would have made unfair assumptions about the workers who were killed there. Instead, the focus would have been on the tragedy of their deaths. But when service jobs are occupied by immigrants and minorities, they are often degraded, stigmatized and underpaid. And when Asian women occupy these positions, attitudes born from a history of imperialism and colonialism and fused with misogyny erase the complexities of their lives.”
What other underlying assumptions about Asians and Asian Americans, like Filipinos, are at play and that are now surfacing in our current tragic time?
To the few who have educated themselves beyond the myths of regular American history curricula, the recent spike of anti-Asian hatred is a reminder of previous manifestations of “Yellow Peril,” the fearful and paranoid associations that have been applied repeatedly against Asians throughout American history.
The actual hard history of the United States of America, in addition to the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans, include the national policies of Asian exclusion and incarceration prompted by fear and paranoia of the exotic untrusworthy Asians.
For the Chinese, American history presents violence and exclusions prompted by self-serving economic and political strategies by the country’s leaders. For Japanese Americans, the difficult memory of having families rounded up and kept in camps due to war hysteria presents ongoing insecurities about their citizenship status in America. For Filipino Americans, the impact of American imperialism underlies the economic and cultural deprivations our community still experiences. Other Asians, like the Korean Americans and the Vietnamese Americans, have war traumas that filter down the generations.
Placing the history of Asian Americans within the frame of Covid-19, Hannah Joy Sachs wrote:
“In the 1800s, at the height of “yellow peril,” white Americans believed Chinese immigrants would invade and overtake the country. Chinese culture was equated to savagery. In newspapers, Chinese men were depicted as dirty and compared to monkeys; white America believed the only way to protect the United States was to keep Chinese individuals out. Today, the slurs yelled, the graffiti phrases spray painted, and the social media vitriol posted echo the arguments of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. Once again, Asians are being labeled as filthy, compared to animals, and told to “go back to where they came from.”
The Atlanta murders which highlighted the veiled American misogyny towards Asian women also echo more recent Filipino American women travails. Hye-Kyung Kang, writing in the Seattle Times about the interplay of racism, colonialism, and violence towards Asian women, remembers a sad memory for the local Filipino American community:
“Reading those headlines, my mind flashed back to the March 1995 murder of Susana Blackwell, her unborn child, and her friends Phoebe Dizon and Veronica Laureta, at the King County Courthouse. On the morning when the story broke, news outlets reported the murders as a domestic violence killing. But by that afternoon, the narrative made an ugly turn. It was no longer a story about an abusive husband killing his estranged wife and her friends but rather about an Asian “mail-order bride” and her “duped husband.” … The Asian women victims were no longer humans who deserved life; instead, the white male perpetrator was humanized as a victim of a “scam.” … These stories robbed Susana Blackwell of humanity; she was a purchased object that the buyer could use for whatever he wanted, including sexual servitude.”
Kang points out the historical implications of the largely unknown American colonization of the Philippines: “There is a chilling parallel between this narrative of an Asian woman from a former U.S. colony and a white American man and the history of Western colonizing nations taking, using and debasing everything that belong to their colonies, including human beings.”
The Atlanta sheriff expressed this historical echo in excusing the action of the murderer while demeaning the humanity of the Asian women victims.
What then must we do?
Filipino Americans as Asian Americans must express our communal anger and our anxieties for ourselves and for our families. We must find ways to defend ourselves and challenge the larger society to acknowledge the gravity of our situation. We must actively engage in civic empowerment, as Y.P.Chan exhorts:
“Asian communities need to exercise our political power at the ballot box, support and donate toward politicians who represent Asian interests, and demand accountability. The 22 million Asian residents in the U.S. can be a powerful voice in a highly polarized political system. Better yet, Asian Americans need to groom and support the next generations of Asian political leaders and activists who can continue to build a coalition with others against all forms of racism and discrimination.”
We must condemn ALL forms of hate. As we experience others’ hatred toward us, this is the time to understand with deepest sympathy what African Americans have been feeling and expressing via the Black Lives Matter movement.
We must also take a critical look at ourselves as Filipino Americans. We must ask ourselves, with strident honesty: when do we start caring about other people? Other Asian Americans? Other Americans of color? Refugees struggling for American safety?
I am saddened by the fact that Filipino Americans, even within my family, have been complicit in supporting, electing and empowering the previous administration and its demagogic policies of hatred of non-whites, refugees, immigrants, and foreigners. The 2016 election seeded the tragedies that followed and culminated in the national mismanagement of the pandemic, resulting in over one half million Americans dead in 2020.
Filipino Americans must recognize that former president Trump, his political cohorts, and the propagandist media that supported them, insisted without evidence to their fearful constituents that the virus that started its infectious rate in the Chinese city of Wuhan was deliberately made in a lab there and then spread globally. Their insistence in calling it “Chinese flu” created the social climate for the anti-Asian hatred we’re now experiencing.
For various misguided reasons, many Filipino Americans have empowered this latest reincarnation of a morally corrupt American leadership. Although the Trump administration that encouraged and gave license to expressions of hate against the range of people of color is no longer in power, the poison is still in the American system and it will take time to diminish this social pandemic.
Kapwa and solidarity
Filipino Americans must participate in rebuilding an American society that expunges the destructive ideologies of the previous American administration. In the past, Filipino and Asian Americans have stood in solidarity with other non-white groups to counter social and political injustices. This is the time to remember the spirit of solidarity practiced by Uncle Bob Santos, along with his Gang of Four which represented Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans a unified fight for racial and economic justice.
Deep within ourselves, Filipino Americans must recognize the Filipino value of “Kapwa,” a Tagalog concept that focuses on the shared interconnectedness between people. Kapwa is defined by Virgilio Enriquez, the founder of the Filipino psychology movement, as the unity of the self and others.
The spirit of Kapwa drove the organized response to the deaths of Susana Blackwell, her unborn daughter, and her friends when they were all murdered in 1995 at the King County Courthouse by Susana’s estranged husband.
We must remember that Filipino American women led this empowering response to this tragedy:
“Emma Catague, one of the founding mothers for API Family and Safety Center (now API Chaya), worked with the Filipino American community to organize a vigil to mark the violence against Asian women. As Emma recalled, the annual vigil held in front of the King County Courthouse, ‘galvanized a movement about the issues confronting Asian women.’ King County staffer and community leader Cindy Domingo … was instrumental in working to provide resources and emphasized ‘the role of government in the fight against gender violence.’ ”
API Chaya continues to this day in its inspiring mission to “address violence, including several domestic violence-related homicides in Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander communities, providing culturally-relevant, linguistically-appropriate direct services to survivors.”
How do we integrate our Filipino sense of “Kapwa” and the need for cross-communal solidarity to counter persistent racial hatred? The American philosopher Richard Rorty offered this guidance on human solidarity that aligns well with our Filipino American values and history:
“In my utopia, human solidarity would be seen not as a fact to be recognised by clearing away “prejudice” or burrowing down to previously hidden depths but, rather, as a goal to be achieved. It is to be achieved not by inquiry but by imagination, the imaginative ability to see strange people as fellow sufferers. Solidarity is not discovered by reflection but created. It is created by increasing our sensitivity to the particular details of the pain and humiliation of other, unfamiliar sorts of people…This process of coming to see other human beings as “one of us” rather than as “them” is a matter of detailed description of what unfamiliar people are like and of redescription of what we ourselves are like.”
- New York Times, Swelling Anti-Asian Violence: Who Is Being Attacked Where
- International Examiner, Community leaders denounce anti-Asian attacks — and call for community-driven solutions
- New York Times, What We Know About the Victims in the Atlanta Shootings
- Washington Post, What the hardworking women at massage businesses do for the people who know them best
- Fox News, Trump says he’s seen evidence suggesting coronavirus emerged from Wuhan lab, compares WHO to PR agency
- PEW Research, Many Black and Asian Americans Say They Have Experienced Discrimination Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak
- StopAAPIHate National Report
- New York Times, Brutal Attack on Filipino Woman Sparks Outrage: ‘Everybody Is on Edge’
- Asian Journal, Filipino American Man Slashed In The Face While Riding NYC Subway
- Los Angeles Times, Carmel Valley diner launches racist tirade at Asian family in viral video
- NBC News, Georgia sheriff’s official under fire for remarks on spa shootings, anti-Asian Facebook post
- Asian American Writers Workshop. Yellow Peril: 19th-Century Scapegoating
- Washington Post: The long, ugly history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S
- PBS American Experience, The Chinese Exclusion Act
- Densho, Japanese American WWII Incarceration: The Core Story
- Vox, Why the US has so many Filipino nurses
- Humanity in Action: “Yellow Peril” in the Age of COVID-19 https://www.humanityinaction.org/knowledge_detail/article-usa-hannah-sachs-yellow-peril-in-the-age-of-covid-19/
- Seattle Times: Racist, colonialist and misogynist narrative abets violence against Asian women
- NW Asian Weekly, Asian Americans’ awakening
- Colorlines, I Went to a ‘Filipinos for Trump’ Rally. Here’s What I Found
- AAJC, Black and Asian Solidarity in American History: The Power of Unity Exemplified by 5 Major Events
- Crosscut, Before Occupy Wall St., there was Seattle’s Gang of Four
- Jeremiah Reyes (2015) Loób and Kapwa: An Introduction to a Filipino Virtue, Ethics, Asian Philosophy, 25:2, 148-171
- Seattle Times: Stand up against anti-Asian hatred, misogyny and violence
- International Examiner: API Chaya history: From tragedy to hope, organizing in the face of ongoing violence
- Richard Rorty, Contingency, irony, and solidarity
* * *
OUR HISTORY: WHY BLACK HISTORY MONTH MATTERS TO FILIPINO AMERICANS
Last year, at the peak of protests triggered by the death of George Floyd, young Filipino Americans led our community’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement. They joined the marches and demonstrations that called out the historic and systemic racism of American society against Black Americans. They participated in protests that exposed to the nation the underlying white supremacist ideology ingrained in American social, political, and economic institutions.
But the BLM protests also exposed the generational and cultural divisions within our Filipino American community.
Our young activists faced challenges explaining to the older Filipino American generations why we must fight the racial injustice against Black Americans. It was disturbing to recognize the anti-Black attitudes of some post-1965 Filipino immigrants and their criticisms of BLM protests. These attitudes also baffled and saddened those Filipino Americans who grew up in Jim Crow America, those with pioneering parents who experienced first-hand the endemic racism in America before the Civil Rights Movement.
February is the month when we celebrate — and must celebrate — African American history in order to understand the roots of the BLM movement.
It is an opportunity for our whole Filipino American community, not just to learn the notable achievements of Black Americans, but also to learn more about America’s historical sins against Black Americans, from slavery to black codes to segregation to racial profiling to mass incarceration.
It is also the time for us to take a critical look at our own community’s ignorance and blindness to the realities of Black American lives.
More importantly, it is a time for us to acknowledge the familial connections we share with the Black community, that their American history is also OUR American history.
Filipinos and the “Father of Black History”
Before “Black History Month” was proclaimed as an annual national celebration in 1976, before he launched its precursor “Negro History Week” in 1926, and before he became the second African American to complete his PhD at Harvard University in 1912, Carter G. Woodson, who will later be called the “father of black history,” sailed from San Francisco in 1903 to become general superintendent of education in Manila, Philippines.
The United States had just completed its war against the newly independent Filipinos and was sending educators to the country to implement American-style education in its new colony. Woodson was a black teacher who recently graduated from Berea College in Kentucky and started working for the United States Bureau of Insular Affairs in the Philippines.
What Woodson learned from his teaching experience in the Philippines from 1903 to 1907 was a significant part of his development as a pioneering historian later in his career.
In his celebrated book published in 1933, “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” Woodson described the early failures and the correction necessary to implement American education successfully in the Philippines: “Not long after the close of the Spanish – American War the United States Government started out to educate the Filipinos overnight. Numbers of “highly trained” Americans were carried there to do the work. They entered upon their task by teaching the Filipinos just as they had taught American children who were otherwise circumstanced. The result was failure. Men trained at institutions like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Chicago could not reach these people and had to be dismissed from the service.”
Woodson observed that the teaching approach that actually worked had invoked the students actual life experiences. The successful instructor in the Philippines:
“filled the schoolroom with thousands of objects from the pupil’s environment…He talked about the objects around them…When he took up the habits of the snake he brought the reptile to the school for demonstration… In reading he did not concentrate on the story of how George Washington always told the truth. They had never heard of him and could not have appreciated that myth if someone had told them about it. This real educator taught them about their own hero, José Rizal, who gave his life as a martyr for the freedom of his country. By and by they got rid of most books based on the life of American people and worked out an entirely new series dealing with the life of Filipinos.”
His teaching experience in the Philippines illustrated for Carter Woodson what was needed to educate Black American students:
“Why not study the African background from the point of view of anthropology and history, and then take up sociology as it concerns the Negro peasant…? Why not take up economics as reflected by the Negroes of today and work out some remedy for their lack of capital, the absence of cooperative enterprise, and the short life of their establishments…To educate the Negro we must find out exactly what his background is, what he is today, what his possibilities are, and how to begin with him as he is and make him a better individual of the kind that he is.”
Woodson’s Philippine experience was a step in his intellectual development that culminated in his championing of Black American history. He “evolved a philosophy about black history: He wanted to free black history from white intellectual bias and present blacks as active participants in history. Additionally, he wanted both black and white people to be exposed to the contributions of blacks. He believed that black history should be a part of the school curriculum… that history could serve social change.”
Our unfinished education
We need to celebrate Black History Month because Americans — including new Americans like recent Filipino immigrants — still lack the liberating education that Carter Woodson had prescribed and promoted his whole life.
In “What Filipinos Can Learn & Do About Black Lives Matter / An Anti-Racist Resource Guide for Filipinos,” authors Ferreol and Reyes identified the common — and dangerous — stereotypes about Black Americans readily accepted by Filipinos. Among these assumptions and unfounded claims that routinely hinder the fight against racial injustice are:
- “Black people are criminals and are dangerous to be around.
- Certain areas in the U.S. are “danger zones” because “Black people live there”.
- Black people are uneducated and have no social decorum.
- Black people are “less than” Filipinos.
- America is not racist because other minorities like Asians have been able to succeed.”
These biases and caricatures were manufactured from centuries-old fear-mongering in a country ruled by white supremacist policies.
Instead of ignorance and the fear that creates anti-Black bias, our Filipino American community must be challenged to learn Black American history. We must understand the deep roots of the desperate calls by the Black Lives Matter protests — that Black Americans like George Floyd must not be continually demeaned, threatened, and deprived of their lives by the country they love.
Guide for the perplexed
This month, there will be an abundance of opportunities to educate ourselves and our community. There will be different pathways to learn Black History, and the only requirement is to open one’s mind. This is only one of many guides and helpful references available:
- Start with the organization that Carter Woodson organized to advocate for studying black history — The Association for the Study of African American Life and History. ASALH will have a Virtual Black History Month Festival.
- For capsule summaries of key historic milestones in Black History, refer to this History channel site.
- Delve into the dark history of slavery and its long-lasting impact in the New York Times 1619 Project.
- Watch short documentaries from the Equal Justice Initiative to get the context of lynchings and mass incarceration.
- Understand the need for reparations after the long history of slavery, segregation, and state-imposed restrictions.
- Understand the fear and pain of African American parents while they raise black children in a racially hostile country.
We cannot care about the grief expressed by the Black community now, if we don’t know — and feel in our bones — the multi-generational pain of their American experience.
Gwen Ifill, the late journalist who contributed some of the best American journalism and political analysis, provided clear insights into our necessary education regarding Black history:
“I am fortunate to have one of those jobs where I get to learn something new practically every day, but learning about oneself has particular resonance. You don’t have to be a journalist to keep learning. But you do have to be curious — about the world around us, and about each other. To me, race does not always have to be about grievance. It can also be about pride, empathy, humanity and understanding the value of difference…I have interviewed black leaders from Jesse Jackson to Barack Obama and detected the same themes: how to knock down doors, and what to do once you get to the other side. These are black history stories, but they are also American history stories. We do ourselves and the next generation a disservice when we do not treat them as both.”
Our continuing American education
Filipino culture treasures families. As Americans, we are also called to expand the scope of who we consider family. Beyond our blood relations, we must care for other people in communities that compose the tapestry of our constitutional democracy. That is the way towards a more perfect union.
Filipino culture cherishes education. As Americans, we also need to educate ourselves about our history in America, which requires we learn about the histories of other Americans. Given the racial injustice trauma we have been experiencing, February’s Black History Month must be regarded as a special and sacred time for learning. Our community must fight against remnant Filipino Americans’ fear and ignorance of Black America.
We are all swimming in a sea of ignorance, and our challenge is to keep ourselves afloat by constantly learning critically about our own community’s history, as well as other American communities’ histories. We must struggle to know and to keep learning, because to learn — is to learn how to care.
As Amanda Gorman, in her hopeful inauguration poem, declares:
Because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
It’s the past we step into and how we repair it.
- Balitang America: Seattle Filipino American activists caught in standoff with police during Black Lives Matter protest https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tm0mVaL2Ygw
- Mahal Kong Nanay, Tatay, Tito, Tita, Lolo, Lola, Pamilya: Letters For Black Lives
- Origins of Black History Month https://asalh.org/about-us/origins-of-black-history-month/
- “Carter G. Woodson: The Early Years, 1875 – 1903” by Burnis R. Morris https://asalh.org/about-us/carter-g-woodson-the-early-years-1875-1903/
- “The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodson
- “Carter Godwin Woodson (1875–1950) Education and Early Career”
- “What Filipinos Can Learn & Do About Black Lives Matter / An Anti-Racist Resource Guide for Filipinos,” by Michi Ferreol & Bernice delos Reyes
- Doc Rivers sends an emotional message on social injustice | NBA on ESPN https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UjGhM_w97Q
- ASALH Virtual Black History Month Festival https://asalh.org/festival/
- History channel: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/black-history-milestones
- Equal Justice Initiative https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCP_8NA5c6br1aHFizoeWSHw
- HBO Between The World And Me https://www.hbo.com/specials/between-the-world-and-me
- Gwen Ifill, “Black history or American history: What’s the difference?” https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/black-history-or-american-history-whats-the-difference
- New York Times, 1619 Project
- Ta-Nahesi Coates, Atlantic Magazine, “The Case for Reparations”
- Los Angeles Times, “Watch and read L.A. native Amanda Gorman’s inauguration day poem” https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2021-01-20/watch-and-read-amanda-gormans-inauguration-day-poem
* * *
IDEALISM, HOPE, AND THE FILIPINO-AMERICAN YOUTH
At the end of a tragic year with an uncontrolled pandemic, mismanaged by a dysfunctional presidency, we are given a reprieve with a new year and a new administration.
It is a hopeful and, to some, a consoling change, but it is only a temporary suspension of a long-term downward spiral. In addition to the astounding amount of deaths within a few months and with still increasing rates of infection, our nation continues to struggle with long-term problems of extreme economic inequality, festering racial injustice, and political resentments.
However, despair is not a workable option. In “Achieving Our Country,” Richard Rorty describes presciently where we are now as a nation and suggests what we could do at the beginning of 2021: “You cannot urge national political renewal on the basis of descriptions of fact. You have to describe the country in terms of what you passionately hope it will become, as well as in the terms of what you know it to be now. You have to be loyal to a dream country rather than to the one to which you wake up every morning. Unless such loyalty exists, the ideal has no chance of becoming actual.”
But where can we see hopeful signs of this ideal dream country as we start a new year?
In the Filipino American community, the rays of hope and progress will come from our young people who have grown up amid the political, economic, and social challenges of the 21st century. Empowering them to seek and implement their hopeful visions — and solutions — is a small step out of our nation’s dilemma to become the compassionate country we hope it could be.
The important lessons that I learned as a middle-aged Filipino American struggling to make sense of the past few years, I learned from young Filipino Americans. I sing the praises of a few here not to exalt the exceptional but to highlight the representative potential of this new generation.
Historical conscience and activism
In her empowered essay during last October’s Filipino American History Month, the young writer and activist Abby Pasion described the critical connections that Filipino American history provides to create a stronger sense of communal identity: ”It is clear that Filipinos have always been active players in U.S. politics and the movers behind some of the most important social movements in history….Contrary to the model minority myth of keeping our heads down and staying clear of controversial situations, Filipinos have time and time again positioned themselves at the forefront of these movements, both in the Philippines and in the global diaspora.”
Because of the clamor of many uncritical commentators, identity-based political approaches have lost their power to clarify and to push for sensible progressive policies. Standing out from this noise, Pasion pushes a strong rationale for Filipino American social activism: “To put it simply: our mere existence as Filipinos, and the greater, collective struggle we are all bound to (such as colonialism, capitalism, and white supremacy), is overwhelmingly political by nature. Actively choosing to ignore this salient aspect of who we are not only reinforces the privileges we hold, even as a minority group, but ultimately disregards the rich, revolutionary history of our people and the work of those who came before in order for us to have a political platform of any kind to begin with.”
Last year, Pasion participated in a roundtable of Filipino American youth — high school and college students and post-college — sponsored by the Filipino American Political Action Group of Washington (FAPAGOW). She and other young panelists expressed strong advocacy and support for Black Lives Matter due to their deep awareness of systemic racism and racial injustice. Their young voices brimmed with inspiring wisdom and with empathy for the BLM protests: “Claudia Crispera Krumpach: Our own self-comfort, our own peace, cannot come at the expense of Black bodies; Marijo Manaois: This is me exercising my love to the country you brought me to. Being true Americans in this country means fighting alongside the Black community even if that means being uncomfortable.”
Beyond acknowledgement of past historical injustices, another young Filipina American has a mission to challenge traditional ways of remedying previous acts of communal violence and violations. Katalina Cortez’s response to the city of Watsonville’s apology for the attacks on Filipino Americans during the race riots early in the 20th century goes beyond the usual paths of historical remediation.
The Watsonville, California race riots marked a dark episode in the Filipino American experience of racial injustice: “For five days in January 1930, hundreds of armed white men took to the streets of Watsonville, targeting and beating Filipino-American workers who they claimed were stealing their jobs and women, according to multiple reports. The riots reached a head on the night of Jan. 20, when 22-year-old Fermin Tobera died after being shot on San Juan Road. The incident was a catalyst for more riots, instigated by white men around the state.”
Having grounded herself with a strong education on Filipino American history, Katalina Cortez describes her pragmatic political approach for remediation: “In November, after 90 years, the Watsonville city council issued a formal apology to Filipinx and Filipinx American members of the community for the 1930 race riots. There was talk of a plaque or a street or school being named in honor of the Filipinx community in Watsonville. I think more should be done. That’s why I attended the city council meeting last month to tell them they would be wasting their money on those things. Why not give the Filipinx community the money so we can do something to better preserve our history for future generations? They could reallocate the funds somewhere else, like a scholarship program, so the Filipino community hall doesn’t have to hold small fundraisers for Filipinx American students that are college bound. How are we going to send these kids to college through barbecue chicken fundraisers? The rate of kids going to college in Watsonville is just so low. And as someone who grew up there, I know there aren’t a lot of examples of Filipinx American students that are going to colleges and universities. That’s why, after I graduate, I want to eventually go back home to Watsonville and create a youth program at the Filipino community hall to prepare kids for higher education…I think it’s important to guide the next generation to go to college, because it gives them access to a lot of different resources that we don’t have in Watsonville and could even be a pathway for them to see the world.”
Cortez’s pragmatic response to history suggests a new reframing of solving past injustice against Filipino Americans, akin to Black Americans’ call for reparations for slavery.
The Filipino American community should acknowledge the innovative approaches of younger generations of Filipino Americans like Cortez. Like Abby, Katalina has absorbed the harsh lessons of the Filipino pioneers in America. But plaques or civic memorials are not enough to achieve the dream country that our Filipino American youth are envisioning. For them, practical and substantial political outcomes, not mere words, are needed to resolve the calls for reforming the systemic racism of America.
The Poetry of Activism
The artistic expression of Filipino American activism is captured by Ruby Ibarra for her generation. Ibarra is a young biotechnology scientist and hip-hop rapper who creates music for our times with Filipino immigrant and racial injustice themes.
Ibarra’s music and hip-hop poetry are deeply grounded in her Filipino American identity, mining her personal experience and expressing a strident posture against injustice. Speaking of her song “Someday,” she explains that: “It is my declaration that my mother and I will make it in this country. I think that when we talk about immigration, especially in mainstream media, much of that is often romanticized and simplified; the experience and struggles are overlooked and the formation of identity and sense of belonging are neglected.”
Her lyrics punch through the Filipino immigrant struggle with defiance:
“At school, reduced lunches while my mama skip her lunchtime/
9 to 5 minimum wage, she at the bus line
Here I am, filling a page, waiting to bust rhymes/
‘Til I’m nearing the day I’m getting cosigned/
Snare rolls and punchlines to pay rolls and punch time/
We take shows like crunch time, we braved those like front lines/
My life on these lines ‘cuz we never had lifelines/
And these days I’m scared of what might go through my mind/
I flow like Rizal and I’m writing like Hagedorn/
Mixed with Gabriela Silang, now watch as the page mourns/
Say my name, it tastes foreign, type to make your face form in ways you never made/
Born from another place, thorns couldn’t break away/
Or am I just a break away?/
From being center stage from off the page or will I fade away?/
I never been the type to say I’m scared of what I have to face/
‘Cuz all I ever knew is being me so all I ever need to say is…/
I said mama we gon’ make it there someday
I said mama we gon’ make it there someday
I said mama we gon’ make it there someday
I said mama we gon’ make it there someday”
A young Filipina American activist, Ibarra builds on her musical work to reach out beyond the Filipino community and to advocate for a more just world. A San Francisco newspaper reported that:
“Ibarra feels a responsibility to speak out on topics where she might have an influence — not just about taking the pandemic seriously, but also social justice issues. Recently on social media, Ibarra has been outspoken about the Black Lives Matter movement, and recent political and social developments happening in the Philippines, where she was born…“I’ve always been a firm believer in that if you have a platform, you should definitely use it to your advantage and make sure that you’re speaking for the people who feel like they don’t have a voice,” said Ibarra. “Seeing how police brutality and racial inequality in general still continues to thrive, especially in this country, that’s alerted me to recognize that these are all still very important things to talk about in my music … If I can be an artist that can help start the dialogue for these conversations, I’m more than willing to take that on.”
Watch and listen to an uncompromising young voice of Filipino America and find the heart of what matters.
A New Year Project
There are more pearls like Abby, Claudia, Marijo, Katalina, and Ruby in our Filipino American community. We must honor them by recognizing and supporting their youthful visions, passions, and wisdom.
A few years ago, I deeply felt the passing of my own youth as I helped to ease the health challenges of the last years of my father and my father-in-law. The sad fact of life is we will lose people we love along the way. And then we feel lost for a while as we try to move on. As I explored what mattered to me then after the passing of my beloved father figures, I came across this quote attributed to Ayesha Siddiqa: “Be the Person You Needed When You Were Younger.”
That was the wisdom I needed, and what I have followed since. Continuing and broadening that life directive, I now ask “What can our Filipino American community do for the young people in our community?” and dedicate this new year to help bring to our Filipino American youth what they need from older Filipino Americans.
What do we, the older generations, owe the young people in our community?
We owe them a safe place for their idealism, without the drag of our acquired cynicism.
We owe them the resources we have built over time as a community — organizations, financial support, alliances, and similar empowering foundations. We must invest in them to achieve our dream country.
- COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6
- Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist thought in Twentieth-Century America
- Abby Passion, “FROM “ISANG BAGSAK” TO #FILIPINXFORBLACKLIVES, FILIPINO IDENTITY HAS ALWAYS BEEN POLITICAL” https://www.one-down.com/articles/from-isang-bagsak-to-filipinxforblacklives-filipino-identity-has-always-been-political
- FAPAGOW Youth Roundtable https://www.instagram.com/p/CJMPQQxgQ8x/
- Watsonville Apologizes to Filipino Community for 1930 Race Riots https://goodtimes.sc/santa-cruz-news/watsonville-apologizes-to-filipino-community-for-1930-race-riots/
- Katalina Cortez, “I’m A Berkeleyan: Student Katalina Cortez on finding her cultural identity to pay it forward” https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/12/18/im-a-berkeleyan-student-katalina-cortez-on-finding-her-cultural-identity-to-pay-it-forward/
- NPR, “This Tiny Desk Contestant Rapped A Love Letter To Her Immigrant Mother” https://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2019/06/22/734403197/this-tiny-desk-contestant-rapped-a-love-letter-to-her-immigrant-mother
- SFGATE, “Meet the Bay Area rapper working on a COVID vaccine” https://www.sfgate.com/sf-culture/article/Bay-Area-rapper-COVID-vaccine-Ruby-Ibarra-15450383.php
- Ruby Ibarra, “Someday” lyrics https://rubyibarra.bandcamp.com/track/someday
- Ruby Ibarra, “Someday” video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCd3iSfnWSw
* * *
HONORING THE BOYS — AND HEALING THE MEN
November has its own special cruelty. Instead of April’s “mixing memory and desire”, the cold eleventh month mixes memory and the active repression of that memory.
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the “war to end all wars” was scheduled to end in 1918. But this temporary cessation of fighting between the warring countries of the first World War — from our view more than a century and some additional wars later — speaks to our incapacity as humans to control and predict the future and our capacity, as well, to keep forgetting and repeating our tragedies.
On November 11, we commemorate this historical moment, initially called “Armistice Day,” as Veterans Day “to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”
For Vietnam War veterans, many of whom sincerely hold these values, this day is fraught with difficult memories.
They remember not just the unspeakable trauma of their military experience, but their country’s abandonment of their sacrifice during and after their service. Many are unable to speak about their experiences, but their pains persist. Some of them live in our Filipino American community and you probably know them.
Sending boys to war
The ideological war that justified the realities of the Vietnam War has faded, but what remains is the human toll on the young men — boys actually — whom John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon sent to fight in Southeast Asia.
In his book “The Boys of ‘67,” Andrew Wiest detailed the difficult journeys of the members of Charlie Company. It started with the innocence that echoed previous war summons.
“In the spring of 1966, while the war in Vietnam was still popular, the US military decided to reactivate the 9th Infantry Division as part of the military buildup. Across the nation, farm boys from the Midwest, surfers from California, city-slickers from Cleveland, and sharecroppers from the South opened their mail to find greetings from Uncle Sam.”
At the end of their military service, the boys, already traumatized by the war, returned home to a different America:
“In January 1968, on the eve of the Tet Offensive, the Charlie Company originals gathered in ones and twos to board the ‘freedom bird’ for their flight back to ‘the world.’ After their unit had suffered 25 killed and 105 wounded during its year in combat, the lucky ones were going home again to reclaim their lives as postal workers, students, mechanics, farmers, husbands, sons, and Americans. But the boys of Charlie Company were returning to a country that many did not recognize…The returning veterans of Charlie Company were among the first to be greeted by crowds of jeering, cursing protesters. While in Vietnam, the boys of Charlie Company had heard of protests and marches, but they had never expected this: screams of ‘baby killer,’ spat curses, people throwing condoms full of urine. The members of Charlie Company, a unit so reminiscent of the American experience in World War II, were denied the victorious welcome home that their fathers and uncles had once enjoyed. There was no grateful nation waiting to absolve the boys of Charlie Company of the sins of war.”
It took America almost half a century later to make a clear distinction between the controversial war and the young soldiers who were sent to fight it.
Over time, we learned of the policies of deception that leaders from both parties engaged in while running the war for over a decade. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, described the lessons from these Vietnam War policies. He said that “letting a small group of men in secret in the executive branch make [war-making powers] decisions — initiate them secretly, carry them out secretly and manipulate Congress, and lie to Congress and the public as to why they’re doing it and what they’re doing — is a recipe for, a guarantee of Vietnams and Iraqs and Libyas, and in general foolish, reckless, dangerous policies.”
Whatever the past failures of leadership, the personal toll on the boys trained to be warriors has been heavy, persistent, and burdensome to this day. As they have grown older, the mental and physical health risks increase. The Veterans Administration lists the following health risks for those who served in the Vietnam War:
- Diseases related to Agent Orange: A toxic chemical used to clear trees and plants during the war that can cause long-term health effects
- Hepatitis C: An infectious disease that can harm the liver
- Hearing problems caused by noise: Harmful sounds from guns, explosives, rockets, heavy weapons, jets and aircraft, and machinery that can cause or contribute to hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Illnesses or injuries caused by job-related hazards: Chemicals, paints, radiation, and other hazards soldiers may have come in contact with through the military job
The more insidious and persistent health effect for the veterans resulted from the mental trauma of their war experience. The VA report that “it is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 (or 30%) of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] in their lifetime.”
The Veterans Administration details the four types of PTSD symptoms as they apply to veterans:
- Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms). Memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time and feeling the same fear and horror when the event took place. For example:
- You may have nightmares.
- You may feel like you are going through the event again. This is called a flashback.
- You may see, hear, or smell something that causes you to relive the event. This is called a trigger. News reports, seeing an accident, or hearing a car backfire are examples of triggers.
- Avoiding situations that remind you of the event. You may try to avoid situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event. For example:
- You may avoid crowds, because they feel dangerous.
- You may avoid driving if you were in a car accident or if your military convoy was bombed.
- If you were in an earthquake, you may avoid watching movies about earthquakes.
- You may keep very busy or avoid seeking help because it keeps you from having to think or talk about the event.
- Negative changes in beliefs and feelings. The way you think about yourself and others changes because of the trauma. This symptom has many aspects, including the following:
- You may not have positive or loving feelings toward other people and may stay away from relationships.
- You may forget about parts of the traumatic event or not be able to talk about them.
- You may think the world is completely dangerous, and no one can be trusted.
- Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal). You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You might suddenly become angry or irritable. This is known as hyperarousal. For example:
- You may have a hard time sleeping.
- You may have trouble concentrating.
- You may be startled by a loud noise or surprise.
- You might want to have your back to a wall in a restaurant or waiting room.
A common refrain expressed by Vietnam War veterans is a cultural indictment: the veterans have personally borne the high cost of the Vietnam War while the rest of America settled into post-war amnesia.
Given the mental, physical, and spiritual damage they experienced from the war, these boys who became war-scarred men had to return home and continue their interrupted lives. Lt. Gen Harold G. Moore, in the book “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young” expressed the harsh sentiments of the Vietnam War veterans:
“In time our battles were forgotten, our sacrifices were discounted, and both our sanity and our suitability for life in polite American society were publicly questioned…We rebuilt our lives, found jobs or professions, married, raised families, and waited patiently for America to come to its senses…We knew what Vietnam had been like, and how we looked and acted and talked and smelled. No one in America did…It was no movie. When it was over the dead did not get up and dust themselves off and walk way. The wounded did not wash away the red and go on with life, unhurt. Those who were, miraculously, unscratched were by no means untouched. Not one of us left Vietnam the same young man he was when he arrived.”*
The boys of Seattle, the veterans of Vietnam War
In our local community, the Greater Seattle chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) has an ongoing oral history project to encourage Filipino American Vietnam Veterans to tell their own difficult stories. A group of veterans who have been childhood friends in the Seattle area before going to war has been telling their stories for five years now.
These Filipino American Vietnam veterans have recorded their stories for the rest of us and for other Vietnam veterans who have not been able to tell their own stories. [Video]
As a group, they talked about the reasons for serving, their training, their service in Vietnam, and their return home. Living through the turbulent 1960’s, they found the country that sent them to war had disowned them by the time they have come home after their service. They have varying degrees of disability and health conditions mentioned above.
They are our New Manongs, who were challenged by American history and who served like other Americans when called to duty.
As Filipino Americans, our responsibility to our veterans range from recognizing and finally honoring their service as young men to taking care of them as old men dealing with the effects of mental trauma, Agent Orange, and other lingering health effects of the war. But most of all, especially during Veterans Day, on the eleventh day of this cruel month, forty-five years after the Vietnam War ended, we must take the time to listen to their stories, thank them, and finally welcome them home.
- T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47311/the-waste-land
- History of Veterans Day https://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp
- New York Times, How Did Armistice Day Become Veterans Day in the United States? https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/10/us/veterans-day-armistice-day.html
- Andrew Wiest, “The Boys of ‘67” https://www.amazon.com/Boys-67-Charlie-Companys-Military/dp/1472803337
- New York Times: After 40 Years, the Complete Pentagon Papers https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/us/08pentagon.html
- The Pentagon Papers, https://www.archives.gov/research/pentagon-papers
- VA / Vietnam War Veterans health issues https://www.va.gov/health-care/health-needs-conditions/health-issues-related-to-service-era/vietnam-war/
- PTSD https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_veterans.asp
- PTSD Basics https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/what/ptsd_basics.asp
- Lt. General Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young” https://www.amazon.com/Were-Soldiers-Once-Young-Drang-ebook-dp-B009S33I68/dp/B009S33I68
- FANHS Filipino American Vietnam Veterans Oral History Project https://vimeo.com/170335291
- FANHS Greater Seattle Chapter Veterans Day Panel https://www.facebook.com/groups/261018364108556/permalink/1477133682497012
* * *
YOU KNOW YOU’RE FILIPINO WHEN…
In the spirit of a popular Internet meme mixed with a desire for expanding possibilities, I propose this list that connects our past and our present.
You know you’re Filipino when…
1. You know that our history didn’t start with Magellan and Spanish colonization; that there were humans already living in the caves of Palawan, Philippines, fifty thousands years ago during the Ice Age; that rich cultural development occurred in the Philippines during the pre-Christian era when early Filipinos used progressively advanced tools and processes to produce decorated pottery and jewelry; that early in the Christian era, before Spanish domination, cultural life of the Filipinos included weaving cotton, smelting iron, making glass ornaments, speaking Austronesian languages, producing sophisticated pottery, creating gold work, sailing wooden vessels, and trading with neighboring Asian merchants; that a critical evaluation of prehispanic Philippine artifacts revealed considerable discrepancy between the evidence and what has been been written by colonial Spanish and American historians; that due to the racist wave migration theory, Filipino children are “taught that their forebears arrived in the archipelago already graded from primitive to civilized”; that due to colonial and subsequent internalized attitudes towards our indigenous fellow Filipinos, even the esteemed Filipino UN Ambassador Carlos P. Romulo disparaged the Igorots with this racist denial in 1946: “These primitive black people… are no more Filipinos than the American Indian is representative of the United States citizen”;
2. You know that even during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, Filipinos like the Igorots chose to fight the conquerors to maintain their independence; that the Igorots were never slaves or played the role of slaves to the Spaniards; that “they fought for their independence with every means at their disposal for three centuries, and that this resistance to invasion was deliberate, self-conscious, and continuous”; that in spite of later historical narratives, early Spanish accounts do not suggest that these highland Filipinos were very different racially or culturally from the lowland Filipinos; that because of continuing racist bias against indigenous Filipinos, the struggle of these Filipino freedom fighters persists, as historian William Henry Scott observed: “It was a heavy price to pay for liberty. And it is a price not yet fully paid. For even their descendants who are congressmen, professors or bishops must send their children to government schools where they dutifully stare at textbooks which say they are different from all other Filipinos because their ancestors came in the wrong wave of migration. But never a word about their 350-year resistance to foreign aggression.”
3. You know you’re Filipino when you know that Filipinos, like Jose Rizal, and Filipino allies like Mark Twain and David Fagen thought, wrote, acted, and pursued freedom to fight racial injustice; that Rizal wrote about the roots of subjugation and the need for solidarity to gain freedom: “Ignorance is servitude… a man who does not think for himself and allowed himself to be guided by the thought of another is like the beast led by a halter….He who loves his independence must first aid his fellowman, because he who refuses protection to others will find himself without it”; that Twain criticized the United States imperial acquisition of the Philippines: “We have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest… we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty; we have invited clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit’s work… we have debauched America’s honor and blackened her face before the world”; that African American soldier Fagen switched sides to support Filipinos fighting for their independence: “Six thousand African-American soldiers, beginning with 2,100 of the famed buffalo soldiers, were sent to the islands at a time when the fortunes of blacks in America had hit rock bottom. This was the dawn of the Jim Crow era as the North capitulated to the doctrines of the extreme racists of the South…On November 17, 1899, during the campaign to capture the fleeing Emilio Aguinaldo, Fagen deserted and joined the Filipino guerrillas.”
4. You know you’re Filipino when you know that Filipinos have banded together before and inspired each other to fight against injustice when the Philippines had fallen under the deadly corruption of Ferdinand Marcos and his military government in the 1970s; that in 1986, various sectors of Philippine society demonstrated that a peaceful movement by the people can force the removal of a dictator; that although the continuing economic inequality in the Philippines has not fulfilled the potential of that moment, there are valuable lessons about the power of peaceful protest and solidarity: “the Philippine People Power revolt influenced a number of other popular revolts against dictatorships in Asia and beyond… People Power has come to symbolize a peaceful, spontaneous popular uprising that topples an unbending dictatorship…Revolutions, it turned out, could be democratic and peaceful.”
5. You know caring fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who left families to seek out better economic situations to support their families; that the Philippines accounted for nearly 30 percent of the almost half million immigrants working as registered nurses in the world; that Filipino nurses and health workers in the US are most likely to work in the highest risk medical assignments — acute care, medical/surgical, and ICU nursing, the front lines of care for Covid-19 patients; that as the pandemic in the US reach more than 200,000 deaths and 3 million cases, “the largest non-white ethnic group to die of the disease was Filipino nurses…Nurses of Filipino descent comprise just 4% of the workforce, but nearly a third of registered nurse deaths due to COVID-19.”
6. You know that Filipinos have experienced injustice in America, along with many other Americans of color; that Carlos Bulosan wrote about an aspirational America with encompassing love: “America is also the nameless foreigner, the homeless refugee, the hungry boy begging for a job and the black body dangling on a tree. America is the illiterate immigrant who is ashamed that the world of books and intellectual opportunities are closed to him. We are all that nameless foreigner, that homeless refugee, that hungry boy, that illiterate immigrant and that lynched black body. All of us, from the first Adams to the last Filipino, native born or alien, educated or illiterate — We are America!”
7. You know that the Black Civil Rights Movement created the social and political environment that drove the passing of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act that afforded Filipinos and other immigrants of color more opportunities: “Just as civil rights legislation aimed at stopping discriminatory practices aimed at African Americans (e.g. Jim Crow), the 1965 immigration legislation sought to eliminate discriminatory and racially based practices that determined who could and who could not migrate to the United States”; that the civil rights we enjoy now were fought by Black Americans, whose families were originally brought here into slavery; that when you hear the grief of Black Americans suffering through centuries of oppression and death by systemic American racial injustice, you join in solidarity with their desperate appeal that Black Lives Matter.
8. You know you’re Filipino when you understand Rizal’s assertion of justice and our responsibilities: “All men are born equal, naked, without bonds. God did not create man to be a slave; nor did he endow him with intelligence to have him hoodwinked, or adorn him with reason to have him deceived by others….Fatuous is he who makes a god of him, who makes brutes of others, and who strives to submit to his whims all that is reasonable and just.”
9. You know you’re Filipino when you recognize that American democracy is under attack right now by an authoritarian, power-hungry administration that has demonstrated a disregard for lives lost in the pandemic, for hard-won civil rights, for democratic institutions, and for scientific knowledge; that this administration has been using governmental power to dismantle important civic infrastructure; when you realize that shrewd demagogues, corrupt officials, and compromised religious leaders have used your deeply held religious support for unborn life to gain power to hurt many living people you also should care about; that Jose Rizal advocated a Christian religion steeped in rationality and ethical action: “Saintliness consists in the first place in obeying the dictates of reason… “It is acts and not words that I want of you,” said Christ…Saintliness does not consist in abjectness…[Christ] did not cater to the rich and vain…nor did Christ teach for gain.”
10.You know you’re Filipino when you respond actively and with historical wisdom by exercising your citizenship’s right to vote in November to remove a deceptive, corrupt, and dangerous administration.
Finally, you ARE Filipino when you recognize that your world throughout history has been constricted by colonial oppressions, by religious tunnel visions, by white supremacist framework, by externally acquired sense of cultural inferiority, by persistent poverty that forces sacrifices to leave family and homeland, and by ongoing cycles of hope and despair; that because of this experience, anti-Black racist attitudes and class-based discriminations persisting due to colonial miseducation must be unlearned; that whether in the Philippines or in America, you transcend these tragedies, you smile through your challenges, you care deeply for people who need help, you actively build communities of hope, and you keep fighting for justice.
- 48 Ways to Know You Are Filipino https://www.jeepneygang.com/bola/lists/48-ways-to-know-you-are-filipino.html
- The Tabon Cave Complex and all of Lipuun https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/1860/
- Prehistoric Source Materials by Willam Henry Scott https://www.amazon.com/Prehispanic-Source-Materials-Philippine-History/dp/9711002264
- Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino by William Henry Scott https://archive.org/details/LookingForThePrehispanicFilipino/page/n9/mode/2up?q=Romulo
- The Igorot Struggle for Independence https://ecphilippines.wordpress.com/the-igorot-struggle-for-independence/
- Letter to the Young Women of Malolos https://kwentongebabuhayrizal.blogspot.com/2013/07/to-young-women-of-malolos-full-copy.html
- Literature of the Spanish-American War > Mark Twain https://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/twain.html
- THE 19TH-CENTURY AFRICAN-AMERICAN SOLDIER WHO FOUGHT FOR FILIPINO LIBERATION https://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2019/04/16/19th-century-african-american-solider-fought-filipino-liberation/ideas/essay/
- Philippine ‘People Power’ Thirty Years On https://thediplomat.com/2016/02/philippine-people-power-thirty-years-on/
- What you need to know about overseas Filipino workers https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/iq/overseas-filipino-workers-facts-figures
- Nursing ranks are filled with Filipino Americans. The pandemic is taking an outsized toll on them https://www.statnews.com/2020/04/28/coronavirus-taking-outsized-toll-on-filipino-american-nurses/
- Filipinos make up 4% of nurses in the US, but 31.5% of nurse deaths from COVID-19 https://www.businessinsider.com/filipinos-make-up-disproportionate-covid-19-nurse-deaths-2020-9
- America Is in the Heart https://www.amazon.com/America-Heart-Personal-Classics-Literature/dp/0295993537
- How the Civil Rights Movement Influenced U.S. Immigration Policy https://www.usccb.org/committees/african-american-affairs/how-civil-rights-movement-influenced-us-immigration-policy
- Letters For Black Lives https://lettersforblacklives.com/2020/home
- Trump Secretly Mocks His Christian Supporters https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/09/trump-secretly-mocks-his-christian-supporters/616522/
- To the Young Women of Malolos https://kwentongebabuhayrizal.blogspot.com/2013/07/to-young-women-of-malolos-full-copy.html
* * *
THE LONG ARC OF ACTIVISM
The boarded windows of Seattle’s International District speak quietly of rebellion and hope.
It is a struggle to be hopeful during these dark days of our current American tragedy. Even when one gets to a place of being hopeful, it is countered by the disconcerting conventional wisdom that “hope is not a strategy.”
But the muralists of the boards that temporarily cover the front of the Wing Luke Asian Museum assert a strategy of hope: “Strength in Community, Power in Solidarity.” Most of the local Seattle heroes and heroines showcased in Moses Sun’s design had built upon hope as the necessary response against despair during an earlier time of chaos and societal fracture.
Representing many others who built — and continue to build — stronger communities out of multiple weaker groups, these eleven community leaders — Narasaki, Gossett, Santos, Cordova, Jayapal, Maeda, Luke, Sibonga, Chin, Smith, and Chow — are known for inspiring and organizing people into effective social forces. A few of them channeled their passionate pursuit of social justice from protests in the streets to the hallways of power where progressive policies effect broader, deeper, and longer-term changes.
Three Filipino Americans from the Bridge Generation grace the Wing Luke Asian Museum’s mural — Bob Santos, Dorothy Cordova, and Dolores Sibonga.
Cordova and Sibonga are two remarkable Filipina American leaders who inspire with their persistent, decades-long, fight for a more just society. I have been fortunate to get to know them. I previously wrote about Cordova’s gift to the community — an expansive sense of identity grounded in self-knowledge paired with the need to fight for social justice.
Dolores Sibonga’s legacy is a lesson in living a life of passion for justice and service for others. She has done it gracefully while, along the way, making history for Filipino Americans in Washington state. She is an exemplary model of sustained activism, that included being jailed for protesting discriminatory hiring practices during the SeaTac airport construction and continuing that pursuit of justice as the first woman of color to serve on the Seattle City Council.
Hope, Determination, and Respect for Others
The only child of Filipino immigrants Maria Dasalla and Victoriano Estigoy, Dolores grew up in Seattle’s International District, a part of the historic “Filipino Town,” where her family moved to run a pool hall and the restaurant Estigoy Cafe. Her grade school classmates at Bailey Gatzert were a diverse mix of race and culture: white, Chinese, Japanese and Black. Given her childhood experience, she is surprised now to learn of anti-Black attitudes in the Filipino community, especially from the post-1965 immigrants.
Growing up in her family’s restaurant business in the International District in the 1930’s, she remembers casual conversations without much anti-Black sentiment. *
In an interview with Peter Jamero (another Bridge Generation activist), Sibonga remembers a childhood steeped in the lives and lessons of pioneering Filipino immigrants:
“The Cafe, hotels, barbershops, grocery stores, gambling halls and streets and alleys of Chinatown were my home. When I was little, I remember “the boys” (manongs) bringing salmon cheeks that were throwaways from the Alaska canneries. Some slept on the floor of our hotel room. It was a life-affirming experience that informed who I am.
These were people who worked hard but often received little in return. And yet at their core — at OUR core as Filipinos — we are joyful and generous. I will never forget summer nights when the young men would gather at the cafe to play guitar, mandolin, violin and sing the sweetest harmony in songs of home and romance. I learned hope, determination and respect for others from them.”
Near the Sibonga’s family restaurant was the office of the Filipino American pioneering journalist Victorio Velasco who published “The Filipino Forum,” the Seattle-based weekly he founded, edited, and published from 1928 to 1968. Velasco inspired Sibonga’s early interest in journalism, the subject she studied when she first attended the University of Washington, graduating in the class of 1952.
Dolores married Martin Sibonga and raised a family of three children in Seattle, while pursuing a career in radio and television. She became an Emmy-nominated writer and producer of documentaries for KOMO. Her work included a feature on young black children learning seamanship aboard a converted captain’s power boat. She also produced an investigative report on the cost of healthcare, following a heart attack patient through hospitalization and treatment. **
The economic downturn resulting from Boeing’s layoffs in the early 1970s created family difficulties that she turned into an opportunity by attending the University of Washington Law School at the urging of her husband Martin. In 1973, she completed her law degree and became the first Filipina American lawyer to be admitted to the Washington State Bar. Sibonga worked as a public defender attorney representing poor clients who were mostly people of color with minimal resources. She was then recruited to become Deputy Director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission, where her office challenged redlining, discriminatory housing, insurance, and employment practices via class action lawsuits. **
In 1977, Martin and Dolores Sibonga purchased “The Filipino Forum” and published the monthly newspaper with a mission for a “United Minority Action.” Their newspaper reflected the civil rights activities going on in the community, including demonstrations by the Filipino Americans Concerned for Equality (FACE) and the Asians Concerned for Equality (ACE). While reporting for “The Filipino Forum” on demonstrations at SeaTac airport led by local Black activist Tyree Scott in support of Black contractors calling for opening the construction industry to persons of color, Dolores Sibonga became more involved in the protests and was arrested along with 38 other demonstrators. **
She explained in her oral history her reason for her support of the Civil Rights Movement: “It’s important that society be open to everyone. And I felt there was discrimination based on race and gender….It hit home pretty hard…When Filipinos came over from the Philippines who had college degrees, they had to work as bus boys and domestics. It was pretty obvious that we needed representation. We needed equal opportunity in education, in employment, and in all walks of life.” **
Engaging with Power
Dolores Sibonga’s life-long commitment to social justice and minority representation drove her to more political engagement. In August 1978, she sought and won a three-month appointment to a vacancy in the Seattle City Council when Phyllis Lamphere left for a federal job. Sibonga expressed her intentions “to expand the visibility of Asians in decision-making positions… and to be an unequivocal advocate for minority interests.” Her appointment was a historic milestone — she was the first Filipino American and first Asian American woman to serve in Seattle’s City Council. In November 1979, Sibonga ran her own campaign for position 9 and defeated Seattle police officer Bob Moffett in the race (71,337 to 58,347 votes) to become the first minority woman ever elected to the City Council. She was elected to three terms on the Seattle City Council, eventually serving from 1980 to 1992.
Sibonga focused on basic priority issues of “employment, shelter and health”. At the City Council, she learned the pragmatic lessons of governing while pushing for policies that addressed these issues. From fellow council member Sam Smith, she learned that “Policy is five votes,” so persuasion and collaboration with her colleagues in the city council were necessary to be effective. She also engaged the whole spectrum of the community, not just her base, and she worked well with the business community. **
As a Seattle City Councilor, Sibonga led the effort for the first Affirmative Action plan for the city, as well as the first economic development plan that emphasized opening employment opportunities for people of color. She learned to push for these challenging policies using the budget process while serving as chair of the budget and finance committee for several years. Her persistent emphasis through the years at the council was opening up employment opportunities for women and people of color. **
Sibonga unsuccessfully ran for Mayor against Norm Rice, who won in 1989. When asked why few women run and get elected as Seattle Mayor, she offered this perspective: “When you ask tough questions as a woman, sometimes people don’t like that. They think it’s too aggressive. I can remember one of my critics said I cut people off at the knees, when in fact I think I was being very courteous. But people don’t like that from women. If a man does the same thing it’s considered aggressive, showing leadership qualities.” On her mayoral election loss, she is philosophical about the experience: “I lost but it’s ok, that’s life, gave it my best, I tried, you can’t always win.” **
Sustained Activism in a Fractured Society
The recent revival of strident activism made Bao Nguyen, writing in the International Examiner, question what activism is: “For others, like me, it is a method where one has to be loud, rebellious and sometimes…violent and chaotic. It is intimidating and only reserved for those who are bold and courageous. Adding to that, these characteristics are attributed with the people often cited to exemplify activism.“
He concedes the powerful effects of this strident activism, but he offers a counter-definition: “On the other hand, I think about other leaders whose struggles and successes are just as great and wonder why they are not included in the picture. Dolores Sibonga, the first Asian American to sit on the Seattle City Council. Gary Locke, the first Asian American governor of Washington State. Velma Veloria, the first Filipina American elected to a state legislature in the continental U.S. Are these people and so many like them not as bold and courageous? Have they not pushed boundaries and brought great changes to the community? What are they if not activists?”
Since her last term ended in 1992 and up to this day, Dolores Sibonga continues her community work, serving on many different public commissions like the Human Rights Commission. She has also served on the boards of the Wing Luke Asian Museum, the Art Institute, Inter*Im, Port Jobs, and the King County Board of Tax Appeals and Equalization.
Even during the fraught social and political anxieties of the year 2020, Dolores Sibonga continues to fly her own style of activism. It is activism based on the values of “Hope, Determination, and Respect for Others,” values she learned from the Manongs of her childhood in Seattle’s International District. Now an advisor to the Filipino American Political Action Group of Washington (FAPAGOW), she is guiding the group to be “the progressive voice for almost 200,000 Filipino Americans in Washington state. Our values are founded on access and equality for all, covering every aspect of the way we live. That’s why we are urging everyone who’s eligible to register and vote in the most critical election of our time.”
Dolores Sibonga’s inclusion in the Wing Luke Asian Museum mural is an appropriate reminder of the need for sustained activism. She continues to inspire because of her deep sense of hope and determination to pursue justice in spite of desperate challenges.
In a surprising but complementary military opinion, Colonel Jeremy Webber asserts in a US Army War Room article: “Hope is not “A” Strategy. It’s the Only Strategy…Hope need not be the ending point of strategy, but it is an essential element. It frames strategy’s narrative, and it prevents paralysis by analysis, allowing for creative, optimistic adaptation….The “hope is not a strategy” mindset results in inaction and paralysis, while a strategy of hope inspires creativity and bold action.”
* Dolores Sibonga, Letter, (July 13, 2020)
**Dolores Sibonga, Oral History (Sept 17, 2015), Filipino American National Historical Society
- Northwest Asian Weekly
- Mural by Moses Sun outside Wing Luke Museum honoring Seattle’s social justice activists:
- Bridge Generation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CdHWPp_-rE
- “Hum Bows Not Hot Dogs” by Bob Santos: https://www.amazon.com/Hum-Bows-Not-Hot-Dogs/dp/0971782903
- “Gang of Four” by Bob Santos and Gary Iwamoto: http://gangoffourbook.com/
- A Drop of Bagoong https://pnwfilamchronicle.com/wrestling-with-angels
- International Examiner: https://iexaminer.org/sibonga-and-hara-win-city-positions/
- BG Personality of the Month: Dolores Sibonga http://peterjamero.net/2019/11/
- Victorio Velasco https://depts.washington.edu/civilr/victorio_velasco.htm
- Filipino Forum http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/news-mabanag.htm
- UW Department of Communication http://www.com.washington.edu/2007/10/dolores-sibonga-ba-1952-journalism-jd-1973-attorney-former-seattle-city-council-member/
- Boeing Bust https://historylink.org/File/20923
- History Link: https://www.historylink.org/File/3727
- International Examiner, Aug 1978 “It Could Be a ‘First’: Dolores Sibonga Tries for City Council” https://issuu.com/saaff/docs/best_of_the_ie/50
- KUOW: https://kuow.org/stories/seattle-hasnt-elected-woman-mayor-91-years-heres-why/
- International Examiner / Bao Nguyen: “It’s Time to Break the Stereotype of Who and What an Activist Is” https://iexaminer.org/its-time-to-break-the-stereotype-of-who-and-what-an-activist-is/
- Northwest Asian Weekly, FAPAGOW re-energized with new, young blood http://nwasianweekly.com/2020/07/fapagow-re-energized-with-new-young-blood/
- “Hope is not ‘A’ Strategy. It’s the Only Strategy,” Jeremy Weber https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/hope-not-strategy-strategy/
* * *
A DROP OF BAGOONG
What is a “Filipino American”?
Identity is a complex construction; it goes beyond the simplistic political labels which flatten the richness of lived experiences and all the difficult bumps and bruises that come along the way.
I struggle constantly with this label, but in my mind, my identity grows out of the places I have been, the people I have met, and what I learned from them in my personal journey.
My Filipino American immigrant story consists of two journeys.
The first one was the life-changing trip from the Philippines of my birth to the Northeast United States of my adolescence. It was a drastic break from my cherished Filipino childhood in Manila and Cavite. It was also a gift from my parents that I know cost them heart-breaking personal sacrifices. It is a classic immigrant story that I treasure deep in my bones. But it is an incomplete one.
My second journey, the one eventually landing me in the Seattle area, my home for almost a quarter of a century now, is my trip westward to the Pacific Northwest, where I gradually woke up from my slumber as a Filipino American.
In the 1990s, I took a cross-country Amtrak train trip with a friend, starting in Boston and leading me to Seattle. It was the start of an intellectual jolt. What I encountered when I moved here were two forces of nature that sparked my still-ongoing second immigrant journey.
Here in Seattle, I met Fred and Dorothy Cordova, whose life-long passionate mission was to make Filipino Americans — and their stories — matter. Their work challenged my intellectual complacency as a Yale-educated, post-1965 immigrant from Connecticut.
They kindly opened a door for me, to previously unknown rooms in the grand architecture of American historical constructions. I learned from them that what I didn’t know about me — was a lot. More importantly, what I didn’t value — because I didn’t know — was what it means to be a Filipino American.
“Uncle” Fred (who died in 2014) and “Auntie” Dorothy expanded my moral universe by teaching me that Filipino Americans have long been a critical participant in America’s own journey towards social justice. Because of them, I discovered a parallel world that broke open my insular world of recent Filipino immigrants just trying to get by in their new world back east.
History and Identity
The Cordovas belong to the “Bridge Generation” — the enlightened children of the pioneering Filipinos who migrated, labored, and settled in the Western United States in the early 20th century, one of the outcomes of the American colonial occupation of the Philippines.
It is to the Bridge Generation, the second generation who grew up after the 1930s, that Filipino Americans owe the gold mine of self-knowledge, about what it means to be an American on the inside when you are brown and foreign-looking on the outside.
They are the ones who experienced the pain of growing up in this country in the 1940s and 50s, documented their personal histories as witnesses, and then challenged the blatant racism of America during the Civil Rights Movement. They were already engaged in social justice work long before the new Filipino immigrants like me arrived in large numbers after 1965 and who unknowingly benefited from the civil rights reforms the Bridge Generation helped champion.
Dorothy Laigo Cordova, the founder and Executive Director of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), was born in the Central District of Seattle. She went to Immaculate Conception and Maryknoll schools and attended Seattle University.
In her oral history from the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, she describes growing up in Seattle and facing the realities of racial discrimination and its neurotic effects on her young psyche. She grew up with the sense of “second-class citizenship” manifested even in common daily experiences, like going to stores to buy some things for her mother or sitting in a drug store soda fountain — and not being waited on.
She understood early the affinities of Filipino Americans with Black Americans. She recalls being a new student at the Maryknoll school: “The school had been basically white. There were some African-American kids there…My best girlfriend for years was the first girl to greet me. When Sister introduced me to the class,… I didn’t know anybody. This tall African-American girl came marching up and shook my hand and said, “I’m glad you’re here.” I think she was glad because now there was another person of color. I was the smallest girl in class and she was the tallest, but we were inseparable for years.”
In the same interview, Cordova explains that her experience with racial injustice came very early and influenced her later civil rights and history work: “My father was murdered…He got shot by a white man. My father bought this gold mine from this white guy, who was kind of ‘cuckoo.’ I remember the day he was killed, I had just turned 4 years old. That day sticks in my brain. It’s probably why I became a historian because I am reliving the past. My father came in the house, he was always in a suit unlike other men. He was on the way to meet his two lawyers downtown. This guy came in and shot one lawyer, killed the other lawyer, shot my father and the first lawyer escaped…. When Mr. Correal (the murderer) was tried, he was never tried for the murder of my father, just for the white lawyer….I always thought he was sentenced to life in prison because he had killed a man who had had five kids… You consider back in those days we were considered (to be) nothing. You know, things like that stick in your brain.”
Dorothy and Fred Cordova were activists at a young age and teamed up early in Seattle to create programs to respond actively to the social injustices they personally experienced.
Fred Cordova explained that the Filipino Youth Activities they started in the 1950s, now known for the FYA Drill Team, wasn’t just a social club for the young people in the neighborhood but a community program that germinated a sense of social justice and social service: “We have to come together, we have to unify…we have a sense of an identity of who we were.”
The Cordovas’ most lasting contribution to the Filipino American community, developed from this seed of social justice and service, was the establishment of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) in 1982.
FANHS now has over 30 chapters nationally to document and promote Filipino American history through its archives, conferences, books, and educational programs. Fred Cordova also wrote the seminal book “Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans”, which is now an important text reference for ethnic study programs in the United States.
In addition to its assertion of the value of Filipino American history, the book captured that generosity of spirit that he crystalized in his oral history: “Everybody doesn’t have to be a hero; everybody doesn’t have to be famous. Each person who’s Filipino American, to me, is very, very important as a story… Our stories are really in our people. It’s not so much in what the achievements are…as much as what is the story itself.”
History and Social Justice
It is because of the Cordovas and FANHS that I filled in the serious gaps in my Ivy League education and my sense of identity. Learning of the first documented presence of Filipinos (Luzones) in what is now California on October 18, 1587 as part of the Spanish explorer Unamuno’s expedition expanded my mental timeline of the Filipino experience in American history.
I also learned about Seattle’s long-standing labor union leadership and the important national role played by the “Manongs,” the Filipino farmworkers led by Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, Peter Velasco, and others in starting the impactful Delano Grape Strike, which then led to the formation of the United Farm Workers Union.
This and other historical knowledge brought a deep realization of Filipinos in America having a stronger sense of agency in affecting American history, in spite of a series of erasures.
It was also important for me to learn about the prevalence of multiracial, multiethnic Filipino American families. It is valuable to know, especially in the context of today’s anti-racist protests, that Seattle’s first permanent Filipino family was a Black Filipino family.
Sgt. Frank Jenkins, whose father was a runaway slave, settled at Fort Lawton and Ballard in Seattle with his wife Rufina and children after serving in the US Army in the Philippines. Their descendants are thriving today and are a part of the FANHS family.
Other culturally rich Filipino American families that formed from intermarriages with Black Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and other people of color make it clear to me that fighting against racial injustice is a shared family mission.
Filipino Americans support Black Lives Matter because the existential fears of Black Americans ripple through many Filipino American families.
Because of Dorothy and Fred Cordova, I learned about other Bridge Generation social justice heroes here in Seattle and the West Coast, like Bob Santos, Dolores Sibonga,
Francisco Irigon, Peter Jamero, and Evangeline Buell, all Filipino American activists who deserve more recognition for their contributions to making a more just America.
The Cordovas, along with these other Bridge Generation Filipino Americans, should be the models of the current young generation’s fight against racial injustice in solidarity with Black Americans. The Bridge Generation has lived through the racism endemic in American life, but more importantly, they fought against systemic racism by changing institutional rules and conventions to enable more equitable opportunities.
In search of the Filipino American
Uncle Fred and Auntie Dorothy inspired me to pursue further research in Filipino American history and to produce video documentaries that highlight our distinct stories that are also embedded within the larger narrative of American history.
For example, Filipino Americans in Washington state made social, political, and cultural contributions to the state’s history [video]. And during the Vietnam War, as in other American wars, Filipino boys who grew up in the Seattle area fought, served, and made sacrifices in the service of the country [video]. These Filipino Americans have now become integral to my ongoing immigrant journey.
What is a “Filipino American”?
In trying to learn more about what it means to be one, I understood from the Cordovas that it would be a lifelong search. I got to know Fred Cordova late, but he generously shared his pearls of wisdom to me “a transplant Connecticut Yankee.” Like many other seekers, he graciously welcomed me to the tribe with this pearl: “If you’ve got one drop of bagoong in you… then we’ve got you. You’re a Filipino.”
- Eulogy for My Father: https://adoryano.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/eulogy-for-my-father/
- Fred and Dorothy Cordova: http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/cordovas.htm
- Fred Cordova, advocate for Filipino community, dies at 82: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/fred-cordova-advocate-for-filipino-community-dies-at-82/
- Vanishing Filipino Americans: The Bridge Generation:
- Fred and Dorothy Cordova: Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (YouTube): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2P-VK9kRhXI&list=PLrnclw6j_Mi-EB–xozaa-uBYBecFEqoo&index=1
- People of the Central Area & their Stories | Dorothy Cordova, Founder, Director, Historian & Archivist, F.A.N.H.S.: https://centralareacomm.blogspot.com/2014/09/dorothy-cordova-founder-historian.html
- FANHS National: http://fanhs-national.org/filam/
- Fred: “Everybody doesn’t have to be heroes; everybody doesn’t have to be famous.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LR4QxamVa_I&list=PLrnclw6j_Mi-EB–xozaa-uBYBecFEqoo&index=15
- Why celebrate Filipino American History in October?: https://www.facebook.com/groups/261018364108556/permalink/275256842684708/
- A Leader of Farmworkers, and Filipinos’ Place in American History: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/21/us/larry-itliong-farmworkers.html
- First Filipino family is a rainbow: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/first-filipino-family-is-a-rainbow
- Filipino Americans: Discovering our Legacy in Washington State: https://vimeo.com/180641303/85ce89b564
- FANHS Filipino American Vietnam Veterans Oral History Project: https://vimeo.com/170335291
- ‘If you’ve got one drop of ‘bagoong’ in you, then you’re Filipino:’ Fred Cordova https://thefilam.net/archives/13610
* * *
LOLO AND LOLA, BLACK AMERICA IS MOURNING
“Mano Po.” Most Filipinos like me grew up in family environments that valued cultural respect for the elderly, exemplified by the gesture of holding your lolo or lola’s hand to your forehead. It honors the accumulated wisdom based on the elders’ life experiences and acknowledges generational debt (utang ng loob), a sentiment inherent in Filipino families.
This cultural foundation is now being challenged — and must be challenged — to respond to a historic moment in our American experience. This year, the accumulated despair of the Black American community has erupted following George Floyd’s video recorded death during a police arrest. Persistent and powerful protests in all of the United States of America are forcing everyone to confront their personal, family, community, and institutional racisms that help perpetuate anti-Black attitudes, actions, and policies in our country.
Young Filipino Americans are rightly leading this challenge to our cultural mistakes, our misapprehensions of social, political, and historical forces that oppressed Black Americans. They point out, sadly, our general silence and complicity in enabling this long-standing injustice. To enable the necessary changes to our unjust world, especially in times of crisis and moral corruption, we need to value and respect the fresh vision of the young and value their family and cultural rebellions.
Our responsibility as the elders in the Filipino American community is to listen to these entreaties by our youth, who — like others in their generation from different Asian communities — are learning the repressed histories of both the American nation and the original countries of their ancestors. We the elders must look into our hearts, reassess the simplistic histories we have uncritically accepted, and act to remedy our moral, social, and political errors. The path to these necessary actions is lit by the emerging wisdom of our young Filipino Americans.
The Letter for Black Lives
The sympathetic protests in 2020 by young Filipino Americans in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement are a continuation of their indignation against racial injustice that has been simmering for many years, even before the tragic death of George Floyd. In 2016, young Filipinos have joined other young Asians after the tragic death of Philandro Castile in expressing to the elder generation their deeply felt support for the BLM protests. In “Letters for Black Lives”, translated in various languages, young Asian Americans made their passionate but respectful appeal to their elders:
“This is why I support the Black Lives Matter movement. Part of that support means speaking up when I see people in my community — even my own family — say or do things that diminish the humanity of Black people. Our silence has a cost and we need to talk about it. I am eternally grateful for the struggles you have endured in a country that has not always been kind to you….You’ve suffered through a prejudiced America so that I could have a better life. But these struggles also make it clearer than ever that we are all in this together, and we cannot feel safe until our Black friends, loved ones, and neighbors are safe. The world that we seek is a place where we can all live without fear.
This is the future that I want — and I hope you want it, too.
Tagalog: “Ito po ang mga dahilan kung bakit ko sinusuportahan ang Black Lives Matter movement. Bahagi ng pagsuporta ko ang pagtutuwid ko sa mga kakilala ko tuwing minamaliit nila ang pagkatao ng mga Itim. Kahit ang sarili kong pamilya ang gumawa nito, sinasadya man o hindi. Ang katahimikan natin ay may kapalit, at kailangan natin ‘tong pag-usapan. Habang-buhay kong utang na loob ang pagsusumikap niyo sa bansang ito, ang bansang minsan na ring nagpadama ng pang-aapi sa inyo… Nagdusa at nakaranas kayo ng diskriminasyon para lang magkaroon tayo ng maginhawang buhay. Pero ang mga pagsubok na ito ang nagpapalarawang sama-sama tayo sa paglaban, at hindi tayo magiging ligtas hangga’t ang mga Itim ay ligtas din. Ang kailangan natin ay ang mundo kung saan pwedeng mabuhay ang lahat nang walang takot. Ito ang gusto kong kinabukasan — at sana ito rin ang gusto niyo”
To deserve our Filipino culture’s respect for the elderly, to deserve the symbolic “Mano Po” as we pass on our legacy to the new generations of Filipinos in America and the Philippines, we must listen and support these appeals by young Filipino Americans to fix the broken world we built for them.
The Filipino anti-Black bias
What young Filipino Americans are learning differently from the older generation, most of whom have immigrated to the United States after the historic 1965 Immigration and Naturalization law, are the systematically repressed histories that form the basis of the deeply entrenched racism in America. One of the sharp young commentators in social media encapsulated this historical view:
“As far as history is concerned, America has only seen “people of color” as one shade regardless of whether you are black, brown, yellow, or red. A color other than white, a color that doesn’t represent the Anglo-Saxon destiny and duty in which America was founded on. Let’s not forget that we were all treated the same before the Civil Rights movement. If it wasn’t for the African-American community’s fight for equality we too would be stripped of those rights and face the same discrimination. Let’s not forget that Filipinos were not allowed in hotels, restaurants, schools, public parks etc. Filipinos were also not allowed to own property or marry white women. We were seen as a threat to “racial purity.” Let. All. This. Sink. In. [Myles Penaflor]”
Passionate young Filipino Americans have also identified our community’s historical anti-Black bias from the Philippines and brought to America in our diaspora. Michi Ferreol & Bernice delos Reyes collected an important anti-racist document specifically for Filipinos (What Filipinos Can Learn & Do About Black Lives Matter / An Anti-Racist Resource Guide for Filipinos). They have called out the prevalence and history of colorism and racism in the Philippines which influenced Filipino immigrants to the United States.
“Racism does not just exist in America. The Philippines has its own sordid relationship with racism and colorism, particularly towards our Agta and Aeta communities. We have displaced these people from their land in hopes of “better development”, and continue to exhibit preferential treatment towards people who are of lighter skin color.”
Ferreol and Reyes also deconstructed the common — and dangerous — stereotypes readily accepted by Filipino Americans: “One of the reasons for the continued subjugation of Black people in America are the underlying racist tendencies, beliefs and institutions that we as a society have propagated and permitted to thrive. Filipinos have sadly been a part of this. These assumptions and unfounded claims are what routinely hinder and disparage the Black cause.
- Black people are criminals and are dangerous to be around.
- Certain areas in the U.S. are “danger zones” because “Black people live there”.
- Black people are drug dealers.
- Black people don’t speak English well.
- Black people are uneducated and have no social decorum.
- Black people are ugly.
- Black people are “less than” Filipinos.
- America is not racist because other minorities like Asians have been able to succeed.”
These biases and caricatures were manufactured from centuries-old fear-mongering in a country ruled by white supremacist policies. Young Filipino Americans, having grown up with Black friends, know the pernicious — and now widely-known to be fatal — impacts of these stereotypes. Their personal experiences contradicted these entrenched and systematized anti-Black biases.
For the elders of the Filipino American community, we must take the necessary steps to correct our prejudices, which as Nathan Rutstein has aptly defined “is an emotional commitment to ignorance.”
Calls to Action
The Anti-Racist Resource Guide for Filipinos helpfully provides a framework (RULER) for working through and removing repressive anti-Black bias and attempt to correct our personally ingrained systems of structural oppression:
- Recognize: Being aware of anti-Black bias is the initial step
- Understand: Get to the basis of why you think or feel this way.
- Label: Name these negative influences: racism, colorism, bias, systemic injustice.
- Express: Share your uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, and call them out clearly
- Rectify: Find the difficult steps to correct these oppressive prejudices.
Prof. E. J. R. David, author of “Brown Skin, White Minds: Filipino-American Postcolonial Psychology,” provides tips to tackle anti-Black racism in everyday Filipino American life. In his Psychology Today article on “Addressing Anti-Black Microaggressions in Filipino Families,” Dr. David writes: “holding special family meetings, discussions, workshops, lectures, or other formal “interventions” are not the only ways to challenge the anti-Blackness of our Nanay or Tatay, Aunty or Uncle, Lolo or Lola, Ninong or Ninang, and Ate or Kuya.” Micro-interventions can also be done:
- While watching Filipino TV or movies
- When they say something about skin tones
- When they make stereotypical comments about Black People
- While grocery shopping
- While at church or coming home from church
Young Filipino Americans are offering their elders the necessary education during this time of historical protests against racial injustice, and we must seriously engage with that difficult enlightenment. The Filipino American elders must accept this challenge to our moral conscience from our Filipino American youth.
It is encouraging that some of our elders have already taken on this challenge. For example, Jon Melegrito, a 76 year old Filipino American civic leader, has owned up to and has struggled to unlearn his anti-Black racism
“I will confess that I’ve had anti-black sentiments. I don’t make any excuses. When we first moved to Washington DC, we moved into an apartment that was predominantly black. It was in the ‘60s and we just got married. And there was a swimming pool in our apartment and I told my wife not to go because a lot of blacks go there. We thought that the pool was dirty and dangerous….I’m ashamed to think about this now, because it’s despicable – but this was the level of thinking we had when we first immigrated into America.
We were conditioned to think of blacks as inferior through American media in the Philippines. It took me a while to understand that this type of thinking had no place. I had to educate and unlearn myself to liberate from racism.”
Enrique de la Cruz, Professor Emeritus, CSU Northridge, recently wrote about drinking the “KoolAid” of anti-Black bias in the Philippines then experiencing with Black friends the reality of American racial oppression:
“After completing graduate studies, I had shared an apartment with two ex-Black Panthers…We shared that apartment for many years, enough time for me to learn about racism, and the anger and frustration from those who lived it. I learned of behavioral adjustments that they engage in, automatically, to live with that racism. For example, do not go shopping for food items in white neighborhoods, even if it’s just for bottled water or beer. They are not used to seeing you there, and might call security, or worse, the police. They are very conscious that white folks often weaponize their discomfort with black folks around their neighborhood by calling the police.”
The current Black Lives Matter protests have prompted Filipino Americans, like Mencie Hairston, to consider how to be part of the solution:
“I will start with me. I will constantly remind myself that as a Filipino American, I am a beneficiary of the social justice movements paid for with the lives, blood and labor of the Black community. Yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others marched and died for me, too. I will continue to self-examine my own biases and prejudices and guard against micro-aggressions in my thoughts, words and deeds. I will educate myself and learn from Black and Asian social activists on the important work of coalition-building to dismantle societal structures that perpetuate racial disparity. I will continue to support causes that empower people from underserved communities.”
Flickers of light and hope
I do hope more Filipino American elders will demonstrate the wisdom to respond effectively to the current moral challenge to all Americans. But I think the young will change the world anyway — without us.
In 2017, I had a social media exchange with a friend I grew up with in a small immigrant Filipino American community in the Northeast. I was surprised by her support for an abhorrent moral equivalency promoted by the current presidential administration during the white supremacy protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. I explained to her the history of white supremacy groups in America and the historical blight they have actively promoted at critical times in the country’s history. My friend unfortunately chose to disagree and stopped our discussion then.
In 2020, I was surprised but heartened by my friend’s daughters, who were actively participating to support Black Lives Matter protests in that Northeast community and speaking out on social media. The younger daughter, who is now a mother of two young sons, marched and documented her participation in two peaceful community demonstrations in support of protecting Black Lives. She responded to the racial injustice with the deep empathy of a mother. Her protest sign said:
“I grieve with BLACK AMERICA. She is a MOTHER in MOURNING,
her kids keep being SNATCHED without WARNING.
NO WONDER SHE’S HAD ENOUGH.
#BlackLivesMatter #ICan’tBreath #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd”
“Mano Po.” To deserve our Filipino culture’s respect for the elderly, we must learn from the young. During this historical moment, they have educated themselves not just from academia but from their personal experiences. They have learned the fundamental goal of education summed up by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “Whatever you learn, remember: the learning must make you more, not less, human.”
YouTube/ Letters for Black Lives: https://youtu.be/vrR-8_odGh4
NPR/ A Letter From Young Asian-Americans To Their Families About Black Lives Matter: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/07/27/487375314/a-letter-from-young-asian-americans-to-their-families-about-black-lives-matter
Facebook / Myles Penaflor https://www.facebook.com/myles.penaflor/posts/10158556649233060
An Anti-Racist Resource Guide for Filipinos by Michi Ferreol & Bernice delos Reyes: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KHjIWtI7dAfLE9Grm7-rwID4Fkh8UABQ/view
Psychology Today: Addressing Anti-Black Microaggressions in Filipino Families / Dr. E. J. R. David
AARP / Disrupting Aging
Asian Journal: I drank the Kool-Aid then migrated to the US to unpack biases https://www.asianjournal.com/features/opinion-editorial-columnists/i-drank-the-kool-aid-then-migrated-to-the-us-to-unpack-biases/
Inquirer: A Filipina on Racism: ‘How can I be part of the solution?’
WRESTLING WITH ANGELS
FILIPINO-AMERICAN HEALTHCARE WORKERS AND THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
BY ADOR PEREDA YANO
We know them. They are members of our family — mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, siblings, cousins. They are also the caregivers of America – the nurses, doctors, hospital and nursing home workers.
Their stories are stories of our families. We eat sinigang, tinola, kare-kare, dinuguan with them. In good times, we even sing karaoke with them.
But now is not one of those good times. The coronavirus crisis revealed not just their essential – even critical – roles in the American health system but also the disproportionately high risk and danger they encounter in their jobs.
ProPublica has reported the heavy toll on Filipino American workers during the Covid-19 health crisis:
“Filipino American medical workers have suffered some of the most staggering losses in the coronavirus pandemic. In the New York-New Jersey region alone, ProPublica learned of at least 30 deaths of Filipino health care workers since the end of March and many more deaths in those peoples’ extended families. The virus has struck hardest where a huge concentration of the community lives and works. They are at “the epicenter of the epicenter”…Filipinos are on the front lines [in New York/New Jersey] and across the country, four times more likely to be nurses than any other ethnic group in the U.S.”
Like other health care givers, Filipino American health care workers are now hailed nationally as heroines and heroes of the coronavirus front lines. They comprise more than seven percent of the hospital and health care workforce in the United States — nearly half a million workers. It is about time that they are recognized for their service and sacrifice.
The New York Times identified them as “what has historically been an unsung force in American health care: Filipino nurses…Filipino doctors, home health aides, physical therapists, phlebotomists and more.”
We know them as family. They are the tough, compassionate, hard-working Nanays and Tatays, Titas and Titos, cousins and friends who work long hours in hospitals, clinics, nursing and residential homes.
They are family members, but do we really know them? The current pandemic has revealed and clarified the depth of their contribution to American life.
Unless we know how and why they have become the caregivers in the American healthcare system, unless we know their fight for fairness, for recognition, and for their personal safety in their workplaces, we don’t really have a full picture of how our care-giving Filipino family has become a critical part of American life and death experience.
The stream of hourly news becomes noise without understanding the broader context of our connections to our past and to the larger social, political, and economic forces.
We need a sense of history and the knowledge of societal systems to recognize the full value of the heroic services of Filipino American health care workers — our family — during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Know their history:
- After the violent colonial acquisition of the country after the Philippine-American War in 1902, the United States formed Americanized nursing schools in the Philippines that eventually resulted a century later in making the Philippines the leading supplier of nurses to the United States.
- After independence, nursing schools in the Philippines increased from 17 in 1950 to 370 in 2005.
- The Philippine government created in the 1960s a state-sponsored system to export labor for its economic development via remittances from overseas workers.
- The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 increased immigration of professional Filipinos to America, including more than 150,000 Filipino nurses.
Acknowledge their outsized presence in the global health system:
- At the beginning of this century, an estimated quarter of a million Filipino nurses were employed overseas in 31 countries around the world.
- The Philippines accounted for nearly 30 percent of the almost half million immigrants working as registered nurses in the world
- In Britain, over 18,000 Filipino nurses are working for the National Health Service, the second-largest group of immigrant nurses in that country.
Understand the social conditions, the politics and economics that affect them:
- Filipino nurses in the US are most likely to work in the highest risk medical assignments — acute care, medical/surgical, and ICU nursing, the front lines of care for Covid-19 patients.
- The current inadequate supply of Personal Protective Equipment while caring for coronavirus patients has increased the danger for health care workers.
- Racial factors affect Filipino nurses, many of whom feel expendable while confronting “the bamboo ceiling” that have kept Filipino nurses out of positions of leadership.
- Many Filipino immigrant nurses send money to the Philippines to support relatives so they also work extra shifts which result in increasing their exposure.
- Immigration rules have fluctuated over time, restricting and opening opportunities for Filipino immigrants depending on the need of the healthcare system.
- Filipino American health care workers also have to deal with the current administration’s hostile immigration policies and the resulting racist attitudes towards immigrants, especially those of Asian descent.
In the entwined histories of the Philippines and the United States of America, the best of our people starts with individuals who persevered while confronting social injustice. The outcomes have been mixed, recognition delayed, victories extinguished, but we cannot forget the dignity of the people known and unknown who fought the good fight.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, our mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, siblings, cousins are fighting the good fight now. And we need to remember them as part of our larger Filipino family who fought and died in the honorable service of giving care. They are family members, not numbers and points in the statistical charts.
- Alfredo Pabatao
- Susana Pabatao
- Susan Sisgundo
- Ernesto “Audie” DeLeo
- Marlino Cagas
- Jessie Ariel Ferreras
- Louis Torres
- Lety Torres
- Don Ryan Batayola
- Daisy Doronila
- Edwin Montanano
- Jesus Villaluz
- Araceli Buendia Ilaga
- Josephine Tapiru
- Celia Marcos
- Erwin Lambrento
- Maria Guia Cabillon
- Celia Lardizabal Marcos
- Arthur Tayengco
- Noel Sinkiat
and many more…
Empire of Care, Catherine Ceniza Choy: https://www.amazon.com/Empire-Care-Migration-Encounters-Interactions-ebook/dp/B00EFVLRFW
World Education News & Reviews: https://wenr.wes.org/2018/03/mobile-nurses-trends-in-international-labor-migration-in-the-nursing-field
National Nurses United: https://vimeo.com/412121963/6173c0eb01