I March

img_9663I march
Not because I’ve lost faith.

I march
Because I believe
No matter our gender
No matter our skin color
No matter our faith
No matter where we’re born
No matter who we love
We are all equal
Each deserving a happy
and meaningful life.

I march
Because I believe
We are responsible for one another
Accountable to each other
Not just to ourselves,
families, tribes
Not to our narrow self-interests
Not to our resentments
Not to our anxieties
and fears.

I march
Because I have faith
Together we can
Change our neighborhood,
city, town, and country
Change our world
Lift each other up
Equals in grace
and abundance.

New York City
January 21, 2017

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Demonizing Darren Wilson

Darren Wilson

I want so much to demonize Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, especially after seeing clips of his interview with George Stephanopoulos. How could he calmly say that he’d do it over again and that his conscience is clear, when he had killed an unarmed teenager? How could I not be outraged when he is now given a national platform to tell his version of the truth while Michael Brown’s truth died with him?

It would not be the first time I’d demonize another person and make him the embodiment of injustices suffered. I severed ties with a childhood friend for opposing equal rights for gay families like mine. He had become both the patronizing face of straight privilege and oppressive voice of conservative Christianity.  I quit a job and blamed a former boss for passing me over because I happen to be a brown immigrant. He had come to represent racism, and my promoted colleague, the beneficiary of white privilege.

Darren Wilson needs to be held accountable for his actions. But what good would demonizing him do? Focusing our rage on one man will not change things. Making Wilson the scapegoat only enflames emotions and festers our collective wounds. We are distracted from the root causes – individual and systemic racism, militarization of police forces, residential segregation, educational and wealth disparities, media and information silos – and fail to act in ways that can bring about real change.

There are no clear and easy answers. But we can begin by educating ourselves and understanding how Michael Brown’s death and Darren Wilson’s freedom from indictment have become the norm. We can ask ourselves how we are complicit and figure out ways we can chip away at what can feel overwhelming and appear intractable.  We need to do something, but demonizing others is not it.

Ferguson and Filipinos: What’s It Got to Do with Us?

Members of the Asian American community at UC Davis are taking a stand in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and their continued struggle for survival in the face of police brutality. All black lives matter.

Image: Members of the Asian American community at UC Davis.

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri have calmed down, in stark contrast to the initial days of violence incited by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white policeman and spurred by a militarized police response and general insensitivity to the majority African American community.

The issue, however, is far from settled. I’m not talking about the various versions of how the senseless murder took place. I am talking about the fact that African Americans as a group live a harsher, more disadvantaged, and segregated reality than other racial/ethnic groups in a country that is supposed to value freedom, equality, and justice.

Consider some statistics listed by Monique W. Morris, co-founder of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute:

  • The unemployment rate for African Americans with a four-year college degree is 8 percent, almost double the unemployment rate for similarly educated whites;
  • The current real median income for African American households is 16.8 percent lower than its pre-2001 recession peak;
  • 42 percent of African American children are educated in high-poverty schools, compared to 38 percent of Latino children, 15 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander children, and 6 percent of white children;
  • African American youth make up 16 percent of public school students nationwide but account for 35 percent of suspensions and 39 percent of expulsions;
  • Only 16 percent of persons under the age of 18 nationwide are African American but 32 percent of total juvenile arrests are of African American youth; and
  • 25 percent of elderly African American voters, compared with 8 percent of elderly whites, do not possess the identification that would be required under new photo-ID laws introduced in 40 states before the 2012 election.

In addition to systemic and structural disadvantages, African Americans are subject daily to racism, their lives determined in large part by the color of their skin. Racist stereotypes of black men and youth persist, which lead white police officers to profile, target, beat up, and indiscriminately shoot unarmed citizens – and black parents to instruct their children to be wary of the very people who are supposed to protect them.

The shooting of another unarmed black youth and the alternate reality of African Americans leave me profoundly saddened and exhausted by Race in America, a cancer that festers, seemingly incurable. Yet I can hear some kababayans, fellow Filipinos, and other Asians asking what Ferguson has to do with us.

I say look at the mirror and open your eyes. We too are people of color and we share a whole lot more with African Americans, more than with whites, and more than some of us would like to admit.

First, as Asians, we share a history of being brought here to provide cheap labor while being denied basic rights. In the 1800s, Chinese were drawn to the United States to mine for gold and build the Transcontinental Railroad. Yet it didn’t take long for Chinese immigrants to be lynched and murdered during the anti-Chinese movement. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act effectively ended immigration from China and prevented Chinese immigrants and their native-born children from becoming U.S. citizens.

The U.S. annexation of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century attracted Filipinos to work the canneries in Alaska and farms in California. In 1929, anti-Filipino riots erupted in California, after Filipino men displaced white farm hands and socialized with white women. In 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which revoked the rights of Japanese Americans and sent over 100,000 women, men, and children to internment camps scattered throughout the United States. Five years later, President Truman signed the Rescission Act of 1946 which took away veterans benefits pledged to 250,000 Filipino service members who courageously fought for America in World War II.

Today, we are valorized as being model minorities – hard-working, acquiescent, and agreeable – so long as we act the part and keep our place. Following Ferguson, Colorlines reporter Julianne Hing points out that we and other Asians in America are faced with three choices: invisibility, complicity, or resistance.

In a letter to supporters of 18 Million Rising, Pakou Her, the Asian American group’s campaign director, writes

As Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Ferguson is a call to action and solidarity. While our experiences with racism are not the same as the trauma of racism lived by Black people, there are plenty of reasons to be enraged about the damage being wrought by systemic oppression. If we as AAPIs fail to act, if we remain silent and choose to fill the shoes of the “model minority,” we have chosen the side of oppression.

So, which do you choose? Will you remain silent and feed the racial cancer we all suffer? Or will you act? Nasa inyo na ‘yan, it’s your call.

Originally posted in The FilAm.

When a Pat on the Head Becomes Spit on the Face

It’s perfectly okay to pat a dog’s head. It’s fine to pat a very young child’s head. It is not acceptable, however, to pat another adult’s head.

Last Sunday, at church, a fellow parishioner walked by my pew during communion and patted me on the head. I felt violated, disrespected, and my anger grew by the second. At the end of the service, I told a friend in the next pew what happened and asked if I was overreacting. He assured me I was not. Others agreed. Indeed, as I recount the incident, the response has been universal: incredulity and anger on my behalf.

Rather than confront the man and make a scene, I chose to leave and walk off my fury in the winter cold. I sent him an email telling him never to do that again. His response was a flippant, “received, apologies.” He didn’t seem to realize the gravity of his offense until my husband called him out the next day. Even then, the offender was too swift and slick in feigning remorse.

How could he possibly think it was okay to pat a grown man on the head? Would he have done the same to any other adult? To another white man?

A Filipino-American friend mused, “I wonder if he was inclined to do that because you’re a “little brown boy?” The thought also crossed my mind. As the smaller and darker spouse in a gay biracial marriage, some people readily assume that I am the younger, dependent and subservient exotic. Never mind that my husband and I are highly driven, middle-aged professionals who treat each other as equals and partners.

A gay Asian-American friend characterized the incident as a not so micro microaggression, one of the “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.”

The man told my spouse that he meant to tap me on my shoulder but somehow ended up patting me on the head.

“A touch on your shoulder would have been much more appropriate and probably would have conveyed a totally different meaning,” an African-American friend pointed out. “The fact that he chose to pat you on the head says volumes about perceived and real power in this situation … microaggressions are so draining.”

Who knows for certain what spurred the man to treat me like a small child. I can’t help but think, however, that my being brown had something to do with it. This man, after all, has a habit of flaunting his Southern bona fides and recently bragged about his family’s Black help.

Yes, microaggressions are draining. And I sure am pretty damned tired of it all.

Reposted on the Huffington Post.

The Importance of Counting Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders

Press release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have launched a new project aimed at improving health data collection for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. The information will be collected through the National Health Interview Survey, which is conducted by CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

As a way to increase the number of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander households included in the survey, the Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander National Health Interview Survey uses the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which collects data on approximately 3 million households in the United States annually.

The Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders National Health Interview Survey will include a sample of approximately 4,000 households. Data collection for the survey begins in February 2014 and findings will be available in the summer of 2015. The data will help public health researchers to produce reports on a wide range of important health indicators for the Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander population.

“This project represents a significant milestone in our implementation of the HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities by enhancing the availability and quality of data collected and reported on racial and ethnic minority populations,” said Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, HHS Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health. “This unprecedented survey, which further advances the goals of data collection as called for by the Affordable Care Act, will shed important light on the health status of the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population.”

CDC’s National Health Interview Survey is the nation’s largest in-person, household health survey, providing information on an individual’s health status, access to and use of health services, health insurance coverage, immunizations, risk factors, and health-related behaviors. The data play a crucial role in monitoring and improving the health of the nation. For example, Healthy People 2020, the set of public health goals and objectives for the nation, uses information from the survey to track progress toward its targets.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders comprise just 0.4 percent of the total U.S. population, which makes it difficult to include them in sufficient numbers in most national population-based health surveys. The lack of reliable health data for this population has made it difficult to assess their health status and health care utilization. However, the available data for this population indicates that they experience significant health disparities when compared to other groups.

“CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics regards this project as a major step forward in providing much needed health data about the ethnically and culturally diverse U.S. population,” said Charles Rothwell, NCHS director.

For more information about the National Health Interview Survey visit www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm.

Why a Gay Asian Immigrant Marches

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Image: AFP Getty

I was born years after the March on Washington in 1963 and came to the United States 27 years after hundreds of thousands demonstrated for jobs and civil rights. Nonetheless, I felt the need to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, and so many other nameless women and men who marched and fought for the American promise of equality and opportunity. So am I compelled to be part of the ongoing march for social and economic justice.

Fifty years ago, the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) and LGBT communities were not even visible in the civil rights movement. However, Asian and gay Americans took part in the struggle, having experienced discrimination and marginalization themselves.

During the anti-Chinese movement of the 1800s, Chinese immigrants were lynched and murdered. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act effectively ended immigration from China and prevented Chinese immigrants and their native-born children from becoming U.S. citizens. In 1929, anti-Filipino riots erupted in California, after Filipino men displaced white farm hands and socialized with white women. In 1941, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which revoked the rights of Japanese Americans and sent over 100,000 women, men, and children to internment camps scattered throughout the United States. Five years later, President Truman signed the Rescission Act of 1946 which took away veterans benefits pledged to 250,000 Filipino service members who courageously fought for America in World War II.

Until the 1960s, most lesbians and gay men remained closeted, fearful of being identified as homosexuals and deviants. Thousands of service women and men had been dishonorably discharged during the Second World War. Homosexuals, along with Communists, had been deemed threats to national security and hunted down during the McCarthy era. Women and men who were suspected of being homosexual lost their jobs and were ostracized. Gay bars and establishments were regularly raided. Gay men were routinely entrapped by undercover police officers.

Today, the AAPI and LGBT communities are visible, marching alongside African American and Latino communities, in the continued struggle for equality and opportunity.

Although the model minority myth persists, nearly two million AAPIs live in poverty. The community suffers the highest rate of long-term unemployment of any group in the United States. A study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute reports AAPIs face significant housing discrimination. At the polls, lack of language assistance and voter ID laws hinder Asian Americans from exercising their right to vote. Since 911, South Asian and Muslim Americans have been racially profiled by law enforcement agencies.

The myth of gay affluence also belies the fact that poverty rates for LGBT adults are higher than for heterosexual adults. Nearly a quarter of bisexual and gay women are poor and LGBT people of color are more likely to live in poverty than their straight counterparts. Transgender people are four times as likely to survive on less than $10,000 a year and twice as likely to be unemployed as the typical American. A HUD report found lesbian and gay couples experienced unfavorable treatment in the rental housing market. Even though queer people are more visible and have won major legislative and legal victories, they continue to be victims of hate crimes. Transgender women of color in particular are regularly brutalized and murdered for being true to themselves.

As a queer immigrant of color, as a member of the AAPI, LGBT, and immigrant communities, as one who abides by the American dream, I march. Our nation’s future does not belong to one community, it belongs to all of us. But as President Obama exhorts us, we should not turn from or on each other but towards one another.

“The March on Washington teaches us that we are not trapped by the mistakes of history; that we are masters of our fate.  But it also teaches us that the promise of this nation will only be kept when we work together. We’ll have to reignite the embers of empathy and fellow feeling, the coalition of conscience that found expression in this place 50 years ago.”

And so we march on together, with the dream that 50 years from now we will have a more perfect Union.

Also on the Huffington Post.

Immigration: At the Intersection of Race and Sexual Orientation

Last month, I had to stop working because immigration authorities told me so. This week, I am cutting my vacation short because they want to “capture” my biometrics. But it’s all good. After 23 years dealing with our immigration system, it looks like I finally have a clear path to citizenship. Granted, an additional six years at least, but an end is nonetheless in sight. Now that my marriage is recognized by the federal government, my American husband has sponsored me for a green card. My immigration status changed, so I had to resign from my job. Our application is apparently moving along, so the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) wants to record my biometrics. The work permit, provisional green card, permanent green card, and finally, citizenship, should follow in good order within the next few years, barring any surprises.

I am one of the luckier ones. Many of “my people” – queer folks and Asians – are not as fortunate.

Most Americans think of immigration as a Latino issue. Many are beginning to learn, however, that it is also an Asian issue. About 9 percent of undocumented immigrants are from Asia. Family reunification stymied by backlogs is a major concern for Asian Americans.

Some Americans might think that immigration is no longer a gay issue since Americans and U.S. permanent residents can now sponsor their same-gender spouses. But immigration remains an LGBT issue. At least 267,000 undocumented LGBT adult immigrants live in the United States. A mere fraction are married to citizens or permanent residents. Individuals persecuted for their sexual orientation and gender identity flee their home countries to seek refuge in our country.

The National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA) recently released Uncovering Our Stories: The Voices of LGBT AAPI Immigrants, a campaign to help the public understand that immigration intersects ethnicity and sexual orientation. Linda Khoy, daughter of Cambodian refugees, relates how her family painfully learned the difference between being permanent residents and U.S. citizens when her sister was put into deportation proceedings. Urooj Arshad, a Pakistani immigrant, talks about the unique challenges faced by queer Muslims of color. Alex Ong, an Indonesian asylee, explains why he is unable to reunite with his parents who had been denied refuge in the U.S. I also tell my story and share why I care about immigration reform, even though I now have a way out of the deep immigration tunnel so many immigrants find themselves in.

Immigration is not one racial group’s issue. Neither is it a straight or queer issue. Immigration impacts all of us and it is an issue that desperately needs to be addressed.

Also on the Huffington Post.

Uncovering Our Stories: Erwin de Leon from Mia Nakano & Visibility Project on Vimeo.

Yes America, Poor Asians Do Exist!

med3_0Most folks think Asian Americans are wealthier than everybody else. This is understandable since the numbers show, in aggregate, that they have the highest income among racial groups in the United States. However, when you start digging into the numbers, you will discover that not all members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community are affluent.

A recent study by the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD) brings to fore AAPI communities in need and challenges the model minority myth that all Asians are rich.

The Spotlight on Asian American and Pacific Islander Poverty study provides a demographic profile of poor Asians whose numbers have increased dramatically. From 2007 to 2011, the number of AAPIs living below the federal poverty level increased by more than half a million. This 38% increase can be broken down into a 37% increase for Asian Americans in poverty and a 60% increase for Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders in poverty. In comparison, the general poverty population grew by 27% during the same time period.

The largest single group living below the poverty line is non-Taiwanese Chinese at almost 450,000, followed by Asian Indian at over 245,000 and Vietnamese at 230,000. The group with the highest poverty rate is Hmong at 27%, followed by Bangladeshi at 21%, and Tongans at 19%.

More than half of all AAPI poor live in 10 metropolitan areas: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Honolulu, Seattle, San Jose, Houston, Sacramento, and Philadelphia. No other racial/ethnic poverty population is as concentrated in as few places. Approximately 30% of all AAPI poor live in only 3 metro areas: New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. An Urban Institute poverty mapping tool confirms National CAPACD’s findings and puts AAPI poverty in context.

So yes America, poor Asians do exist. And just like any other struggling group, they could use a leg up from the rest of us.

Mail-Order Brides, Scandal, Shame and Immigration

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Why do people immigrate, leave their homeland and loved ones, to be a stranger in another land? The Mango Bride tells part of the story, through the lives of two Filipino women forced into exile by circumstances of their birth and dictates of Philippine culture. The novel is an engrossing telenovela which captures the melodrama and emotionalism of Filipino life, while putting the spotlight on the country’s harsh socio-economic realities and debilitating cultural traits.

Amparo Guerrero, a daughter of privilege, has a secure future among the elite until she brings disgrace to the Guerrero clan. Señora Concha, the matriarch who values her place in society and reputation above all else, sends her only daughter to ride it out in California. Concha was not going to allow the iskandalo, scandal, to bring shame, hiya, to the family name.

Beverly Obejas, a child of the struggling masses, sees no future as she subsists on serving Manila’s upper crust. She signs up with a mail-order bride service, seeing marriage to a much older American as her only way out. She makes herself believe that Prince Charming, albeit older, will pick her among the thousands of other aspiring to-order brides and whisk her away to live happily and prosperously ever after in America. In California, her life is far from charmed and has its own iskandalo. Out of hiya, however, she bears her lot.

Iskandalo and hiya, wealth and class, bring Amparo and Beverly together in Oakland but something else has long bound the women’s fates. They are both mestizas, light-skinned with European features, traits valued by most Filipinos. Even Beverly benefits from the deeply ingrained colorism afflicting the former Spanish colony and product of Hollywood and Washington. This internalized racism opens doors to Filipinos who aspire social mobility and ensconces those who are fortunate to be born among the affluent few. Amparo and Beverly’s slender noses and widows peaks distinguish them and binds them in ways they do not expect.

The author, Marivi Soliven, succeeds in telling a story that will keep readers entertained and glued through the end. But she also manages to explain why Filipinos emigrate to America. Most, like Beverly, come with hopes of a better life for themselves and the loved ones they left behind. This was the impetus for men who worked the canneries of Alaska and the fields of California in the early 20th century. It spurs women today to leave their own children to be nannies and caregivers. A few, like Amparo, are exiled for breaking societal rules, or choose to escape stifling mores to be free to determine their own path.

Why do people come to America? “Those who run to America are only trying to escape their lives here,” says Beverly’s aunt. Some arrive to start anew. Amparo, facing her exile, is comforted by her own aunt,”Hija, think of this next year as your chance to make a fresh start. No one cares about the past in America. It’s where people go to reinvent themselves.”

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.

How Not to Welcome a Brown Person

I was at a recent convening of middle-class, well-educated liberals. This being a Washington, DC area group, it was predominantly White, with a spattering of African Americans, a couple of Latinos, and one Asian. Me. Now this is a pretty welcoming organization and they do try hard to promote diversity. One woman, however, simply went overboard and ended up alienating the very people she set out to embrace.

During lunch, I found myself the only person of color at a table. The woman, who looked like she’s been fighting the system since Woodstock, took a chair close to me. Then, with the smug look of a child who was about to show off what she just perfected, addressed me in Spanish. Flabbergasted, all I could muster was “I’m not Latino, I’m Asian.” Without any sign of embarrassment or remorse, she pointed to my name tag. “But your last name is Spanish.”

So, let me get this straight. Just because I’m Brown, appear Latino to you, and have a Spanish last name, then I must be Hispanic? And English has got to be my second language?

Sensing that I was about to burst into an angry Asian man, I decided to join my African American friends at another table. They readily empathized and insisted that I finish my meal with them. One White person got enraged on my behalf and said I should I have called the woman out. The other White people at the table had interesting responses. Most changed the topic immediately and talked among themselves. The silver-haired man next to me, decked in head to toe Georgetown pastel prep, got paler and stiffer. He excused himself as soon as he could.

Over breakfast the next day, I recounted what happened to actual Latinos. One said, “yeah, I get that a lot,” in fluent English. The other said, “it’s just as bad as being asked ‘where are you from?‘” This led to an attempt at explaining to our White friends why all this bothered us. I’m not sure if any of  them really got what we were trying to say. Before long, they were back to their comfortable and polite conversations. The three people of color were left to commiserate among themselves in this very White and very liberal space.

But not to fret, the group is really trying hard to attract more of the minority du jour, Latinos. It’s official policy.

Reposted on the Huffington Post.