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.

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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.

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.

Queer and Immigrant for the Holidays

The holidays are meant to be a time of merriment and family, but so can it be disappointing, even depressing, for some.

This time of the year can be especially hard for immigrants who are separated from dear ones overseas. Many seek the company of compatriots to recreate festivities and meals that evoke their countries of origin. Most turn to their ethnic congregations for services consistent with their values and traditions.

Queer immigrants, like any other newcomer, can find the holidays tough. But it can also be doubly hard for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants, as they feel left out not only by the mainstream but by their own families and ethnic communities, which tend to be conservative and unwelcoming of openly LGBT individuals.

“My blood family and I had a contentious relationship due to my political involvement teemed with my sexuality and gender identity,” said K, who identifies as queer, transgender, and of Philippine descent.

“Due to this, I was kicked out, homeless, and estranged as a young person from my blood family. This has incited displacement, a painful sense of mobility, and an instability that show itself during holiday time.”

Tania, a community organizer at the Immigrant Youth Justice League and coordinator for the LGBTQ Immigrant Rights Project at the Association of Latino Men for Action, says her family has come around. They are more comfortable with her being out, and she is able to bring her partner home for the holidays.

She nonetheless feels a great loss at this time of the year.

Tania is undocumented. Her parents brought their family over from Mexico 18 years ago when she was only 10 years old.

It is important for her to describe herself as without papers. “That’s really an important part of my identity because it’s something that has been true for me for most of my life,” she said. “It’s something that has affected every aspect of how I live.”

“It’s really difficult to listen to people’s plans of traveling at this time to a country where I can’t go even if I wish I could,” she admitted.

She sorely misses her extended family and laments the fading ties.

“I’ve lost touch with my family in Mexico, my cousins, my grandparents,” she said. “When I talk about Christmas and New Years and Three Kings Day as being family time, it really has only been my immediate family, my mom, my sister, my dad, and myself, plus the few friends and chosen family that have also gathered around us, both from the LGBT community and the immigrant undocumented community.”

Many queer immigrants spend the holidays with “chosen families,” usually others who share their gender orientation and identity and their struggles in America.

David, a New York artist, plans on sharing a Christmas meal with other gay immigrants and their partners. Although David’s family has long embraced his being gay, it’s a matter of comfort.

Pia, a student and activist in San Francisco, celebrates the holidays with both her blood and chosen families. She admits, however, that while her extended family does not object to her bringing a partner, she still feels invisible.

“My blood family never talks about my identity and sexuality openly, but they’ve all welcomed my former partners,” she said.

“At the same time, conversations regarding relationships — living together, how the relationship is going, “are you happy?” check-ins, marriage, or in my case, domestic partnership — are never afforded to me the way they are so casually discussed with straight family members and their partners. While there is acceptance, there isn’t a genuine acknowledgement of my identity I feel like — even after they’ve seen me with a former partner for over three years and have considered that person a family member.”

Queer immigrants nonetheless do the best they can to commemorate the holidays.

K puts “great effort in being thankful for my shelter and home, having access to food, the people who love me and the communities who create joy with everyday social change. These activities are embraced with people who are my family in ways that have nothing to do with blood ties.”

Originally posted on Huffington Post Gay Voices, December 23, 2011 and reposted on Feet in 2 Worlds, December 26, 2011.

College Republicans Hold Racist Bake Sale

September 27, 2011; Source: CNN | Race continues to be an issue, even among Millennials, a generation that some say is “post-racial.” This was on full display Tuesday at the University of California–Berkeley, where the Berkeley College Republicans held a bake sale which has been characterized as racist.

The “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” offered baked goods priced by race. Pastries were sold to white men for $2, Asian men for $1.50, Latino men for $1, African American men for 75 cents and American Indians for 25 cents. All women got 25 cents off these prices.

The bake sale was in protest of SB 185, which, if signed by Governor Jerry Brown, would allow public state universities to consider race, gender, and nationality in the admissions process so as to foster campus diversity.

The Berkeley College Republicans acknowledged that the controversy was planned.

“We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point,” the president of the group, Shawn Lewis, wrote in response to the uproar. “It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender.”

Other college Republican groups have hosted similar events across the country which have also been met with indignation and protests. Some university officials, such as those at Bucknell University, the College of William and Mary, the University of California–Irvine, and Southern Methodist University, stopped these events. The University of California–Berkeley, however, did not prevent the incendiary bake sale.

Originally Posted in Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire,  September 30, 2011.

Johns Hopkins Affiliate Accused of Tuskegee-Like Study

September 15, 2011; Source: New York Times | A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a Johns Hopkins University affiliate, accusing the lab of conducting experiments on African American children which the Maryland Court of Appeals has compared to the Tuskegee syphilis study.  The research, which has been the subject of litigation for more than a decade, involved periodically testing children’s blood to determine lead levels in order to study the hazards of lead paint.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that researchers knowingly exposed more than 100 children who ranged in age from 12 months to 5 years old to high levels of lead dust in apartments selected by Kennedy Krieger for the children and their families to live in. Parents were supposedly misled by assurances from the institute that their homes were “lead safe.”

David Armstrong, father of the lead plaintiff, said he was not told that his son was being introduced to elevated levels of lead paint dust. “I thought they had cleaned everything and it would be a safe place,” he said. “They said it was ‘lead safe.’ ”

The lawsuit also claims that no medical treatment was made available to the children. “Children were enticed into living in lead-tainted housing and subjected to a research program which intentionally exposed them to lead poisoning in order for the extent of the contamination of these children’s blood to be used by scientific researchers to assess the success of lead paint or lead dust abatement measures,” reads the suit.

Dr. Gary W. Goldstein, president and chief executive of the Kennedy Krieger Institute, said in a statement that the “research was conducted in the best interest of all of the children enrolled.” He points out that “Baltimore city had the highest lead poisoning rates in the country, and more children were admitted to our hospital for lead poisoning than for any other condition.”  He further argues that “with no state or federal laws to regulate housing and protect the children of Baltimore, a practical way to clean up lead needed to be found so that homes, communities, and children could be safeguarded.”

Goldstein appears to argue that it is not the responsibility of researchers and scientists to change public policy. Fair enough. But what about their responsibility to people who serve as research subjects? In this case, the court will determine whether Kennedy Krieger researchers fully disclosed all the facts to parents before having their children live in lead-laced apartments.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 19, 2011.