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We Are All Brothers

As I write this article, Pope Francis is currently on his first papal visit to Iraq, a country where Christians are the minority and have been subjected to discrimination and violence by the Muslim majority.

What caught my attention when I was reading the account of the pope’s visit in one of the major dailies was the slogan “We are all Brothers” written on the banners and posters in central Baghdad as the Iraqis welcomed Pope Francis.

The slogan must have been taken from “Frattelli Tutti (All Brothers),” Pope Francis’ encyclical, which highlights the idea that all lives matter.

The slogan could very well apply to alleviate the ordeal that the increasing number of Asian Americans is experiencing today.

The number of recorded hate crimes against Asian Americans has increased lately as a result of some political leaders calling Covid-19 “China virus.”

The non-profit, San Francisco-based Stop AAPI Hate project, which “tracks and responds to incidents of hate, violence, harassment, discrimination, shunning and child bullying against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States,” has reported 2,808 cases of Asian Americans experiencing racism and discrimination from mid-March, when Covid-19 shutdowns began in the United States, to the end of 2020.

Targeting Asian Americans, however, is not a new phenomenon. Such a devious and pernicious act goes back to decades of state-sanctioned policies and discrimination against Asian Americans.

The Chinese, Japanese, H’mong, Vietnamese, Laotians. Cambodians, Indians, and other people of color have their own stories of racial harassment, discrimination and assault to tell. We, Filipinos, are no exception.

Carlos Bulosan, the famed story teller of the Filipino experience in the United States during the 1930s, described in his novel, America Is in the Heart, how racist American society was. He wrote, “I came to know afterward that in many ways it was a crime to be a Filipino in California…We were stopped each time these vigilant patrolmen saw us driving a car. We were suspect each time we were seen with a white woman.”

Bulosan’s vision of American society resulted from the confluence of many factors that include, among others, racist violence against Filipinos. Again, in his novel, he described how a Filipino was shot to death by two Los Angeles detectives for no apparent reason, “I was talking to a gambler when two police detectives darted into the place and shot a little Filipino in the back. The boy fell on his knees, face up, and expired.”

Racial insults directed at Filipinos were also common occurrences. Sunning himself one day on the deck of a ship on his way to Seattle from the Philippines, a White girl saw Bulosan and said to her boyfriend, “Look at those savages from the Philippines, Roger. Haven’t they any idea of decency?” “I don’t blame them for coming into the sun,” the young man said, “I know how it is below.”

White America has had a history of preserving the white race. From this school of thought, the anti-miscegenation law, a law that criminalizes interracial marriage, was born. This law targeted people of color in the 1930s like the migrant Filipinos.

Around 15 years ago, a group of Filipino nurses in a Central California hospital were ordered to speak English only even in break rooms and in the cafeteria, and their co-workers were allegedly urged to eavesdrop on the immigrant workers. While there’s nothing wrong with using English as a medium of communication, the issue is the implicit attack on the use of one’s language, which is an insult to one’s cultural heritage. Language, as we know, is a powerful tool in controlling one’s thought process. Just ask any colonizers.

So, again, targeting Filipinos in the US is nothing new. It has been a long standing issue for decades that started ever since the Filipinos set foot in Louisiana in 1763.

Fast forward to 2021.

“Nobody came. Nobody helped. Nobody made a video”

They were the words of Noel Quintana, a 61-year old Filipino American who, on February 3 of this year, was slashed across the face on the New York subway.

Again, last month, an elderly Filipino woman was attacked for no apparent reason on a San Diego trolley – another example of the recent crime wave targeting elderly Asian Americans.

Sometime in June of last year, a woman was caught on video harassing a Filipina American exercising at a Southern California Park.

The woman said in the video that was widely shared on social media, “Get the f*** out of this world, get the f*** out of this state and go back to whatever f****** Asian country you belong in.”

What contributed to the increase of anti-Asian American sentiments lately is the hateful rhetoric of the past Trump administration. Calling Covid-19 “China virus” fanned the flame of racism that thousands of people took to heart. It just amplified the problem.

Because of the uptick in hate against Asian Americans, I worry about my own safety and that of my family. When my wife and I go out to buy groceries, I don’t know if we are going to be attacked. The feeling of insecurity is real. There’s nothing I can do but be aware of my surroundings.

Just the other day, I read about Teoh Ming Soon, an immigrant from Malaysia, who was walking home from work when he was attacked without any provocation, and he barely saw his assailant. The attack happened in a subway station on Manhattan’s Lower East side.

My own feeling about racism is that it is very much “alive and kicking” in the US today. People who have held deeply racial prejudices and are outright discriminatory are emboldened by political leaders who continue to mouth hateful and inflammatory racial statements against people of color, like “spreader of Covid-19,” “go back to your native countries,” or “stop taking our jobs.”

I would like to end with a quote from Pope Francis as he urged the Christians in his recent visit to Iraq to help rebuild their country devastated by war. What he said, if taken seriously, is a breath of fresh air to the racial crisis that the US is experiencing now.

Pope Francis said, “Only if we learn to look beyond our differences and see each other as members of the same human family will we be able to begin an effective process of rebuilding and leave to future generation a better, more just and more humane world.”


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