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Philippines Ambassador: Marion Barry's Remarks About Filipino Nurses 'Deplorable' (UPDATED)

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In this July 9, 2009 file photo, D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry speaks at a news conference.
In this July 9, 2009 file photo, D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry speaks at a news conference.

WASHINGTON -- This week's comments by former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry about local nurses has prompted a harsh response by the Philippines' ambassador to the United States.

During a D.C. Council hearing on Monday, Barry (D), who represents Ward 8, made some comments that singled out people from the Philippines who work in D.C. hospitals:

"In fact, it's so bad, that if you go to the hospital now, you find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines," Barry said, according to the Examiner. "And no offense, but let's grow our own teachers, let's grow our own nurses -- and so that we don't have to be scrounging around in our community clinics and other kinds of places -- having to hire people from somewhere else."

Those comments are "deplorable," according to Philippines ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. The ambassador released a released a statement on Wednesday condemning Barry's comments and stating that Barry "owes Filipino nurses and apology":

The remarks of District of Columbia Councilmember Marion Barry criticizing local hospitals for hiring Filipino nurses are deplorable. This is not the first time such intolerant and narrow-minded comments came from him. Just three weeks ago, he made the prejudiced observation that Asian-owned businesses were “dirty shops.”

From its silent beginnings, the Philippine nursing profession grew to become a major player in the global healthcare market when it became the biggest supplier of registered nurses due to the global nursing shortage. Filipino nurses are known to be competent, hardworking, caring, and possess good work ethic. These are some of the reasons why most patients prefer and trust them. Like many good citizens, they pay their taxes and contribute to the American economy.

Councilmember Barry’s penchant for blaming Asians, who only want to work for their American dream, fuels racism, discrimination, and violence. Such rhetoric does nothing but harm relations among community members, when the times call for developing relationships and finding solutions to common challenges. He owes Filipino nurses an apology for his recent tirade.

Others are also calling for Barry to apologize. A group of of Asian-American advocacy groups have launched a "Say Sorry Barry Campaign," asking Barry to "issue a formal apology for his latest insensitive comments towards Asian Pacific American and immigrant communities."

They could be waiting a while for that apology. The Washington Post reports that Barry said on Tuesday he had no plans to apologize, and that his remarks were taken out of context. The Post also reports that Barry's remarks "closely track with existing city policy, including the First-Source program that requires city contractors to give priority in hiring to District residents."

According to the Post:

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and a strong majority on the council also back preferential hiring practices and more training of District residents to lower a city unemployment rate that tops 20 percent in Barry’s ward east of the Anacostia River.

Thursday morning, with the controversy still simmering, Barry made some follow-up remarks, blaming the media. According to DCist's Martin Austermuhle:


Martin Austermuhle
"To the media: we're not falling for it. Stop trying to divide us, because it's not going to work," adds Barry.

Martin Austermuhle
Barry took what could have been a good apology and turned it into yet another "It's the media's fault, not mine."

The rhetoric intensified Thursday afternoon during a D.C. Council hearing at the John A. Wilson Building. According to various reports, Barry repeatedly hammered local reporters, saying that there's an "indisputable fact" that some reporters are trying to divide the city, naming he called WRC-TV/NBC4's Tom Sherwood as a divider.

Barry, who is also a D.C. Democratic National Convention delegate, had some terse words with members of the Asian-American community who testified during the hearing, including David Chung of the D.C. Commission of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, who cited Barry's controversial statements from early April about "dirty" Asian-owned businesses in his ward:


Mike DeBonis
Commissioner: 'When you made those statement, you broke my heart ... A lot of those store owners like my father are now concerned.'

Mike DeBonis
Barry: 'To say what I said is a racist remark is 1000 percent untrue ... It just personally inflames the community.'
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Holmes (D) released a statement Thursday, calling on Barry to apologize to Filipino nurses:

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today called on D.C. Council member Marion Barry to cease the time dishonored pattern he seems to be adopting of targeting racial groups to call attention to issues. She said that Barry owed an apology to the Filipino nurses in particular, who do not deserve to be insulted for helping fill an indispensable health care need in a profession that we in this country have neglected. “The UDC School of Nursing is doing its job, but we have not done ours,” Norton said. “We have not prepared a child who wants to grow up to be a nurse with the quality of education she or he must have to study nursing.”

This post has been updated to reflect new comments from Barry about the situation and tweets from Thursday's D.C. Council session and Norton's statement.