Dear Filipino Americans, Let's Talk About Charlottesville

Please understand how your colonial mentality and colorism affects how you perceive things
08/18/2017 02:31 pm ET Updated Aug 18, 2017

#DearFilipinoAmericans,

Yesterday, on my public Facebook page, I posted a picture of a sign from California circa late 1920s, which read "Get rid of all Filipinos or we'll burn this town down." I wrote brief comparisons of Charlottesville to Watsonville, citing that Fermin Tobera was killed in 1930 in the Watsonville Riots and Joseph Ileto was killed in 1999. While many Filipino Americans appreciated my parallels of history, some accused me of "inciting violence” or spreading “fake news”. Others proclaimed they've never experienced racism or that most Filipinos do not experience any racism either. Others said I'm living in the past, with some even claiming that their best friends are White.

Photo from Central California circa 1929-1930
National Pinoy Archives - Filipino American National Historical Society
Photo from Central California circa 1929-1930

Succinctly, here are my replies:

1. Just because you don’t think you experience racism doesn’t mean other Filipinos don’t. One study from Dr. Alvin Alvarez found that 99% of Filipino Americans have experienced at least one instance of discrimination in the past year. Studies on microaggressions find that Filipino Americans can identify an array of subtle racial discrimination they encounter in their lives. So yes, Filipino Americans do experience racial discrimination. Therefore, please don’t speak on behalf of the Filipino American community, particularly if you do not have empirical evidence to back your claims.

2. In schools, we teach our children “History” (as a required subject), so they have knowledge about the world they live in and how our society came to be what it is. We also teach history so we can learn how to build a stronger society and prevent repeating mistakes of the past. Without history, we would not have the rights we all have today. Filipino Americans have the rights that we do, because some people spoke up for us decades ago. You’re able to marry interracially and your children are not in segregated schools because people fought for you in the Supreme Court. You’re able to own property and vote and become citizens in this country because of the passing of laws that found discrimination to be unconstitutional. Newer laws involving sexual harassment and LGBTQ rights are based on the Civil Rights laws that set the precedent. So please don’t tell anyone that history doesn’t matter. You cannot enjoy the privileges you have without acknowledging the people who historically fought for you to have them.

3. Please understand how your colonial mentality and colorism affects how you perceive things. Centuries of colonial rule in the Philippines have taught Filipinos to be grateful for colonization and to view everything White as good. Why are you proud that majority of your friends are White, and what does that say about you? Why are you quick to defend the actions of a group of White people, instead of empathizing with Black people who have endured centuries of slavery, violence, and discrimination? I wonder if you view indigenous or darker-skinned Filipinos as being less attractive, less intelligent, or inferior, while celebrating those who are mestizo or light-skinned? Decades of research support that a high majority of people have implicit biases and recent studies find that most Filipino Americans have symptoms of colonial mentality, which negatively impact the ways they feel about themselves. So perhaps you should look internally before accusing others of exaggerating or inciting violence.

4. To think that I am inciting violence by simply educating people on truthful history is simply baffling to me. Unlike White supremacists who proudly incite hate violence, I never wrote anything about encouraging people to hate White people or to be violent toward them. However, perhaps I should make myself clearer on what I did mean. I am asking Filipino Americans to reflect on our history and on ways that they combat White supremacy. Specifically, I am asking people to read books on Civil Rights and racism in America - including books by Filipino Americans (like Carlos Bulosan, Fred Cordova, Dawn Mabalon, EJ David, or Anthony Ocampo) who outline the historical experiences of Filipino Americans in the US. I ask my kababayan to talk with their family members about current events and to educate their families on how these instances reflect racist instances of the past. I am asking if you are willing to contact your elected officials to denounce hate, or if you will encourage your employers to create more inclusive and safe workplaces. I am asking if you’re willing to show empathy with Black people - not just because Filipino Americans have experienced racism too, but because you care about humanity, justice, and equity for all. I am also asking if you are able to challenge yourself on whether you are doing enough to be on the right side of history, or if you will quietly sit back as hate prevails in our country.

Screenshots of some self-identified Filipino Americans to my Facebook posts
Screenshots of reactions to my Facebook post on August 17, 2017
Screenshots of some self-identified Filipino Americans to my Facebook posts

I hope these conversations continue within our Filipino American families and communities. If you feel defensive in reading this, I ask you to take a breath, reread this article, and consider how everything I write is based on scientific and historical truth. Finally, I leave you with a statement from the Filipino American National Historical Society - who have promoted and advanced Filipino American history for 35 years.

We stand against any attempt to take our country back to those dark days of American history. We urge all Americans to study our history well, so that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past, and to find inspiration in the courage of all who, over the centuries, have fought so bravely against hate for the rights we enjoy today in our nation. Because of the courage of activists and our elders and ancestors, we live in a society in which hate and inequality have no place, and we honor their sacrifices when we take up their struggle. It is now our turn to take up the fight against injustice, stand in solidarity with all Americans against hate, and to declare that FANHS will remain steadfast in our commitment to justice, equity & equality. - Filipino American National Historical Society

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