“Tama na po”: Building Filipinx American Solidarity for Black Lives Matter
Every news cycle, we are flooded with information on the unfolding protests across the United States. Perhaps, your friends, children, and social media are urging you to speak up and use your voice. Perhaps, you think, “I am Pin@y and I just got here. I am not a part of this conversation.” You might wonder what Black liberation has to do with you, a non-Black Filipinx. And even if you do support the movements, you might be scared and fear for your own safety first.
Amidst the calls for action and condemnations of silence, the privilege of being able to walk freely into the streets and express dissent has not been acknowledged enough. Yet dissent is part of Filipino culture and history. You only need to think back to the 1986’s EDSA Revolution that dismantled the Marcos dictatorship. The images of Filipinos flooding the streets leading to Malacañan Palace in Metro Manila look strikingly similar to the protests taking place across the United States today.
As a first-generation American, I can only surmise how a precarious immigration status can feel from my parents’ experience. They came to the United States as international students. After graduating, my father was fortunate enough to attain a job that sponsored his and my mother’s visas. My parents always told me that the laws were there for a reason. There was always a fear that the naturalization process could be disrupted if our family was not law-abiding, “true red, white, and blue” Americans.
Although in a less vulnerable situation than other Filipinx in the United States, I am sharing my family’s story because it is indicative of the ways that immigration can be an unsettling position that demands conformity. Just ten years ago, my parents did not support these types of movements the way they do now that they are American citizens.
It is understandable that if you are undocumented or a DREAMer, or if your immigration status is insecure that you will prioritize the safety and wellbeing of yourself and your family. On the other hand, if you still want to join the protests but are undocumented, read this article for some tips to protect yourself.
Despite the overwhelming coverage of protests, marching in the streets is not the only way to support the movement. Becoming anti-racist often starts with self reflection about values that seem logical or unquestionable. Furthermore, this work can be done within the home.
Do not let fear hold you back from working towards bettering yourself, your communities, and the America you came to be a part of. Asian American activist Grace Lee Boggs surmised, "Movements are born of critical connections rather than critical mass."
The mass protests we see are an effort to make these connections. The critical connections between our community and the Black community are multiplicitous. Filipinx Americans were always connecting with other people of color throughout the 20th century. Infamously, Larry Itliong and the Delano manongs teamed up with César Chávez in 1965 to organize what would turn out to be a national grape strike. That same decade, the Black Panthers protested alongside Pin@ys living in San Francisco’s Little Manila, who were facing city-sanctioned evictions.
The Black Lives Matter movement works to uplift Black voices by making connections beyond their community. Immigrant rights are just another way that white supremacy systematizes racism. With laws that ban immigration and deny citizenship to specific groups of people, it is easy for politicians and people accountable to brush off this racism as “the way things are.” This argument is the same argument that police departments use when caught engaging in brutalizing force: sheriff after sheriff have ratified these actions by saying something along the lines of “It is not unlawful and thus, it was within the officer’s right to [fill in violent action] here.”
[Protestor holds a sign that reads, “I Can’t Breathe” at Lake View, Chicago, IL, USA, Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash]
It is important to recognize that our community and the Black community are different from one another. At stake when young Black men and women encounter the police— even during routine traffic stops—are their lives.
The unique threats that Black people face on account of their skin color are the rippling aftershocks of the legacy of slavery. We have come to live and grow in a country that refuses to acknowledge the economic value that Black slaves died for while building the foundations of our nation and the inherent value of Black people alive today.
This colonial narrative is one not unfamiliar to Filipinx. The Philippines was occupied not once, twice, but three times. During the 300 years of Spanish rule, the indigenous people were colonized, brainwashed, and assimilated. What remains is a colonial mentality characterized by a high regard for western ideals and norms, especially the colorist ideas that associate dark skin with negative connotations and inferiority. These are the same roots of anti-Black racism that we find in the United States.
Look at our two countries right now. Here in the United States, the president is labelling those who protest and join riots as “terrorists,” and calling for the National Guard to militarize and intervene. Right now in the Philippines, after months of utilizing militarized police forces against every day civilians in a supposed effort to crack down on drugs, President Duterte is calling to pass an “anti-terrorism bill” that would give the government the power to detain anyone suspected of “terrorism,” ironically broadly defined as act of terrorism that occur in public including online forums. From this juxtaposition of current events, we can recognize how we too are subject to dynamics that maintain power structures. It is then easy to understand why we must also fight for Black liberation.
[Facilitator Kalaya’an Mendoza created this poster and variations on it displaying support from the Asian American community.]
It might be hard to start these conversations with your family. You might not know where to begin. Within the family, it is easier to make mistakes and evolve your thinking, because at the end of the day, these are people that love and care about you.
Educated in the United States with a social justice orientation, I remember struggling with my mother on these issues. When I tried to explain terms like “systemic racism” or “anti-Blackness,” she became defensive. After many conversations, she owned up to the fact that English was not her native tongue. English didn't belong to her and my use of the language made it feel like I was running circles around her. I was using the English language as my weapon, a colonial footprint, leaving her feeling inadequate. My advice is to begin with an open conversation: Try using this letter translated into Tagalog to reach those for whom English is a second language.
As non-Black people of color, it is also important that we, Pin@ys, keep an open mind. Rioting and looting may not be our strategy, but if we think through the reasons that Black people have to be angry, we might also be able to accept that damage to private property is not on the same level as the many Black lives lost and irreplaceable.
Let us work in solidarity with the movements and kapwa unfolding today within our hearts, our homes, and our communities. Ignat kababayan.
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Giannina Ong - Bay Area, CA
Co-Editor Chopsticks Alley Pinoy
Giannina was born and raised in the Bay Area. A self-proclaimed social justice warrior, she is currently wrapping up her master's in women's and gender studies at University of Toronto, writing a thesis on Asian American mothers. As a Chinese Filipino American, she moves beyond the binaries that lock people into dichotomous thinking. She is a nerd: she loves reading, writing, and being in the classroom. She loves Filipino food, especially sinigang (sarap ng maasim!). She hopes to one day be a professor, sharing knowledge that empowers women and minority groups.