Unite and fight
The horror of the anti-Asian hate sweeping cities of the United States since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic fully hit Filipinos on March 29 when a 65-year-old Filipino American woman was attacked in Manhattan in broad daylight. The assault captured on surveillance video, in which the woman was kicked in the gut and, when she fell to the ground, stomped on several times in the head and upper body, was stunningly brutal. It was made more condemnable by the indifference of a man watching from the open door of the building directly facing the scene of the crime — and of another who casually closed the door as the attacker slouched away.
“You don’t belong here!” the attacker was reported as yelling at the woman, who required hospital confinement for grave injuries including a broken pelvis. He was quickly identified and arrested, bringing hope that both the New York police and the community are fighting discrimination and violence made worse by then President Donald Trump’s deliberate use of racist language — “Chinese virus,” “kung flu” — in referring to the coronavirus stalking the world.
Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Romualdez said the Philippine Embassy and other Southeast Asian missions had conveyed to the White House their “strongest concern” over the matter. In Manila, Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. busily fired off tweets declaring that the assault “will influence Philippine foreign policy” (whatever that means) and that it was “not heartbreaking [but] enraging.” The boxing champ, Sen. Manny Pacquiao — quiet vis-à-vis the killing on home grounds of petty drug pushers and activists supposedly resisting arrest — waded in, challenging the “cowardly” attackers of Asian Americans to “fight me instead” (a seeming coy ploy to keep public interest alive in his touted return to the ring).
Many such incidents of unprovoked violence against Asian Americans in the East and West Coasts have been observed and reported. (Imagine the incidents that were not.) The killing on March 16 of six women of Asian descent, among eight dead in a mass shooting in a spa area in Atlanta, indicated that there is no limit to the harm that can be done to members of the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States by a “combination of anti-immigrant resentment and Trump’s anti-Asian rhetoric,” as formulated by American network anchor and author Jorge Ramos.
Ramos likened the physical and verbal attacks on Asian Americans to “the plight that Latinos and black and indigenous people have endured for centuries in the United States” — an apt comparison, and one that those aware of Filipino American history should recognize. Carlos Bulosan, Filipino American author and activist, wrote about the first-generation migrants who came from the Philippines in the 1920s and ’30s to work in farms and canneries in California, Washington, and Alaska, in racist, back-breaking conditions. The efforts of Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz to organize Filipino and other Asian farm workers are now part of that history. Filipino Americans who have attained a measure of success stand on their shoulders.
Hair-raising are the accounts of the anti-Filipino riots in Watsonville, California, on Jan. 19-23, 1930. From the Equal Justice Initiative: White people were angered that Filipino men were dancing with white women at a local dance hall. “Mobs of up to 500 white people” roamed the town and adjacent areas, attacking Filipino farm workers and their property. Weeks earlier, “politicians and community leaders ramped up the anti-Filipino rhetoric, calling the farm workers ‘a menace’ and demanding that Filipino residents be deported so ‘white people who have inherited this country for themselves and their offspring could live.’”
The language, the racism, hasn’t changed much. Last week, The New York Times reported tracking more than 110 episodes since March 2020 in which the attackers “expressed explicit racial hostility with their language, and in which nearly half included a reference to the coronavirus: ‘You are the virus.’ ‘You are infected.’ ‘Go back to China’…” The assaults involved a 59-year-old man kicked in the back by a teenager, three family members including a 2-year-old child stabbed by a 19-year-old in a grocery store, a tea shop owner pepper-sprayed by a customer, etc.
US President Joe Biden has said there can be no silence regarding these “un-American” acts, and ordered the justice department to specifically address anti-Asian hate. The besieged Asian American community, formidable in its numbers, has its work cut out for it: In union there is strength.