Filipino Lessons Learned

For those that don’t know, May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It’s a month for our nation to reflect on how Asians and Pacific Islander, including Native Hawaiians played an important part in the history of the United States. 

I could probably go on about how Chinese Immigrants pretty much built the Transcontinental Railroad. Or how Filipino American farmers in California were the first to walk off the grape fields, prompting the beginning of the Delano Grape Strike led by Cezar Chavez.1   

I can even remind everyone that Filipinos were the first Asians ever to set foot in the Americas. Most are told that the first colony in the United States was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 by English settlers. However 20 years prior to this, on October 18, 1587, Filipino sailors working on a Spanish ship arrived to what is now known as Morro Bay, California.


IF LIFE GIVES YOU MELONS, YOU MIGHT BE DYSLEXIC

The story I choose to tell today is one that many of my Filipino American may be aware of, but do not know much about it. After all, I had only known tidbits of it until our recent trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.

When I was in high school, I was at a party for one of my many distantly related Tita’s from my Dad’s side of my family. At that party was a cousin twice removed of my 5th aunt’s husband’s sister’s daughter’s son – oh who am I kidding … we’re all related somehow, aren’t we? Seriously though, I was speaking with a cousin of one of my cousin’s who lived in Mississippi. For some reason, we ended up talking about where many of the Filipino Communities are in North America. In the Metro Detroit area today, I’d say Bloomfield Hills, Sterling Heights, and Canton. This cousin mentioned cities in his area, but also mentioned that New Orleans had the largest Filipino Communities because that’s where the first Filipinos settled in North America.

To hear this information was a surprise for me. I always thought that it would be California or even New York, as that’s where most of my Gen-X friends’ parents or grandparents came into the US. Since then, I wanted to learn more about this. However, at that time, research involved things called encyclopedias or microfiches. It involved finding books utilizing the Dewey Decimal System after finding books by subject or author in things called card catalogues.2


THE EARLY BIRD CATCHES THE WORM …
BUT THE SECOND MOUSE GETS THE CHEESE

When our travels as Eclipse Chasers took us south to Arkansas this past April, Hubby and I decided to knock off a few more States on our quest to visit all 50 States and Louisiana was one of them. Both of us had been to New Orleans separately for work, but never together and not long enough to enjoy the city. I planned for us to stay three nights there, just so we can enjoy Crescent City at our leisure. While planning, I wanted to see if I could visit the area where the first Filipinos settled. Now that Google existed, I was able to find much more information about my heritage. And the first thing I found was astounding. 

Not only was New Orleans – or rather southern Louisiana – the first settlement of Filipinos in the Americas, but these Filipinos were one of the very first Asian American settlements in the Americas. Imagine that!


WHEN THE CAT’S AWAY, THE MICE WILL PLAY

So, here’s the story. Close to two centuries after that first landing in Morro Bay, Filipino sailors – again enslaved by Spain grew tired of their abuse and deserted the ships. They hid in the marshlands of Louisiana and eventually settled into a bayou about 30 miles southeast of New Orleans. The area was isolated, prone to storms and mosquito infested (much like many rural areas in the Philippines), but it was a perfect place to hide from the Spainards. They eventually became known as the Manilamen.

Along with other enslaved people and other people of color, the Manilamen built a small fishing village they called Saint Malo. They built small houses of wood and palmetto fronds on stilts, much like nipa huts or bahay kubo homes in the Philippines. They became skilled fishermen, as the lands – deeper into the wetlands than most were willing to travel or work, proved fertile for fish in the spring, shrimp in the summer, and oysters in the fall.

As fisherman, the Manilamen contributed to the local seafood industry (and eventually the entire region) to make Louisiana one of the largest exporters of shrimp nationwide. First, they used our methods of drying shrimp and smoking fish (tinapa!) to preserve food before the invention of refrigeration. Then the Manilamen revolutionized the shrimp drying industry by utilizing a method used in the Philippines to speed up the process of separating shrimp shells from its meat. This method, known as “Dancing the Shrimp,” did this by dancing and stomping on piles of shrimp in a circular motion. This made Saint Malo a wholesale market for local sea merchants. In later years, Filipinos in Louisiana thrived were well-known in the industry and eventually several shrimping facilities came to use the same method. 


YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER,
BUT YOU CAN JUDGE A PERSON BY THEIR SHOES

Because of its remote location and prime fishing spot, Saint Malo was often a port of departure for tourists wanting to go fishing further south into the shores towards the Gulf of Mexico. Though many local New Orleanians knew of the Manilamen, there was not much documented about them. 

However, stories in New Orleans about them – most of them folk lore — existed. It’s been mentioned in letters and journals that the Manilamen of Saint Malo were uncivilized and that the living conditions were uninhabitable. That there was no governance in their society – police, courts, laws, for example. The Manilamen were said to be savages as the village was made up of only tribal men. They had been described as prehistoric savages that despised women and would do great harm to any female they encountered. While it was true that the village was originally all Filipino men – as slaves from the Spanish ships that they fled from, the Manilamen did have wives and children. As they became more integrated with their local society, they would marry and raise families in New Orleans while staying at Saint Malo to work during the week.

Because of racist immigration laws such as the Nationality Act of 1790, Asian women were not allowed entry into the United States. In addition, there were racist laws that prohibited marriage between white and non-white people. And so the Manilamen instead married women from other communities of color. Many married into nearby Isleño, Cajun, and indigenous communities.


THE COCONUT DOES NOT FALL FAR FROM THE TREE

In the late 1800’s on the southern end of Louisiana, another group of Filipino fishermen and sailors lead by local fisherman Quintin de la Cruz, established Manila Village. It was one of several Filipino shrimp drying facilities in the area which also housed the workers and their families in nipa huts or bahay kubo homes around the edges of the shrimp drying platforms. Not far from Manila Village, a smaller version of Manila Village was built by a group of Filipinos led by John (Juan Roxas) Rojas called Clark Cheniere.

By the 1930’s the shrimp drying industry had reached their peak and improved methods of canning and refrigeration meant less manual labor was needed. In addition, storms were always a constant threat to the area which drove many families to higher grounds. Saint Malo was destroyed during the New Orleans Hurricane of 1915. A storm in 1947 destroyed most of Manila Village and in 1965, Hurricane Betsy flattened the entire village. Though not confirmed, I believe Clark Cheniere may have been destroyed during the same hurricane. 


BETTER LATE THAN NEVER, BUT NEVER LATE IS BETTER

So this is how on a hot April day, Hubby and I ended up at the Los Isleños Museum Complex in St Bernard LA, standing next to the historic marker for Saint Malo. After a lot of research on the interwebs, I stumbled upon the Filipino LA website which helps make the stories of Filipino Louisiana available to the public. This then led to finding about about Saint Malo, the Manilamen, and Manila Village. Further research led me to Louisiana State Markers and their locations. While Saint Malo no longer exists, a marker was set up in St Bernard Parish closest to where Saint Malo would have been.3

There are two other markers for Manila Village and Clark Cheniere located on Manila Plaza in front of Jean Lafitte Town Hall in Jefferson Parish. I wish we had more time, but we couldn’t drive to both locations within the time frame that we were in New Orleans. 


WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE CALAMANSI JUICE

While in New Orleans proper, we did make a visit to the NPS French Quarter Visitor Center. The displays went through the history of New Orleans and how it became an important port of call in the trade industry. They talked about the lands and the population and its indigenous population. It also spoke of its Creole, Spanish, and French history … but no mention of any Filipino history.

Strange, I thought. Especially since the research I did indicated that Filipinos played a huge part of the New Orleans and Louisiana history. Of course I had to ask one of the park rangers about this. To my surprise, they were well aware of the history of the Maniliamen and Manila Village. Both park rangers talked about how they used to have a huge display about the Filipino contributions to the region. They even talked about the “Dancing the Shrimp” method and the houses on stilts.  Apparently a few years back, they revamped the displays in that visitor center and most of the Filipino displays were removed.

Reflecting on it now, the markers for Manila Village and Clark Cheniere were close to the NPS Bataria Preserve within the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve. This would have probably taken us closer to where the villages were at. And perhaps this visitor center would’ve had more information about Filipinos in Louisiana. Maybe on another trip we will get down there to visit it. D’oh!


IF THE SHOE FITS, WEAR IT

If you are Filipino and are ever in The Big Easy, Crescent City, NOLA, Nawlins, Birthplace of Jazz, or any other name you’d like to call New Orleans, I highly recommend checking these places out. There isn’t much to see, but knowing that your ancestors had been one of the first Asian Americans to settle in the Americas at that location is pretty damn cool.


PS. Hope you enjoyed the titles of each section 😂 Most of my Filipino American friends would know that these are phrases many of our parents have used on us in the past

  1. Only after being prompted by the Filipino Union Leader that led the first strike, Larry Itliong ↩︎
  2. Basically it was way before the advent of the internet and AOL or AltaVista or AskJeeves. If you don’t know any of those search engines then you are definitely Gen-Y ↩︎
  3. Of note, Islenos are descendents of colonists of Spanish Louisiana between 1778 and 1783 who were primarly from the Canary Islands and intermarried with other communities such as Filipinos, French, Creoles, and Hispanic Americans. This is why the Saint Malo marker is at the Los Islenos Museum Complex. ↩︎

The One Where Emily Can’t Be Silent or Model Anymore

Here. Hold my Asian American Teacup
Part Five: Last post in my ongoing series about Asian Americans
(Part One begins here)

If there is anything “good” to come from Asian stereotypes, it’s that most Asian ethnicities practice (for the most part) patience and respect for others; they believe that family is important above all else (with maybe the exception of religion). Perhaps it has to do with China being one of the oldest civilizations in the world that this trait had passed on to each ethnicity, but there is no doubt that certain mindfulness techniques (meditation, yoga, tai chi, for example) have derived from these Asian practices. [i]  

I find it ironic that Western culture has latched onto these techniques; with gusto over the past several years, may I add. Yoga studios everywhere. Tai Chi being offered at Community Centers. Mindfulness techniques through meditation (think Headspace, Insight Timer, Calm). Which I think is a good thing; we all have to find a way to cope with anxiety and stress.

Then you have movies & TV shows, where they make (or in some cases remake) movies without using the appropriate actors. Hollywood has been notorious for “white-washing” many characters that should be Asian.

The release of the movie version [ii] of “Crazy Rich Asians” in 2018 was the first movie since the All-Asian, English-speaking cast of 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club.” That’s a 25-year difference and should give anyone an idea of how much Asian disparity there is in Hollywood-produced films.

Marvel Studios faced criticism from Asian Americans when Tilda Swinton was cast as The Ancient One in “Dr. Strange.” Whereas in the Marvel Comics, The Ancient One is a Tibetan man living in a hidden village on the Himalayan mountains. Swinton’s portrayal; however, is believed to be an androgynous Celtic woman.

There’s the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the main character in the Japanese manga & movie, 2017’s “Ghost in The Shell.” David Carradine’s “Kung Fu” series that ran from 1972 to 1975. [iii]  Or the 2015 movies “Aloha” which stars Emma Stone as Allison Ng in “Aloha.” And “The Great Wall” where Matt Damon is depicted as the “white savior.”

As for the OG “Karate Kid” movies, I must say that – as 80’s as it was – at least they got the ethnicity correct (Japanese) with Mr. Miyagi. But the same can’t be said for the remake. That movie was based in China, when Karate is Japanese. Although, these days English-speaking individuals tend to use Karate for any or all Asian martial arts.

The most reviled “yellow face” in movies is Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”  Mr.  Rooney was cast as Mr. Yunioshi, the bumbling “oriental” (there’s that word again!) of Japanese descent. Time period or not, there are still recent movies utilize something called Orientalism (a whole litany of that word!).

By definition, Orientalism is the way the Western world perceives Asia; where the concept of one’s ideas of an Asian person both exaggerates and distorts the Asian culture to define the differences between their white culture. It’s seen as a means to reinforce the positive image that non-Asians have of themselves while – at the same time – portraying Asians as odd, baffling, and sometimes barbaric. It’s a notion that the Western world is the epitome of humanity and that their morality, progress, power is superior to no one else. They see the Eastern world as a direct opposite of their “New World” ideals.

That said, patience and respect is something that all Asian & Asian Americans are taught at an early age.  We are taught to respect our elders and recognize “hard work” as a way of success. We are taught in a subtle way to practice empathy; though it usually is disguised as being called “selfish.” [iv]

High School Graduation (with honors, of course)

Most first-generation Asian Americans are taught that we should assimilate to American culture. Many of which were never taught their native language (<waves hand>) for fear that it would confuse (in my case) Tagalog with American English. In the case of many half-generation Asian Americans, they may be old enough to understand and/or speak in their native tongue. However, many are taught to only speak English at home; to practice the language to sound less like a foreigner with an accent. [v]

In particular, first-generation Asian Americans are taught to not “make waves.” That we shouldn’t cause a scene or make an issue about actions or behaviors that would ostracize their family and/or their culture.  Meanwhile, in American culture, making waves is something more like making progress and/or change. [vi]

For those reasons (and many more), Asians & Asian Americans are seen and referred to as the Silent Minority.” By definition, silent minority is a small number of people within a demographic group, or even the entire group (in this case, Asian & Asian Americans) who do – or rather will not – express their opinions publicly.

By doing this, the Silent Minority individual(s) choose to disassociate themselves from other groups (other ethnicities including Caucasians) on any hotly debated issue such as political or religious discussions, for example. They choose to be an inactive bystander by remaining neutral and not siding with either end of any particular topic.

In other words, it’s seen as a reason not to “rock the boat” while simultaneously showing that they are willing to assimilate to the American culture in order to be accepted.  

There is another term that coexists with Silent Minority; one that likely encompasses what their silence is hoping to achieve. Model Minority is defined as a minority group whose members (let’s say in this case, Asian Americans) wish to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic or professional success in order to prove they are willing and able to be part of mainstream society.

For example, they strive for higher education believing that this will result in a prominent profession in which they can be a respected leader. They try to assimilate to remain neutral on hot topics (Silent Minority). They aim for a higher place in the socioeconomic ladder of the Western world so that they’d no longer feel judged by who (their ethnicity) and what (values, cultural practices, for instance) they are.

Still the dutiful daughter; always studying even at University despite the ongoing distractions

It’s these reasons that White America identify Asian Americans as a “model” for other ethnicities. This stem from their perception that Asian Americans we are less of a “threat” to their society by remaining neutral. They assume that Asian Americans do not want to share their thought on topics like racism, politics, and religion. They expect that Asian Americans will NOT speak up or participate in certain events. For example, the #MeToo organization. The #HumanRights, #LGBTQ, and #LoveIsLove campaigns. The #BlackLivesMatter and #SocialJustice movement. [vii]

Though white America believes that it’s a compliment to be labeled as a “model minority,” most Asian Americans (even if they remain silent) do not.

Asian Americans, especially GenX (and beyond), see this as an excuse to justify the exclusion of minorities as well as marginalize any individual success within a minority group (Prime example: “Asians are ALL smart”). Furthermore, this concept of being a Model Minority ultimately results in other marginalized groups pitting themselves against each other; where one groups believes they are able to assimilate and/or or be accepted into the American mainstream than the other group(s).

To me, this illustrates the reason why many of our immigrant parents (and other families & friends), remain neutral / side with popular white America. And why, despite being minorities themselves, they perceive all other ethnicities (Asian-, African- Americans and Latinos, for example) as being inferior to them. Much like how white America deems everyone inferior to them.

Personally, I find it pitiful that white America feels they need to set other minority groups against each other. This shameful behavior belongs in the middle school playground; not in the adult world. [viii]

What’s that term? Divide and conquer?

Look back at history, specifically the periods of civil unrest, the increase in hate crimes, and the onset of excessive verbal abuse from white America happened at a time of fear. Specifically, the fear that non-white Americans are a threat to their way of life. Fear of unemployment; of having their jobs “replaced” with a person who does not look like them. Fear of being “taken over” by other minorities.

Just like they feared the Filipino farm workers in Stockton were taking their jobs (and their women) from them. Or how during WWII, Japanese Americans were considered a threat to national security. Or how Vincent Chin died because two laid-off white autoworkers felt that any Asian (regardless of ethnicity) was responsible for the economic downfall of the Big Three.

Just like the 91-yo Filipino American in Oakland, CA seen by circuit TV was thrown to the ground. And the Asian American New Yorkers who have been spit on and verbally abused on the subways and streets of NYC.

Or the 83-yo Chinese woman in San Francisco who was punched without provocation and fought back. [ix] Additionally, she insisted that the remaining donations (around $900K) on GoFundMe given back to the AAPI community to combat racism and hate crimes. How’s that for a gesture of good will?

Just like the 8 people (six of them Asian) that were fatally shot at two different Asian spas by a 21-yo male with a supposed porn addiction. And the subsequent statement from the Chief of Police who marginalized those deaths by saying that he was just having a “really bad day.”

Again, all these incidents stem from fear and are perpetuated by stereotypes. All of these activities continue to occur because of anger. This anger ultimately surfaces with hate and hate crimes.

This is the moment where I state my favorite quote. This quote, IMHO, is a perfect analogy [x] on how hate crimes begin and its resulting outcomes.  And yes, it’s from the very wise, 990-year-old Grand-master Jedi, Yoda.

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side.
Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate.
Hate leads to suffering.”

This is why I choose to speak up about Asian-American Hate Crimes, especially its part in US history. I feel it’s important for every resident in US to realize that Asians (and other non-white Americans), have always been seen as inferior to white person. That even though over the last 6 years, there has been a 150% increase in Asian Hate Crimes, these sentiments, behaviors, and actions have existed here in the US as far back as 1587 when Filipinos took those first steps in present-day Morro Bay, CA 33 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. And most definitely occurred before 1776, when the Declaration of Independence, which states that All men are created equal was signed.[xi]

I’m speaking up about Model Minority because it pits Asian Americans and other ethnic groups against each other. Because it marginalizes any success that we achieve. Because it no longer pays to “assimilate” or strive to be better than other ethnicities. Because White America will always see us as inferior to them.

Because even though we’re acceptable, we are not accepted.

I’m speaking up because I no longer want to be a Silent Minority. I want it known that white America’s ethnically related behaviors and actions cause suffering. That this suffering not only affects Asian Americans but the United States as a whole [xii]  And like many 1st & 2nd generations of Asian Americans, we want our voices to be heard.

We want to talk and debate about the disparities and inequities in OUR country. We want to discuss how Asian Americans and all other minority groups want social justice, equity, and equality for everyone in the US, regardless of race, religion, economic status, sex, gender, marriage, identity, etc

I’m speaking up because I want to help #StopAsianHate

I hope you take all that I’ve written to heart. My wish is that you pass on this knowledge to the next person and the next person and the next person. Because, if we don’t TALK ABOUT IT, nothing will ever change. And history, once again, would be doomed to repeated.

<Drops mic and walks off Soapbox>


[i] Now before you say that yoga derived from India and meditation had its beginnings as an Islam practice, both are rooted in Asian culture, as India and Saudi Arabia (where Islam began) are part of the Asian continent.

[ii] IMHO the movie, though very entertaining, does not compare to reading the book. (Although the mahjong scene at the end was a great addition.)

[iii] Though syndication of “Kung Fu” had even us 80’s kids watching it

[iv] Who am I kidding? Not only are we taught that we’re selfish as kids, but that thought of “being selfish” extends to our adult lives.

[v] Never mind that the parents still speak their language to you, you still had to respond in English

[vi] Does the whole “feeling I’m split in two make more sense now?

[vii] Seriously, I could go on and on and on …

[viii] NEWSFLASH: They will continue to do this unless something CHANGES. Which means talking about it.

[ix] Don’t mess with any Asian-American woman. We may look docile and agreeable, but – if pushed hard enough (both literally AND figuratively) – we strike back!

[x] Then again, this quote can be used in any situation

[xi] It also said that we have the right to vote. Thomas Jefferson when writing & signing the Declaration of Independence wrote, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.” Just saying …

[xii] Think of why America was called “The Melting Pot” and why our Statue of Liberty reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus

The One Where Emily Hates Stereotypes

I’m not smart, but I am a nurse!
Part Four in my ongoing series about Asian Americans
(Part One begins here)

I brought up the Vincent Chin incident in the previous post, because after finally opening my eyes to racial disparity at the age of 14, I became self-conscious of being Filipino American. Especially as this country perceives Asians as “different” – or rather, “inferior” – to them.

I’m sure most of you know that Hubby is also Filipino American; he was born in Manila, but came to the US.  Being only 5 at that time, most of his upbringing has mirrored those of a first generation Filipino American. [i]

Growing up, I didn’t think I would marry another Filipino. In my eyes, I naively thought that in order to “assimilate” to the US culture, I would have to marry a non-Filipino. Yes, I realize how silly that sounds. Then I met Hubby and realized that it didn’t matter what ethnicity my spouse would be. What mattered was that my spouse would be my best friend and partner-in-crime with every adventure we would take.

Unsurprisingly, most non-Asian people automatically think that Hubby and I are “fresh of the boat.”[ii] We especially experience this when we’re somewhere we don’t visit often enough for people to at least recognize us. Typically, it’s while shopping further away from home, but especially when we’re out of town.

We notice the stares from others for being the only Asians in their area. We get suspicious looks when at any store or restaurant, almost as if they’re saying, “Who ARE those people and WHY are they here?” We get surprised looks when we speak very clear English. [iii]

Then there’s the flip side: Individuals who think they know everything about Asian Culture. They’re typically the ones that introduce themselves with, “Where are you from?” Yet despite telling them that I’m from Detroit, they continue to ask other insane questions like, “I mean, where are you originally from?” or “Where are your parents from?” It’s as if they have a hard time saying, “What is your ethnicity?”

Once they get the appropriate answer, these individuals (I refer to them as ATA’s) [iv] tend to say one of two things: “I knew you were Filipino,” followed by mentioning some other random Filipino celebrity (Pacquiao, for example) followed by some random Tagalog phrase. OR they are disappointed because they have a “really close friend that is <insert any Asian ethnicity>” and I’m sure you probably know him/her.”

Seriously, look it up on YouTube.  There are TONS of parodies about this exact situation. Or listen to Ruby Ibera’s Circa91 album [v] – the entire thing. There are quite a few interludes between songs (think of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill“) that are totally worth listening to, that provide a great example of growing up Asian American.

And then there are the stereotypes about Asians. Yes, I know every ethnicity / culture has them, [vi] and I’m sure you’re quite familiar with all of them as well. But FFS, let me respond to these stereotypes.

All Asians are NOT smart. They are NOT all doctors, nurses, engineers, or accountants. All Asians do NOT pass every test with A’s. [vii]

On the flip side, not all Asians are “lazy” and “don’t want to better themselves.” Yes, they may take on low-paying jobs — several at once, may I add — in order to provide a better life for themselves. If not for them, then certainly their children, parents, or siblings either here in the US or back home in their native land. They want to make sure that their family becomes successful because they DO NOT want them to take “dead end jobs.” They want them to have a profession with the ability to climb a career ladder.

No, they do NOT take up your slot in a university that you applied to. Or leadership positions, private business, job opportunity, for example. If anything, Asians often have to fight harder for what non-Asian persons have. Some of which entails omitting ethnicity to avoid being treated unjustly.

Not all Asians are “smart with their money” or “cheap” or “trying to low-ball you.” They are not “always trying to work a deal.” Not all Asians have nail salons, Asian grocery or party stores, or Chinese or Thai restaurants. Not all Asians eat dog meat.

Most of all (as of recently, that’s for sure), not ALL Asians are purposefully making “cheap” or “defective” clothing or electronics. Not ALL Asian countries are trying to sell you fake masks or other PPE.

And Asians are NOT purposefully trying to create a pandemic throughout the world by releasing a deadly virus that (thanks to the former “leader” of the free world) has been nicknamed “The China Virus” or “Kung Flu.”

Do you — as a human being — REALLY think that an entire ethnic group is THAT heartless and apathetic to the rest of the world? If so, then (IMHO) it takes one to know one.

Harsh, I know. But if the tables were turned and any other ethnicity / culture was saying things about Americans, imagine how you would feel.

I specifically mean words; not emotion. We already are bombarded with “you’re not patriotic” or “Go back home / to your own country.” As it is now, many Asian Americans feel that they are viewed as a “forever foreigner” despite being a US citizen by birthright. And yes, we are as “Patriotic” as any US citizen would be, regardless of any emotions (anger, hate) and actions (hate crimes, insurrection). [viii]

How would you respond if someone threw microaggressions [ix] your way? What would you want to DO about it? How would you defend your culture?

I ask these questions only to emphasize that Asians and Asian-Americans are constantly having to prove their worth in America.

And again, I want to emphasize that these actions & behaviors did not start at the onset of COVID-19, or even after the 2016 Election.

These actions, those words, the exclusion … they have been happening for decades.


[i] Kids under the age of 12 that immigrate are usually referred to as half-generation Asian Americans.

[ii] Fresh of the Boat (or “FOB” as most Asian Americans say). This refers to being new to America. “Boat” is used in reference to having traveled by the Trans-Pacific Ocean Liner. Many parents of 1st Gen Asian Americans born before the mid-80’s were FOBS, since Air Travel was very new at the time and expensive at that time. Now, the “B” has been known to replace “Boat” with “Boeing.”

[iii] I was constantly told that they (patients, families, friends of families) were surprised that I spoke English. I’ve even had some remark that they couldn’t understand me because my accent was so thick. Let me remind you, I grew up here. I don’t know Tagolog (the Filipino language). I speak perfectly clear English, thank you very much!

[iv] People that love “All Things Asian”

[v] IMHO Ruby Ibarra’s track, “Us” should be an anthem for every Filipina American girl out there.

[vi] Remember how I said — er, rather wrote that other countries view a “Typical American” as selfish, brash, and loud?

[vii] Prime example: I barely made it into Nursing School at Oakland University because I was one point away from failing my Microbiology prerequisite class.

[viii] And by “Patriotic,” I mean show and have pride for our country. Not the type of patriotism that believes “America needs to stay the same and not move forward” and/or “America is not the same way it used to be,” or “Change is a bad thing.” And certainly not the type of patriotism that promotes violence amongst its own people and government, More on this in the next (and final) post.

[ix] Microaggressions are “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group.

Here are a few examples of micro-aggressive statements:

      • “Well, you didn’t grow up here in America, so you wouldn’t understand.”
      • “Huh, you don’t have an accent.”
      • “You should know. You’re <insert random Asian ethnicity> and you’re are all smart.”
      • “Can you read this <random ethnic restaurant>’s menu?”
      • “He/She <points to Asian friend> would know more about these things because he/she is Asian.

The One Where Emily Reflects on Asian-American Experiences

Random Acts of Crime-ness
Part Three in my ongoing series about Asian Americans

(Part One begins here)

I’m back like a bad habit. But as you can see, I’ve had a lot of emotions about being Filipino-American bundled inside me for many years. I figured that since I had a captive (??) audience, I could give you other experiences I’ve encountered. Take it as you would, my point in telling you these stories is to make others aware of what happens when you’ve been judged solely on the color of your skin and what your ethnicity is.

Let’s start out with the most recent incident. Three weeks ago, Hubby and I headed out to run some errands. It was strangely very sunny on this blustery day which made the scratch on our car much more apparent.

We knew for sure that scratch, extending from wheel to wheel on the driver’s side, was NOT there two days ago when we did our weekly grocery run. At first, we thought that a runaway grocery cart produced this scratch. However, on further inspection, it looked like someone deliberately took his/her key and ran it on our car as he/she was walking away.

TBH, Hubby and I tried not to read into things, but given the amount of violence against Asians these days, you never know. A person may have seen us exit our car and saw that we were Asian. Or they may have looked at my Subaru Forester be disgusted that it wasn’t an American car. Either way, it was more annoying, rather than unsettling; which is what I think this petty person was hoping to achieve.

Shortly after the 2016 Presidential Election, I never experienced so much vitriol and hate from another person. Since then, I’ve been told to go back to my own country several times.[i]  I’ve had several racial slurs directed at me[ii], though they could never get the actual ethnicity correct. I’ve cringed at news about racial disparity more so than I had in the past. It seemed as if the results of the 2016 Election gave others permission to spew such hate.[iii]  But let’s face it; prior to 2016 these type of Hate crimes for Asian Americans and any marginalized minority group have occurred throughout the history of America. In fact, I’ve had several instances where I was consciously aware that I was being “profiled;” of being the recipient of micro-aggressions.

As I mentioned before, I became consciously aware in high school that there were people in the world that saw and treated me inferior to them. After that realization, I began to reflect on other instances where I may have been singled out just because I was Asian.

Muffin
Here is “Early 80’s Emily”with our family beagle, Muffin

One of them was a popular childhood chant that aimed at Asian-Americans of Chinese or Japanese descent. While I won’t repeat it, it infers that these people had “dirty knees” and was therefore unclean. I remember certain classmates squinting their eyes while using their hands to perpetuate the stereotype that Chinese eyes slant upwards, while the Japanese eyes slant downwards.

The irony is that this rhyme speaks volumes about the exclusion of Asian Americans in the US. It’s a direct reference to the living conditions where Asian Americans lived. This silly childhood rhyme reveals the exclusion of Asian Americans by refusing to supply government services such as water and to the area where they reside.[iv]  Sadly, by passing this childhood rhyme down to kids, it continues to teach the next generation of children that exclusion is good.  It perpetuates their belief that Asians were inferior to Caucasians in America.

Around that same time period (specifically in June 1982), a young man named Vincent Chin was a victim of a hate crime, resulting in his death four days later. He was bludgeoned with a baseball bat.

This became national news at the time, yet I was oblivious to it until 1987 (the year I started *that* job) when Ron Ebens was cleared of any federal crime. That summer, I read everything I could about Vincent Chin’s death. I also tried to find information about other racially-motivated hate crimes. Sadly, at that time, my only way of obtaining information was to go to the library and use an *actual* card catalog to flip through random cards by various authors or subjects. The selection of books was very slim.

Chin Memorial FerndaleIf you can recall, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the auto industry was in a slow, unequivocal free fall. The energy crisis had hit the industry particularly hard. Since Detroit is known as the “Motor City,” the birthplace of mass-produced cars, many autoworkers were facing wage-cuts and/or job eliminations.

In contrast, the Japanese auto industry was booming. Many Americans outside the auto industry were purchasing Hondas or Toyotas or Mazdas; Japanese brands that they felt were more efficient on gas and didn’t require as much maintenance or use as much gas as the Big Three[v] cars did.

Leading up to June of 1982 there was obvious animosity towards all Asian Americans. The encounter between Chin and Ebens & stepson, Michael Nitz began at a club.  Ebens called out to Chin, specifically stating, “It’s because of you little the m*therf*kers that we’re out of work.” Ebens, was clearly lumping Chin, a Chinese American, as a Japanese American.

A brawl ensued between the three resulted in the club’s security throwing al of them  out on the street. Chin made the mistake of challenging Ebens & Nitz to another fight. At that point, Ebens grabbed a baseball bat from Nitz’s car and both began to chase after Chin, who ran away on foot.

Ebens & Nitz spent 20 minutes looking for Chin, even paying another man $20 to help them find him. Chin was eventually found at a McDonald’s location close by. Nitz held Chin down as Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Chin with the bat until his head split open. Sadly, Chin died 4 days later, never having gained consciousness. He was due to marry his fiancé later at the end of June.

A 1984 federal civil rights case against the men determined that Ebens was guilty; he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Nitz was acquitted. In 1987, a retrial for Ebens (who’s conviction was overturned in 1986) was moved from Detroit to Cincinnati due to the publicity of this trial. At this trial, the Cincinnati jury cleared Ebens of all federal charges. Ebens never spent a night in prison.

As a result, the case is viewed as the critical turning point for Asian-American civil rights engagement. It also became a rallying cry to the federal government for the need for stronger federal hate crime legislation. In 1999, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act became federal law.

Today, there remains a memorial plaque placed on Woodward Avenue’s median just east of 9 Mile Road in Ferndale; where Chin worked at Golden Star Chinese Restaurant where he worked.[vi]  Not many Detroiters are aware of this plaque, thus indicating that Vincent Chin has been all but forgotten. At least until recently.

Vincent Chin is far from being the only instance of Asian American hate crimes. In 1975, Peter Yew was a victim of police brutality from the NYPD. The Stockton Schoolyard Massacre of 1989, where media and government focused on the need for better gun control; barely mentioning the deaths of five Vietnamese children in a mostly-Vietnamese elementary school. Hung Truon, a 15-yo Vietnamese boy from Katy, TX was kicked to death in 1991 by two teenagers while repeatedly shouting, “White Power.”

Then there’s Jim (Ming Hai) Loo, who in July 1989 – only two years after Ebens’ trial – who’s death was eerily similar to that Vincent Chin.

The reason why Vincent Chin’s story is still being told 40+ years later is not because of his death.[vii]  Rather, it remains the most prominent example of a modern day, post-civil rights, racially-motivated hate crime. This happened more that 30 years after the events in Little Manila; yet the reason behind such hate remains the same.

And it continues to this day

 


[i] Which I find ironic seeing that I was born here and AM in my own country

[ii] Also funny since they could never get the actual ethnicity correct. Am I Chinese? Am I Thai? Am I Latino? Yes, I’ve been mistaken for Latina several times that people have asked me if I can translate Spanish to English for them.

[iii] Basically, the government refused Asian Americans their basic Human Rights.

[iv] Lead by example, I’ve been taught. Sadly, the leadership at that time was heavily promoting bigotry, misogyny, disparity, identity, equity and other issues.

[v] For those unfamiliar, the Big Three are Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

[vi] Currently Imperial Restaurant, known for their street-tacos (see it in the background?)

[vii] Nor is it simply due to recent hate crimes affecting Asian Americans


The One Where Emily Gives a History Lesson

Roadtrips, Internment, and Vandalism, Oh My!
Part Two in my ongoing series about Asian Americans
(Part One begins here)

It’s funny about history. When we look back, we can recognize that many historical events occurred during times of uncertainty and fear. Most wars have been based on anger, hatred, and (let’s face it) ideas or goals are different and that one feels that their own is important. It’s based on fear of the unknown; the uncertainty of what may happen next. Take, for example, the Japanese Internment camps.

On our 2017 West Coast Road Trip, Hubby & I planned a stop at the Minidoka National Site in Jerome, ID on the drive home. We both wanted to understand why this country would take Japanese Americans away their homes and businesses for the “safety of America.” Why this country would force them into remote areas that were not suitable for doing anything else but farm. Why did they fear that all Japanese were spies for Japan?

While walking around the site, we saw one of the tar paper-covered barracks where these Japanese Americans lived. Each barrack was divided into small rooms where an entire family (sometimes as large as 8) were expected to sleep and eat.

As Minidoka was hastily constructed and incomplete, many of these barracks would fall apart.  The type of wood used to construct the barracks shrank over time, bringing about structural imbalance which could cause them to shift or sink. The tar paper easily ripped apart, leaving some with no privacy. 

We saw what the internees’ daily life would entail. Providing unpaid labor to complete the camp under the military commander’s order is one example. They also learned to farm in order to provide sustenance for themselves is another example. For entertainment (and only in the warmer months), they would play baseball on a field that they made. Imagine having to build your own prison and then farm for your meals. While I can never experience what they went through, I was so angry that a “civilized” nation would do this to their own citizens.

After the war, these Japanese Americans were “released.” Yet since they had been forced to vacate their homes and abandon their lives (within two weeks or less) prior to being incarcerated, they had no longer had a “home.” Despite being given a small stipend to “restart” their lives, most found their homes occupied, their businesses taken over. For that reason, many of these internees wished to stay on the land.

These Japanese Americans knew that their jobs were taken and they would face discrimination when trying to find a new job or start a business. Many of them knew nothing outside the camp as they were interned at a young age. They never knew what life was like outside the camp. Most of these younger Japanese Americans only knew how to farm potatoes (they were in Idaho, after all), so they saw purchasing the land that they lived on as an opportunity to “reset” their lives. Yet, despite the request to purchase the land, they were never even given the opportunity to bid for it. Instead, the US Federal Government allotted the land for white WWII vets.

Much of Minidoka is now bereft. All but two tar paper-covered barracks remain, but the guard towers, and most of the barbed-wire fences are now gone. Today, this land is considered a part of the National Parks Service and is registered as a  National Historic Site.

Every time I reflect back on that visit, I also remember that day in grade school where we learned about the European concentration camps. I remember being told that over 6 million persons of Jewish descent were forced to uproot their lives and placed in those camps. And how close to 2 million had died in one simply because of who they were and could not change. I remember how horrified my entire class was to learn that this happened before and during WWII. And how it’s been considered a taboo topic, yet everyone throughout the world acknowledges that that it happened. [i]

(And before I say what I’m going to say, let me be very explicit that I – by no means – am comparing these events with one another. Nor am I trying to undermine what happened in Europe. My hope is that you continue reading with an open mind.)

I find it interesting that more Americans remember what happened in Europe. And I realize that talking about Japanese Internment Camps are also a taboo subject. I just find it – what’s the word – disheartening that, to this day, many Americans don’t know about these camps [ii] nor do they acknowledge (or want to acknowledge) that America also disrupted the lives of its own residents because of something they cannot change.

Take a moment to reflect on that. And then, even though it’s taboo, talk about it. Educate others. Read more about it. This, to me would be one way of acknowledging that Minidoka and the 10 other Japanese Internment camps existed. And point out that we, as US citizens essentially did the same to Japanese Americans that Germany did (albeit, much more extensively) in Europe.

Our next trip out west will be a stop in Seattle. [iii] We want to see the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial; a city where most of the Japanese Americans from Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, were sent to prior to being shuttled by bus (with the shades pulled down) or train to Minidoka. We want to learn more about this period of American History that hasn’t been readily taught in schools.


On that same trip, Hubby & I made a side trip to visit the Little Manila Center in Stockton, CA. On the drive out west, we heard news about vandalism to the front entrance of the Center. Words like “whittie” and “bigotted” were scrawled onto the windows (later to be to be interpreted as “white property, you’re a brainwashed bigot”).

Included in the vandalism were display banners, which were put up to celebrate Filipino American History Month. What was more damaging was the loss of donated photographs from a time in history where Stockton was the largest Filipino community in the United States. Though many viewed this as a hate crime, ultimately local authority ruled it simply as an “act of vandalism,” which is a felony charge if damages exceeded $400. [iv] No one was ever caught.

When we arrived, we were greeted by the Co-founder and Executive Director of Little Manila Rising, Dillon Delvo. Despite being in the midst of a group Zoom meeting, Dillon was gracious enough to provide us with a one-on-one tour of the Center and stories behind many of the artifacts displayed. He painted a vivid picture about the lives of Filipinos in 1920-1960’s Stockton that I will never forget.

For instance, did you know that Filipinos were the first to set foot in what would eventually be Morro Bay, CA 33 years before Pilgrims from England arrived at Plymouth Rock? Mind you, they came over as low-paying servants of a Spanish fleet trying to establish a trade route from Cebu, Philippines to Acapulco, Mexico. This landing happened on October 18, 1587 which is why October is known as Filipino American History Month throughout the US.

More importantly was the story of how downtown Stockton came to be known as Little Manila. In the 1920’s and 30’s, Stockton became a popular destination for young, single, Filipino men who came to be referred as “manongs” [v] who migrated to the area for promises of a job as a farm labor and a good wage.  These men came to the US in order to establish a better life for their family back home. Unfortunately, the wages were cheap and the labor was, at times, unbearable under the California sun.

Due to “laws” that only allowed Filipino men to immigrate, [vi] there were no Filipina women in the area. Stockton became a central place for other manongs to reconnect with friends from the same province. Filipino shops lined the streets to help them feel at home. Many of them would come to drink the bars and gamble at gambling dens, spending what little wage they earned. Many of them had a room in the Filipino Federation Building and stayed there until they were able to find (and afford) their own place.

At the Filipino Federation Building they often held social events with dancing and singing. Many of the local white women would attend these dances, as the Filipinos in Stockton were good dancers. Obviously, this made other non-Filipino men angry, claiming that it was against the law and forbade any Stockton women to go to Little Manila or be seen with a Filipino. From there, local places in the city began hanging up signs stating, “No Filipinos Allowed.”

Looking back at this time period, the Anti-Filipino sentiment likely stemmed from the lack of job opportunities during the Dust Bowl era and the Great Depression. Migrant workers feared that the Filipinos, known for their hard work ethics, were stealing their jobs. Aggression from white nativists in this time period was plentiful for all non-white persons, which produced fear that Filipinos were taking over the land that the believed was rightfully theirs. [vii]

The first recorded incident of violence against Filipinos in the US happened on New Year’s Eve 1926, where “Eight whites and Filipinos were stabbed and beaten when white men entered Little Manila’s hotels and pool halls.” They were, according to news reports, “looking for Filipinos to attack.”

On January 29, 1930, a white mob bombed the Filipino Federation Building.  Local papers wrote about how “whites in an automobile hurled a bomb into the building, blowing the façade clear across the street and throwing occupants of the club from their beds.”

Incidents as those happened quite readily (one reported that a group of 22 white men spent 5 days looking for Filipinos to shoot) until WWII when Filipino Military and Filipino Americans who signed up for duty suddenly became allies by fighting alongside in battles. Yet, despite being “allies,” Filipinos and other Asian immigrants were deemed “inferior” to the whites. That sentiment still applies today; and the violence to Asians & Asian Americans of late is proof that this remains an issue.

Here’s another little-known fact: Did you know that Filipino Americans in California led the way in unionization efforts amongst ALL immigrant farm workers in the 1930s and 40s? In fact, Larry Itliong, a Filipino union leader was the driving force behind the famous Delano Grape Strike, yet Cesar Chavez is the one that was given credit for starting the strike.

In fact, Filipino farm workers were the first to walk off the grape fields establishing this famous strike. Other ethnic farm workers did not join as they were afraid of retribution from the owners. Itliong then appealed to Chavez & his fellow Mexican laborers and other ethnicities to join the strike. Unfortunately, Chavez became the face of the Delano Grape Strike and Itliong’s important role was overshadowed. [viii]

There’s not much left of the original Little Manila. In the 1950s and 1960s, large sections of Little Manila were bulldozed by the city to “improve” the look of the downtown area. There are no streets named after Itliong; [ix] though there are for Cesar Chavez throughout the country. Other than a street post with a sign to mark a historic site, there is no real evidence of Little Manila in Stockton. The space in which the largest number of Filipino Americans lived was replaced by a freeway, displacing many Filipino homes and establishments.

In fact, before hearing about the vandalism in Stockton on our road trip out west, we were already informed that Little Manila Rising was trying to save the last large lot of what was Little Manila. Unfortunately, they were not successful and a McDonald’s restaurant replaced the once historic site.

Most recently the Rizal Social Club succumbed to demolition. Little Manila Rising were first notified about the city’s plan to bulldoze the building down in mid-July of 2020. The demolition was scheduled for the end of that month, despite ongoing talks within the City Council. Advocates for Little Manila managed to get an extension into the end of August, but the cost of repairing the damage to the building would have left them with no funds to keep the Little Manila Center open. On October 22, 2020 the Rizal Social Club building was torn down.


I’m sharing all these examples because it’s important everyone knows that America has a long history of marginalizing other ethnicities. From the beginnings of colonizing North America, through the Great Depression. From the Delano Grape Strike to removing Filipino American history by destroying important landmarks. This can be said of every Asian ethnicity.

In fact, many Chinatowns, Koreatowns, et al had been destroyed over the years with the guise of “improving the city.” Detroit’s original Chinatown had been demolished in the 60’s to make way for the Fisher Freeway. Currently the majority of the former Chinatown is now the MGM Casino.

Instead, the City moved Detroit’s Chinatown further northeast to the Cass Corridor. This left Chinese American residents without a home and a job. Anyone who has driven through the Cass Corridor in the mid-80’s to the 2000’s knows that it was not a very welcoming neighborhood. Although Wayne State University [x] is just blocks away and Woodward Avenue just one block east, not many Asian Americans of my generation and on had ever been interested in touring the area, simply because we were too young to remember what Detroit’s Chinatown may have looked like.

Today, Cass Corridor has been “revived.” Restaurants and bars have opened up in the area. New condo buildings replaced older homes & businesses in disrepair. There is even a frickin’ Whole Foods Market just a block away from Cass Ave. Yet there is little to show that this used to be Detroit’s 2nd Chinatown; mainly because all the Chinese Americans left.


After visiting Stockton and Minidoka, I do believe that “beautifying” the land / city, is one of the many ways that try to erase parts of white American History that we “don’t like” or even remember. The point of American History is to remember these types of circumstances; even more so, understand the context behind these events. And talk / write / debate about these events. If we fail to remember or even speak about it, then that history will disappear. That is certainly what’s occurring today, as many fail to remember (or refuse to learn about) these events and the circumstances behind them. As the quote says, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

Our previous president’s is a prime example of someone that refuses to understand context, or that actions all have circumstances. During the 2020 Presidential campaigns and in response to the New York Times’ (NYT) 1619 Project, he blatantly announced (at the National Archives Museum, of all places) that the current history lessons being taught in our schools are “toxic propaganda.”

On November 2, 2020 (on the day of the 2020 Presidential Election), Trump established by Executive Order the “1776 Commission. He threatened to cut federal funding to schools that teach the 1619 Project and/or use of the Critical Race Theory. He also indicated that funding for the schools that fail to instill “patriotic education” in their curriculum will also be cut.

This 1776 Commission’s goal was to end what Trump called the “radicalized view of American history” in which Trump claimed was an attack on our Founders. In true Trump fashion, he hand-picked the 18-person group, none of which are an American Historian by profession. Then two days prior to the end of Trump’s term, the 1776 Commission released their report. 

Hours after the inauguration of our current president, an executive order was issued dissolving the 1776 Commission.

So that’s my history lesson; my way to talk about these tragic events. I write about it because it’s necessary to look at history and all of its actions & consequences to these occasions so we can learn from our mistakes, let alone repeat it over and over.

(More to come in Part 3)


[i] It’s funny (but not) that I happened to stumble on this article while writing

[ii] Mostly because the Gen-Y & Millennials no longer had family that can remember certain event, as the numbers of The Greatest Generation are dwindling. Many don’t even know the names of the Jewish concentration camps, let alone any of the Japanese internment camps

[iii] And, let’s face is … a mini car ride to Lake View Cemetery to pay our respects to Bruce Lee.

[iv] Estimated cost of damage for this act of vandalism was approximately $800. Anything lower than $400 is considered an act of graffiti and is only a misdemeanor; while vandalism is considered a felony.

[v] Manong loosely translates to older brother or uncle

[vi] These local laws were established under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Immigration Act of 1924

[vii] Which, IMHO, is a joke since – well, besides the Native Americans, Filipinos were the first to step on US soil in Morro Bay.

[viii] Have you heard of Larry Itliong street anywhere? Neither have I; however, I do see a lot of Cesar Chavez streets in some – okay, most major cities.

[ix] He does have a school, a bridge and a day named after him, though!

[x] Interesting fact; Wayne State’s Walter Reuther Library has the original Larry Itliong papers