All lives matter

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - March 15, 2021 - 12:00am

In recent days my attention has been diverted from the spread of COVID variants in Metro Manila by a story from abroad. Not the Harry-Meghan interview, which I didn’t watch (although it’s impossible to completely escape the extensive news coverage and commentaries).

Instead my attention has been riveted by the horrific videos all over social media of Asian-Americans including several Fil-Ams, men and women alike, being verbally and physically assaulted by racists in the United States.

Donald Trump, with his redneck constituency, would have brushed aside the problem. His successor Joe Biden at least has spoken out against the attacks – giving you an indication of how much the problem has escalated. We’ll see if the presidential condemnation will translate into actions that will actually stop the assaults.

We have many relatives in the US, and my mother is worried about her siblings, particularly a recently widowed sister. Elderly Asians are top targets of the hate crimes.

In New York, 61-year-old Fil-Am Noel Quintana had his face slashed by a man with a box cutter in the subway.

In Phoenix, Arizona, Juanito Falcon, 74, was on his morning walk when a car pulled up. A man jumped out, punched the Fil-Am in the face and drove away as Falcon fell and hit his head on the sidewalk. He died two days later, but while fighting for his life, he managed to tell police the last two numbers on his assailant’s license plate. His killer, Marcus Williams, has been arrested.

In both cases, the assailants are African-Americans.

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With racism allegations highlighted in the Meghan Markle interview, and with Black Lives Matter, we can also start a conversation about anti-Asian bigotry within the Black American community. In just one recent example, last Thursday in Las Vegas, a Black woman was arrested – one of two females seen on video verbally abusing and coughing on a Nepalese Uber driver in San Francisco, and then pepper-spraying him. The other woman, an Iranian, remained at large yesterday. A third passenger, a Black woman, was busy on her cell phone.

As in white racism in the 21st century, you can’t generalize. In any race or nationality, there are both good and rotten eggs. And the long history of unconscionable suffering of Blacks at the hands of Caucasians, with laws against various forms of racial discrimination passed only in recent decades, is undeniable.

And yet from my first visit to the United States decades ago, I was warned by relatives who had lived there for a long time about racism not only among whites, but also among Blacks toward Asians.

Asian-Americans were seen by the Blacks, I was told, to be taking away jobs and spots in formal education from Blacks. Those of northeast Asian descent were also considered to be “white adjacent” and nearly as uppity as Caucasians.

I have met many wonderful Black Americans in my visits to the US. They were friendly, helpful and welcoming to a foreigner. And there have been marriages between Fil-Ams and Black Americans.

But perhaps because my Chinese heritage is evident in my looks, and perhaps because awful memories tend to linger, I must say that most of my brushes with racism in the US involved Blacks. Even some of those in the hospitality sector were hostile: hotel front desk personnel, fast-food staff.

Some examples: at the Los Angeles airport, a Black guy slammed my luggage onto the conveyor belt, all the while looking at me, when I checked to make sure it was being loaded in transit from an international to a domestic flight.

In New York, another Black guy initially refused to drive the airport shuttle that I had booked to my hotel in Manhattan. After a shouting match between me and the Hispanic dispatcher, the Black man finally agreed. When we got to my hotel, he flung my luggage out of the van and onto the pavement. I didn’t bother filing a complaint, mainly because I was worried that my report would simply land on the desk of another racist.

Of course I’ve also seen white racism up close, although my worst experience did not involve an American but an executive of Emirates Airlines who spoke English like a European, and it happened in Asia.

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Filipinos in fact face racism and discrimination all over the planet – at the hands of various races.

Our people don’t get to tell their woes to Oprah, in a lovely garden setting in a multimillion-dollar California mansion. But just look at the latest heartbreaking viral video of abuse – of that poor Filipino cook being beaten with a broom and screamed at by his scumbag employer in Saudi Arabia. And the cook simply stood there, not fighting back. Maybe he’s a devout Catholic who believes in turning the other cheek. Or maybe he was terrified of losing his job. Or ending up dead in a freezer like Joanna Demafelis in Kuwait, murdered by her ghastly Lebanese and Syrian employers.

In Hong Kong they used to have signs in elevators saying dogs and Filipinos were not allowed to take the lift.

We could go on and on with the many Filipinos who have been beaten by their foreign employers, subjected to verbal abuse, raped, burned with irons, locked up and treated like animals (dogs and camels are treated better).

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Now there’s a new dimension to racism against our people, with Asian-Americans the victims of hate crimes. The COVID pandemic is being blamed, plus Donald Trump for calling it the Wuhan virus. But I think the anti-Asian resentment has been there for a long time, among both whites and Blacks in America, just waiting for an excuse to be expressed with what they think is a righteous cause.

According to a news report last week, Stop AAPI Hate (referring to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders) has received over 2,800 first-hand reports of such hate crimes, including verbal harassment (71 percent), shunning (21%), physical assault (9%) and being spat on (6%). There are also reports of homes and cars being vandalized and businesses owned by Asians being looted.

The report said AAPI lamented the myth that the community is a model minority and white adjacent – giving the impression that it is impervious to racism.

Even with the recent anti-Asian hate crimes, I don’t think the battle cry in America will turn any time soon into “All lives matter.”

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