Jen Soriano

Loverboy

I AM STANDING IN THE BEATING SUN UNSURE OF WHICH WAY TO GO.

At some point, I will have to take care of business, to answer the call of duty as I’ve been trained to do so well. I squint at the University of Philippines library, its concrete columns stolid in the face of my indecision. A jeepney putters by and I follow it with a longing gaze; the ubiquitous mode of Philippine mass transit is one I have admired for a while, but from afar. This particular jeepney is dull gray, small, and above all, functional. The rectangular sign affixed to its front says “Ikot” scrawled in black letters.

These Ikot jeepneys transport students around the campus loop formed by Osmeña and Roxas Avenues. How appropriate, I think, that these roads are named for two successive Philippine presidents—Osmeña who was the last to govern the U.S. colony, and Roxas who was the first to govern the neo-colony. The two roads join to move you not from one point to the next but in circles, back to where you began.

As I watch the Ikot Jeepney round the bend, I decide my thesis research can wait. I’ve spent the summer working as a travel writer to get to the Philippines, and I can now admit to myself that thesis research is not really why I’m here.

I turn my back on the library and walk a hot three blocks to the corner of Katipunan Avenue and Shuster. Here I can board the Katipunan-UP Campus jeepney heading south. I have researched this, like a good travel writer and a bad daughter; I know the routes I need to take to get lost. Getting lost has been my way of slowly, unsurely, finding my way home.

At the corner two workers jostle a wheelbarrow overburdened with wet cement. Students lounge in the shade, their white teeth flashing at jokes and tsismis. I lean against a fence and shift my posture more than a few times. I can only understand a quarter of the Tagalog the students are speaking. At least I’m wearing the right uniform, I think—a white T-shirt and long jeans for modesty, even in the probing heat, and a backpack that’s channeling pawis into a waterfall of sweat down my spine.

The Katipunan jeepney approaches. With effort I assume a look of nonchalance and wave my hand toward the pavement. Will this really work? Sweat beads off my brow and into my eyes. I am home. I am home. I chant to myself silently. Shouldn’t I feel more comfortable? Instead I feel like a fraud, like an orphan trying to claim another child’s motherland.

The jeepney comes rumbling to a stop and I beam. Challenge one: check and done. I step off the curb and approach its back door, or really its lack of a door, the space where a door should be. Instead of a door, there is an opening. I swing my backpack to my front, step up on the bumper, and duck into the world inside.

To read the rest of Loverboy, visit the TAYO website to purchase TAYO Issue 6

A Brief History of Her Pain

                              I will keep Broken Things.

                              I will keep You:

                              Pilgrim of Sorrow

                              I will keep Myself

                              — Alice Walker

1996 AD

Jennifer S.  Asian.  Nineteen years of age.  Junior.  Clinic visit due to pain “like lead shooting through arms.”  Average build, average height, flat affect.  She clenched then twisted her fists, repeated, as if juicing two lemons ’til dry.

Jennifer S. received standard procedure for cases like this. The Wartenberg wheel: steel teeth rolled across inner forearms and palms to assess nerve response. The tomahawk hammer struck against wrists, knees, and elbows to elicit deep tendon reflexes. Posture examined as well as muscle strength. Mental examination waived by the attending practitioner.

Results: no nerve damage detected by Wartenberg wheel. No delay in deep tendon reflexes elicited by tomahawk hammer. Patient status: Normal. Slumped posture. Weak grip. Pain likely due to over-reaction to college stress.

Jennifer S. sent home with naproxen, medical report, reminder to schedule a pap smear. Patient exited the clinic with difficulty, shoulders caved and arms cradled, as if nursing a porcelain baby.

1800 BC

In Egypt, the Kahun Papyrus is written — a text entirely focused on women’s health. This ancient text becomes the first comprehensive medical document known to man.

The Papyrus mentions a condition of mysterious pain and mercurial emotional states lacking apparent physical cause. This is what will later become known as hysteria. It also reveals that though seemingly mysterious, the condition does indeed have a physical source, a dislocated or starved uterus.

To treat the condition, sweet oils must be applied to the vagina, or unpleasant things must be eaten to lure the misbehaving womb back into place.

The Kahun Papyrus may not only be the first medical text known to man, it may also be the first text written by women. The authors may have been priestesses, since healing was within the domain of spiritual leaders. But being women, these priestesses may have also had misplaced wombs, and therefore may have also been physically pained, emotionally disordered and hysterical.

2013 AD

I am waiting patiently for the doctor to say something. She moves her reading glasses to the precipice of her nose and examines the grey film at arm’s length. Silence. She shifts in her chair, flicks her hands so the film goes thwack, and moves it up toward a sickly florescent light.

“Your uterus is tipped,” she finally says. “And see this?” She points her pen at a cloudy curved line. “That’s your fallopian tube. But where is your ovary? It must be hiding behind your uterus. And see the other one? The other tube is like a slinky.”

My husband looks at me like he’s afraid I might faint. Instead, I bow my head to suppress a chuckle. Leave it to the fertility doctor to discover what I had long suspected: something was amiss in my womb.

I smile because it’s amusing to learn there is so much interesting activity down there, the fallopian tubes contorting like acrobats, the ovaries and the uterus playing hide-and-seek. I am entertained by the thought of my reproductive organs performing a three-ring circus, since that area of my body — the life-giving viscera, the motherly matrix of me — has always felt comatose, near dead.

                     Diagnosis: Hysteria tipped
                     to hear water bone ancestors
                     sobs buried, alive
  

Read the rest of “A Brief History of Her Pain” at Waxwingmag.org

Razing Boys

They come like a murder of crows.  Six still small boys toting toy guns shaped like semi-automatics.  A troop of tousled hair and soccer shorts, they descend on the playground with aggression too large for their years.  My son, startled from his sandbox world, drops his tiny shovel.  He gazes openly on the newcomers, soaks in their shouts of I shot you, I’ve got more bullets, you’re dead.  A mother walks across the empty concrete wading pool, her toddler son’s wrist gripped tightly in her hand.  Her eyes dart left then right at the circling boys who rend the air with war cries. The mother touches her son’s head, almost in benediction, then tugs him forward by the sleeve of his miniature bomber jacket.  The gunslingers growl and aim.  They shriek and shoot.  Bam! I got you, they laugh.  My son laughs along with them, his face bursting into dimples and milk teeth.  Still smiling he returns to the sand.  The tiny shovel lies abandoned at his feet, so he begins to dig a hole with his sneakered toe.  The sand is wet and pebbled, the color of bone.  Not unlike the sand of that distant Turkish shore where Aylan Kurdi lay face down, palms up and belly resting in the sand.

Read the rest of “Razing Boys” at aaduna.org

 

 

All Clear: Seattle’s First Trauma-Informed Public School

by Jen Soriano for Seattle Magazine

It’s a late spring morning at West Seattle Elementary and as usual, morale is running high. Counselor Laura Bermes high-fives students as they walk through the door. Principal Vicki Sacco greets teachers while cradling Bingo, her watchful Chihuahua. The children walk single file to their classrooms, and a bespectacled special guest bounds upstairs to talk to fifth-graders about their brains.

“Hi, everyone, I’m Ms. Natalie,” says the guest, waving at the students like the school celebrity that she is.

“You’re the brain lady!” exclaims an enthusiastic 11-year-old boy named D.J.

“That’s right, I’m the brain lady. I’m here to talk about feelings and how you can manage your feelings so you can learn.”

What follows is a dynamic 40-minute conversation in which Ms. Natalie (aka Natalie Turner) and the students discuss the biology of emotions in fifth-grade terms. They establish that it’s harder to learn when they feel angry, overexcited or sad. She tells them that it’s possible to know when their feelings are getting too big, and to make a choice to cool down so they can refocus on school.

Holding up her fist, Turner explains to them the hand model of the brain: Your thumb is the center of feelings; your palm is your “downstairs” brain, where you go to react; and your fingers wrapped around your thumb are your “upstairs brain,” where you can learn and make good decisions.

Turner wiggles her thumb and pops her four fingers open. “This is what happens when you have a big feeling that gets out of control,” she explains. “You flip your lid!”

All the students laugh and follow suit, flipping their four fingers up and displaying their “downstairs brains.” A few describe what flipping your lid means to them: screaming and slamming doors, eating too much, hitting yourself, committing suicide. Their examples hint at the intense struggles many of them face outside school.

 

To read the rest of the article, click here 

A Cold Kind of Beauty

Seattle in October has a cold kind of beauty.  But the cold is soft.  In a way it is kind and voluptuous.  A swaddling that’s a soothing followup to the encasing of a tropical womb.  Through the clarity of chilled air you can run your hands over the crisp textures of the horizon, and they will make the corners of your mouth turn up.  You pat the cotton candy of low-lying clouds tangled in tree branches and spilling over hills, and tap the toothy peaks of the now burning now ice cold Olympic mountains.  You slide your palms over the silver platter of Elliot Bay, serving up ponderous cargo ships that are the starch and staple of modern life.  These ships too have a cold kind of beauty, agents of a small world crossing time zones hemispheres and seasons, navigating nationless waters where only the laws of commerce apply.  Their faces are at once rusty relics and timeless symbols of this still new port city, once of wood and leather now of glass and digital gold.

To Test or Not to Test?

By Jen Soriano for ParentMap

Irene Park was 37 years old, six weeks pregnant and worried. She was cramping and bleeding. When her blood tests showed low levels of HCG, a hormone vital to maintaining early pregnancy, her doctor confirmed what she feared most: She was going to have a miscarriage.

Park was devastated. She had endured in vitro fertilization (IVF) to become pregnant, and to learn that she was having a miscarriage seemed too much to bear. But two weeks later, when she returned to the hospital, doctors discovered she was still pregnant with a viable embryo. Park was rattled but extremely relieved.

At the next visit, her doctor recommended genetic testing. Park, who wanted no more surprises, readily agreed. Thirteen weeks into her pregnancy, she had her blood drawn, and 10 days later she received good news: Not only was her fetus viable, it was also most likely free of the more common chromosomal disorders.

“I was so worried my whole first trimester,” Park says. “After taking the test I felt such peace of mind. I was also happy to find out I was having a girl.”

Help for parents-to-be

Park’s is a textbook case of how prenatal genetic testing can help parents-to-be. Because she was older than 35, she was at higher risk for carrying a fetus with genetic disorders. Because she had complications, she was eager for any additional information that could ease her worries about the pregnancy.

For many parents, genetic testing can offer peace of mind. Just a few decades ago, the only way to detect genetic disorders was to have the pregnant woman undergo an amniocentesis, an invasive procedure that can put both the fetus and the mother at risk.

Today, there is a variety of screening tests that measure risk for genetic disorders through simple blood draws (see chart below). In Park’s case, she took the newest and most accurate blood test available: a cell-free DNA (cfDNA) or non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT). CfDNA tests have a significantly higher rate of accuracy than other blood tests that screen for genetic disorders. This means that women like Park who receive normal test results can skip invasive diagnostic tests like amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS), and they can rest assured that their baby will most likely be born without the most common chromosomal disorders.

Though these tests can give reassurance, a normal screening result does not definitively mean that a baby will be born without genetic disorders. Corporate-sponsored studies have shown that the cfDNA test has up to 99 percent accuracy in predicting increased risk for Down syndrome and 98 percent for Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18), but only 65 percent for Patau syndrome.

Because of this uncertainty and disputes over rates of false positives, women whose cfDNA results show increased risk for a genetic disorder need a follow-up amniocentesis or CVS to obtain a definitive answer. These diagnostic tests can confirm or negate the results of an abnormal screen as well as test for a host of additional genetic disorders. Although there are no cures for these conditions, early detection can be useful for two reasons: Parents can start preparing to raise a child with disabilities, or they can opt for early termination of pregnancy. Especially in the cases of Edwards and Patau syndromes, which are often fatal, an early termination can spare the complications of a later procedure, or the pain of giving birth to a stillborn baby or a baby likely not to survive beyond its first month of life.

More tests, more problems?

While prenatal genetic testing can offer relief for some parents-to-be, for others, it can bring more worries. I, for one, spent most of my recent pregnancy anxious about test results that showed a high risk for Down syndrome. If Park’s was a textbook case of how genetic testing can help, mine was a textbook case of how genetic testing can harm.

READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AT https://www.parentmap.com/article/genetic-testing

Brotherly Love: A Ghost Story

He could rock a karaoke mic like the second coming of Elvis and dance like a tae-bo master.  He made everyone laugh.  That is, when he was not making them cry with his heart-wrenching renditions of Earth Wind and Fire ballads. He would drive like a madman from Sacramento to San Francisco to Vallejo and back in one day, a few times a week, all to fulfill his many duties as a culture worker, activist, employee and brother to his real sister Lyn.

There is a word for him in Tagalog: he was “sobre” – too much.  And as it turned out, he was “sobre” – too much – for this world.

BJ_kubingHis name was BJ Alisago and he was my best friend and brother from another mother. He died on February 8, 2005 several months shy of his 30th birthday.

He had been healthy.  He was a dancer and a mover – literally, moving furniture for Pottery Barn.  But for several weeks he had felt crippling pain in his limbs. He didn’t have health insurance, so he must have been suffering terribly when he finally did go to the emergency room – twice – for treatment.  Both times he was sent home with ibuprofen.  The third time he went was his last.  Less than 24 hours after he was admitted to the hospital, he died of organ failure due to unknown causes.

The morning after BJ died I woke up drowning.  I had been crying in my sleep and the tears were waterfalls pooling in my ears and on my pillow and even somehow in the space between my collarbones.   When I muscled apart gluey lashes everything I saw was fish-eyed and blurry and all I could feel was heaviness.  My comforter was made of lead. If it had been lighter, maybe I could have gotten up to do something, like maybe I could have rewound time, brought BJ back and made everything right with the world.

Five years before, when we first met, it was like a family reunion.  Right away we were giggling about how his suit was so big he looked like an amputee.  That would become just one of our many inappropriate inside jokes.  “You remind me of my sister,” he said. “She gets on my nerves, I think you’d really like her.”  In fact we fell into a big sister-little brother dynamic right away, even though he was the one that was always picking up after me.  Your glasses, he’d offer after several cruel minutes of watching me stumble around the apartment blind as a bat.   Your phone, he said one day after it had dropped from my pocket as we danced through a protest in downtown Oakland.  One day he came home, walked over to the couch and dumped my camera on my lap without a word.  “Where did you find this?” I asked. “A few blocks away on the sidewalk next to your car.”

We lived together for almost two years.  And while the rumors flew that we were a couple, everyone who was part of our daily lives knew otherwise.  They saw us gossiping like girlfriends, coaching each other through our love lives, and turning everything from cooking to folding laundry into a matter of sibling rivalry (which of us could do it better? faster? clearly me).

“He would give his eyes for you,” a friend once told me.  “Not if I gave him mine first,” I replied.

He moved in when my roommate moved out to live with her boyfriend.  We bonded over broken hearts, his from an old and almost rekindled relationship, mine from a relationship that never quite was.  We would stand on the stairway landing outdoors, smoking American Spirits and looking out to the corner of 21st and Florida on the Potrero side of the Mission.  We did what all brokenhearted people do –  we loaded ourselves up with toxic crap and talked about how much better people we were than they.  “You were just too much man for her,” I said.  “He had chicken legs anyway,” he said. Long drags, smoke rings and clink went our shot glasses of Jim Beam.  “To us.”

He was a tortured soul just like I was though he tried not to show it. He moved through life as an artist and a ham. We got along because on the inside we were both licking our wounds. But on the outside, we were music, we were movement, we were laughter. Those three things were our church – they were how we found communion, and how we tried to tame our demons into angels.

DN_BJ_JenWe sang together in a band called Diskarte Namin for 5 years.  Together we wrote the band’s biggest hit – the River song.  He taught me how to belt and I taught him how to improvise.  He showed me what it was like to be a natural frontman with his kickboxing antics and magnetic smile.  He channeled Donnie Hathaway and Sam Cooke and was a little bit of Bruno Mars a decade before Bruno’s time.

When BJ died the band broke up.  We just couldn’t find the heart to soldier on.  We found other ways to memorialize him; the bassist, his other best friend, tatted “Benito Alisago” across a forearm, while I wrote a song for him that he surely would have hated.

The song has an outro that goes like this:

Gonna see you on the other side / never gonna say goodbye / so / put on your angel’s wings / go ‘head fly ’round and check up on things cuz / we need your blessings / we need your comfort / that all we do will continue

Now in retrospect I can imagine BJ looking down at me while I wrote those lines.  He was probably smirking and thinking: be careful what you wish for.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust / to the fire circle we go 

Two years after BJ’s death I was at a silent meditation retreat at the Vallecitos ranch above Taos, New Mexico.  I was burnt out from work, my health was in terrible shape and a recent crisis had left me depressed.  Basically, I really needed a retreat.  What I got was more like a miracle.

We had just finished a long sit when clang clang went the bell, signaling the time for walking meditation.  Before leaving the sanctuary, I walked upstairs to visit the altar we’d created at the beginning of the retreat.  The meditation leaders had asked us to offer names or photos of any deceased loved ones we wanted to honor through our practice.  I had forgotten a photo, so I tore a corner from the top sheet of a yellow legal pad and scrawled “BJ Alisago” in ballpoint pen.  A little embarrassed by the jankiness of my tribute, I placed the scrap on the farthest corner of the alter, which was now on the exact opposite side of the room from where I had come up the stairs.

As soon as I stepped into the room my body began moving strangely.  I was about to walk straight to the altar, but instead my right leg kept crossing in front of my left, and I ended up walking – no, limping and somehow lurching at the same time – in a diagonal across the room.  What the hell?! I was thinking as my body limp-lurched along, completely independent of my mind.  When I finally stopped I looked down and I was immediately in front of BJ’s name on the altar.

From there on, a conversation rang inside my head as loud as the meditation bell.

“What the hell?!” I repeated silently and not just a little afraid.  “What the hell is going on?”

Apparently in response, my gaze went to a tiny chair that I hadn’t noticed before.  It was empty.  Then I realized the chair was right next to a sofa where I had spent hours the day before, crying my eyes out from burnout and loneliness.  Suddenly my fear dissolved and an excited feeling of disbelief crept over me.

“Uh, BJ?  Are you here? I mean there? Are you trying to tell me you were there the whole time? The whole time I was lying there crying were you sitting in that chair?”

Again apparently in response, my gaze lifted to the window through which I could see the grey stone fire circle outside.  It was turning black with the setting sun.

“Should we go out to the fire circle?”

I turned around and waited for the limp-lurch to come back.  It didn’t, and I ran down the stairs and out the door with glee. I felt like a child reunited with a long-lost playground buddy at recess.

Contrary to the norms of walking meditation, I practically skipped towards the fire circle.  I felt weightless.  It was as if BJ was next to me with his hand on my back pushing me along.

“This is fun!” I giggled to the wind. The twilight was turning from deep blue to ink grey and the tree shadows united to form darkness.

Ashes to ashes dust to dust / To the fire circle we go 

Like a mantra, these words repeated in my mind, and I felt the push on my back lighten and then leave.

“No, no, you can’t go,” I said out loud, desperate.  “No BJ, you can’t leave, then I’ll be alone again.”

As I said those very words, I realized I had reached the fire circle.  Looking down at the pit I saw a pile of charred wood, and underneath it there were embers burning.  I looked left and saw more than a dozen points of light as my fellow retreat goers turned on flashlights in near synchronicity.  I turned around and saw the main cabin begin to glow as the caretaker lit two kerosene lamps and hung them from the eaves above the porch.  One more turn and there was our meditation leader at the fireplace next to the sanctuary, tenderly, it seemed, coaxing the flames to life.  I was surrounded 360 degrees by warmth and light and the protection of brotherly love.  At last my gaze went skyward as out came Venus, shining like the first night star.

 

letter on non-violence, to my 8-month-old son

Photo by Naomi Ishisaka

photo by Naomi Ishisaka

Dear son,

I love a good protest.  By the time you read this you’ll already know that.  Yesterday we protested together, it was your third time out in the streets but your first time marching a whole march.  And what a march it was — a 2 mile route from the Central District, the historical heart of Seattle’s African-American community, to the Federal Building downtown — to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to protest something he surely would have taken to the streets to protest himself — the epidemic police violence against black people across the country.

Photo by Daniel Pak

Photo by Daniel Pak

After a stormy weekend the weather was calm, mild and the sun even came out to shine.  We took the number 8 from our place to Garfield High School. Friends joined us along the route until the front of the bus was full of babies strollers toddlers and parents.  We gathered outside the monumental steps of Garfield High, you bounced in your stroller to Common and John Legend gloriously broadcast from the Fenders, and we followed the hundreds of others streaming peacefully into the streets towards the federal building.  You had a blast, riding in a sling close to me, turning your head in all directions. And the louder the chants got the more you’d giggle with glee.

Apparently you love a good protest too.

It was your first Martin Luther King Day, and an especially important one in the wake of Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement that has risen to assert the humanity of all black people.  This year is also the 50th anniversary of the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.  Unfortunately, given what’s going on, MLK’s legacy of non-violent struggle for equality couldn’t be more relevant today.

There’s so much things to say about such a troubled world. There are the murders.  A black person killed by police every 28 hours.  One of them, Mike Brown, left out in the street for more than 4 hours. Thousands murdered in Nigeria.  Seventeen dead in Paris.  Hundreds of children killed in Palestine.  Dozens of journalists executed.  That’s the devastating part.

Then there is the non-violent resistance.  Across the country communities organized 96 hours of non-violent direct action this weekend to #reclaimMLK’s radical legacy.  People who love you, your extended family of titas and titos, shut down the Oakland Federal Building for 4 hours and 28 minutes.  They hung a banner stories tall that said “Black Power Matters” and “3rdworld4blackpower”.  There are meetings and plans and visions brewing a new US movement for racial justice. That’s the hopeful part.

You’ve been born into a special time.  Really.  Things didn’t look like this when I was born in the mid 1970s.  The violence is old but there is much that is new: a country that will have a minority majority in your lifetime, where people of mixed race and non-binary gender will create more expansive norms, where millions of eyes can watch through an internet that must stay open and free.  And at this moment a new movement building that has grassroots organizing at its heart and the tendency towards justice as its wings.

What will be your role in it?  I can’t wait to witness.

Whatever your role will be, remember you have the legacy of resistance in your blood.  Organizing has helped both my people and your papa’s people survive centuries of violent colonialism. And it has helped us continue to sing and dance and struggle and transform even though conditions at home are still very hard.  The resistance has not always been peaceful, but King himself said that riots are the language of the unheard.  In the face of military abuses self-defense is sometimes necessary.  And there is a difference between destruction of property and violence against human beings. There is much more to say on this front, and I struggle with these questions all the time.

Photo by Ian Dapiaoen

Photo by Ian Dapiaoen

Whatever your role will be, I hope you’ll remember this heritage and also the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. By the time you read this I trust you will know more than the sanitized Dr. King, you will know the radical Dr. King whose day should be celebrated on the day of his murder – August 4th, one year to the day after he delivered his Beyond Vietnam speech – to remind us that he had a radical dream: he was an internationalist who connected the oppression of black people with the poor and people of color all over the world, and to remind us that this degree of clarity is dangerous.

It is easy to praise non-violence when we can march escorted by police and return home to comfortable lives. It can also be easy to romanticize armed struggle from the same vantage point.  But it’s the militant discipline of Kingian non-violence that I hope you will remember the most: the discipline of continuously choosing love over hate and non-violence over violence, even in the face of brutality and the constant threat of death.  That is the depth of commitment I aspire to, though faced with real threat I honestly don’t know what I would choose.

The buddha taught that we all have within us both the seeds of violence and the seeds of peace.  Cherokee legend talks of the battle inside, where two wolves – one evil and one good, fight for supremacy in each of us.  The one that will win is the one that we feed.

You have watered the seeds of peace within my soul and fed the wolf of good inside my heart.  So for now in return I’ll just leave you with this offering of what I feel are some of Dr. King’s truest words:

“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

All my love,

Mamá

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waking Up to Ferguson

Every morning I wake up with the choice to forget about Ferguson.

I am Asian-American. I am Pinay. I have savings and a college degree.  I am a woman. I am cis-gendered. I am straight.  I am married to a straight man and for that I get approval and a tax break.

I do not walk through the streets a target of police or vigilante violence.  When I have walked alone I have been helped – not avoided – not threatened – not shot and not choked.

When I wake up I choose between coffee and tea, converse or boots, my car or the bus, fried eggs or a coffeeshop pastry.  I wake up with the choice to forget about Ferguson.

And yet I can’t forget about Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant….Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant….

And it’s not because as Asian-American we’ve had our Mike Brown’s too.  Kuanchang KaoCau Bich TranFong Lee — all unarmed Asian men killed by police — all important to name and to not forget.

But it’s different.

When a black person is killed every 28 hours by police, security guards or vigilantes, it’s different.

When you can be shot unarmed in rich places and poor places, no matter whether you are a child, a professor, an actor or a cop, it’s different.

In the words of Alicia Garza, a queer black woman who is a co-founder of the #blacklivesmatter movement, black people are uniquely, systematically, and savagely targeted by the state.  And so, “When Black people cry out in defense of our lives…we are asking you, our family, to stand with us in affirming Black lives.  Not just all lives. Black lives.”

The lives of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant…

Every morning I wake up with the choice to forget about these black boys, these black men, about Ferguson. The choice is a privilege.

I choose not to forget.

Maybe I choose not to forget because from a young age I’ve had to be vigilant, and when you are vigilant you can see clearly because you must see to survive. Maybe I choose not to forget because the state-sponsored violence that is colonization has left shrapnel embedded in my soul.  Maybe I choose not to forget because I believe that although we are not all Mike Brown, I could have been born a Mike Brown, or an Oscar Grant, or a Marissa Alexander, and the fact that I wasn’t is an accident of birth and the fact that it matters to my relative freedom is entirely by design.

When I say black lives matter, I’m saying I refuse to be complicit in a society where people get to live or die or be jailed or be free based on the color of their skin.  I’m saying I will do whatever I can to help transform the systems that perpetuate this new Jim Crow, and the cultural norms that say we have to fear someone and that someone must be black.  I’m saying I know that if we can’t win this fight for the humanity of all black people we will continue to lose priceless lives and we will never begin to heal.

So instead of forgetting I recommit to change and I challenge my fellow Asian-Americans to all do the same.  In the words of Soya Jung,  “The racial justice movement needs us. Our experiences of war, imperialism, and the enticement to anti-black racism are necessary to push back against corporate plunder and state collusion, to dismantle the apparatuses of racialized violence.”

It is time for Asian Americans to unleash model minority mutiny, link arms with the struggle for black liberation, and together, finally turn the world right side up.”

For anyone who might get it twisted, this isn’t charity.  It’s solidarity.  It’s vision.  It’s remembering.  “When Black people get free, everybody gets free”.

Every morning I wake up with the choice to forget about Ferguson.  But instead I choose to fixate on freedom.

 

 

 

Filipinos, Midterm Elections and Political Power

In the week after the midterm elections I flew from the state of Washington to Florida to Puerto Rico — crossing over all that red territory to reach a colony and then back again.  I’ve also been through a state of denial, then of long term visioning which may just be another form of denial, only to land in a state of impatient confusion.

The confusion is not really about how we got here, to a Republican controlled Congress for the first time in 10 years.  The confusion is about how we get away from here, and not just to turn red to blue, but to get off the hamster wheel of our 2-party system and actually move forward.  Forward towards a society that will actually uplift the growing minority majority and free us up to lead.

I’m questioning political power, especially for Filipinos in America.  What is it?  Do we have it? If we did, would we know what to do with it? How much do we need?  Should we even be trying to build power around Filipino identity?   Maybe we would just keep playing the Filipino or not game instead (Prince – Filipino or not? Nope. Vanessa Hudgens? Yup. Bruno Mars? Aw yeah.)

When I say political power I mean whatever it takes to increase our communities’ resilience to oppression and, related to this, our communities’ ability to organize to develop influence and to win collective progressive demands.  I mean organized communities, organized sectors and connected networks unified by an almost taken for granted acceptance of Filipino identity so we can move on to real issues, and unified by a clear analysis of conditions for Filipinos in the US.  I also mean the work it takes to consolidate Filipino communities as a progressive bloc to influence key issues that impact everyone but in which Filipinos have a key stake, from immigration to climate change, health care to militarization, workers rights to women’s rights and more.

There are at least 3.4 million Filipinos in the US, most of whom have at least liberal if not progressive leanings.  More than two-thirds of Filipinos who voted in 2012 voted for Obama.  We are the second largest Asian group, with Asians as the overall are the fastest growing immigrant group in the country.  Organized progressive Filipinos in the US are a minority — but a strong minority — of the overall population of Filipinos as a whole.  We are members and leaders of labor unions, worker centers, student and church groups, feminist and human rights groups and much more.  We also have more than a dozen legislators serving in public office across the country, not to mention thousands of artists, academics, faith leaders and others who influence policy through culture.  Without these groups and leaders, domestic workers would not have legal protections in New York, California, Hawaii and Massachusetts, Filipino veterans would not have received partial benefits, and curriculum in California’s schools would not be required to tell the stories of these veterans and of the Filipino farmworkers who helped form the United Farmworkers.

These victories have come from community organizing in areas where large numbers of Filipinos have flocked.  Two-thirds of us live in the West (including California, Hawaii, Nevada, Washington and Alaska) http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/06/19/the-rise-of-asian-americans/2/ with significant populations in New York, New Jersey,and Illinois.  There are also growing numbers of Filipinos in Florida, Texas and Arizona, which makes me wonder – what could organized Filipinos do in these states one day?  Could Filipinos in Florida along with Puerto Ricans eventually help turn Florida into a progressive state? Could Filipinos in Texas help organize a successful pushback against the Texas-sized war on women, and help sweep a second Wendy Davis campaign to victory?  Could Filipinos in Arizona continue to be involved in the intense in-the-trenches organizing to keep immigrants safe in Arizona, and to one day win a repeal of “secure” communities and SB 1070 and help turn the tide against anti-immigrant legislation state by state?  And beyond geographical borders, could the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in the health care industry (anyone have an exact number on this?) become a key force to win a single payer health care program in our lifetime?

More questions coming from my state of impatient confusion, and I’d love to hear from you: what victories have we already won and what should we expand and replicate? what do we already have and what else do we need to build the political power of Filipinos in America, so that we can become a key force (not just a constituency) for progressive change in this country?

 

 

 

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