Jen Soriano

Filipin@ Issues

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) 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?