An Open Letter To My (and Everyone’s) Filipino Elders: Black Lives Matter To Us

Titos (uncles), titas (aunts), kuyas (older brothers), ates (older sisters), nanays (moms), and tatays (dads), and to my peers who have been silent.

Your silence is deafening. For people who are so tight knit as a family and as a community, where are you now that we: your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, adings (younger sibling) ask you to support the black community? We’re done turning our blind eye to your complacency of racism and ignorance. The black community is suffering. The same community stood with Filipinos various times over the course of history, not just here in the United States but in the Philippines as well.

In 1899, during the Philippine-American War, all four black regiments who were previously in Cuba were sent to the Philippines as foot soldiers. Soldiers for “a racist ideology in which white Americans characterized Filipinos as they did African-Americans: as inferior, inept, and even subhuman”—(Scot Ngozi-Brown). During their time in the Philippines, numerous African-American soldiers deserted their post to join the Filipinos to fight against imperial America. They did this out of compassion for our people who shared the same suffering they faced back home.

In the 1960’s The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (Lead by Larry “Seven Fingers” Itliong) merged with the National Farm Workers Association (lead by Cesar Chavez) to form the United Farm Workers. Later on, the UFW, and the Black Panthers teamed up to fight for  employment, education, housing and legal rights. And if you weren’t aware, the BPP addressed these issues from its inception not just for the black community but for all minorities, and supported multi-racial solidarity. Some notable events during those times of unrest included the Delano Grape Strike, and the fight for the I-house in San Francisco were the Manongs lived. 

As far as history is concerned, America has only seen “people of color” as one shade regardless of whether you are black, brown, yellow, or red.  A color other than white, a color that doesn’t represent the Anglo-Saxon destiny and duty in which America was founded on. Let’s not forget that we were all treated the same before the Civil Rights movement. If it wasn’t for the African-American community’s fight for equality we too would be stripped of those rights and face the same discrimination. Let’s not forget that filipinos were not allowed in hotels, restaurants, schools, public parks. Filipinos were also not allowed to own property or marry white women. We were seen as a threat to “racial purity.” Let all this sink in. If I’m still not getting through to you by now I hope these images do.

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Now that your brief history lesson is over let’s get down the nitty gritty.

I am angry, sad, and disappointed in us. I’m angry at you for not using your voice to support the change that this country needs. I’m angry at myself that it took all these years and countless innocent lives to find the voice to speak up. I’m sad that I barely hear whispers from our older generation supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. I am disappointed that you’re so stuck in your ways that you refuse to take action for what is going on.

A lot of us younger generation Filipinos have already addressed our internal issues as a community. We idolize Black artists, athletes, and celebrities. We have taken fashion, and style from them, and even borderline appropriate their culture. We have integrated so much from the Black community that it’s a shame that some of us aren’t supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. 

So I ask you, why are you so quiet?

Is it your colonial mentality of rejecting anything other than American or white? Are we as a community so brainwashed by our dark history that we cannot fight for what’s right? It’s time we abandon this way of thinking and embrace the fact that the color of your skin does not represent a person or their social standing. Is it your fear of the status quo? 

Are you nahihiya (ashamed) to stand up for the Black community in fear of judgement from other Filipinos? I am tired, and I cannot find the right words to express myself anymore so I will leave you this. Black lives matter is not just about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, or the countless of lives lost before them due to police brutality. It’s about fighting against injustice and racism. It’s about fighting for our community and working towards a better future. 

So please.

Now is not the time to be silent.   

Now is not the time to give into colonial mentality.

Now is not the time to be complacent

But now is the time to walk side by side with our brothers and sisters who have fought for us and with us.

Now is the time to speak out on racism, speak out on injustice. Lend them your voice for theirs have fallen on to deaf ears.  

Now is the time to realize that our internal oppression formed by colonialism is their reality. 

Now is the time to make a difference.

It’s time for change.

Black Lives Matter.

// Feature illustration by Supriya Bhonsle. Inline photography courtesy of FANHS National Archives, Seattle; Calisphere, University of California.

An Open Letter To My (and Everyone’s) Filipino Elders: Black Lives Matter To Us
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