COVID-19 is devastating Filipino Americans

October 7, 2020, 12:06 AM UTC

Every October, the country largely ignores Filipino American History Month, which is a shame, given the enormous, contributory role Filipino Americans have played in shaping the American experience for everyone. But in the COVID age, the situation is even more dire. More on that in a moment.

This year, in the light of a pandemic of a different sort, the Seattle-based Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) has decided Fil-Am History Month is dedicated to shedding light on the long history of Filipino American justice activism.

“We choose this theme to highlight the myriad ways Filipino Americans have participated in social justice movements, including but not limited to, the United Farmworkers Movement, the fight for Ethnic Studies, Hawaii Sugar Plantation strikes, Washington Yakima strikes, and Anti-Martial Law Movements across multiple decades,” the FANHS said in a statement.

They’ve launched #FAHM2020, which has turned into a steady stream of art, culture, literaturehistory and other revelations

Bottom line, respect must be paid. “Though Filipino Americans were the first Asian Americans to arrive in the U.S. in 1587 (33 years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620), little was written about the history of the Philippines or of Filipino Americans in the U.S.,” writes Kevin Nadal, a psychology professor at the City University of New York and HuffPost contributor. As a group, they’ve often been excluded from Asian American organizations and academic literature and have formed alliances with Latinx and Black communities with whom they’ve found unique solidarity. “As one of the largest immigrant groups in the country, we want our history to be recognized and our stories to be told,” says Nadal.

Tragically, one of those stories is now about COVID-19.

A new report from the National Nurses Union finds that Filipino American nurses make up just 4% of nursing personnel in the US, but 31.5% of COVID-19 deaths in their ranks. The regional numbers are even more alarming—some 20% of registered nurses in California are Fil-Am. “And because they are most likely to work in acute care, medical/surgical, and ICU nursing, many “FilAms” are on the front lines of care for Covid-19 patients,” reports Stat News.

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times shows that people with Filipino heritage make up one-quarter of the Asian American population in California, but at least 35% of the COVID-19 deaths in that broad cohort. The shocking mortality rate is driven by many factors, experts say, including their propensity to be front line workers, poverty, housing and economic insecurity, preexisting health conditions and lack of health insurance. “It’s the perfect storm,” Adrian De Leon, an assistant professor in USC’s department of American studies and ethnicity told the paper. “In terms of exposure to the pandemic, exposure to the virus, but also exposure to a lot of other factors, too—like dense housing tends to be in places that have environmental hazards.”

I’ll leave it to you to draw a bright, angry line between President Trump’s bizarre handling of his own coronavirus illness with the disgraceful way his administration has left entire swaths of citizens to fend for themselves.

But with a nod to their long history of a fully inclusive social justice activism, it’s worth thinking about what role we all have to play in making sure Filipino Americans—who are the second-largest Asian American group in the nation and the third-largest ethnic group in California—find their rightful place in both the country’s narrative and on policymakers’ agendas.  

Ellen McGirt

On point

Will focus on race lead to policy change? This is the subject of new research from the Pew Research Center, published today, which finds that Americans have mixed views on how the focus on systemic racial inequality will play out for the country. A scant 52% of all respondents said that the work being done will lead to lasting improvement in the lives of Black people, but further breakdowns yield more insights. A majority of Black adults (64%) say they’ve been educating themselves on issues of race and inequality and have moved to support non-majority culture owned businesses in the last three months, while some 40% of white, Asian, and Latinx said the same. The partisan divide is stark: Some 78% of Democrats or those who lean Democrat say the country hasn’t gone far enough to ensure the equal right of Black people, compared with just 17% of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents.
Pew Research

A shot across the bow for marriage equality In a not-so-subtle jab at the 2015 Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling, Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., have issued a four-page statement that appears to signal that the decision should be revisited. “By choosing to privilege a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment, and by doing so undemocratically, the court has created a problem that only it can fix,” Justice Thomas wrote, in an opinion joined by Justice Alito. The statement was part of a decision in a case brought by Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who had been sued for failing to provide marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Though the Supreme Court denied her appeal, the additional statement sent shockwaves through the LGBTQ and ally community.
New York Times

Architect Sir David Adjaye takes a top prize The Ghanian-British architect has been awarded the 2021 Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), for his outstanding contributions to global architecture. He is the first Black recipient in the organization’s 172-year-old history. Adjaye maintains offices in both London and Accra, Ghana. While he may currently be best known for his work on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., he’s got plenty of boldfaced buildings to his credit.
The Architect’s Newspaper

Look at what Ireland just did Lacrosse may not get the same airtime as soccer around the world, but its players know how to represent. When the Irish national team learned that the number 3 seeded Iroquois Nationals were not eligible to compete in the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Ala., they joined a call for their inclusion. The organizers said the rules prevented them from including any team that wasn’t a "sovereign nation" — and although a public outcry encouraged them to change the rules, by then the roster was full. In response, Ireland bowed out to make space for the Iroquois team. It was a poignant move: The Iroquois team represent the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, who are the originators of lacrosse, known as “the medicine game.”  A player for Ireland’s lacrosse team told NPR, "none of us would be going to Birmingham, Ala., in the first place if it wasn't for the Iroquois and giving us the gift of their medicine game.” Well played.


On Background

A lost interview with James Baldwin You can thank the higher power of your choice for packrat writers and dutiful nieces, both of whom are responsible for this gem from the man who knew America’s heart like no other. Baldwin’s first biographer was a woman named Fern Marja Eckman, who wrote for the New York Post back in the day, and who died in 2019 at age 103. Her niece, Leslie J. Freeman, cleaned out her aunt’s apartment and sets the scene: “Hidden in a concealed drawer of an old mahogany desk, I found transcripts of interviews that she had conducted with Baldwin… [i]t is especially interesting to read the carefully typed transcripts of their conversations in light of our current moment.” While some of the material made its way into books, much did not. What follows will not disappoint. More to the point, it’s about a terrifying get-out-the-vote effort Baldwin covered in Selma, Ala., October 1963: “Here is a town that’s ruled by terror, that’s ruled by mob. The white population and the police are all the mob, and there’s no protection for any Negro in the town of any kind whatever,” he told Eckman. “You cannot call the police. You’d be out of your mind. And the Negroes are not armed. They cannot protect themselves. It’s not a rich town, so everyone there is, in one way or another, dependent for his livelihood on some white man. Now, to get, as Jim [James Forman] did, three hundred and seventy-five Negroes out to vote… Fantastic!”
New Yorker


Today's mood board

This colorful detail from a mural in Los Angeles’ Filipinotown shows Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong. Underneath them, people hold signs at a strike. To their left are people working in the fields. To their right is the star from the flag of the Philippines. 

—photo courtesy of the student-led Asian Americans and the Struggle for Social Justice blog at Brown University

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