“Truth entices us there on the frontier between fact and interpretation, and we strive for honesty in representing what is entrusted to us. We combine that honesty with a humility that comes from knowing beyond all doubt that whatever we believe, whatever we claim, whatever we know, the next generation will surely say, “That’s not good enough! We need to know more and we need to know better!” – Sander M. Goldberg, distinguished research professor of Classics at UCLA, 2018.
I was surrounded by death several times in my life, as most others are in my age bracket, the “theater of more pasts than tomorrows.” But life is not about acting, it is about living for oneself as well as for others if you identify as a caring human being.
I remember vividly when Eleazar, my dad, died in April 2000. None of us in the family anticipated his passing. Yes, he had high sugar levels, but he had it under control. He also had survived mini-heart attacks and he too had that under control with a better lifestyle: no smoking, exercise, sleep, and good nutrition.
But, why his sudden death when I was out on a road trip for work? I made it about myself.
Isn’t that what death does to us – it makes us inward, self-centered, and asks us how much more we can endure?
Even after his passing, I struggled to find meaning in his death. I wrote his eulogy to figure out answers to my whys. I then realized he was a gardener of souls who helped others by listening, by weeding out relatives’ and friends’ life’s issues, consequently, he gave them a renewed sense of hope and sometimes, his own money to assist with health expenses or housing expenses. It was seldom that he said NO, which my mom wished he did more often.
When my Asuncion, my mom passed 16 years later, I was again in a quandary, yet her death was anticipated. It occurred months after her 88th birthday when she discreetly shared it was so much more difficult to breathe and she was more than ready. It was not clear as to what her readiness was until a respiratory infection increased her sufferings.
Instead of sinking into depression and making my life smaller, I resolved to visit more. Our last Thanksgiving with her was 100 percent attendance from all members of the family and I counted 40 of us. Before I could even find the answers to my questions about her death, 60 days later, Rose, my eldest sister died.
I now have two lives to examine – why their deaths were in the first half of 2016?
I then recalled a community leader, Roy Morales. I too could not make sense of his death, we heard that he fell while fixing his house’s roof. That stayed with me and I imagined how painful and sudden it must have been. Could it be that he suffered a heart attack while up there and subsequently fell? As news trickled in, the Los Angeles Times confirmed that he died from a sudden heart attack.
Uncle Roy consciously educated folks to be “woke,” to know who we are, to address the issues around us, and to appreciate our community’s culture, heritage and blessings. He spent Saturdays leading the tour of Historic Filipinotown and I bet if he were alive today, he would celebrate the nomination of Filipino Christian Church to the National Register of Historic Places in October 2018. He was a social worker and served the community well and extended himself further by teaching Filipino American Studies at UCLA where his classes were maxed out in enrollment.
While he shared our common history in Historic Filipinotown (HIFI) by taking his UCLA students through a tour of HIFI, he recognized how gentrification displaced our early pioneers, our Manongs from their homes in Bunker Hill. He instilled in us how to have a higher appreciation for our culture, our heritage, and collective history. He made vigilant visits to appointing powers in local government and referred community persons with merit to staffers’ positions.
My mom, my dad and my sister were not self-proclaimed nor did they identify as community leaders. Yet, they too lived their lives for others. My mom was teaching science and math, while my sister propagated God’s words in the last four years of her life. She went to numerous cursillo retreats with her husband, Eduardo, to help in the spiritual formation of others, as herself. The three (dad, mom and sister) lived their lives caring for others and cared enough to pass on what they learned in life.
But more visible than my family members was Royal Morales, a social worker, a community cheerleader, a culture bearer who passed on his knowledge of our heritage and had a profound impact on many lives. These are examples of Filipino immigrants who came here many decades ago – who taught us we all belong to one human family.
My question today is – fast forward to the incidents we just had at the Lincoln Memorial, a face-off between an elderly Native American man and a young Covington High School student wearing a red MAGA hat from the Trump’s campaign. What would these Filipino elders say to these students? What would other folks of color say to them?
We must make acts of hatred unthinkable
Marlon James is a Jamaican writer. He is an acclaimed novelist who has published three novels: John Crow’s Devil, The Book of Night Women and A Brief History of Seven Killings.
He wrote the African “Game of Thrones” and teaches literature at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
He recently posted this on Facebook: “Here’s the thing about Covington Catholic School Boy. He [Nick Sandmann] didn’t shout, he didn’t rage, he didn’t threaten, and he did not even lift a finger. Because he’s not even twenty years old, and already knows he never has to. He just stood there with his smirk, the line sealing his white privilege. A smirk saying that nothing you speak matters, your existence doesn’t matter, your protest doesn’t matter, your dignity doesn’t matter, not even the fact that you were here first matters.
You’re a joke because I find you funny, you’re a target because I got my bull’s eye on you, and you are nothing because I won’t even remember you by the time I get home. This is racism boiled down to the core, bigotry in excelsis.”
Three distinct groups had converged in Lincoln Memorial.
Covington Catholic High School Students were in Washington, DC, to join the March for Life, a yearly activity of Catholics in Washington, DC to assert that all lives need to be protected, from conception to death. It is a march to declare they are against abortion. It is held each year in major cities in the U.S. The students wore red MAGA hats.
A group of Black Hebrews Israelites was also demonstrating. They asserted their beliefs that they are God’s chosen but shouted profanities at the high schoolers.
In the same location, Native Americans were holding their Indigenous People’s March.
Sensing the tension between the high school group and the Black Hebrew Israelites group, Nathan Phillips, an elderly Native American from Omaha got into the center of these two gatherings, drumming, intending to diffuse the spiraling tensions.
Instead, the high school students gathered around Phillips, the elderly man while Covington high school student Nick Sandmann stood still, with a red MAGA hat, stared at the Native American elder, wearing a smirk on his face, while his classmates were laughing and gesturing nearby, in a faceoff.
Sandmann claims he was grinning to keep the situation from escalating.
The video excerpt of that face-off went viral, and many comments surfaced: “Native American leaders have disputed student Nicholas Sandmann’s assertion that he was trying to keep the situation on the Mall from escalating when he stood, grinning, in front of Phillips. “His whole frame is that they were somehow attacked and behaving defensively,” said Daniel Paul Nelson of the Lakota People’s Law Project. “No, they were not, not towards Nathan. What they did to Nathan was completely offensive, not defensive,“ Washington Post Frances Stead Sellers and Kevin Williams wrote on Jan. 22.
Can we give credence to Nicholas Sandmann’s statement – that he was grinning to diffuse the situation?
Or was this a case of white privilege, as described by Marlon James, a high schooler who considers his actions were righteous and only he matters in this equation?
When a person is drumming, their focal attention and energies are channeled, connecting the pounding sticks for the arms to hit the drum skins. It would be physically impossible for this elderly man to keep drumming and for Sandmann to assert he had to protect himself from him, the Native American man.
As America Magazine’s Michael O’Loughlin on Jan. 24 reported, Lexington, Ky. Bishop John Stowe wrote an opinion-editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader about what he thought about these boys’ behaviors: “Without engaging the discussion about the context of the viral video or placing the blame entirely on these adolescents, it astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies.”
The bishop further cautioned the pro-life movement to have a critical look as to who they form alliances with. “The pro-life movement claims that it wants more than the policy change of making abortion illegal [and] aims to make it unthinkable. That would require deep changes in society and policies that would support those who find it difficult to afford children,” Bishop Stowe wrote, as reported by the Washington Post. “The association of our young people with racist acts and a politics of hate must also become unthinkable.”
What would our Filipino-American elders say to these teenagers?
First, it is inculcated since birth that elders are to be respected and that all folks are deserving of respect. “Honor him or her,” that is one of the important teachings of our Catholic faith. It is further supported by cultural norms, when we take the hand of an elder to our forehead and we say, “Mano Po.” In our culture, the use of the word “po” conveys respect, especially given to folks we have just met who are older or are in a position of authority.
It would be unthinkable for a teenager to assume an intimate distance towards an elder, unless his father, mother, uncle, grandfather, a relative to show intimacy or affection. To approach a person’s personal space with a smirk would be considered disrespectful and “in your face,” even. That was manifested in the video excerpt – a serious lack of respect for an elder, who is different from Nicholas Sandmann, a white teenager.
As to the Black Hebrew Israelites who claim they are God’s chosen, they can show by their actions who they descended from, by not throwing profanities at these teenagers.
The school is currently closed as death threats supposedly were hurled at these high school students. While the school is closed, a serious revamping of their curriculum might be considered to learn and make ethnicities’ histories and people of color contributions visible to the building of America, similar to what Uncle Roy was doing formally when he was teaching at UCLA.
It would seem that all those of God, who claim to be God’s descendants, and who are in a Catholic high school will need to examine critically their actions to match God’s example of inclusion, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 10 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.