Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Itim at Puti

During a recent visit with family, my mother lamented a change in my young niece. The 11 year old had majorly gotten into swimming and this cost, in my mom's mind, one of Meg's more attractive features: her fair skin. Tingnan mo 'yan - ang itim-itim. Translated verbatim, look at that - very black-black. In my mother's mind, having a china doll's complexion is desirable. She has more than once been called china doll and she never once felt insulted. Afterall, this took a lifetime of avoiding the sun and nightly applications of Pond's. And a few genes from her Chinese and Portuguese ancestors. My mom is tsinita, that is she looks Chinese, and she cherished the fact that her apo was also tsinita. Well, not anymore.

This all reminded me of a conversation my mom and I had a number of times while I was growing up. My brother could easily be mistaken for an Hispanic, while I, a Polynesian. He was and is taller and fairer while I am shorter and darker. Needless to say, when it came to my appearance, I was a very insecure child, adolescent and young adult. Thank goodness I immigrated to New York where I realized early on that there is more than one standard of beauty.

I do understand where my mom is coming from: a culture that values light complexion over dark, puti (white) over itim (black). Fairer skinned folks have some European blood in them and do not need to work outdoors, in the streets or the fields. Darker ones are not as fortunate to have their Malay blood diluted. I know more than one individual who is proud to claim a prayle (friar) as an ancestor. A google search using keywords "philippine skin whitening" nets 464,000 results in 0.14 seconds. "Filipino skin whitening" gets 133,000 entries in 0.16 seconds.

It was such a delight then, to meet over the weekend, three young Asian women who lamented their fair complexions. One, a Filipino American, told me how she found her light complexion freakish next to her parents' and siblings' brown hue. Another, a Filipino Chamorro, chimed in and said that she regularly tans. A third agreed and proudly flashed the bronze arms she had worked hard to achieve. All declared that they want to look Filipino, which to them means darker, less European and more Asian. Southeast Asian to be exact.

Perhaps, after growing up in the United States, my niece will be just like these young women. Beautiful and proud to be Filipino.

Image: The Ethnic Filipino Barbie Collection.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Who Would Jesus Hate?

If Christians truly believed Jesus' teaching that we are all God's children, followed his example of embracing social outcasts, and lived out his mandate to love another, then a recent USA Today article is rendered moot.

In "Straight believers find a home in gay churches, synagogues," the writer tells stories of straight individuals who have found refuge in LGBT or predominantly LGBT congregations. As a woman who had lost her husband explained, "Mishpachah (her congregation) means family and they were truly family to me ... isn't that what we want and look for and hope for in a religious community?" Many of those who came to sit shiva with her are gay.

A couple sought a "gay" congregation to be their liberal oasis in the center of the Bible Belt desert. Some attend LGBT churches and synagogues out of a sense of solidarity or social justice. Others "wandered in by accident, or were invited by a gay friend or family member, and simply felt at home and decided to stay." In my own congregation, individuals and families - straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - come and stay because of our welcoming spirit and strong sense of community.

Sadly, not all Christians try to be real Christians. Rather they believe, follow and live out "truths" of belief systems generated by men, partly to put their group above and apart from others. To justify exclusion, discrimination, oppression and subjugation of other people. Hardly what their namesake was and is about.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Three-Fifths of a Person

A friend who happens to be an historian, Episcopal priest and proud son of Virginia emailed in response to The United States According to Pat:

Along these same lines, whenever I hear someone talking about the original US constitution or the "founding fathers," I try to remind myself that the constitution and those men and their families were, for the most part, happy to live with "other Persons" as three-fifth's of a person.
He is referring to the three-fifths compromise is found in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to the Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
Wikipedia explains:
The Three-Fifths Compromise was a compromise between Southern and Northern States reached during the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 in which three-fifths of the population of slaves would be counted for enumeration purposes regarding both the distribution of taxes and the appointment of the members of the United States House of Representatives ... Delegates opposed to slavery generally wished to count only the free inhabitants of each state. Delegates supportive of slavery, on the other hand, generally wanted to count slaves in their actual numbers. Since slaves could not vote, slaveholders would thus have the benefit of increased representation in the House and the Electoral College; taxation was only a secondary issue. The final compromise of counting "all other persons" as only three-fifths of their actual numbers reduced the power of the slave states relative to the original southern proposals, but increased it over the northern position.
Image from The Slave Heritage Resource Center. Picture of slaves in Cumberland Landing, Virginia, May 1862.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The United States According to Pat

The story Pat Buchanan and those of his ilk would like to tell is that America was built 100 percent by White Men. But he knows better than that. He knows that that is patently false. He is very well educated, having gone to an elite high school for boys, Georgetown University and Columbia University. He was an editorial writer before working for Nixon, Ford and Reagan. He knows history but chooses to lie and propagate his untruths for partisan purposes and more insidiously, to foment racial animus.

In response to his most recent false claim that “100% of the people who died at Gettysburg” were White men, Media Matters points out that “according to PBS, during the Civil War, ‘More than 200,000 blacks fought for the Union, and 38,000 died, the majority of disease.’” Moreover, at least one woman disguised as a male soldier reportedly died in the Gettysburg campaign. The organization also quotes historian Jane Peters Estes, who argues that women, too, died in the Civil War.

Media Matters further clarifies that
Buchanan also claimed that "probably close to 100 percent of the people who died at Normandy" were white men. He previously falsely claimed that "all the dead at Normandy" were white males. Buchanan's comments again denigrated the service that minorities played at Normandy or in World War II. According to a History Channel documentary, "1.2 million African-Americans served in World War II, and although largely forgotten by history, nearly 2,000 of them stormed the beaches of Normandy." … Buchanan's remark also ignored the contributions of other non-whites who served in World War II, including Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans.
Indeed Asians have been part of America since the 18th century. In 1763, Filipino sailors established a settlement in current-day Louisiana. In 1848, Chinese men joined the Gold Rush, “lured by tales and dreams of making it rich on ‘Gold Mountain’ (which became the Chinese nickname for California).” Some of these individuals subsequently became railroad workers on the First Transcontinental Railroad or Pacific Railroad project.

As C.N. Le narrates:
At its peak, 9,000 to 12,000 Chinese worked for the Central Pacific in some of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs. Many sources claim that up to 1,000 Chinese died during the project as a result of avalanches and explosive accidents as they carved their way through the Sierra Mountains. Even though the Chinese workers performed virtually all of the hardest, dirtiest, and most dangerous jobs, they were only paid 60% of what European immigrant workers got paid. The Chinese workers actually went on strike for a few days and demanded that they get paid the same amount as the other ethnic groups. Officials of the Central Pacific were able to end the strike and force the Chinese workers back to work by cutting off their food supply and starving them into submission. The project was completed on May 10, 1869 and a famous ceremony was staged where the two railroad lines met in Promontory Point, Utah. You might have seen the famous photograph were everybody posed in front of two train engines facing each other. Although a handful of Chinese workers were allowed to participate in the final ceremony and a small group were personally congratulated by Stanford Leland and his partners who financed the project, perhaps not too shocking, the Chinese workers were forbidden from appearing in the famous photograph of the ceremony, even though without their work and their lives, the project may never have been completed.
People like Buchanan would like to keep Asians and other minorities invisible but the facts of history shed a bright light on the many contributions and sacrifices of Asians for America. Asian Americans have been leaders of industry, arts and culture, academia and government. The last century alone witnessed loyal and brave Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Filipino Americans and other Asian Americans fight for their country in World War II, the Korean War, Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the War on Terror – wars started by men like Buchanan but fought by men and women of color alongside White Americans.

Perhaps White men like Pat Buchanan would like to reconsider their stories and finally tell the truth.

Image from MSNBC.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Sky Is Not Falling

White guys, especially conservative ones, must really feel under attack. As Pat Buchanan passionately declared to Rachel Maddow why he thought that 108 of the 110 Supreme Court Justices had been white:

White men were 100% of the people who wrote the Constitution, 100% of the people that signed the Declaration of Independence, 100% of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, probably close to 100% of the people who died at Normandy. This has been a country built basically by white folks, in this country, who were 90% of the nation in 1960 when I was growing up and the other 10% were African-Americans who had been discriminated against. That's why.

Never mind of course that land was taken away from indigenous non-White people; that Africans were shipped in as slaves; that other nations were conquered for their resources and strategic worth; that generations of African Americans, immigrants and other people of color have provided the blood, sweat and tears that built and continue to strengthen this nation. And yes, alongside good hard-working White men.

Yet the urgency and anger they feel hit home when a mild-mannered, seemingly socially progressive but fiscally conservative White friend, who had never reacted to any of my online postings, retorted to something I had tweeted.

The tweet posted on Facebook: Surprise! Another hypocritical & adulterous traditional values pol. And guess who his housemates were? http://tinyurl.com/mp4r6l.

To which this gentleman volleyed: Congrats. I'm happy for you. Hope you can celebrate a bit tonight.

I replied: Just pointing out the hypocrisy of those who think my relationship is an abomination and less than theirs and who oppose granting me rights & privileges straight Americans take for granted.

Perhaps he simply has had enough of my advocacy but I ought to have added that this was not a personal attack on him, that I do not think all conservatives are the same.

Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson may as well have been talking about White conservatives at large when he acknowledged that many Episcopal conservatives might feel isolated at the moment.

Progressives stayed around and in the Episcopal Church for 30, 40 years when we were the minority, and our voices weren’t heard, and we were pushed out. I think a lot of them have never felt what it felt like to be in the minority. A bunch of straight white guys are now sitting there and having that experience, which is something I think could be valuable for anyone to experience.

The thing is, I can and do empathize with those who sense seismic social and cultural shifts and who feel as if they are under siege, picked out and discriminated against. Been there, am there and will still be there for some time. But change is good. Particularly this kind of change in which more people are welcomed to the table. White people are not losing their place, just making a little room for others to share in a still quite large and abundant room.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Time & A Season

There has been a lot of angst, among some of my Episcopal sisters and brothers, over goings on at the Church’s triennial convention. In particular, whether the moratorium on election of gay bishops will be overturned or not; whether same-sex blessings will be officially sanctioned or not; and whether the Episcopal Church will remain part of the Anglican Communion or not.

It looks like openly gay bishops can soon be called and consecrated again, after both Houses of Deputies and Bishops came up with separate resolutions that articulate the inclusive will of the body politic. The verdict is still out on same-sex blessings. As for remaining within the worldwide consortium, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, said that he regretted the move because it could further fracture the communion.

The latest news has elated many but there are still those who continue to fret over Williams’ disapproval and the possibility of getting kicked out of the Anglican body. I personally have long lost any esteem for Dr. Williams' opinions and pronouncements, as he clearly puts the concept of organizational unity over human worth and dignity. As for remaining within the Anglican Communion, to what end? Has not the "Church" fractured and splintered since the time of Jesus? Contrary to what some would like to believe and proclaim, there is no one true Church but many churches.

What we now have is a church, the Episcopal Church, one among many, but one that truly welcomes all of God's children not just those deemed worthy by other men.

Photograph by Fiona Hanson/AP.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Letter from the President

Yesterday, I got an email from the President. It was rather personal. He wrote:
Erwin --

This weekend, our family will join millions of others in celebrating America. We will enjoy the glow of fireworks, the taste of barbeque, and the company of good friends. As we all celebrate this weekend, let's also remember the remarkable story that led to this day.

Two hundred and thirty-three years ago, our nation was born when a courageous group of patriots pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to the proposition that all of us were created equal.
Equal. At this point my smile retracted. Warm and fuzzy feelings got cold and pointed. I read on.
Our country began as a unique experiment in liberty -- a bold, evolving quest to achieve a more perfect union. And in every generation, another courageous group of patriots has taken us one step closer to fully realizing the dream our founders enshrined on that great day.

Today, all Americans have a hard-fought birthright to a freedom which enables each of us, no matter our views or background, to help set our nation's course. America's greatness has always depended on her citizens embracing that freedom -- and fulfilling the duty that comes with it.

As free people, we must each take the challenges and opportunities that face this nation as our own. As long as some Americans still must struggle, none of us can be fully content.
As long as some Americans still must struggle, none of us can be fully content. Ah, smile back, feeling warm and fuzzy again. So he is aware of my second class status as a gay immigrant of color. He does care about LGBT individuals and families. He knows about our struggles and he is not fully content. He said so at the party he threw for us at the White House. It’s all code you see.
And as America comes ever closer to achieving the perfect Union our founders dreamed, that triumph -- that pride -- belongs to all of us.
Look, he and the Dems do have a plan, a strategy that will bring the nation closer to our founding fathers’ belief that all are created equal and have unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The president and all the elected officials who are grateful for our loyalty, votes and money will secure us gays the equality that is our right. Triumph. Pride. Read between the lines!
So today is a day to reflect on our independence, and the sacrifice of our troops standing in harm's way to preserve and protect it.
Yes, he's thinking about the more than 65,000 gay Americans serving on active duty, 1 million gay veterans, 13,000 women and men discharged under DADT and 282 since he took office.
It is a day to celebrate all that America is. And today is a time to aspire toward all we can still become.

With very best wishes,
President Barack Obama
July 4th, 2009
Thank you Mr. President. I do continue to aspire - to dream - as do millions of other LGBT. And I will hang on to your letter along with your campaign ideals, inspiring speeches and big promises.