Saturday, August 29, 2009

Faithful Servant, Fierce Advocate

This week, the Kennedy family lost a loving patriarch, America, a great senator, and minorities, a fierce advocate. Throughout his long career, Senator Ted Kennedy fought for the basic rights and human dignity of those often ignored and dismissed, of those with little or no power. Immigrants. People of color. Low income and poor families. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.

A devout Roman Catholic, he lived out Jesus' mandate to love one's neighbor. He did his best to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and heal the sick. He worked hard to pass immigration, education, health care and civil rights legislation that made this country stronger and us better. He was a good example of a public servant whose faith inspired his work but who never allowed his tradition's dogmas and doctrines to dictate public policy or our daily lives. He respected the separation of church and state and cherished core American values of freedom and equality.

It has been said that his sense of social and economic justice stemmed from his upbringing as a Roman Catholic. He understood the New Testament's radical message of upending the status quo and having a place at the table for all of god's children. No one person or group is chosen or favored. In a way, he surpassed his own church in his humility and admission that he was a flawed human being. He had room in his heart and life for all people. He lived by the spirit of his faith, not by its man-made rules and laws.

By his example and inspiration, let the work go on, the cause endure, hope live and the dream never die.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer in the Melting Pot

Summer in New York City is a hot, muggy, crowded, filthy, pungent and at times, cranky affair. Hanging on to a subway pole can inspire a mad dash to the nearest bodega for a small bottle of Purell. Yet riding the subway in less than pleasant conditions reminds me of what I love about the place: its diversity. Crammed together are New Yorkers of all ethnicities, complexions, tongues, ages, professions, stations, fashions, orientations and persuasions. Tossed in for good measure are tourists from all over the world.

Last weekend’s visit captured this amazing heterogeneity. I enjoyed Bryant Park with a Colombian American graduate student. I attended my first House ball at Roseland with a White Puerto Rican architect. At the House of Latex Ball, African American and Latino gay and transgender people strutted, danced and vogued, blurring gender and social lines. I had brunch in Chelsea with an Irish American Episcopal priest and his Latino partner of over 25 years. I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant with a native Virginian comfortable with now being a minority. I sat next to a long married couple at church, one an ardent Republican, the other a hardcore Democrat. I was introduced to a group of radical Asian Pacific Island lesbians by a Filipino priest-cum-social worker and his Chinese American husband at a Filipino Thai bistro in the Lower East Side now overrun by White yuppies.

It comes as no surprise then that a couple I know choose to raise their five year old daughter in Manhattan. Rather than moving to Washington where she can easily find work as a policy researcher and he as a financial analyst, they opt for tight quarters in a vibrant city. “I’d like my daughter to grow up among people who are different from her … I’d like her to know diversity.” No doubt the precocious little one will learn and laugh with other children not as fair or fortunate as her.

There is something to be said about having neighbors who look, sound, believe and live differently. Over 8.3 million people speaking roughly 170 languages live within 305 square miles. More than a third are immigrants. Millions more come in daily to work and play. I’ll never forget what a trucker told me years ago. “You know when I came here from Trinidad, I didn’t know any gay people and I thought you were all freaks. But after I moved here, I realized that you aren’t so bad. Actually, you people are nicer to me. You treat me with respect when I deliver furniture.” And at one of my first Pride parades, a Latina cop said, “We like your parade – you guys are fun and well-behaved.”

And I thought as I clung to the clammy subway pole, you’re not too bad yourselves.

Friday, August 14, 2009

We've Come A Long Way ... With Miles To Go

As I went through my files last night, I came across a letter sent to me by Dick Leitsch, one-time president of the Mattachine Society. I had asked him about people of color during the time of Stonewall. He wrote:

It was gay men, white, middle-class gay men, who were the target of society’s fury. It was we who were harassed, entrapped, arrested, beaten up, jailed, fired, denounced. No one seemed much to care what Hispanics and Blacks did in their ghettos – which is apparently why they were not abused as white gay me were – and why their bathhouse was allowed to remain open after all of ours had been closed down. “Who cares if they all give one another AIDS?” seemed to be the attitude of homophobes and racists.

Also, until after the mid-1960s and early 1970s, “Third World” people were more oppressed because of their skin color, language and ethnicity, than because of their sexual preference. One could hide being gay, but other things are less concealable. Thus they were more likely to worry about their status in a racist, xenophobic society than about their sexuality – which might be as much a problem in their own community (or ghetto) as it was in the general community.

Beyond doubt, the LGBT movement has come a long way and we are slowly but surely securing our place in society while gaining piecemeal rights and privileges which most Americans take for granted. Gay white middle-class males have gone the farthest, no longer easily or readily harassed, entrapped, arrested, beaten up, jailed, fired, or denounced like Dick and other out men were in the sixties, seventies and eighties.

However, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders of color continue to lag behind. They are still disadvantaged by their skin color, language, ethnicity and sexual orientation. As Human Rights Campaign’s recent report pointed out:
An overwhelming number (97 percent) of LGBT people of color say basic kitchen table issues such as affordable healthcare, jobs and the economy are important, but just as significant are racial and ethnic equality (97 percent) and prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS (96 percent). Also important is education (95 percent), affordable housing (94 percent), crime and violence (94 percent) and equality for LGBT people (93 percent).
So while many white gay men now struggle for marriage equality, for LGBTs of color, the “most pressing issues centered around the daily challenge of making ends meet, frustrations over trying to get ahead, and concern for neighborhood safety.”

Image from Sociological Images

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tsunami of Change

What is behind the hysterics at town hall meetings? Not who is behind the mob - as it is widely known to be fringe agitators like Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh in tandem with conservative lobbying groups - but what is behind the blind rage that borders on the absurd? Why are these people acting like they are on the Jerry Springer Show?

Although it has been purposely stirred up for partisan ends, I have no doubt that some of the anger is real. However, I do not think that it is all about health care.

We have all witnessed major changes in our country during this first decade of the 21st century. Most of us have done our best to ride the waves and keep our heads above water. Most of us continue to believe in the strength and core values of this nation. Most of us remain optimistic and hopeful. Yet I sense that some feel as if their world is ending, as if water has made it to their lungs and they no longer could breathe. They are flailing helplessly and screaming for an end to this nightmare.

September 11, 2001 was the first big wave that hit us. Until then, America was the only superpower left. But it only took a ragtag band of fundamentalist zealots to end our sense of security and dominance. We lashed back with full force at the terrorist organization behind the attack and struck at another regime for good measure, but eight years, billions of dollars and thousands of lives later, our new enemies thrive, partly due to our own reaction.

In 2007, the second wave hit. Our economy went on free fall and many of us lost our jobs, homes and savings. The American dream of owning a home has been shattered, and the reward of a secure retirement after a lifetime of hard work is no longer guaranteed.

Then more waves in the past year. We elected our first African American president and witnessed the elevation of the first Latino Supreme Court justice. The complexion of America is changing rapidly. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals are slowly winning equality state by state while changing the minds and hearts of most Americans, particularly the next generation. Sixteen percent of us are not practicing any religion.

This isn’t about health care. This is about Change. Fear of Change which can be good for the nation. If only some folks could get over their panic and ride the waves with the rest of us.

Image: The Great Wave Off Kanagawa By Katsushika Hokusai

Monday, August 03, 2009

Intergenerational Power

The death of Cory Aquino saddens millions of Filipinos and believers in democracy worldwide. Her life and the peaceful People Power revolution continue to inspire many to work for peace, justice, freedom and equality, including those of us in the diaspora who are doing so in our adopted countries.

But what surprises me is how young Filipino Americans, who were children during that turbulent and hopeful time, thousands of miles away, are inspired by the late Philippine president and the movement she led. An activist for the Asian Pacific American community wrote, "Her rise to the Philippine Presidency through People Power inspired the world and created a new generation of Filipino activists around the world who now carry the legacy of the EDSA Revolution."

Naomi Tacuyan Underwood, APIAVote's Deputy Director, writes:

I do remember it like it was yesterday, which is why Cory Aquino’s death seems to have come so out of the blue.

Through kindergarten and 1st grade, I watched along with my parents for news about the Philippines, even before I could divide, multiply, or construct compound sentences. I saw masses flood EDSA, people against tanks, rosaries against guns. I remember being awed, distressed, anxious-- because this was my country in turmoil and uncertainty. I saw the brown faces behind the candlelight vigils, yellow ribbons against a blue tropical sky, hands shaping Ls for LABAN, hundreds and thousands of Filipinos, with fierce, joyous hope gleaming in their eyes. I remember seeing on TV her slight frame rallying crowds and defiantly speaking against Marcos, conferring with soldiers and nuns, hand in hand with students and socialites.

I remember her coming to Guam before the snap election, a gathering somewhere in Hagatna. Sitting on my father’s lap as people milled about, I caught a glimpse of her skirt, and even then, at that young age, knew the gravitas of this person, this phenomenon, and the sea of change right around the corner. She wasn’t perfect, many say, but who is? Her faith & steadfastness restored democracy and freedom to my homeland. Her rule was sincere, and her leadership continued on past her presidency and continued to hold succeeding presidents accountable.

So, salamat, Tita Cory. For the lessons in faith and the lifetime commitment to democracy. May you rest in peace with Ninoy and God.

A friend of Naomi posted
True heroes never really die; they pass on their knowledge, will & most importantly their courage to the next generation who will continue fighting the good fight whether it may be an individual or systemic one.