October is Pilipino American History Month. It’s the month where we remember the first Pilipinos to land in the US after escaping the Spanish galleons in Louisiana, establishing communities in the bayous. It’s the month where we honor the Pilipino American farmworkers like Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong who established the UFW before Ceasar Chavez received all the credit. It’s the month where we account for over 4 waves of migration from the Philippines to the United States, first as nationals, then as immigrants, always as the “other”- condescended as “little brown brothers” backwards and in need of “teaching” or as dogs not allowed in businesses. While many can argue that we have come far, one thing remains- ours is a community of contradictions and one of the hardest ones for me this season is in terms of politics. Fiercely Catholic and Anti-Choice, Filipinos voted for Trump in record numbers. I urge my brothers and sisters, my kababayan (countrymen) in the community to think twice. (Please note: the change in spelling is a political one- those that use “P” do so because the indigenous language of PIlipinos does not contain “F.” The use of the F is considered mainstream and/or conservative). This letter is not to my uncle, but an amalgamation of relatives- those Filipinos who would vote for Trump.
Dear Tito Jun (“Uncle Jun” in Tagalog/Pilipino),
I am disappointed in you for believing that another four years of Trump in the White House is the answer. I used to look up to you, the way you always took care of us when we were kids. You made me laugh with your silly jokes and when I was older that laughter was the balm for broken hearts and bitter fights. I always thought we had an understanding.
You told me about how you left the Philippines- a country you loved but one in the hands of a dictator. One night, after only the stubs of candlelight reflected the barest of light through the brown glass of San Miguel bottles, when it was so late the sky had already sent the moon to bed, you told me, with a faraway look in your eyes – you told me of the kasamas (comrades) who died in the mountains, too far for your reach. It was the first time I saw you cry.
You were always the one who cheered me on and chided my mother when she tried to contain me. Ate (older sister), you would say, even as she bristled against my latest escapade, huwag ka na magalit, ganoon talaga siya. Hindo magbabago ang ugali niya. (don’t get made, that is the way she is. Her ways will not change). You pointed out that it was better anyway, for me to be the way I was- strong and defiant. You said, Ate, di ba okay yaan? Hindi siya magpapatalo. (Sister, isn’t that good? She will not allow herself to lose).
When you immigrated here, I was thrilled and we had long summer days full of adventure. But, then you started a business and sent for your children and your wife. You joined a chamber of commerce and a church association. You put roots down in a small town and forgot the mountains you wanted to fly back to in a place you used to call home.
Is that what happened? You listened so long to people who did not know any better? But, Tito, you should have known better. You should see the signs of fascism, barricade yourself against fake news and bold lies and false divisions. You who taught me to love everyone, and even showed my mother how to love me, you put your trust into a president who only knows how to hate.
This is what our country- mine through birthright and yours by force- has become. We have had someone in the seat of leadership who operates through the rules of hate, sowing fear and discontent, feeding us injustice by the spoonful, shoving it down our throats until we have no choice but to fight back- to save our own lives. Because people are dying- not just in the mountains but in the streets, in hospitals overrun with COVID patients, in a hail of police bullets just for being the wrong color, raped and exploited because that man said it was okay to disrespect and demean women. We don’t live under a dictatorship, but we are caught in the yoke of white supremacy and I am afraid the rope is getting tighter around our necks.
So, Tito, stop retelling his lies. Stop believing in things that are not true. Please do not vote for Trump again. And, please don’t tell other people to. We need a change. We need to do what Pilipinos do best- survive. Tito, please help us survive.
Your pamangkin (niece),