To all peoples of Philippine ancestry, in the homeland and around the world, regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, racial justice, and global uncertainty. From fellow persons of Philippine descent.
There’s so much to say… Shall we begin with: I hope this letter finds you well. Shall we follow-up with: proud, inspired, in awe. Then with: you are one determined, resourceful, creative, fierce group of people. And we are humbled to be one of you.
There are 12 million of us living and working outside of the Philippines, spread out in over 100 countries.
Among us are nurses that make up 20% of nurses in California and New York. There are also the doctors, physical therapists, hospital administrators, and healthcare workers in non-hospital settings. There’s an estimated 40,000 Philippine workers in the UK’s National Health System, including 18,500 nurses. There are Philippine nurses in over 50 countries—the Gulf States, Japan, Singapore, Italy, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, New Zealand… Spain is fast-tracking entry of nurses from the Philippines.
In addition to these frontline workers, the essential workers among us are postal workers, workers in airports and grocery stores, social workers, domestic workers. In the US, domestic workers are deemed essential but are not part of the coronavirus relief bill.
We also have the overseas contractual workers who were stranded in their host countries or in cargo ships and cruises. Philippine seafarers, who make up nearly a quarter of the world’s merchant marine crews, were stuck in ships for months.
Meanwhile in the Philippines, the premier supplier of nurses to the rest of the world, the ratio of care is one nurse to 40-60 patients. The pandemic has also been used to quell protests. In one indigenous peoples barricade in Nueva Vizcaya, the group’s leader was arrested for allegedly violating quarantine rules. This particular protest is against environmental degradation and displacement by the mining corporation OceanaGold.
This can go on. There’s so much to say… And we haven’t even mentioned the alarmingly disproportionate Covid-19 cases and death rates among Philippine frontline and essential workers around the world. We haven’t even explored the situation of Philippine women caught in the global sex trade. And the spike in child pornography and child sexual abuse. And domestic violence…
We pause here. We breathe, and now give voice to the small and big ways we’ve sustained and continue to sustain one another. We’ve mobilized for the frontliners and essential workers. There’s been cooking kare-kare and pinakbet for them. Doing their laundry, household chores, errands. There’s been online tributes, memorial pages, donations for funeral and family expenses. We rallied for PPEs, wrote petitions to hospital administrators, sent stories to the media. Indeed, among us are activists, union organizers, advocates, cooks, artists, writers, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers who, while in quarantine, found creative ways to step up and look out for one another.
The experts say this Covid-19 pandemic won’t be over any time soon and that there may be waves of it. Let’s make sure we’re well-equipped, that the frontline workers are well-equipped. Physically, mentally, and spiritually. Let’s continue to demand essential protection equipment and support. We cannot let up on that, because while they’re lauded as heroes, it seemed that sometimes the reality on the ground made them look more like collateral damage. Let’s continue to strengthen the activism and advocacy for those among us caught in dire conditions. The indigenous peoples in the Philippines will continue to guard and protect the land, pandemic or no pandemic. Let’s support them.
We now find ourselves in the midst of a heightened struggle for racial justice, in the US and around the world. We are not bystanders. The movement for Black Lives is intertwined with our condition as people of Philippine ancestry. For one, Philippine workers abroad often experience racism in the workplace, not treated as equals in their host countries, most often treated as automatons that provide service. They are often underpaid and targets of employment scams. Also, there is our history of Spanish colonization and US occupation. Race played a part in these.
Of course people of Philippine ancestry are diverse. We’re not all fond of the same things. We don’t all love karaoke and line dancing. We don’t all crave for dinuguan or bagoong. And some of us are more familiar with uncertainty than others. Indeed some of us, for generations, have only known and lived with uncertainty. But we are of the same roots. Roots that go deeper than the differences in our traditions, in our religions, in our many languages, in our skin tone. Roots that trace back to multiple migrations into the archipelago later to be called Pilipinas. Roots enriched by those who stood and are standing firm against colonizers and modern day colonialism. Roots that cover the globe, in our various paths of emigration, as if adding islands to the archipelago. May we draw strength from all of this.
And this time, it’s not bahala na, come what may. This time, it’s we will make it so.
With deepest respect and gratitude,
Dorotea Mendoza, Brooklyn, New York USA (writer, activist, zen practitioner)
Annalisa V. Enrile, Los Angeles, California USA (social work educator, activist, writer)
Olivia Quinto, Houston, Texas USA (lawyer)
Carolyn Antonio, Jersey City, NJ USA (writer, advocate for survivors of gender-based violence)
Eliza Fabillar, Boston, Massachusetts USA (scholar-practitioner, education director, yoga teacher)
Maitet Ledesma, Utrecht, The Netherlands (activist, migrant advocate)
Armely Matas, Frederick, Maryland USA (writer, registered nurse)
Erica Miguel, Los Angeles, California USA (writer, activist, environmentalist)
Maria Dumlao, Philadelphia, PA USA (artist/cultural producer, teacher)
Vivian Itchon Gupta, Long Island, New York USA (office manager at cardiologists’ practice, stroke survivor, activist)
If you share these sentiments, please sign below (in ‘reply’ field), pass it on, and check out the resources for community and action. You’re invited to add your thoughts here, your suggestions for actions and resources, your offerings in images or in words–in your own Philippine or adopted language, if you want. And you’re encouraged to translate this open letter to any of those languages and share that translation here.
Think of this communal form as something like those letters or objects (photos, birthday cards, balikbayan boxes) that family members and friends send to one another when separated by borders and continents. This is our ongoing depository, a collective space, a place we can go back to again and again, to take refuge, for reflection, for strength… Thank you.
This page will be updated regularly. Check back often.
(Non-Philippine allies are welcome and encouraged to sign, share, comment, make an offering… but please mind the intention of this space.)