By Rohan Zhou-Lee
When a Filipina American woman in upstate New York was brutally attacked on March 11 this year, many Stop Asian Hate activists, particularly Filipinos, were in uproar. After yet another year of heightened anti-Asian violence, we were fed up. Filipinos were rallying in late March in New York City, and I was invited to collaborate.
As an experienced Filipine American organizer who led The Blasian March, which has spawned multiple local chapters across the country, and received national coverage, I immediately said yes and was eager to contribute. This rally, set for March 30, united young and old, liberal and conservative, and varying genders. This intersectionality energized me. I did behind-the-scenes labor, wrote the press release and created the hashtag and new title, #FilipinosRiseUp, centered on uplifting Filipina women and LGBT folk.
Soon after, I was nominated to be a speaker, but when it came time for the rally, that invitation was rescinded. The leadership no longer wanted to include me or any other Black Filipinas; they said they wanted to “aim for what is feasible.”
What is unfeasible about me? I’m Queer/Nonbinary. I’m Filipino. The only difference between me and the other speakers was that I am Black.
Similar to how colonizers exploited Black slaves and Asian indentured servants, they took my work and then tossed me out. When I emailed leadership my thoughts, they replied, “We do not see the rally/this movement [as having] foundations of anti-Blackness.” Even though by excluding us Black Filipinos, a critical part of the community, it was.
It has taken me a long time to understand that this exclusion – of me and of all Black Filipinos – dishonors our rarely-told Filipino history, which is rich with solidarity with African Diaspora people. It was a betrayal of our ancestors, many of whom committed their lives to Black liberation.
In 1763, during over two centuries of Spanish Galleon Trade in the Caribbean, a group of Filipinos fought their way off a Spanish ship and fled to what we now know as New Orleans. The land they populated to this day would serve as a safe haven for African slave rebel Jean Saint Malo, leader of a slave revolt in Spanish colonial Louisiana, from 1773 until his hanging on June 19, 1784. While most scholarship does not explicitly acknowledge it as such, this might have been one of the earliest examples of Black-Asian solidarity on the stolen land of Turtle Island, more commonly known as The Americas.
The legacy of Black-Filipino solidarity against the colonizers continued during the Philippine-American War, when Filipinos fought for their freedom after being annexed by the US. Among the soldiers deployed by the States, between fifteen to thirty Black soldiers known as the Buffalo soldiers defected and joined the Filipino cause. Most famous among them was David Fagen, who shared tactics and information with his Asian allies.
In 1977, approximately four hundred police officers raided the International Hotel in San Francisco to evict Chinese and Filipino folks to make way for what is now the financial district. They were met with a human shield comprised of students, Indigenous folks of the Reclaim Alcatraz movement, the United Farmworkers in Salinas, and Black Panthers.
From their earliest recorded contact to modern day, Black people have risked their lives for Filipinos and vice versa. History can be concealed, but it can never be deleted. Current anti-Blackness and anti-Asianness is built on the calculated erasure of this history by white supremacists, and is so effective that even as our communities of color help to uphold this white mythology. This self-perpetuating machine, which embeds ignorance right into public education, uses divide and conquer to generate collective tension, and maintains imperial control on stolen land.
One current function of the aforementioned machine is to promote the stereotype that most perpetrators of anti-Asian violence are Black. This highlights only the 5.43% of anti-Asian violence done by Black people in the media, while it invisibilizes 89.6% of violence committed by white people. As Asian Americans have been scapegoated for the pandemic, Black Americans have been scapegoated for white criminality.
Such a system will be hard pressed to honor Angelo Quinto, a Filipino American killed by Antioch police in December 2020, while experiencing a mental health crisis. They put their knee on his neck, the same way officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, and the police involved, most of which white, were cleared of charges.
We in the Black community understand all too well the way police killings largely go unpunished. In fact, the New York Police Department, notorious for the killings of Eric Garner and a history of violence towards Black people, has since 2012 maintained a satellite station in Manila in partner with the Philippine National Police. Their presence was in support of then president, Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘drug war,’ in which the military and police participated contributed to 30,000 extrajudicial killings. The same police involved in the deaths of Black Americans exported their violence, and contributed to this catastrophic number of dead Filipinos.
Recently, another series of rallies were staged by the Filipino community on Sept. 19 and 20 at the United Nations where Vice President and Secretary of Education of the Philippines Sara Duterte, daughter of Rodrigo Duterte, was scheduled to speak at the Transforming Education Summit, and where President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. addressed the General Assembly. As a Black-Filipine, regardless of how I’ve been treated in the past, I am right there with them, and the Blasian March remains a steadfast endorser of the New York 4 Philipine Human Rights Coalition.
I will always be angry about how many Filipino Americans have treated me, the way they pushed me out, stole my work, even cheated me out of money. I cannot ignore how Stop Asian Hate has shown me how so many other Asians hate me, how many hate themselves because they don’t know their own history. However, Anti-Blackness and anti-Asianness from a few individuals don’t matter to me as much as human dignity for all. That’s something I hoped many Asian Americans understood when we rallied for George Floyd.
I believe, now in Filipino American History Month, that we take time to reflect on our history and see how we can do better than what happened to me, a Black Filipine. I think now is an opportunity to continue this ongoing legacy of solidarity by recognizing the same police state that killed Geroge Floyd is killing Angelo Quinto, Filipinos, and other Asians, and advocate for this policy change. The 1.14B dollars going into the Philippine military every year can go instead towards the housing, healthcare, and safety for Asian Americans, Black people, and everyone else here. I invite all, regardless of race, to unite in this effort.
Rohan Zhou-Lee (They/Siya/祂) is a writer, dancer, and community organizer in New York City. They are the founder of The Blasian March, a nationwide Black-Asian solidarity collective that builds community through education and celebration. The Blasian March recently held its Two Year Anniversary, #FilipinosRiseUp: Black Filipinx Power Oct 26th at MoCADA, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts. Zhou-Lee recently on Black-Asian solidarity in the Filipinx Diaspora on Radio LoRa 97.5 in Zurich, Switzerland.