Saturday, May 25, 2013

Anti-Gay Hate Crimes on the Rise in New York City: A Call to the Community

by Kevin L. Nadal, Ph.D.

I first moved to New York when I was 24 years old and I was accepted into a doctoral program in psychology at Columbia University. Some college friends from my undergraduate university in Southern California were already living in New York and invited me to move in with them in a small two-bedroom apartment in the West Village.

I was a naïve Californian, who had just completed a two-year tenure in Michigan, and I didn’t really know much about my neighborhood. When I told people where I was moving, I usually said that it was where the “Friends” characters lived or where the tenth season of the “Real World” was filmed.

However, when I actually moved to the Big Apple a month later, I quickly learned that the neighborhood where I would spend the first three years of my New York life was the home of the Stonewall Inn and the mecca of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) Rights Movement.

Perhaps I didn’t know much about Stonewall because I was still in the closet. While I had been living a “secret” life as a gay man for most of my life, the lingering pressures of coming from a Catholic, Filipino family prevented me from ever coming to terms with my sexual identity.

I didn’t tell many people that I was gay — not my family in California, not my family that lived off the last stop of the F-Train in Jamaica, Queens, and not even my roommates who I shared a wall with. I wasn’t ready. I was afraid I wouldn’t be accepted. I was scared that I would lose everything (and everyone) in my life.

But somehow, everything changed.

I started exploring my neighborhood and began to frequent some of the local gay bars. I began to meet all kinds of LGBTQ people -– particularly gay men, transgender women, and even a few drag queens. At least once a week, I would go to the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, the same place where the LGBTQ movement began over 30 years prior when a bunch of brave transgender women and gay men fought back against a police raid.

My favorite nights at Stonewall circa 2002 were the “Hip Hop Nights;” I would enter a room where a bunch of gay and queer men of color were bobbing their heads to the sounds of Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. I could be a person of color and gay at the same time, and it was okay.

I made several friends in the West Village, and I even met a few lovers. It felt so free and invigorating to hold another man’s hand in public for the first time in my life. I felt safe. I felt proud. It was time for me to come out of the closet.

Eleven years later, a few things have changed. First, over time, I had lived in two other LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods in Manhattan: Hell’s Kitchen (which is adjacent to Times Square) and Chelsea (where I currently live). I graduated from my Ph.D. program, wrote a few books, and eventually became a tenured professor. And most importantly, I finally met the love of my life, and we have been unofficially living together for the past nine months. I plan on marrying him someday and I am proud to be a resident of a state where that would be legal.

However, lately, I haven’t been so proud of my state or my city.

In the past three weeks, there have been a string of hate crimes against gay men in Manhattan, and one resulted in death. On May 5th, a gay couple was attacked in broad daylight outside of Madison Square Garden, right after a New York Knicks game, while a different gay couple was assaulted a few days later, a few blocks away. A gay man was attacked while leaving a bar in the West Village, and another gay man in Union Square was punched in the face and robbed. With all of these incidents, the assailants were heard yelling homophobic slurs, right before — and while — they assaulted their victims.

On Thursday, May 16th, I attended a protest, in front of Madison Square Garden, right before a Knicks game. With the theme of “Queers Take Back the Night,” over a hundred LGBTQ people and allies stood silently with signs as Knicks fans entered the arena. Some passers-by respectfully walked by, while many snickered or scoffed at our presence.

A few LGBTQ leaders spoke passionately on a megaphone, and the nonviolent group walked with their signs and flyers down 8th Avenue. For some, it was important to educate people about the string of anti-LGBT hate crimes and for others, the purpose was to reclaim the streets they once viewed as safe.

Apparently, the peaceful protest didn’t work.

On May 18th, shortly after midnight, Mark Carson, a 32-year old, gay African American man was walking with a friend in the West Village, when a group of men began to verbally harass them with homophobic taunts. One of the men followed the pair and shot Mark Carson in the face; he died shortly after.

Less than 24 hours later, I attended a candlelight vigil in honor of Mr. Carson, located right where he was killed. Several hundred people were in attendance, and I heard the phrase “It could have been any of us” throughout the night. On Monday night, a more organized rally was held to honor Mr. Carson. While I personally could not attend, I was there in spirit with the thousands of people who marched in the West Village and held signs that read “Stop the Hate!” and “Marriage means nothing if we are being gunned down.” Leaders of the LGBTQ community, politicians, and even members of Mr. Carson’s family spoke.

Sadly, this protest didn’t work either.

A few hours later in the East Village, a gay man was attacked after disclosing to an acquaintance that he was gay. A few more hours later in Soho, a gay couple was the verbal target of anti-gay slurs, right before they were physically assaulted. These last two incidents bring the total number to seven anti-gay hate crimes in a span of 20 days. Perhaps we need to do more than just protest and rally.

Some members of the LGBTQ community want to fight back, by taking self-defense classes or arming themselves. Others want more police presence in LGBTQ neighborhoods, and others want to organize “safety by numbers” programs. While I can see some merit in some of these responses, my recommendation is simple: 1) Talk about these issues, 2) Don’t assume, and 3) Take a stand.

We have to start talking to our family members, friends, and acquaintances about what is happening. Post on your Facebook and Twitter pages. Send emails to listserves across the country, but also to your personal networks. While there is some coverage on mainstream news sources, most people are unaware of what is happening. Tell people about what happened to Mark Carson, so that his death is not in vain. It is way too common for LGBTQ people (particularly transgender people and LGBTQ people of color) to be victims of heinous crimes and for their names to be forgotten. I will not forget Sakia Gunn, Stephen Lopez Mercado, or Lorena Escalera, and we cannot forget Mark Carson either.

Secondly, don’t assume anything. In the past couple of weeks, I have had lots of conversations with friends who say things like “Things like this don’t happen in New York.” But, they do. It is quite common for my boyfriend and I to hear homophobic slurs as we walk down the streets of Manhattan. It wasn’t too long ago that a man in Hells Kitchen shoved me and called me a “faggot” as I walked by holding my boyfriend’s hand. Luckily nothing else happened, and after these past few weeks’ events, I am thankful that nothing did.

I’ve also had a lot of conversations with friends who say things like “I don’t think I know any homophobic people.” When I ask if they’ve talked about homophobia with their brothers, cousins, or friends directly, the common response is “No.” Of course we don’t want to believe that anyone in our lives is homophobic (or racist, sexist, etc.), but unless we talk about their views directly, we really don’t know.

When perpetrators of school shootings or serial killings are arrested, most people claim that they didn’t know the person was hateful, sociopathic, or mentally ill. When a person commits suicide, a lot of people will say they didn’t know the person was depressed or suicidal. And this is why we need to ask.

Finally, take a stand. Tell people that homophobia and transphobia is unacceptable. When people use biased language like “That’s So Gay” or “No Homo,” point out how those words are wrong and hurtful. When we allow these microaggressive, anti-LGBTQ behaviors to continue, we create an environment where people believe it is acceptable to hate or discriminate against LGBTQ people. And if these hateful environments persist, the violence will continue.

I share all of this with you because I don’t want to be afraid to hold my boyfriend’s hand in public. I don’t want to feel unsafe again. I don’t want to live my life in fear. And I don’t want to go back into the closet.

But I need your help.

Dr. Kevin Nadal is an Associate Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. His fourth book, “That’s So Gay: Microaggressions and the LGBT Community,” was published in February.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Does it Get Better? A Call for Anti-Bullying Legislation and Societal Change

by Kevin L. Nadal, Ph.D.

(This essay was originally published on on October 12, 2011)

In the fall of 2010, six young people in various regions of the U.S. committed suicide. While teen suicide itself may not be a new phenomenon, these six individuals gained national attention because they were all reported to have committed suicide as a result of teen bullying and because they were (or were perceived to be) gay. One of these young people was Seth Walsh, a 13-year old from California who was bullied every day by his classmates for being gay. Although he reported this harassment to several administrators at his school, the bullying continued relentlessly. He finally could not handle the agony and hung himself from a tree in his backyard. After a police investigation, none of his peers were charged with any crime.

Immediately following these suicides, an internet video campaign was initiated by nationally syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage with the message of “It Gets Better.” Videos posted by celebrities and everyday people urged young lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] people to value their lives, be hopeful about the future, and to not view suicide as a viable option. Videos were made by celebrities who identify as LGBT (e.g., Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris) and LGBT allies (e.g., Lady Gaga, Anne Hathaway, and even President Barack Obama).

While the campaign is definitely one step in the positive direction, I have always wondered if preaching “It Gets Better” is the message that we want to deliver to young children who are struggling with bullying and/or finding their sexual identities. How can we ask a child to be optimistic about the future if she or he has to deal with pain and suffering in the present? How can we ask young people to be hopeful about the world when they don’t feel safe in their own environments? And finally, how can we promise these young people that “It Gets Better” when we don’t know for sure that it actually will?

Almost a year after the “It Gets Better” campaign launched, Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, of Buffalo, NY became another gay teen who committed suicide after years of being bullied by his classmates. What was so tragic about his story was that he actually believed it would get better. He posted his own Youtube video where he shared his story of enduring persistent bullying. A fan of Lady Gaga and her positive message to LGBT teens, he confidently told his viewers: “Hold your head up and you’ll go far … love yourself … and I promise you that it’ll get better.” Sadly, his optimism (and his belief in a celebrity message) wasn’t enough. He needed the bullying to stop, and he needed tangible support to make it happen.

There have been so many studies that have found that LGBT teens experience bullying at much higher rates than their heterosexual peers, and that harassment of LGBT people during adolescence can be linked to the exceptionally high rate of suicide among LGBT youth. Research has supported that discrimination toward LGBT people is linked to severe psychological consequences such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. LGBT youth tend to have higher rates of suicidal ideation and substance abuse, and when they are bullied, they are likely to have lower grades and are more likely to drop out of school. If we know that all of these things are true, then why aren’t policies being created to prevent bullying in our school systems? And if bullying does have a serious impact on the lives of our youth, why aren’t laws being proposed to make bullying a crime that is punishable by law?

Perhaps bullying exists because society allows heterosexist messages to endure on institutional and interpersonal levels. Microaggressions, or brief and commonplace verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities (whether intentional or unintentional) that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages can create environments that allow bullying to persist. Overt messages taught to children (e.g., when parents preach that being gay is “sick” or “a condemnation”) or heterosexist legislation (e.g., laws that prohibit same sex marriage, adoption, and other rights to LGBT people) send messages that LGBT people are bad or second-class or abnormal. Subtle heterosexist messages (e.g., when parents allow their children to tease each other by calling each other “gay” or “faggot” or when a teacher ignores homophobic slurs used among students) convey to children that LGBT people are an inferior group that are allowed to be belittled. When a principal ignores a child’s pleas for help, a message is sent that harassment and bullying is harmless, and that a child’s reality of feeling invalidated, harassed, or unsafe is unimportant. When these messages are taught to heterosexual youth, they may learn to develop hate for those that are different; when these messages are taught to LGBT youth, they may learn to hate themselves.

In order to prevent bullying toward LGBT youth, change must occur in all sectors of our society. First, anti-bullying legislation needs to be adopted on local, state, and federal levels, in order to protect victims and communicate that bullying has punishable consequences. In classrooms, not only should “no bullying” policies be enforced, but students must be educated about microaggressions and the effects of their hurtful words or behaviors. Teachers must create safe spaces for their students, in which they discipline those that bully but also encourage students to feel appreciated for all of their identities. In families, parents must teach their children about acceptance and diversity, stressing from an early age that heterosexist (and other oppressive) language is intolerable and unacceptable.

It is unfortunate that so many young people had to die for us to recognize that change needs to occur. However, if we want to see our children survive and live healthy lives, we cannot just tell them that “It Gets Better.” Rather, we have to show them that we are doing our parts to “Make it Better” for them today.

Crossing Color Lines: Filipino American Alliances through Activism and Hip Hop

by Kevin L. Nadal, Ph.D.

(This essay was written in the upcoming anthology, Empire of Funk: Filipino Americans in the Cypher of Hip Hop)

One of my personal claims to fame is that I have proudly represented various parts of the United States- from the West Coast, to the East Coast, and for a short stint in time, even the Midwest. While I grew up in a large Filipino American community in the San Francisco Bay Area, I found myself moving to different parts of the country, primarily for my academic education, but secretly because of my desire for adventure, new experiences, and the chance to meet people from all walks of life. So whether I was living in California or Michigan or my permanent residence in New York City, I always thrived on the opportunity to grow personally, professionally, and spiritually. And in time, I would learn that the people I’ve met in these places and the subsequent experiences that would ensue would be the real education I would get. The life-changing lessons I would learn the most would not be in a lecture hall or classroom, but rather in the communities that I would be involved with.

Before I begin, it may be necessary to share a little bit about my life as a way of providing a context for which I write this narrative. I am a second-generation Filipino American, born and raised in the United States; I am the youngest of three boys who grew up in a two-parent, immigrant, working- to middle-class home. Life in the Nadal house was always a mix of Pilipino and American cultures, which could be exemplified best by the foods we ate—the family dinner with sticky white rice and KFC, a lunch bag with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a lumpia wrapped in foil, and even the Thanksgiving dinner with a turkey in the middle surrounded by pancit (Filipino noodles) and dinuguan (blood pork stew) on either side.

I spent my teenage years in the nineties- a decade when the fashion was supposedly better than the eighties but in retrospect was probably worse. The haircuts on the boys in my family ranged from flat tops with lines to a slicked back pompadour, while the girls sprayed Aquanet to shape their 6 inch bangs into a perfect fan formation. The local radio stations blasted slogans like “Knowledge is Power” or “No Color Lines” as we recovered from Rodney King and the L.A. Riots. We pegged our pants in our pre-teens with safety pins, and we wore baggy overalls a year or so later. Our cross-color jeans were bright and in every shade- from orange to purple to forest green. And we listened to everything from MC Hammer to Easy E, from Michel’le to J.J. Fad, and we even were lucky enough to bob our heads to Biggie and Tupac in human form.

The Catholic elementary school I attended was mixed, with Mexicans and Filipinos as the predominant ethnic minority groups. The high school that I attended was almost fifty percent Filipino American, with a sizeable number of Latinos (primarily Mexican Americans). The college I attended was more than half Asian American, yet it was also one where Filipinos were always separated from Asians on demographic population reports.

I was always actively involved n the Filipino American community in formal and informal ways. My parents belonged to a typical association which was usually defined by extravagant galas where the kids would roam around the hotel and avoid getting in trouble. I was embarrassed when my parents took us to Filipino community events, but I was happy to go to the same events with my barkada (group of friends). I learned how to dance tinikling, singkil, pandango sa ilaw, and other cultural dances. I joined our Filipino student organizations in both high school and college, and I became president of both.

Throughout my youth, majority of my closest friends and social circles was Filipino American, with an emphasis on the American. I bonded mostly with other second generation Filipino Americans who were born and raised in the United States and whose parents all had thick, yet decipherable accents. At the same time, I always had at least 2 or 3 best friends who were Black or Latino, and I always felt comfortable and welcomed in both Black and Latino spaces- from the Baptist churches to my friends’ quincieneras, and even to the hip hop showcases. In high school, I attended all the Black Student Union events; in college, I was an honorary member of MEChA (the Chicano student activist organization). I was extremely proud of being Filipino American in all ways, yet I always found myself aligning closely with the “other brown folks.” And while I had a few close Chinese and Japanese friends, I never felt as comfortable within their communities.

As I moved around the country, I seemed to notice similar trends. When I lived in Michigan, I observed all of the Filipino male students joining the historically Latino fraternity, instead of an Asian American one. When I moved to New York, my Latino students would often refer to Filipinos as the “Spanish Asians,” while my Black students would call them the “Black Asians.” I was easily included in conversations with African Americans and Latinos about race, while many of my Chinese, Japanese, or Korean friends and colleagues often had to justify they were people “of color.” And just about anywhere in the country, it was common for Black men to nod their heads in a friendly gesture when I passed them by, or for African American women to ask me which parent of mine was Black.

As I transformed from a kid who merely showed up to Filipino events for food, to a student activist who learned about racism and oppression, and to an adult who has managed to integrate social justice, Filipino American, and LGBTQ issues into my career, I’ve always wondered why Filipino Americans had experiences that were unique to other Asian American groups? Why were there so many allegiances between Filipino Americans, Latinos, and African Americans? Was it because of skin color? Was it because of bonds from colonialism or racism? Was it because of social class? Was it because of hip hop? And was it just something that I perceived or was this actually a trend across the country?

PNoy Apparel, a Filipino clothing company in San Diego, California, has a phrase that they often use as their motto: “No history, no self. Know history, know self.” Thus, it is important to take a look back at the history of the Filipino and Filipino American people in order for me to answer these questions. It is necessary to not just look at the experiences of Filipino Americans in the US today, but also at the history of the motherland.

The Philippines was the only country in the world that was colonized by both Spain and the United States. Prior to colonization, indigenous Philippines could be described as a group of separate islands southeast of mainland China and west to Pacific Islands where the inhabitants were mostly animistic or Muslim. But after almost 400 years of Spanish oppression, the Philippines became a predominantly Catholic country. Consequently, they acquired many Spanish cultural values (e.g., machismo, or male dominance), Spanish traditions (e.g., having “debuts,” or coming of age celebrations for girls), Spanish surnames (e.g., Mercado, De La Cruz, or Santos) and even Spanish language influences (e.g., Spanish nouns like “pan” for bread or “leche” for milk) - all which are also present in Latino communities today. Perhaps Filipino Americans feel connected with Latinos because of their similar Catholic religious traditions, cultural values, and colonial history. Perhaps Filipino Americans feel alliances with Latinos because they Spanish last names and other people would mistake them for being Latino. And maybe this connection can be viewed as a positive one (e.g., when Filipino American and Latino organizations work together for social justice issues), but arguably it can be viewed as a negative one (e.g., when a Filipino American has colonial mentality and would rather identify as Latino instead of Filipino). Either way, the connection still existed and appeared to be common.

The history of the Filipino American people in the United States may also provide some insight about Filipino Americans and their allegiances with others. The United Farm Workers (UFW) movement was a formed as a result of Filipino American labor leaders who wanted to the Filipino and Mexican farmworkers to create a greater alliance and become a stronger force. However, this movement is often noted in American history books as being a Chicano or Mexican American movement and fails to recognize the Filipino American farmworkers who took initiative to unite the two parties. Additionally, because of the smaller number of Filipinos in the UFW, they often felt ignored and relationships dwindled. Cesar Chavez (the UFW president and chief Chicano labor leader) was often praised for guiding the movement, while leaders Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz (whom were both Filipino labor leaders and vice presidents of the UFW) were not credited for their work and initiative. Although there were some negative outcomes of this movement, this movement symbolized the first of many allegiances that could (and would) ensue between the two ethnic groups.

Perhaps the sociocultural experiences of Filipino Americans have also connected them to other ethnic minority groups. There have been many studies in psychology and education that have pointed to the fact that Filipino Americans have experienced similar types of racism as other Asian Americans do (See Nadal, 2011 for a review). For example, it is common for many Asian Americans to be forced to justify where they are from (e.g., being asked “No, where are you really from?” after an Asian American tells someone they were born in the US). It is also common for Asian Americans to be told that they speak “good English,” even though they were born and raised in the United States. Although Filipinos first landed in the US in 1587, and there are now up to four generations in my own family who have spent their lives on American soil, Filipino Americans (and other Asian Americans) would continually be viewed as perpetual foreigners or aliens in our own land.

Research is also finding that Filipino Americans are often the victims of racism that is similar to African Americans and Latinos. For example, it is common for people of these groups to be treated as if they are inferior (i.e., when someone assumes an African American, Latino, or Filipino American wouldn’t be smart, capable, or have money). Some research has found that Filipino American teens reported being less encouraged by their high school counselors and teachers to go to college, in the same ways that Chinese Americans would (Teranishi, 2002). This aligns with literature on teacher bias which argues that teachers often unconsciously discriminate against African American and Latino students and assume inferiority (Downey & Pribest, 2004). Other research has found that Filipino Americans are sometimes assumed to be criminals (e.g., when a store clerk follows a person of color to make sure she or he doesn’t steal, or when a police officer pulls a person of color over for no reason; Nadal, 2011). Because of this discrimination, Filipino Americans may experience psychological distress that is different than other groups; they experience discrimination involving being treated like an alien, an inferior, and a criminal. And because of this distress, Filipino Americans may experience a variety of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or low self-esteem (See Nadal, 2011 for a review).

Another factor that contributes to Filipino Americans’ unique experiences with race is the discrimination that ensues in the Asian American community. Filipino Americans and Pacific Islanders are often viewed as the bottom of the Asian American hierarchy by East Asians; as a result, Filipino Americans and Pacific Islanders are the often targets of stereotypes of ethnic jokes promoting inferiority of the two ethnic groups with the Asian/Pacific Islander community (Okamura, 1998). These stereotypes are usually based on the notion that Filipino Americans and Pacific Islanders have lower educational attainment levels and lower socioeconomic statuses, as compared to other East Asian Americans, as well as stereotypes that both groups are uncivilized or criminal. As a result of this discrimination, it is uncommon for Filipino Americans to attain leadership positions within Asian American communities and somewhat unusual for specific Filipino American issues to be discussed in Asian American contexts. For example, many Asian American studies classes fail to include Filipino American topics, despite the fact that Filipino Americans are the largest Asian American population in the US and have prominent populations on college campuses. Because of this invisibility, many Filipino Americans may feel marginalized within the Asian American community and may purposefully separate from pan-Asian organizations (Espiritu, 1992). Sometimes these feelings of marginalization may lead Filipino Americans to identify more as Pacific Islanders, primarily because of physical similarities (e.g., brown skin, flat nose) and experiences of discrimination or invisibility.

Filipino Americans also have health problems that are more similar to African Americans and Latinos than to other Asian American groups (See Nadal, 2011 for a review). Filipino Americans have higher incidents of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, gout, and obesity. This trend is often attributed to an unhealthy Filipino diet and lack of exercise. This is a similar explanation given for health problems in African American communities, who may have similar nutritional intakes and lack of physical activity. In terms of nutrition alone, there are many similarities between Filipino Americans and African Americans; both groups enjoy eating fried foods, tend to purchase and cook nontraditional and cheaper meats like pig intestines or oxtail, and tend not to prepare meals with a lot of vegetables.

Similarly, various sociocultural experiences may connect Filipino Americans to other ethnic minority groups. Filipino Americans tend to have higher rates of teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS than other Asian American groups, with rates are more similar to African American and Latino populations (Nadal, 2011). Second generation Filipino Americans attain college degrees less than second generation East Asian Americans (e.g., Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Americans) and Asian Indian Americans (Nadal, 2011). Substance use, particularly drinking alcohol and tobacco use in men, has been found to be more significant for Filipino American samples (Nadal, 2000). Depression for Filipino Americans is found to be higher for Filipino American populations (Tompar-Tiu & Sustento-Seneriches, 1995) and suicide has been reported as being higher with Filipina American adolescent girls (Wolf, 1997). While all of these issues tend to affect Latino and African American communities, a major difference is that very few Americans are familiar with these disparaging trends for Filipino Americans. Because of the Model Minority Myth, Filipino Americans are not receiving the services they deserve and these disparities in physical health, education, and mental health persist.

While there is no clear reason to cite why Filipino Americans experience a range of disparaging problems, it is conceivable that experiences with racism (both interpersonal and institutional) may contribute to their alliance with African Americans and Latinos. Perhaps encountering similar types of discrimination allows African Americans and Latinos to feel more connected to Filipino Americans over other Asian American groups. Perhaps the institutional barriers to education, health care, or political voice may influence the joining of oppressed groups. Perhaps the notion that Filipino Americans have a darker brown skin allows African American and Latino persons to feel more affinity with Filipino Americans. And because of all of these reasons, activism can ensue between all of these groups and a united front could be formed. So although experiencing racism is undoubtedly an unfair and unjust problem in the United States, the bonds that it can create between communities can be viewed as a positive outcome.

It is important to note that these trends are only among a few possible reasons supporting why Filipino Americans may bond with African Americans and Latinos. Other issues like social class, socioeconomic status, neighborhood, gang membership, and others may all potentially have an influence on the alliance between the groups. Perhaps the trend that Filipino Americans are more likely to date or marry outside of their ethnic group may also contribute to the phenomenon. Filipino American women are more likely to date African American men than any other Asian group, and there has been an increase of Mexipinos (biracial Mexican/Filipino individuals) and other multiracial Filipino Americans in the country (Nadal, 2011). However, one of the most prominent reasons why Filipino Americans have become so connected to these communities in the past few decades is because of the participation, visibility, and culture of Filipino Americans in hip hop.

Ever since the 1980s, Filipinos on both the West Coast and East Coast have been a force in most of the elements of hip hop. DJ’s like DJ QBert and DJ Icy Ice on the West Coast and DJ Neil Armstrong and DJ Kuttin Kandi on the East Coast have been among some of my most favorite turntablists of all time. Yet, when I was growing up, I also enjoyed my high school friends who would spin 45’s in our garages for our birthdays, or who I’d help carry crates of records or extension cords into clubs, just so that I can say “I’m with the DJ” and not pay a cover.

Emcees and lyricists have been around even before I was a teenager, ranging from the Native Guns and the pre-Fergie Black Eyed Peas, and still persist in the new contemporary sounds of Deep Foundation and Ryan “Hydroponikz” Abugan. But they also existed in the non-competitive free flows that my cousins and I would engage in when we were bored at a family party.

Long before Randy Jackson’s America’s Best Dance Crews existed the best of the best dance teams like Culture Shock and old school Kaba Modern. But there were also my b-boy friends who always seemed to be spinning on their heads on cardboard boxes in our garages, as well as the aspiring adolescents who created dance routines to the sounds of Bell Biv Devoe, Kool Moe Dee, and Oaktown 357 and performed at every Filipino Association Christmas party or high school talent show. Sometimes these dance groups didn’t have access to mixers or other fancy equipment, which was apparent by occasional awkward transitions into the next song. Today that would be unacceptable; back then, it was normal and just added character. As long as the audience couldn’t hear their Filipina moms screaming in the background, the performers would be happy.

Even in the spoken word or poetry scene, Filipino Americans have always represented well. There were my favorite pioneers like Faith Santilla, Regie Cabico, Alison de la Cruz, Emily Lawsin, and Two Warriors. But I also enjoyed the endearing and empowering poems of the Filipina teenager struggling in her pinay identity. I watched the young, gay, college-aged Filipino man use his spoken word piece as a way to come out of the closet to his friends in the audience. I witnessed the educator who used her poetry to teach us about imperialism and social justice, while inevitably using the word makibaka at least once (but likely five times). And I was humbled by the young college students in the Midwest who I introduced spoken word to in the early 2000s; I hope to illustrate them to a way of expressing their raw emotions in what I thought was an artistic way, but I later realized it was the only way many of them would know how.

And maybe that is exactly what hip hop has meant to me and the Filipino American community. It has been a chance for us to have our voices heard. It has been the major form of activism for our generation. It has given us the chance to develop positive Filipina and Filipino role models, in a world that didn’t (and still doesn’t) allow Filipino Americans to be present in the media in the ways that we deserve. So maybe we didn’t see many pinay or pinoy hip hop pioneers on television, but we did see them spinning at the club, dancing or emceeing at Friendship Games or FIND, or performing at the Nuyorican Poets Café in NYC or Bindlestiff in San Francisco. I may not remember the names of the most prominent Filipino American graffiti artists of my time, but knowing many were Filipino American did (and still does) instill a pride in my culture and in my people.

I grew up in a time where the only images of Filipinos in the media were negative- from a former first lady’s excess of shoes to a scandalous little league baseball team to the murderer of Versace. I often wonder how not seeing people who look like you in positive ways has an impact on one’s self-esteem. Being consistently invisible on screen may exacerbate feelings of invisibility in everyday life. And even though Filipino kids today have access to the Jabbawockeez and on their television sets, I hope they still appreciate the real celebrities- the local hip hop heroes like Bambu, Kiwi, Koba, Geologic, DJ Melissa Corpus, Marie Obaña, Mathilda de Dios, K. Barrett, Kimmy Maniquis, Jonathan “Bionic” Bayani, and Michael “Suikace” Capito who make waves in their communities every day through their art and their hearts. And just as importantly, I hope that young Filipino kids today strive to become those local heroes themselves and pass on that flame to future generations.

One of the greatest gifts that the Filipino American presence in hip hop community has given us was the opportunity to feel connected. We have been able to feel connected by crossing colors and uniting with others outside of our community. We have been able to feel connected to a movement of others who believe similarly as we do, and others who use art as a way of expressing that. And most importantly, we have been able to feel connected to each other- across color lines, across social classes, and across coasts.

We have consumed each other’s stories through our five major senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. We have visually witnessed the intricate moves of hip hop dance, as well as graphic art and design on the walls of our urban (and sometimes suburban) neighborhoods. We have listened in awe to the turntabling sounds from Filipina and Filipino fingers, the vicious voices of spoken word artists, and the mesmerizing lyrics leaving Filipina and Filipino lips. And together as a people, we have even smelled victory and struggle, tasted defeat and empowerment, and been touched in our minds and our hearts.


Espiritu, Y. L. (1992). Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Downey, D. B., & Pribesh, S. (2004). When race matters: Teachers' evaluations of students' classroom behavior. Sociology of Education, 77(4), 267-282.

Nadal, K. L. (2000). F/Pilipino American Substance Abuse: Sociocultural Factors and Methods of Treatment. Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education, 46(2), 26-36.

Nadal, K. L. (2011). Filipino American psychology: A Handbook of theory, research, and clinical practice. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Okamura, J. Y. (1998). Imagining the Filipino American Diaspora: Transnational Relations, Identities, and Communities. New York: Garland Publishing.

Teranishi, R. T. (2002). Asian Pacific Americans and critical race theory: An examination of school racial climate. Equity & Excellence in Education, (35)2, 144-154.

Tompar-Tiu, A., & Sustento-Seneriches, J. (1995). Depression and Other Mental Health Issues: The Filipino American Experience. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Publishers.

Wolf, D.L. (1997). Family Secrets: Transnational struggles among children of Filipino immigrants. Sociological Perspectives, 40(3), 457-482.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Days of Single Life: A Throwback to 2005

Now that I'm in a relationship, I thought it would be interesting to go through my old Carrie Bradshaw blogs of singledom. Here's what I came up with from 2005. ENJOY!


March 4, 2005

I had been living in the same apartment for the past three years with two of the best roommates a guy could ask for. They’re roommates that you can talk to and spend time with, but aren’t all up in your business. They’ve been clean and courteous and private and laid back and have been a great family to come home to. In a city of chaos and frenzy, it has always been comforting to come home an apartment that was safe and relaxing.

However, when we realized that our lease was coming to an end, I had to make an adult decision. I decided that it was time to finally leave the nest and live my New York life like a grown up adult. I mean, I have a grown-up job with grown-up money; I could certainly pay for my own grown-up utilities and grown-up cable modem. So circa two weeks ago I began the slow transition out of a three-year old home of three old friends. You could say that it would be the end of an era.

The hunt has been quite stressful. For anyone that has ever lived in Manhattan, you realize that apartment hunting is kinda like getting a pap smear. You know it’s going to be painful, but you know that you have to do it. You have the tedious task of searching through craigslist (God’s gift to metropolitans) and weaving through the bullshit apartment listings (Jersey City is NOT the same as “adjacent to the West Village!”) You also have to zigzag through the broker-fee apartment versus the no-broker fee apartments, since brokers will cost you an additional 15% of your annual rent for basically giving you an address.

And most importantly, you rely so much on the luck and timing of the moment. What you find on craigslist one week might be completely different from the week that you actually decide to move. The perfect apartment might be available two weeks before you’re willing to move, while the crappy ones seem to surface on the week that you’re actually looking. So when you apartment-hunt in New York, you’re basically leaving your living situation up to chance, praying to the gods of Manhattan to give you a break.

I’ve been really stressed in searching for an apartment this week. Now sure, I don’t have to move technically until April 1st, but I don’t want to be that guy that literally moves in the day after he sees the apartment for the first time. I want to be that guy who gets to know his empty apartment for a minute and who has time to arrange, design, and plan in advance. And I want to be that guy who is able to slowly but surely say goodbye to my current apartment, as he’s been the longest commitment I’ve had in New York.

As I started to realize that my longest commitment in New York has been to a 100 square foot room in the West Village, I smile in remembering all that we have gone through… from the boys to the fights to the sex to the drama, he has always been by my side. And now that I’m leaving him, a hunt for a new commitment begins.

In writing that, I’ve realized that searching for a new studio was kinda like searching for love. And as I sit here, feeling more stressed about this apartment hunt than ever, I sometimes get to thinking, “Is the hunt even worth it?”

My hunt for love had been relatively non-existent for the past few years. I was comfortable with where I was in life that I haven’t needed anyone or anything to distract me from my goals. Sometimes I would be hunted and shot by Cupid’s arrow, but being the Igorot warrior that I am, I would suck out the poison and keep on moving.

It wasn’t until a few months ago, that I really even allowed myself to be open to the possibility of a relationship. But of course, much like the luck of the apartment-hunt, sometimes the most perfect apartment is available when you’re not. And the week that you’re actually looking for the apartment of your dreams, sometimes the only thing that is available is in Brooklyn or Washington Heights.

But I refuse to settle for anything less!

I know that I want to live in Manhattan, so damnit I will live in Manhattan! I know that I want to live on the West Side, so damnit, I will live on the West Side! I know that I don’t want to spend more than $1250 a month for my own studio, so I will spend no more than $1250 a month for my own studio (FYI, New Yorkers are the only people in the world who have no shame in asking others what their rent is).

I guess that it’s all about knowing what you’re worth and what you’re willing to settle for. If you’re willing to settle for a neighborhood that you don’t really want to live in, then that’s your choice. If your apartment is too small, your ceilings are too low, or your seven-story walk-up is too much for you, there is no one else to blame but yourself… And if you choose to sign a two-year lease on an apartment you weren’t in love with, well, you probably will have some sad nights ahead of you.

When searching for an apartment, it’s also important not to get too excited too quickly. Sometimes you believe that the “perfect apartment” is standing right in front of your face, that you’re not able to view that there might be potential problems attached. And granted while “potential” problems means that there very well might not be any problems at all, it is still better to be safe and cautious then to invest in something that might turn out to be more hurtful in the end.

Wait, are we still talking about apartments?

Maybe I really should just leave it all up to the gods of Manhattan. They say that you find what you’re looking for when you least suspect it. Maybe when I stop searching, it’ll actually show up and be exactly what I was looking for…
And the apartment too.



February 18, 2005

I was at my weekly karaoke joint with some good friends on Tuesday night and one of my female best buds wanted to sing a duet with her man-of-the-week. She said that she wanted to sing the final duet from Grease (you know the one where Sandy gets her hair permed and wears tight leather pants). I quickly started my search through the karaoke bible book. Another friend stopped me and said asked why I was looking in the "I" section. Flustered for a second, I realized that I should've been looking for the song called "You're the one that I want." Instead, I was subconsciously looking for the song called "I'm the one that I want."

Quickly putting on my therapist hat, I laughed at myself thinking, "What does that mean for me?"

This is what I mean. I've been through relationship after relationship, most that have lasted for no more than 24 hours and have ended in disaster. There was the rooftop guy also known as the confused heterosexual who played on my team on New Year's Eve. There was the Dominican with the good heart but limited English. There was the Boricua with the "good personality" in the same way that straight guys think fat women have "good personalities." There was the whiteboy that I randomly met on Saint Mark's while walking with friends. There was the Colombian who liked to stick his tongue out. There was the Australian Brad Pitt that I met at a straight venue but who was going back down under the next morning. There was the Jewish guy who was a master of Reiki and hypnosis. There was the Polish guy who I met at a hetero-venue on Single Awareness Day. There was the Black hairdresser and there was the Puerto Rican guy from the gym. And last but not least, there was the Italian-Irish-Chilean who just wanted to be friends, and who is actually turning out to be quite a fun one.

And to think, this has only been THIS MONTH… over the course of about 40 days… And each has a unique storyline to fill up my thirty-minute episode.

As someone whose longest intimate relationship has been shorter than a woman's periodic cycle, I realize that the only person that is ever going to love me in the way that I love myself is MYSELF.

I'm not saying that I'm closing the door to relationships. But I'm definitely saying that I'm not looking for anything… at least not right now.

On an island with 8 million people, it can be discouraging when the one-eighth who plays on my team are 1/8 crazy and 3/8 dramatic. No thank you to the random hot Dean Cain lookalike who randomly approached me and grabbed my crotch while I was walking in Washington Square. No thank you to the confused/ing heterosexuals who say things like "Hey handsome" but also say things like "Why would you think I'm gay?" No thank you to the boys that don't know how to return a phone call. No thank you to the boys whose pick up line is "So what are you?" And no thank you to the boys who stand in front of my apartment like a bad Kevin Bacon stalker.

Someone in my life very recently told me that there are two types of romantic relationships: 1) the ones where people learn to love and respect each other, and 2) the ones where people are actually in love.

Although I'm often deemed the Samantha, the Charlotte in me believes that there is someone out there waiting for me. And I really need to get through the bullshit before I find it. I'm not going to settle for anything less, simply because I'm afraid of not knowing if there is anything more. I'm not going to force myself to be in love, simply to say that I was in love.

So what is it exactly that I want?

I want somebody to share, share the rest of my life, share my innermost thoughts, know my intimate details. I want somebody to make me laugh. I wanna dance with somebody. I wanna feel the heat with somebody…with somebody who loves me.
Most importantly I want somebody to love the "me" that I have learned to love. Because I'm the one that I want! I'm the only one who can comfort me when I'm feeling down. I'm the only one who knows how to cheer myself up. I'm the only one who knows exactly what I'm feeling and how I'm feeling it. No person will never be able to fill the void in a way that I can do for myself.

Maybe I'm being unrealistic. Maybe I have too many expectations. But I do believe that there's somebody there for everyone. And sometimes, individuals might miss that person because they were so busy worrying about turning 30 or getting married or having children, instead of taking their time and waiting for that true somebody.
But until that somebody comes into my life, I'll definitely settle with some body after a night of clubbing.