Looking Forward with Hope

By Jon D. Melegrito




As another year comes to a close, a high level of anxiety grips the nation. Stoked by inflammatory rhetoric spewing from the mouths of Donald Trump and his ilk, a season of joy has turned into one of fear and anger. Fear of Muslims, who are being branded with a broad brush as “terrorists.” And anger at President Obama for not doing enough to stop them.

Reassurances from the President that strong measures are being taken to protect the American people do not seem to provide comfort. At his year-end news conference, Obama called for tolerance and vigilance. Let’s do our part, he said, “by refusing to be terrorized and by staying united as one American family.” The statement was clearly directed at Republican presidential candidates who are dividing the country with xenophobic outbursts against Muslims.

But a growing number of Americans apparently prefer someone who sounds decisive and provides instant gratification, a “cheerleader with a megaphone” who is applauded by simply saying he will “bomb the hell out of ISIS.”

I know that fear for their safety is real in our own community. And it’s understandable why Donald Trump appeals to them. And it doesn’t seem to matter that the Christmas message is about peace on earth, goodwill towards men. Never mind that the message of Christ, whose birthday Christians celebrate, is to fight hate with love.

Against this rising acts of anti-Muslim hate and rhetoric, we are heartened that Filipino American leaders are speaking out boldly. They are outraged that the criminalization of Muslims have resulted in direct public and policy discrimination. Johanna Puno Hester, National President of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), recalls that the AAPI community has faced similar xenophobic rhetoric before in America. She cites the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, internment of Japanese Americans during World War 2, and the overt discrimination of Muslim, Sikh, Arab, and South Asian American communities in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Adds Gregory Cendana, APALA executive director: “The use of anti-Muslim rhetoric in politics by the Republican Party is a faulty fear mongering tactic used to isolate the entire Muslim American community by criminalizing them as the enemy. Pitting Americans against each other and victimizing one particular group, Muslim Americans, does not keep America safe. Discriminating against their community only creates more acts of hate and terror within our communities.”

Kevin Nadal is president of the Asian American Psychological Association, an organization dedicated to advancing the mental health and well-being of Asian Americans. He says that “trauma caused by a climate of fear, hate, violence, and social exclusion has long-term negative consequences across multiple generations.” Citing recent psychological research documenting the deleterious effects of anti-Muslim hate (including violence, bullying, and discrimination) on Muslim Americans, as well as Sikh Americans who are often misidentified, “it is clear that the aftermath of racist laws and actions affect the psyche of both the individual and community, while failing to promote inclusiveness, healing, or trust. We can do better. We do not have to repeat history.”

Amid all the toxic talk of hate, I can’t think of a better Christmas message than Nadal’s call “to reach out to colleagues, friends, neighbors, students and family. Be a facilitator in promoting understanding and healing. Take action against anti-Muslim hate, xenophobia, and bigotry and stand as Asian Americans building the dreams and promise this country holds for us.”

On a brighter note, the Filipino American community in the metro DC area commemorated the martyrdom of Dr. Jose Rizal on December 17 by recognizing the academic excellence of 13 Filipino American students. As recipients of the annual Rizal Youth Awards, they each wrote an essay about the national hero.

Fourth grader Rebecca Verba Honigford read her response to the question “If Dr. Jose Rizal could don his Batman suit, what would be his first big task?” Rebecca said that Rizal would “ensure there was equal treatment of and in his beloved country, the Philippines,” and that “he would peacefully eliminate the world of villains. With his catholic beliefs, he would successfully complete this task with a non-violent stance.”

Nicholas T. Manalac, a 9th grader, answered the question, “Ever the man of peace, how would Dr. Jose Rizal resolve the issue of gun violence in the US?” Nicholas wrote: “It’s easy to think how he would want people to be able to defend themselves readily with firearms. However, Rizal was a true advocate for peace. He freed his country in a non-violent way, through writing to motivate and inspire others to follow the trail that he was blazing. I believe that he would work towards more secure regulations on guns so that people would be safer in society.” Noting that Rizal saw the firing squad as a “cowardly method of execution,” Nicholas concluded that for Rizal, “the pen is mightier than the sword, or in this case, the gun.”

I’d like to see Rebecca and Nicholas running for President of the United States someday. They, along with Hester, Cendana and Nadal, make us hopeful for a better America.



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