Give back to the Philippines in the wake of a tragedy

—Catherine Ceniza Choy

The heart-breaking devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the central islands of the Philippine archipelago is deeply felt across the ocean.  Although I do not have immediate family in the most affected areas and it has been over a decade since I last visited the Philippines, I am emotionally attached to the awesome beauty of archipelago’s landscape, its many islands that sustained my ancestors, and the fortitude and resilience of the Filipino people there as well as in the diaspora.

Typhoon Haiyan from space

As the daughter of Filipino immigrants, I have an indelible childhood image of my mother taping an oversized map of the Philippine archipelago on the inside of her closet door.  She was committed to raising her American-born children to become part of an increasingly diverse U.S. citizenry, but she also taught me through this example that we are part of a nation comprised of peoples from many nations.

Throughout my childhood and even to this day, I watch my mother strike warm, nostalgic conversations with other Filipino immigrants she has just met in the most mundane of spaces — bus stations, restaurant counters, department store aisles.

These moments form the core of my understanding of the promise and heartbreak of the U.S. immigrant experience.  I learned that we are connected to and should remain proud of where we came from.

I am not alone.  In the United States, Filipino Americans are demonstrating their bayanihanspirit in full force.  U.S.-based organizations, such as the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns and the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, are collecting donations through their local chapters.  Individuals are utilizing their talents to mobilize help for the devastated areas.  For example, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, the authors of Memories of Philippine Kitchens, are organizing their food networks in New York and Manila to raise funds for disaster relief.

At UC Berkeley, Filipino American student organizations are working together to raise funds through the sale of Philippines ribbons on Sproul as well as awareness through a moment of silence for typhoon victims on Wednesday, Nov. 20 from 11-11:15 a.m. on Upper Sproul Plaza, and a candlelit night of solidarity the day after (Thursday, Nov. 21) , from 4:30 to 6 p.m., also on Upper Sproul Plaza.  It is heartwarming that so many Americans, and not solely Americans of Filipino descent, have joined these collective efforts.

Why should this tragedy in islands across the Pacific matter to all of us?  The harrowing images and stories of the survivors and the dead circulated by news and social media activate our humanitarian impulses.  But our efforts must eventually go beyond the current, fleeting moment of rescue and towards the more enduring work of reciprocity.

While colonialism and war have created longstanding relationships between the Philippines and the United States, contemporary Filipino immigration to the United States has profoundly shaped this country.  According to a June 2013 demographic profile published in Migration Information Source, Filipinos comprise the fourth largest immigrant group in the United States.  In 2011, over 1.8 million Filipino immigrants resided in the United States.  One-third of these immigrants lived in three major metropolitan areas: greater Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.

One of the most important streams of this immigration is that of Filipino immigrant nurses.  Over 100,000 Filipino nurses have migrated to the United States in the late 20th and early 21st centuries and the majority of them have devoted their lives to caring for Americans in U.S. hospitals.

In other words, this tragedy has not simply taken place somewhere out there, but is one that hits close to our American home.  Thus, my hope is that all of us partake in these efforts to give back to the Philippines, a country that has given and sacrificed so much for our own.

Catherine Ceniza Choy is Professor of Ethnic Studies and a core faculty member of the Center for Southeast Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Global Families: A History of Asian International Adoption in America (NYU Press, 2013).

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