Moving forward: Fil-Ams respond to disasters

Next Day Better, Ryan Wong, Next Day Better

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Filipino Americans discuss what to do next time disaster strikes the Philippines and what they learned from Haiyan

SOLUTIONS. Filipino Americans in New York discuss the role of the diaspora when disaster strikes the motherland. Photo courtesy of Next Day Better

The following text is from Next Day Better, a content partner of Rappler. Next Day Better highlights inspiring changemakers, creatives and entrepreneurs from the diaspora focused on creating a better future. Follow @NextDayBetter on Twitter

NEW YORK CITY, USA —  “The typhoon has provided an opportunity: how do we organize ourselves, how do we collaborate?” Jose Antonio Vargas, the journalist and immigration rights spokesperson, addressed the crowd with a challenge in the opening panel. (READ: Int’l journalists recall Haiyan’s dead and survivors)

Most of the media attention around Typhoon Haiyan has focused on mass tragedy, the images of wrecked villages and displaced people. The Filipino American Museum (FAM), a new project based out of Manhattan’s East Village, in New York City, assembled a program called “After the Storm” to address Vargas’s question. (READ: World media in PH; Cooper slams slow Haiyan response

Nancy Bulalacao, the leader of FAM, noted that the project started just months before the Typhoon hit, and that ninety-percent of the Museum’s programming since has been focused on relief efforts and community building. 

The panelists shifted from the storm to defining issues among Filipino Americans. Psychologist Kevin Nadal, who served as the evening’s moderator, proposed a major theme of the evening: “why are we so invisible compared to other groups?” 

The panel was followed by breakout group discussions, in which many theories were put forth by discussants: the colonial history of the Philippines, the trend towards assimilation in America, the vast number of languages and dialects spoken in the Filipino diaspora. 

The panelists also made it a point to talk openly about the animosities within the Filipino American community. Nicole Ponseca, owner of the successful restaurant Maharlika, brought up the idea of a collective “crab mentality”: crabs, piled on top of one another, pull each other down. Several audience members nodded in agreement. Vargas stated at the beginning of the evening, “I hope it’s OK if we say some things that are critical. I’m just happy this conversation is happening.”

The breakout groups, too, were marked by frank discussions of everything from burnout within the activist communities to homophobia and queer rights to transnational communities. Most agreed that only by acknowledging these issues could Fil-Ams come together and move forward. Ponseca and Vargas both admitted that these issues had for many years made them wary of Fil-Am groups. Bulalacao, responding to these difficulties, noted: “I’m forty. I feel like I’m just being called back into the community now.” –

Ryan Lee Wong is a Program Director for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop and a NextDayBetter contributor. He has contributed writing to Hyperallergic, The Brooklyn Rail, and ArtSlant

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