But That All Changed When The Fire Nation Attacked

It’s been seven days since the end of the historic and crazy U.S. presidential election of 2016. I’m still trying to process the reality that Donald J. Trump is the president-elect of the United States and how that will impact my life for the next four years. As a writer, I’ve always allowed ideas to ripen in my head before I pluck them, prep them, and serve them on the page. Regarding the election, I’m not sure if I’m ready to express my thoughts, but there are times when physically seeing my words actually helps me to navigate the mixed emotions roiling within. So, here goes.

Most of my conversations about the election have been restricted to family members and close friends. While I expressed my disbelief on Facebook, I’ve mostly stayed out of the virtual brawls that have taken place on social media, message boards, and comment sections of news articles. I’ve remained silent during spontaneous debates on the bus and subway. Silent, but listening. I’ve been like a mushroom picker – examining morsels and determining which are delectable and which are potent enough to send me to an early grave. During this past week, I’ve noticed a pattern. There are a lot of people out there on both sides of the aisle telling me how I should feel, telling me how I should react. So, allow me to paraphrase and respond to some of that sentiment. Somewhere in this process, I hope to figure out how I’m truly feeling seven days after an orange anvil was dropped on my head.

“You have nothing to fear.” Hi there. Minority here. As the son of immigrants, I have every right to be afraid. The man elected to the highest office in the land has made racist and xenophobic remarks throughout his campaign (on top of many other deplorable statements made towards women, Muslims, veterans, disabled-persons, LGBTQ+, and the list goes on and on). Let’s not forget that hate groups, most notably the KKK, fully endorsed Trump. If you’re white, then sure, you’ve got nothing to fear. As for the rest of us? We’re afraid and with good reason: incidents of racially motivated harassment spiked after the election, and hate crimes in general are on the rise. Trump hasn’t even taken office yet. What will an administration that has emboldened white supremacists do when it comes to governing? I have everything to fear.

“See, I told you so! Racism has always existed in America. You shouldn’t be surprised.” Oh, I’m well aware of the existence of racism in this country, thank you very much. I’m Filipino American. Asian Americans as a whole make up only 5% of the population. We’re often considered the “model minority” and sometimes the “invisible minority” because the public consciousness believes we assimilate with “American culture” so well, that we tend to disappear into the background. That’s a myth. We’re here, we’re different, we don’t blend in. I’ve been a victim of racist insults and bullying. “Chinky eyes,” “small cock,” and “dog-eater” are just some examples of the colorful language I’ve encountered, and I live in the liberal oasis of Southern California. You want to inform me that racism exists? I KNOW.

In fact, my people have a history of dealing with institutionalized racism that’s often glossed over in U.S. history books and rarely taught at schools. How many Americans are aware that the Philippines was once a colony of the United States? How many know that the next major war the U.S. fought after the Spanish-American War was not World War I, but the Philippine-American War where hundreds of thousands of Filipinos died? Where soldiers gleefully wrote home about their time spent killing Filipino freedom fighters: “Racist sentiment, still strong in the United States, stimulated much of the antagonism toward the natives among American soldiers, who commonly wrote home, as one did, that he wanted to ‘blow every ni**er into ni**er heaven.'” (from the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines” by Stanley Karnow)? Under American colonialism, Filipinos weren’t even considered worth educating: “… Atkinson [Director of Education, Philippines] decided that Filipinos, like Negroes, were unfit for academic studies and ought to acquire such ‘practical’ skills as pig breeding, carpentry, and handicrafts” (Karnow). Filipinos were considered second-class citizens, and their struggle for recognition mirrors those of other minorities in America (especially African Americans, as Karnow points out). If that’s not convincing enough, get a more personal account of the racism Filipino immigrants faced in early 20th century America by reading Carlos Bulosan’s memoir, “America Is in the Heart,” where he recounts the prejudice and violence he endured trying to make a living in the “Land of Opportunity.” Filipino history is also American history. We’re not the “silent minority” because we choose to close our mouths; we’re the “silent minority” because we’re often forgotten.

I got a little off the rails there. TL;DR version: I know racism exists. My people have faced it and continue to face it. I was shocked during the early hours of November 9 because I had believed our nation was moving forward. I had believed, perhaps naively, that our nation was making strides towards guaranteeing that “all men are created equal” becomes a motto we live by rather than an ideal that’s too far to reach. Yes, I’m aware that there is a ton of progress to be made before this country becomes a place where people of all walks of life can enjoy true freedom. But I also acknowledge that President Obama helped to accelerate progress with initiatives like the Dream Act and his fight for marriage equality. We were moving forward. This election, sadly, feels like two steps back. I don’t care if being shocked makes me look “naive” or “blind.” I’m allowed to be an optimist even when reality comes knocking. Please spare me the doom and gloom and the “I told you so!” rhetoric. We’re fighting for the same thing.

“Things will get better.” Will they? There is so much uncertainty surrounding Trump’s presidency. Like I said, I’m an optimist, but even I have a hard time believing this sentiment based on the ugliest political campaign in recent history. Whatever happens, here’s what I know: there are a lot of good people in this country, and they outnumber those with hateful intentions. We, the people belonging to the groups Trump has attacked, must stick together. We must not turn away allies with privilege who want to understand our concerns and work with us. We’ve got to ensure that soon-to-be President Trump is kept in check if/when he implements policies that can harm the most vulnerable communities. We’ve got to keep pushing for equality. So, let’s remain vigilant. Let’s continue to love each other. Let’s remember that hope can shape the future.

We are America. Let’s continue fighting for the values that make it great.


Title Quote: “My grandmother used to tell me stories about the old days, a time of peace when the Avatar kept balance between the Water Tribes, Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and Air Nomads. But that all changed when the Fire Nation attacked.” — From the opening sequence of the T.V. show, “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

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