My favorite class this quarter has been a student-initiated course called “Revolution and the Filipino Diaspora: Exploring Global Activism in Local Communities.” Our class focuses on the histories of imperialism and resistance the Filipino Diaspora has faced both at home in the Philippines and at home in the United States, allowing us to bring in the contexts of our own organizing and communities. The class has been especially meaningful to me, as it has crystallized a lot of the themes that have been on my mind this year and has provided me with greater insight into the projects I would like to spend my life developing.
Three weeks ago, we studied the stories of institutional discrimination facing three different sets of Filipinos in the Bay Area.
In 2003, the TSA laid off a cohort of workers from the Bay Area’s three major airports without any real explanation or compensation. The majority of the workers were Filipino and some today are fighting to protect the rights of migrant workers around the state. In 2006, Donita Ganzon and Jiffy Javanella battled transphobia and immigration laws at the same time – as the United States Department of Homeland Security denied Ganzon a green card after refusing to recognize her marriage to Javanella. Ganzon was born in the Philippines. Finally, in 2007, the San Jose police violently restrained and tasered three members of the Custodio family, again without any explanation. The Custodios are a Filipino-American family.
What is striking about these cases is the resonance they have with nearly every other ethnic group in the United States. Whether it be to blacks who suffer the brunt of police brutality and the incarceration system, or to Latinos who are effectively forced to emigrate due to the impact of North American economic policies on their home states and who face racism fueled by the rhetoric of “illegal” immigration. The scrutiny and suspicion Filipino immigrants face from the state also hearkens to the experiences of Arab and South Asian people who have been targeted by institutions and civilians alike since 2001 and the expansion of the United States’ Terror of War in the Middle East.
This theme of experiential resonance picked up just one week later in another one of my classes, when UC-Irvine professor Sohail Daulatzai came to discuss “Improvising the Hip Hop-Muslim International” along with Syrian-American rapper Omar Offendum.
In response to the Boston Bombings last month and the FBI’s upgrade of Black Panther member Assata Shakur to its Most Wanted Terrorist list, Daulatzai wrote a column posing the question “Are we all Muslim now?” Dualatzai argues that any group struggling for self-determination in the United States is bound to be labeled a threat to the state – and has historically been in the past. He calls for us to resist making the claim, “But I’m not a terrorist!” because he says it legitimizes the state to narrow the scope of dissent, expand surveillance and control, and eliminate alternatives to war and exploitation.
“If there is a silver lining in this, it’s that for those black, Latino, Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities who are involved in political work that is now or soon will be lumped into the category of ‘terrorist,’ this is an opportunity for us to use our collective exclusion as suspect communities and deepen our links and points of solidarity to vigorously fight the violent forces that target us in a different way,” he concludes.
And this lesson is exactly what I have been learning again and again this quarter.
I first learned of the Third World Liberation Front that developed at San Francisco State in the 1960s at the beginning of our student-initiated course. TWLF united Black, Latino, Asian, Filipino and Native American students in the longest student strike in American history that produced the nation’s first Ethnic Studies program.
Just weeks after that, I found myself at SF State for a “From Pelican Bay and Guantanamo to Palestine: Prisons • Repression • Resistance” – a two-day teach-in that took place in the historic Ethnic Studies building itself. The event was the result of cooperation between nearly every ethnic and activist group on the campus and in the larger area – from Muslim and Arab students to black and Native student groups to Chicanas and Jewish anti-Zionists, among others. The teach-in represented an attempt between these groups to find common ground across communities and work on some tangible action in spite of a lack of full political agreement or cohesion.
While our communities do not have exactly the same histories or face the same internal or external issues, the oppression and repression we face and the resistance we bring are similar enough. Similar enough to the point where we can and should be able to say, “We are all Filipino,” “We are all Black,” “We are all Muslim,” “We are all ‘illegal’” and to work together to challenge the aggression of the state against our friends at home and our families abroad.
I am confident that what we need is a movement of students to fight the colonialism, imperialism and racism that our state perpetrates at such large levels.
From San Francisco State to San Jose State, from UC-Santa Cruz to UC-Santa Barbara, folks I’ve met across the state this month have expressed interest in rebuilding some sort of progressive action coalition. I am interested as well. Our state has such a rich history of student activism and, as I have written about countless times this year, the stakes have never been higher – whether on mass incarceration, the criminalization of our communities, militarization of our borders, the occupation of indigenous and foreign land or the death-by-drones the US visits upon the MENA region.
The outbreak of violence against women, queer and ethnic students at our peer institutions this quarter alone speaks to this need: from students at Swarthmore urinating on the steps of the Intercultural Center multiple times this year – most recently in March – to Dartmouth students threatening to rape and murder students of color, women and queer students in April; from fraternity members at UC-Irvine releasing a video featuring blackface at the end of last month, to the LAPD’s wrongful arrest of black students at a USC party this month. Our issues at Stanford are not this extreme, but that does not mean the issues don’t exist, that we have no obligation to respond to them or that we cannot respond to them.
Our task is evident, but not necessarily simple: to build critical frameworks within our campus communities and groups, to build actual solidarity among our campus communities and groups and to unite these networks across our campuses in action.
This column – possibly my final of the year – serves as a clarion call to students at Stanford, across the state and across the country who are interested in pursuing this conversation over the summer and figuring out what kind of work we might be able to do over the coming years.
Please reach out.
…and email Kristian at [email protected]