Talking to my Immigrant Parents about Trayvon Martin

On Saturday, in the midst of celebrating my cousin’s freshly pressed MBA, I received a text message from a comrade informing me that George Zimmerman was acquitted for murdering 15-year old Trayvon Martin. My heart felt heavy and light–heavy in despair for Trayvon’s lost life, his parents, his family and his friends; and light as my family of immigrants who strove to thrive in a new country celebrated my cousin’s accomplishments. The contradictions of America were all too certain in that moment.

Trayvon Martin

On the car ride home, my husband and I were talking about the sadness we felt about the injustice done to the Martin family, the injustice done to all of us who know that Zimmerman is guilty; and perhaps the injustice done to us who thought justice could be feasible in the American judicial system. We felt betrayed. We felt played. Like we played ourselves. We know that Lady Justice is not blind nor colorblind. She is and has been built on racist ideologies and white supremacy. Native people and people of color in this country have never been “created equal.” But in some fog of hope, we though that Trayvon and his family could at least get some semblance of peace through this legal battle. We were wrong.

My father asked me, “What are you guys talking about?” I was careful to address my immigrant father from the Philippines (who is sometimes progressive, other times conservative–somewhat typical of Filipino immigrant fathers). I told him that we found out that Zimmerman was found not guilty. Surprisingly, he knew details about Trayvon’s case and life and death. I asked him what he thought about the acquittal. He replied, “Zimmerman killed that boy because his black. Just like why Oscar Grant was killed. No good.” My mother, a hard-working and often, apolitical person, chimed in, “Its too bad that the court doesn’t see how racism killed the boy.” These two, the ones I love the most, are also people who have internalized racist ideologies, repeated racist rhetoric about other communities of color and swallowed a whole pill about the American racial order even before they left the Philippines. These two, the ones I love the most, are certainly part of the contradiction of race relations in the US. They understood the wrong that happened to Trayvon Martin while also inculcated in the “distancing” that has happened between other racial and ethnic groups and Black Americans in the US.

In this moment, our whole car sent out a vibration of mourning and strength to the Martin family, what in Tagalog we call, “nakikiramay.” Honoring someone who has passed, even if that person was a stranger, even if that person was miles away.

But more importantly, my immigrant parents articulated more clearly than I could, the staunchly racist ideology of America. They found Zimmerman guilty. They found America’s racism, its white supremacy guilty. As immigrants in the US, they often cannot articulate how racism affects them. Both of my immigrant parents only see “hard work” in their success in the US. They don’t identify race or racism as a salient part of their daily life. This is something I’ve always been irritated about when talking to them about race in the US. I thought they had no “race analysis”. But here, they so accurately depicted what went wrong. They identified contemporary individual and institutional racism as the culprit and they despised it. “There will be a rally, Val,” said Papa (a generally anti-rally kind of dude), “they should rally.”

As I’ve continued talk to my immigrant parents about Trayvon Martin, I talk about how the legal system in the US has always upheld and maintain white supremacy–a set of ideologies that needs to “occasionally” kill Black men in order to keep the rest of us safe. It requires Black women to lose their sons, brothers and friends. It normalizes the murder and disappearance of Black people.

I talk to them about how Trayvon’s case also matters because the racism that allowed Zimmerman to murder Trayvon with impunity is also linked to the shrinking set of rights of native people, people of color, queer folks, women, poor folks and immigrants have in this country (i.e. Voting Rights Act, Affirmative Action, abortion rights, immigration reform).

But I also talk to them about how Trayvon’s life is not in vain as so many people are taking to the streets, starting conversations with their immigrant families about race relations in the US, getting out and doing something to honor Trayvon’s life, indicting Zimmerman the people’s way.

And although, some immigrant parents, like mine, aren’t always race-conscious, they still understand that there’s something wrong with this verdict. We all experience race and racism in different ways, but as my parents taught me, it is still real. Real enough for two immigrant parents to know what happened to Trayvon’s family is “no good”.

As I try to understand what really happened, here are some articles that have helped:

One response to “Talking to my Immigrant Parents about Trayvon Martin”


    “It will not happen to any Filipino-American.” claim some Filipino-Americans. In fact, if it were a Filipino-American doing the same neighborhood watch, he or she may actually be in the same panic mode as Zimmerman. To shoot him point blank whether in self-defense or simply because Trayvon is black, is something we may never know. No Filipino has been convicted of such. Gay men killing rich white gay men, but that’s another story.

    It’s a hard fact to swallow, but ask your immigrant Filipino parents or uncles and aunties, and chances are they may not be as sympathetic to Trayvon. Okay so maybe not your parents, but you would know of at least one Filipino parent or individual who is. Chances are they are either married to a black person, or who has co-workers, neighbors and friends who are black. Otherwise, Filipinos sympathetic to blacks are the exception rather than the rule.

    In general Filipinos (including those in the Philippine Islands), more so than Filipino-Americans (those who either grew up or were born in the US) are prejudiced against black people (it’s slightly different from being outwardly and overtly racist, but still…). It remains a fact.

    Racial prejudice and racism is a cultural trait inherited by the Philippine society from at least a century of US cultural imperialist domination. From music, to movies, literature, educational system and about everything else culturally, the Philippines has been saturated and dominated (rather indoctrinated) by American media. And by American media, that means “white” American culture.

    To be black or to have a darker shade of skin in Philippine society always equate to inferiority (are you surprised?). Indigenous blacks (Aetas) are one of the most discriminated national minorities in the Philippines. Being dark skinned in the Philippines is always akin to lower class, uneducated, unskilled, uncivilized, etc. There are many derogatory terms used to describe the inferiority of blacks in the Philippines such as: egoy, nog-nog, ulikba, among a few. The popularity of skin-whitening products in the Philippines is a clear manifestation of a social consciousness in the superiority of the white skin. Thanks to the US controlled mass media that glorifies anything that is US or European. No wonder Snowden suddenly became such a famous figure in the Philippines.

    I don’t have to cite many other examples other than the most recent issue of Senator Binay. I rest my case. No please don’t bring up Apl or Derrek Ramsey, that is not the issue here.

    So, how can we expect Filipino-Americans, who most likely inherited the same prejudice from their immigrant parents to declare “We are Trayvon Martin”? Statistically there more Filipino immigrants than there are US born and raised Fil-Ams.

    We are not. Filipino-Americans and Filipino immigrants are not and will never be.

    Not to say that there isn’t a significant number of young Filipino-Americans who strongly identify with the black culture. Many young Filipino-Americans have embraced the hip-hop culture as their own. They identify with the blacks in many ways dues to the mostly “class” issues they confront in their own communities. They identify as being people of color-at-large. Not necessarily “black”. In the case of many Filipino youths in Southern California they tend to blend-in with the Chicano culture more than blacks, “as long as it’s not white”. Still, it does not make them “Trayvon”.

    One simply has to look at the outstanding relationships of the various POC gangs in the inner cities. Again, I rest my case.

    It’s a very sensitive issue, but you know it’s there. You know you’ve encountered and seen it before. You’ve experienced it and you silently comfort yourself in knowing that as a Filipino descent, you know that you are somewhere up the ladder from being black. Not white enough, but not black. You also know the statistics. Filipinos ain’t there on the NYC “Stop n Frisk”.

    The least Filipinos and Filipino-Americans can do is to acknowledge the existence of the issue of racism, both the systemic, institutionalized kind and the one that is present in our brains implanted by our white colonial masters.

    Filipino-Americans are not Trayvon, but we can relate, we can understand, and we must stand in solidarity. In solidarity, we must stand sincerely and not because we have an agenda. Solidarity must come from the bottom of our hearts, as people who understand, as people who are enraged, as people who want to fight back.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if most young Fil-Ams can actually relate to Trayvon because their parents are just like Zimmerman (hating on them because they dress and act like “black”). That’s a really tough one, but seriously, what do you think? Still, that doesn’t make you black.

    Racism is a real issue, just like homophobia (that you were so proud to have won some victory, let Trayvon be a reminder of what is ahead), women’s rights (yeah right, of course, women have equal rights in this country, ask your devout Catholic tito boy and tita girlie).

    There is an issue of race and racism that we need to confront, not just because of what happened in the verdict. In every Filipino and Filipino-American household, something needs to be confronted and be realized, too.

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