Toni Morrison, The Pinoy, Barack Obama Through Filipino American Eyes, And Benjamin Pimentel

Sunday, November 02, 2008

There's an extremely interesting article written by Benjamin Pimentel that weaves through American and personal history in regard to this year's election:

A group of young Americans, called the Freedom Riders, braved violence in the southern states in a bid to register black voters so they could finally take part in the electoral process. Meanwhile, in the fields of California, Filipino farm workers were gaining ground in the decades-old battle against abuse and injustice.

Obama was three when three members of the Freedom Fighters – two white students Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, and one black, James Chaney – were kidnapped and then beaten in Mississippi in 1964 in one of the most savage assaults on the Civil Rights Movement.
Part of what I find interesting about the article though is that while in different ways it's moving and insightful it also quotes this statement by Toni Morrison which I've never quite subscribed too:

My wife Mara, a committed feminist who grew up on the UP campus and who has lived here longer than me, helped me understand. And so did Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning novelist, who said something years ago that I’ve never forgotten: That in their desire to become part of America, many immigrants embrace the views of the dominant white society – including the prejudiced, distorted image of blacks.

“In race talk, the move into mainstream America always means buying into the notion of American blacks as the real aliens,” she wrote in Time magazine in 1993. “Whatever the ethnicity or nationality of the immigrant, his nemesis is understood to be African American… It doesn’t matter anymore what shade the newcomer’s skin is. A hostile posture toward resident blacks must be struck at the Americanizing door before it will open.”

Many Asians, including Filipinos, have embraced this view, consciously or unconsciously.
I've never bought into the general broad statement that it is (from Morrison or now Pimentel -- even if holding a modicum of truth in some segments of the population) - to me it's saying that no matter where you came from, you automatically take all of your own views on race and racism and throw them away as an individual and subscribe to a "black devil" mentality - that in a way, you were nothing before you came to America - and that by being an immigrant you simply have no desire to learn about the history of the country and in addition how race and racism has affected - and still affects - our country.

I'm not saying that there aren't boundaries to overcome - that time is sometimes spent on getting a place to live, learning more language, finding a community that you fit in with, passing a citizenship test - because that takes time and that's time which can't be spent on education.

But being an immigrant (or first generation - however you use those terms yourself) doesn't mean that you won't take the time to learn about history, and the racial history of our country.

It doesn't mean that from day one you already may know about the history of America - that prior to coming to America you've already educated yourself and made yourself aware.

Being an immigrant doesn't mean that you're just a blank slate with nothing to offer and without a racial consciousness of what's right and what's wrong already.

Being an immigrant is simply being new to the country.