[COLUMN] The way of a conscious heart: Confronting unconscious bias in institutions and hate crimes

Part 2 of 2
“I see, above all, the pressing need to strengthen institutions, which are a vital reserve of moral energy and civic love. The hyperinflation of the individual goes along with the weakness of the state. Once people lose a sense of the common good, history shows that we are left with anarchy or authoritarianism or both together, a violent, unstable society.

We are there already; just consider the numbers of people who die each year from gun violence in the Americas. Since the outbreak of the crisis in the U.S., sales of guns have broken all records.” —Pope Francis, “Let Us Dream,” 2020.

“Where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise or silence, but one equal music.” —John Donne, 2004

In 2004, Harry Eyres of the Financial Times wrote about John Donne, a clergyman and a poet, who confronted the terror of death and saw beyond it a vision of peace, addressing the memorial of a dead woman. Donne spoke at a service consisting of words and music, “the two resources which are all that we humans can or need to bring to bear in the face of death,” outside of London.

What if we bring to our daily consciousness how we want to be remembered at our deaths? Will we be recalled for our fears? Or our strength? Or standing up to hate crimes?

In America, “it has been a year of living in fear for their lives, Pres. Joe Biden said, “they’ve been attacked, blamed, scapegoated and harassed. They’ve been verbally assaulted, physically assaulted and killed.” The 46th US President spoke of six women of Asian descent, who died from a mass shooting, constituting a pattern of violence against Asian Americans: Xiaojie Tan, 49; Daoyou Feng, 44; Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Hyun J. Grant, 51; Soon C. Park, 74; Suncha Kim, 69 and Yong A. Yue, 63.

Photo courtesy of Abe Zanoria, who was with his kids, ages 12 and 8, at a San Gabriel Valley rally denouncing anti-Asian hate on March 20, 2021.

Eight died from this tragic crime. The gunman, interviewed by Cherokee Police, was reportedly acting out ‘his sexual addictions’, had a ‘bad day’ and was charged by the prosecutor for the multiple murders.

Harry Eyres wrote of the dead woman’s husband of 50 years who got up not once, but three times speaking on the “strength, dignity and fullness of the wife he had admired and loved, while the son spoke of “his mother’s reticence and obliqueness combined with warm care and good sense.”

What if these were our default behaviors towards all in America, especially women and girls?

Unconscious bias of institutions

Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the head of the Philippines’ Conference of Catholic Bishops teaches us “that the design of human beings is relationships…our destiny is relationships – all of us are connected. We are designed to love, to serve, to forgive, to not be separated. Computers have designs. In every human being, there’s a design to embrace, to live together, to touch. God condemned living alone, and created a woman to keep man, company.”

A day after the 46th U.S. President Joe Biden was inaugurated, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) wrote a congratulatory note, signed by Archbishop Jose Gomez, which criticized the incoming president for his support of women’s reproductive rights as policies of “moral forces of evil.”

Imagine as a woman, reading this, would you not feel less than?

This is the institution which equated taking birth control pills, as abortifacient drugs, and based on that unscientific information, propagated by an unvetted Filipina physician, it became part of a New Mexico’s bishop’s homily advocating against Obamacare, the same affordable health care services, that millions of Americans currently depend on. Would we have reached a million deaths now if without Obamacare, given this pandemic?

It leads me to question – is this institution, USCCB truly pro-life?

Somehow the Universe pointed me to get my answer. I attended the mass officiated by Bishop Pablo Ambo David, digitally streamed from San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan, Philippines, viewed online by thousands.

“There will never be a time when the Church will consciously choose anti-life, or it ceases to be a Church…but through slavery, colonialism, misogyny, bigotry, slavery, we may claim we are pro-life, but espouse anti-life tendencies. In the past, Christians saw nothing wrong with slavery. People can’t be so evil that they can kill a defenseless child in a mother’s womb. It is blasphemy to regard any being as inherently evil because the creator is God and looked at His creations as very good, after the image and likeness of God.

Although we are inherently good, we are capable of committing evil. That’s why I cannot believe any woman as depraved, intrinsically evil to harm her child. It’s a woman’s instinct to not cause harm on her kid, without causing more harm to herself psychologically and spiritually.”

Why did I react? I know a handful in my circle that opted for abortion for their ectopic pregnancies, where the fetus attaches outside the uterus, and if left to mature, would cause blood poisoning to the mother, while others aborted for cancerous tumors.

I also know of moms who chose their infant, even if it meant the loss of their own lives.

When I was hemorrhaging nine days after giving birth to my youngest child, and I was declared code blue, compelling urgent blood transfusions, I made my husband promise to prioritize taking care of my children, before all else.

Speaking the language of the heart, instead of hate

When Lee Isaac Chung received the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film for Minari, he said: “Minari is about a family trying to learn how to speak a language of its own. It goes deeper than any American language and any foreign language. It’s a language of the heart.”

Rumi, a poet, wrote, “It is better to speak the same language of the heart than speaking the same tongue.” In America, we have privileged the English language, yet the Census Bureau reports at least 350 languages are spoken in U.S. homes.

With these many languages, are we passing on a “minimization” of who we truly are? Or are we celebrating the multiplicity of heritages that our new generation is composed of? A friend’s grandchildren are Filipino, Chinese and American in ethnicities and are raised to embrace the richness of these cultures. In my own relations, one is Filipino, Chinese and American; while another is Filipino, Black and American and one is Filipino, Mexican, El Salvador and American in origins, all born in the United States of America.

Recently, the Antioch Police knelt on the neck of a 30-year-old Filipino American Navy Veteran, Angelo Quinto, for nearly five minutes, as previously reported in the Asian Journal. Had the Antioch Police restrained him as if their own family, would they have realized five minutes would kill him?

This was the same amount of time that four LAPD officers took to break the bones and the skull of Rodney King, after a high-speed chase for drunk driving. A bystander, who happened to have his new camcorder, also videotaped it. More than a dozen officers stood by and watched the beating. Even with that ocular proof, the officers were acquitted. The message was – “don’t trust what our lying eyes are seeing, as if it did not happen.”

The flames surrounded us, north, east and west. My children, then teenagers, got scared.

Rather than allowing their fears to grow, I asked my husband to take us near First AME Church. There, as we swept up the trash, the burnt debris, some still smoldering, hundreds of strangers gave smiles and some even gave hugs.

The federal government filed a civil complaint against LAPD officers, and a civil jury trial was held. The jury was headed by then foreperson Ester Soriano-Hewitt, the architect of the LA County’s Dispute Resolution Program. Two of these LAPD officers were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms. In a separate civil trial, filed by the federal government, two were acquitted and the LA City was held liable and awarded Rodney King $3,800,000 in damages.

But can monetary damage wipe out the trauma, the broken families, and generational theft of their futures with their loved ones?

Can we change our culture to dismantle racism, one family at a time?

Last year, during the pandemic, thousands marched in rallies in hundreds of cities in America and 20 countries abroad protesting the death of George Floyd, when Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. That visible taking of someone’s life by a police officer, while his fellow officers stood by, was a betrayal of the public oaths they took. They have all been fired.

Chauvin faces a state trial for his actions and faces charges of second and third-degree murder. The Floyd family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit and the news recently reported that Minneapolis would settle for $27 million.

Recall the day when Joseph Ileto was mistaken for a Latino by a self-professed Aryan white supremacist, Buford Furrow? Furrow was an engineer who worked for several years for Northrop Gurman.

The tragedy was Ileto volunteered to work at the North Valley, when he worked in the eastside. He simply wanted to help another co-worker. He lived with his mother, sister and was the father figure to the family who had lost their father. Joseph often helped out with his co-workers.

Furrow opened fire first with 70 shots in the Valley Community Center, injuring three kids, a counselor and a worker. He drove miles from the center and when he saw Ileto had just delivered the mail, returning to his postal truck, he asked him to mail a letter. He then shot Ileto nine times. Furrow confessed he murdered Ileto, thinking he was Latino or Asian.

Ten years later, Furrow wrote a letter supposedly repenting, “I feel a life based on hate is no life at all.”

Ishmael, Joseph Ileto’s brother, has this to say: “It still hurts that our brother was taken from us and a letter won’t make up for that. It’s a positive thing that he’s saying he’s changed — it gives us some type of hope that people are able to rehabilitate themselves.

And that is a hopeful sign.” Even with two serial losses, a father and a brother, the Ileto family went to rallies nationwide to call for gun control and attended many high school trainings on hate crime prevention.

When we first heard this shooting on August 10, 1999 — we were shocked. We went to a Valley-based memorial, attended by mostly Jews, and we were one of the two Filipino families who attended. It led us to co-organize with the Asian American Legal Center and with Rachel Cometa Estuar’s “give it my all” leadership, as 25 community leaders, to mobilize over 40 groups and attended by over 400 folks. One of those leaders is the incoming Vice Chancellor Anna Gonzalez for Washington University in St. Louis.

Two memorials were held, one was a community vigil in the Japanese American Community Center and I invited my teenagers with their classmates to attend. It moved my teenage daughter to organize a hate crime prevention symposium at her high school and with the support of the teachers, the student body created an art project together.

Hundreds of square cloth fabrics carried the weight of traumatized high schoolers, later threaded together into a quilt, describing their bullying experiences and anguish at mistreatment at home. It became a wall mural, still hanging today by the principal’s office at Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies.

One day, my 6-year-old precocious granddaughter shared being punched in the tummy by her playmate. She was sleeping over in a relative’s house. Instead of an apology, her playmate rushed to her parents to reverse what happened.

I asked her to consider her playmate’s situation: What was causing her playmate to act that way. She knew right away and said, “Grandma she wants to be me when she can just be herself and be happy.”

I also told her she should not allow anyone physically hit or harm her, even if a friend or relative, and to let her parents know. She was in a sports camp when her personality briefly changed. She was irritable. When we talked about it, she said someone was hurting her.

Her diligent and conscientious father taught her a skill: go to him, look at his eyes and tell him, “Stop,” and walk away. She also reported it to the teacher.

That afternoon, her dad asked, “What happened at camp? Did you have a problem?”

“Papa, it worked. I did what you told me.”

Why did it work? She stopped the bully, by taking away the power to be over her. She claimed her agency.

One day, she said, “Don’t worry Grandma, I will not throw away my heart.”

“What happens if you throw away your heart,” I asked?

“When you throw away your heart, you become sassy and bossy. You hurt others, pinching them, hitting them in their tummy.”
She was listening to raised voices on television and told me: “Grandma, it hurts my heart and ears to hear shouting. I am used to kind and gentle voices, like yours.” I became teary-eyed and hugged her.

Footnote: This piece is dedicated to my first-born, Corina, my favorite, beautiful daughter, the mother of my 6-year-old granddaughter, from whom I am getting heart-widening lessons. Corina organized the hate crime prevention symposium in her high school and organized Asian Americans in her college. Today, she takes a multicultural network of family and friends, intergenerational at times, climbing mountains.

She also plays her cello as part of a diverse philharmonic group, which has gone silent because of the pandemic. She works as a paralegal at a century-plus old law firm that teaches her daily what it is to climb a mountain while sustaining a personal code of ethics and healthy lawful operational practices.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 13 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

Prosy Abarquez Dela Cruz, J.D.

Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D. writes a weekly column for Asian Journal, called “Rhizomes.” She has been writing for AJ Press for 13 years. She also contributes to Balikbayan Magazine. Her training and experiences are in science, food technology, law and community volunteerism for 4 decades. She holds a B.S. degree from the University of the Philippines, a law degree from Whittier College School of Law in California and a certificate on 21st Century Leadership from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has been a participant in NVM Writing Workshops taught by Prof. Peter Bacho for 4 years and Prof. Russell Leong. She has travelled to France, Holland, Belgium, Japan, Costa Rica, Mexico and over 22 national parks in the US, in her pursuit of love for nature and the arts.

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