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Members of the Filipino community sound off on Sept.11th

Monday March 18, 2002

By Molly Bentley 

Special to the Planet 


George Nervez, the editor of the Filipino Guardian, leaned back in his chair in his home-office and recalled a friend’s advice after September 11. “ ‘Shave your beard,’ the friend said. He’d look less like a terrorist.  

The beard stayed put. But like many other Filipinos, Nervez, who has lived in the United States for 16 years, said the post-September climate has affected him and the 378,000 Filipinos, the majority of them Catholic. 

He now avoids airports, he said. He doesn’t fly, and he “doesn’t want to” because he’s heard too many stories of ethnic profiling.  

People are stopped for extensive questioning if they are Filipino, Arab, Mexican, or just darker-than-Caucasian, he said. Friends who have returned from the Philippines have told him they’ve had a hard time getting back into the country. They all have green cards.  

“Even if the stories aren’t true,” Nervez said. “They feed into an insecurity.” And, he added, “People won’t go home because they might have a hard time coming back.”  

Unlike, Arab-Americans, Filipinos in California generally are not targets of violence, said Nervez, but six months after the attacks in New York and Washington, Bay Area Filipinos say a sense of mistrust endures. Filipinos, along with other non-Caucasians endure a profiling, by “the color of their skin,” that makes them suspect to some Americans.  

He points to the defeat of Proposition C, in last week’s election, as an example of an anti-immigrant mentality. Proposition C would have allowed non-citizen San Francisco residents to serve on local boards and commissions. Nervez says the defeat of the bill is “pitiful” because many non-citizen immigrants are qualified and enthusiastic about serving on local boards. 

Nervez said, however, that the more immediate impact is economic. Although the recession has hurt everyone in the Bay Area, when the pink slips came in Silicon Valley or after September 11, some Filipinos had to leave. Without a sponsoring company, non- U.S. residents were forced to return to the Philippines, he said 

In addition, a new federal law that requires all airport screener to be U.S. citizens has directly affected the Filipino community. Activists predict that 4,500 workers will lose their job in the Bay Area; eighty percent of them Filipino, according Kawal Ulanday, a spokesperson for Filipinos for Affirmative Action. Of those, 90 percent of are non-citizens.  

Nervez says the new law “didn’t target Filipinos directly,” but has affected them disproportionately. His daughter, Gwen Flores, who works at the Filipino Guardian, is less charitable. She says that the passage of the Transportation Security Act, is a deliberate strike against immigrants.  

“It’s a major injustice,” she said. “It shows you how paranoid people can be. Immigrants are used as scapegoats and they are the first to go.” The Department of Transportation spokesperson Jim Mitchell said that the law is not designed to target immigrants but to create a professional security force. 

The law nationalizes airport security entirely by November 19th. Non-citizen screeners, even if legal immigrants could start receiving pink slips anytime, according to Ulanday. 

Not everyone in the Filipino community has had a bad experience.  

A Filipino man in his fifties, who didn’t want to be identified because his immigration status is pending, said he flew to California from the Philippines six months ago. He was on route to New York where a job awaited. Having taken “the last plane from the Philippines to SFO” that day, he and his wife landed at San Francisco International airport the evening of September 10th. They stayed the night in Daly City. 

“We woke up to the news of the attacks in our hotel,” he said. All U.S. flights were grounded for the next few days. The man said he couldn’t fly to New York or back to the Philippines. He and his wife discussed a future in the new America.  

“Do we want to live here with this situation?” he said they asked each other, as the news of the attacks consumed the nation. They decided to stay.  

“If this can happen in the U.S., it can happen anywhere,” he said. The United States, he figured, was as safe a place as any.  

In the week they waited for flights to resume, his wife fell in love with California. They cancelled their East Coast plans. The Bay Area Filipino community grew by two.