By Emil Guillermo
I decided to not go to my “big sister’s” funeral.
With COVID-19, how are we expected to get our Filipino death selfie? You know, the “open casket-big family” picture that we post on social media for all the relatives in the Philippines and throughout our Filipino diaspora.
But I just couldn’t go. As an OG at risk, it’s prudent to stay home and address the spirits in pre-Zoom mode. No passwords necessary. (I will honor her below. She was the triumph of family immigration.)
Originally, I might have attended since the whole country began reopening. But now, it seems the whole country is shutting back down.
Like my “big sister.”
The death toll globally from the coronavirus is now at 500,000.
The U.S. is at 125, 814 as I write on June 29.
Hawaii’s case load is still under 900, with just 18 deaths. But California’s death count has risen to nearly 6,000.
Overall, the cases in California have climbed to over 216,000 with as more than 7,000 new cases in one day last week.
California and Hawaii aren’t even considered hot spots like Florida, Arizona, and Texas. Those states are seeing such huge spikes that recovering states, such as New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, are starting to impose travel restrictions on them.
When it comes to public health, you don’t mess around.
So why is Donald Trump playing it fast and loose with our health? He’s even gaslighting America on basic things about the virus, from slowing or not slowing tests to the veracity of case numbers.
Stats can’t be ignored. We’re close to 126,000 Americans dead, and counting.
Trump’s “kung flu” spikes
Meanwhile, many Asian Americans are rightly angered that the president insists on his continued use of the slur “Kung Flu.”
It’s no joke. It’s a slur. Doesn’t matter what nonAsians think. It’s just as bad as using the “N-word.”
When Trump mentioned KF at his Tulsa, “Make America Sick Again” rally, I was shocked. But Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was protecting her boss, lying about the mention even after we all saw it uttered in Tulsa.
“It is not about Asian Americans whom the president values and prizes as citizens of this great country,” McEnany said. “It is an indictment of China for letting this virus get here.”
And then she conflated Trump’s use of KF and the media’s use of “Chinese virus,” as if they were the same.
Of course, I take issue with the notion that Trump loves Asian Americans. He probably saw the Pew Report that called Asian Americans the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group of eligible voters in the U.S. (OK, he didn’t see it, but a staffer probably did. And notice how he suddenly is mentioning Asians when he cites inclusively the phrase “Blacks, Latinos and Asians,” as if that’s all he has to do for diversity’s sake.)
Still, Trump loves us enough to endanger us by again repeating the phrase “Kung Flu” on Tuesday in Phoenix, before his typical non-socially distanced, anti-masking MAGA folk.
Am I being oversensitive?
When Trump first uttered the phrase in March, we saw a dramatic spike in anti-Asian violence in America. More than 1,500 cases in less than a month.
And remember the majority of incidents involved non-Chinese Asian Americans, a number of them Filipino.
As Trump continues maskless, his followers see their right to go unmasked as similar to gun rights. Give me liberty or give me COVID-19?
It’s the right to espouse ignorant opinions in a pandemic without a face covering.
Trump’s failure to lead our public health policy in a responsible and non-partisan way seems to be the birthing of a new and perverse right to die movement.
If Kung Flu is really an indictment of China’s slow roll like McEnany said, what will the indictment of Trump be for his slow-rolling reaction to the virus once it got here?
As the U.S. keeps breaking records for single-day cases, the evidence of Trump’s pandemic incompetence keeps growing and growing with no sign of any change to come.
The Trump presidency is the death of America.
My Ate Estelita and the magic of immigration
“Ate” (pronounced ahteh) is what you call a big sister in the Philippine language.
And for me, that was my Ate Estelita Medina Napata.
To me, she was Ate Esther. She died last week at age 77.
My actual sister explained to me that Estelita was in the tradition of Filipino extended families, my de facto big sister. She was my father’s cousin’s granddaughter. Got that? Like Sister Sledge sang: “We Are Family.”
Ate Esther came to live with my family when I was 10 because we had an extra room. She immigrated to America after the monumental Immigration Law of 1965 did away with the racist quotas that existed. So it was old school immigration, the family unity way—the kind Trump wants to abolish.
When Ate Esther arrived, she was just 22-years-old. She cared for me, my sister, and even my mother. And we cared for her, even insisting on “chaperoning” her to dates at drive-in movies. But when she got married to a naturalized Filipino American who served in the U.S. Navy, we all celebrated. Manong Pete was a good man. They moved from our flat to another one a block away in San Francisco. That’s how the Mission district worked in pre-Tech San Francisco. It was a neighborhood of families.
And then Ate Esther began her immigration magic.
She had six brothers and sisters in the Philippines. One by one, they all joined her. She even petitioned for her mother and father. Life is better in America? No doubt.
She then started her own family—four kids. In all, Ate Esther was responsible for bringing to the world 12 Filipino Americans, who then started their own families, and all of them became productive members of the American middle class. At last count, she had 10 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.
Ate Esther did all this while working at the state hospital in a stable job with good retirement benefits. She wasn’t rich. But she was wealthy in the ways that count and enrich our country.
She was the kind of immigrant we wanted in the U.S. The old-fashioned kind who improve America simply by wanting a better life for their own families.
My Ate would do the little things for me that a caring big sister does. Like making something good to eat from whatever we had on hand. Comfort foods. And now I’m sorry I won’t be there to comfort the entire family.
Her death wasn’t even a COVID-19 death. But COVID-19 impacts how everything is done. In the end, Ate Esther just wanted to come home and live out her days in hospice and be with her family, especially with one of her adult daughters who had become bedridden after an illness.
That was Ate Esther, always the caretaker, even when she needed care herself.
I last saw her a year ago at what has become the typical gathering, another funeral. Our lives had grown distant, but we still had our bonding memories.
We never really spoke much beyond basic pleasantries, but she always showed her care and her love. She was my Ate.
I now see her life as a reminder of the true power of immigration. Do we really just want the rich ones, or those who can do something for America? How about the ones who just share universal values of love and family?
My Ate Esther was one of the huddled masses. She died a woman grateful to the country that had allowed her to keep her family together.
It’s the kind of immigration that truly becomes America.
EMIL GUILLERMO is a veteran journalist and commentator. He was a member of the Honolulu Advertiser editorial board. Listen to him on Apple Podcasts. Twitter @emilamok.