May 20, 2015

Beyond the Model Minority Myth: Redefining Activism

Photo: Members of Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP) bearing the banners of Bayan USA&National Alliance for Filipino Concerns during the Portland May Day 2015.

by Rossella De Leon
Chairperson, Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP)

I have a love and hate relationship with activism. I am in love with it now. In fact, I am in a long-term, committed relationship with it. Just when I think that my love can’t go any deeper, I find myself growing more and more in love each day. This wasn’t always the case.

Growing up in the Philippines, the television and radio news channels taught me that activists are enemies of the state. Many of my elders taught me that activists are anti-government and trouble-makers. Wala silang magawang mabuti sa buhay, I was told. “They didn’t have anything better to do in life.” It’s not so much that I hated activism then, I was actually just afraid. I didn’t want to be labeled as a trouble-maker. In my fervent effort to be the polite, submissive, and obedient Filipina that my grandmother disciplined me to be, I took pride in being a good girl. It wasn’t until I immigrated to the U.S. that I started challenging the version of me I thought I liked.

I fell in love with activism. More specifically, I fell in love with the National Democratic Movement of the Philippines, the ND Movement. I organize with the Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP), a community organization that is also a part of the ND Movement. As I got to know this movement, I swiftly learned about all its beauty and promise. I was mesmerized! My heart started beating fast as it yearned to be in a movement that is committed to organizing towards a free Philippines: A Philippine government that no longer forced out 5000 of its people everyday due to lack of employment and home; A Philippine government that no longer allowed the exploitation of its land and people by allowing U.S. military and economic intervention; A Philippine government that instead prioritized and served the interest of its most defenseless and poorest citizens. My kasamas (comrades) in PCHRP are committed to ND activism because we understand that in order for the ND Movement’s promise to be realized, we must continue to organize. And organize we go - loud, daring, and resolute.

It is through ND activism that I learned that perpetuating the model minority stereotypes of being docile and submissive while our women and children get raped, while kasamas continue to be targeted by state-sponsored violence, and while the colonizers continue to plunder our resources, also meant being a disservice to my people. Through the ND movement I learned that to be an activist did not mean to be anti-government, but to be an advocate for a just Philippine government that serves the people, a government that serves the most exploited, oppressed, and vulnerable members of the community. To be an activist did not mean to be a trouble-maker, but to be a selfless people’s servant working to rid our communities of the real trouble-makers.

Read more stories from AAPI Heritage Month here.