On being the son of immigrants, Nazi salutes and Advent


At Thanksgiving last week, while sitting at the dinner table, a family friend of mine discussed ideas for tattoos he’s been considering.

Perhaps, he would get a sun symbolizing the Filipino national flag on his arm. He shared this idea with us, a group of almost all 20- to 30-something children of Filipino immigrants. I asked him why he hasn’t gotten it yet.

“All it takes is one person from one of the Filipino terrorist groups to come here and do something stupid, and people will turn on us,” he said. “I’m all about Filipino pride, but I don’t want to be targeted and attacked when it happens.”

I sat on this for a minute, silent. Then somewhat naively, I interjected, “Wait, do you really think America would turn on Filipinos, after all this time assimilating?”

Almost everyone responded affirmatively – with reminders of the fear we’ve all felt after this election as we’ve heard about the hate crimes and threats across the country. We moved on to joke about the various ways we’ve been asked: “Where are you from? … No, where are you really from?” – a staple at many Asian gatherings.

Then someone said something that broke my heart.

“No matter what you do,” he said, “you’ll always be a visitor.” The table of American-born citizens nodded.

I don’t want to believe that to be true. I have always been grateful for having been born in this country, for the opportunities I’ve had because of the sacrifices my parents made coming here.

Last week, The Atlantic published a video of white nationalists cheering, “Heil, Trump!” and giving Nazi salutes at an alt-right conference.

“America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Richard Spencer, a leader of the Alt-Right movement, said. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

I honestly haven’t fully processed what I should feel about this. Anger? It’s so numbing I can’t even bring myself to be mad. Shock? Sort of, but people of color know this isn’t new. Anxiety? There’s a good amount of basic survival-level fear — OK, these may be the most extreme people (maybe), but there are other people with views leaning this way, certainly enough people who heard and followed the not-so-subtle racist dog-whistling rhetoric during the election.

Mostly, though, I just feel sad. Sad that a whole room of Americans feel that the majority of our homeland do not want me or my kids or my parents or anyone at their Thanksgiving table. I’m just a visitor, I don’t belong and time is almost up.

Reflecting again on that Thanksgiving conversation: Constantly living under the possibility that one event by an isolated individual will define swaths of people as a target is the experience of people of color in America. It just is. And, frankly, Filipino-Americans, at least, have the comfort of anticipation as opposed to reality. Muslims don’t dread a “possibility;” they fear the aftermath every day. Black people aren’t thinking, “All it takes is one event,” because they have to march to the streets just to insist their lives matter. Many Mexican immigrants are praying right now their families won’t be torn apart. Native Americans don’t even get the opportunity to say they belong, because “visitors” stole their home centuries ago and now they can’t even stop what little land they have from being plowed through with a pipeline.

As a Filipino-American, I know in my bones I have to stand in solidarity with other marginalized people in America, if not at least because, selfishly, without resistance there’s no stopping it being me next.

And then I think of Jesus Christ, of Advent, and our hope. Our solidarity is not simply defined negatively, by what we have to be against. We stand together in Christ, in what Christ has first done for us, in Christ knowing what it is to be a victim of sin and de-humanization and in what Christ has prepared for our future. During Advent, we acknowledge and celebrate all of creation longing for our ultimate redemption, when Christ comes back to fill the whole Heavens and Earth with the glory of God, where all brokenness and sin and death will finally be destroyed, where our own sin will finally be washed away forever, where every tear will be wiped away, every barrier that separates us torn down, and all of us — even those of us with darker shades of skin than others — will be revealed as brothers and sisters held together by the love of God.

In other words, in Christ’s future, none of us will be made to feel dismissed as visitors. In Christ, we all belong, and Christ will invite us to our true home, in the Kingdom of God forever.

There have been many commentaries about how we need to respond to this election and the racial animosity in America that has clearly been brought to the surface. I am still processing and discerning the right path forward, as are many others.

But as this season of Advent — the true start of the new year in my book, not our election cycles or inauguration dates — begins, I am more convinced than ever that part of my response has to be proclaiming regularly that in Christ, all people – in our diverse cultures, ethnicities and skin colors – belong. There are no visitors easily dismissed. There is no “other” in Christ. Since our future hope is Christ coming and bringing us together as family, part of what I must do is bring a glimpse of that future hope to the present. This means embracing all as welcome and belonging to God as God made them to be; perhaps even demanding it, in the face of sin that compels all of us to wish the designated “Other” to go away, literally or otherwise.

By the grace of God, I pray that every action of mine reflects this glorious truth, until Christ comes again.