Thirteen years ago this month, 39-year-old Joseph Ileto – a Filipino American postal worker – was delivering mail in a Los Angeles neighborhood when he was fatally shot by a self-confessed white supremacist who also killed five people at a nearby Jewish Community Center.
The convicted gunman, Buford Furrow, said Ileto was a good “target of opportunity” to kill because he thought the postal worker was either Hispanic or Asian, a “non-white.”
The racially-motivated killing of Ileto sent shock waves within the Filipino American community and stirred memories of a time in California when Filipino farm workers were targeted by white lynch mobs in the 1920s.
It happened then. And it’s still happening now.
Ten days ago, Wade Michael Page – an apparent white supremacist – went on a shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and left six worshippers dead. In the year after 9/11, hate crimes against Sikhs, Muslims, Arab-Americans, Middle Easterners or South Asians rose by nearly 1,600 per cent.
There are forces in our beloved country who are still bent on creating a climate of fear, bigotry, prejudice, mistrust and hate. Hate crimes must not be treated as isolated incidents. These recent slayings are reflections of the rising tide of hate and ignorance across the nation. They are perpetrated by those who refuse to accept who we are, how we look and what we believe. Their underlying motive is hatred of “the other,” simply because of differences in race or religion.
The slaying of Joseph Ileto in 1999, the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 and the recent killing of Sikh worshippers are grim reminders of what it means for us to be treated as eternal outsiders or perpetual foreigners. We all have a role to play in a society that’s still struggling to free itself from the bigotry and racism of the past, by speaking out boldly for justice and inclusion and by respecting each other regardless of race or religion, gender or sexual orientation, or political affiliation.
- Jon Melegrito, NaFFAA National Communications Director
Statement by NaFFAA National Chairman Ed Navarra:
“We join all our sisters and brothers who have expressed their sorrow and deepest sympathy for the families and members of the Sikh community who lost loved ones in a killing rampage . We denounce this despicable act of hatred as an attack against all of us who value religious pluralism, equality and inclusion. We also stand with the civil rights, immigrant rights and faith communities in condemning the hate-fueled and bigoted rhetoric that has become commonplace in our public discourse. Long after we have mourned and grieved the deaths of the Sikh worshippers, we need to continue to be vigilant to ensure that the forces who are out to destroy our common aspiration for One America do not prevail.
“I call on leaders and members of the Filipino community to fight against all forms of prejudice and bigotry wherever we are. We all deserve to live in a society where we can freely worship at a temple, mosque, synagogue or church or walk America’s streets without fear of intimidation and violence.
“Finally, I call on our community to engage in serious conversations about how best we can replace the current culture of contempt with a culture of respect for those who we disagree with. It is hard to ignore, for instance, the hate-filled rhetoric that is often used to express opinions, most notably in the Internet, where opponents are vilified and demonized. We should ask ourselves if we are not inadvertently contributing to the hatred that motivates such killers as Buford Furrow and Wade Michael Page when we engage in character assassination, vile hate-mongering and blind partisan rage. Let us agree to disagree, but do so respectfully. To stop intolerance and bigotry from tearing at the fabric of human life, it must begin with each one of us.”