Thursday, May 31, 2012


WASHINGTON D.C.  Ward 8 Councilman and former DC Mayor Marion Barry has agreed to meet with Filipino nurses next month after he appeared to express remorse in a Las Vegas emergency room where he was treated by Filipino staff members.

“We’re trying to tell the people and the community that we’re here because we want to serve the community, we’re not here to take their jobs but because they need nurses. That’s why we’re here,” Marissa Usman, president of the Philippine Nurses Association of Metropolitan DC (PNAMDC) told the Manila Mail.

Usman revealed they are scheduled to meet with Barry on June 6.

She said they will press Barry for an apology for his remarks that singled out Filipino nurses for seemingly stealing American jobs.

He was quoted as saying, “If you go to the hospital now, you’ll find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines, and no offense, but let’s grow our own teachers, let’s grow our own nurses, and so that we don’t have to go scrounging in our community clinics and other kinds of places, having to hire people from somewhere else.”

That drew immediate condemnation from Asian Americans, especially Filipinos who felt Barry’s statement, apparently directed at his constituents, nevertheless, fanned the already heated immigration debate.   

“There is already an anti-immigrant sentiment so he should know better than to speak with xenophobic sentiments like I said, he is a civil rights champion but being too long in politics maybe it’s time for him to retire,” rued fellow street parliamentarian Jon Melegrito, spokesman for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).

“Councilmember Barry’s penchant for blaming Asians, who only want to work for their American dream, fuels racism, discrimination, and violence,” Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. protested.

“Such rhetoric does nothing but harm relations among community members, when the times call for developing relationships and finding solutions to common challenges. He owes Filipino nurses an apology for his recent tirade,” the envoy stressed.

Barry initially refused to apologize but when he was rushed to a Las Vegas hospital, where he was attended by Filipino nurses, and appeared to have his epiphany. 

In a message posted to Twitter, Barry thanked the “outstanding medical staff, incl. kind professional Filipino staff.”

"I stand corrected," he tweeted, "I truly didn't mean 2 hurt or offend."
The PNAMDC said they want to reach out to Barry and DC Mayor Vincent Gray because they feel city officials are not fully aware of what they do or why they work in district hospitals.

“We feel like he doesn’t know what Filipino nurses do here,” said the group’s spokesman Joy Arellano, who works at the Georgetown University Hospital.  “I think he just needs more enlightenment on what we can do for DC.”

“We can help in the nursing shortage because that was the purpose of his speech in UDC (University of District of Columbia). He’s trying to make DC the source we can help with our experience, we can help plan with him to solve the nursing shortage,” chimed Nora Mendoza, the incoming president of the PNAMDC.

“We are professionals. We have the skills. We have the compassion and the passion to be nurses,” Usman stressed to the Manila Mail.

There are hundreds of Filipino nurses spread out in the Metro DC region. Usman concedes they don’t have an exact number (the PNAMDC has about 200 active members) because they are recruited from various places.

And like Usman, who says she’s lived in the US for more than 30 years, many of these nurses have already acquired American citizenship and have resided in the area for decades, further complicating any attempt to inventory their ranks.

They argued that Filipinos are just part of the foreign nurses community in the Metro DC region. “It’s not just us kaya lang when you go to all these hospitals all you see are Filipinos – and we’re proud of that. We’re proud to be part of the community and the hospital where we serve,” Usman said.

“He (Barry) is lucky that Washington DC is one of the areas where we serve,” she declared, only partly in jest.

The nurses said that while they still want an apology from Barry, they will not insist if he does not want to.  “If he doesn’t want to apologize that is his prerogative but in the dialogue we want to show him why we are here. We don’t want to be involved in their politics,” Usman averred.

She said their overriding wish for the meeting is to put closure on the controversy. To put the hurts behind them, the nurses explained, and move on. “Maybe he can gain something from what we can offer. If he needs some support from us, we’re here. We’re here to help them,” Usman stressed. (rjj)

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