That Awful Four-Letter Word

Photo by Akbar Nemati

Photo by Akbar Nemati

One of the most disconcerting situations I’ve been in – the kind that sent chills up and down my spine -- happened in the mid-‘70s. The Philippines was firmly in the grip of martial law; relatives and friends have been arrested, tortured, or killed. There were definitely plenty of reasons to be very angry.

In one of my Sunday visits to a maximum-security prison where my friend was detained, there was a birthday celebration for one detainee’s six-year-old daughter. This child was adorable and precocious; whenever she was brought in to visit her father, she also brought the sunshine along with her. Everyone loved her.

At her party, she was, of course, the star. Standing on a tabletop at the mess hall where everyone was gathered, she sang revolutionary songs to big applause. When she ended her performance, she clenched her fist up in the air and yelled “Patayin ang tarantadong Marcos! Patayin ang kanyang mga tarantadong tuta (Kill crazy Marcos, kill his crazy lapdogs)!” Cheers erupted; she was hugged and hailed as the future of the revolution. Her parents basked in her glory, bragging that they didn’t have to teach her that, she thought it herself.

I sat petrified in the midst of the cheering group, appalled at the ugliness of the rhetoric and the display of undisguised hatred (known then as revolutionary fervor). How can parents allow their children to spout such hateful language, no matter the justification?. Later on, still bothered by what I saw, I started thinking about the inhumanity and the inconsistency of a movement that championed democracy and social justice but imposed on the young the burden of hatred.

I feared for the future then but most of all, I feared for myself because at that time – with all the cruelty and injustice happening in the country – sliding down the abyss of hate would have been so easy, even logical. Would I be so consumed by anger and hate that I would bequeath to my future children a legacy of unhappiness and negativity? (I distanced myself from the movement then; while I shared their vision, I loathed their tactics, but that’s another story.)

I’ve been reminded of the vileness of the word HATE at various times in the almost 30 years that my children and I have lived in America. Shortly after we arrived here, when the country was in the midst of a recession, there was a TV commercial that made me shudder -- a woman was saying something about her job being taken over by a foreigner. I knew it wouldn’t take much for anyone to point that foreigner-despising finger at me. Despite settling in one of the most diverse areas of the country, my children weren’t spared the curse of hatred, cloaked in such contemporary terms as racism and discrimination, yet just as painful.

Now hate is once again sweeping America, fueled by the difficult economy, the fear of a rapidly changing world, the shrill rhetoric of the haters in both social and traditional media, and a presidential candidate who espouses social divisions. And though the current president is heroically and elegantly trying to temper the tempest by putting some context to historical contradictions, old habits and long-held views die hard, especially when the haters define themselves by their anger and fear. Thus the surge in the membership of what the FBI identifies as hate groups and the consequent increase in hate crimes.

The objects of their hatred are the usual suspects: African Americans, Jews, ethnic minorities (including Filipinos), illegal immigrants, Muslims, gays – the list goes on. At the risk of being alarmist, I have to remind everyone in our community that hatred knows no logic and recognizes no boundaries. When strong negative emotions mix with mental illnesses, the brew is almost always lethal.

It is my hope that nobody in the Filipino American community identifies with these hate mongers; that everyone tries to overcome whatever racist feelings they may harbor against people of other ethnicities, including Caucasians. Hatred, after all, begets hatred and its weapon of destruction could easily turn in our direction. We, as people of faith, are better and bigger than that.

The great South African leader Nelson Mandela -- who was himself the victim of institutionalized hatred – could have been talking about the U.S. in his speech when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993: “… there are still some within our country who wrongly believe they can make a contribution to the cause of justice and peace by clinging to the shibboleths that have been proved to spell nothing but disaster.

“It remains our hope that they, too, will be blessed with sufficient reason to realise that history will not be denied and that the new society cannot be created by reproducing the repugnant past, however refined or enticingly repackaged.”

May reason and goodwill triumph in this difficult time.

A version of this column was published in Filipinas magazine, July 2009. 

Gemma Nemenzo

Editor, Positively Filipino