In the midst of it all

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AThe past couple of days have been very emotional for everyone. Although our emotions may run in different directions and come from varied perspectives, it is undeniable that we have all been moved. We are in pain. We are angry. We are grieving.

As a person of color who migrated to the United States 20 years ago, the concept of discrimination is very real for me. I was not born here, and when you see me in the very diverse crowds of New York City, you know by sight that I am one of “the others”. I am one in a sea of immigrants that make up this great country. The color of my skin and my hair, and the shape of my eyes and my nose tell you that I’m not your typical American. I identify as Filipino. When people ask me where I’m from, I instinctively say the Philippines. Because that’s where I came from and that’s who I am.

No matter how progressive this part of the country is, you know that you continue to be viewed through a different lens. Sometimes favorably, sometimes not. But your color makes people see you a certain way — even among us who are of color.

New York City has been in the middle of some very violent expressions of anger and grief. What makes it worse is that there are many who have sought to take advantage of this collective grief and indignation, and used it as a smokescreen — literally — to commit acts of vandalism and criminality.

This is indeed, a sad time for my home city. As a New Yorker, it breaks my heart to see New Yorkers hurting fellow New Yorkers.

While you may think that the bigger brands and establishments can bear to suffer the loss of their wares and the destruction of their physical stores, we forget that there are New Yorkers who man those stores and actually look forward to returning to their regular jobs in the not so distant future. There were smaller establishments who were operating on a very thin lifeline and are now further burdened by the need to rebuild and restock. Deli stores, souvenir shops, name brand stores — beyond the shattered glass and the lost inventory, this whole period of violence has cast a pall on the job prospects of those who were hoping to cling to their employment there.

I watched some of the footage of these looting sprees and found myself suddenly gripped with fear as I saw throngs of people forcing doors open, breaking glass, peeling away the wooden barricades. Then there was anger as the frenzy began and they stormed the stores and came out with their own haul. One deli store owner stood by his door giving away water just so the looters would not ransack his store like they did the others who were open in the midst of the violence. One guy went into a computer and electronics store and came out with a MacBook in a box, and got chased by two others who grabbed it from him despite his efforts to protect his “haul”. One of the guys started attacking him while another ran off with his boxed Mac. I am sorry, but I can’t even be sad for the guy who lost his loot. I am, however, sad for the three of them who fought like barbarians over the stolen goods.

Friends and family have been asking how my son and I are doing. We are far from the fray, and this is another instance when I’m grateful that I’m working from home, and not forced to commute to the city to earn my paycheck. But even if I’m not in the heart of the violence, it is felt all around us with the constant reminders of a curfew in a city that used to be touted as the “City that never sleeps”.

I feel the outrage in the death of George Floyd and can understand the emotions that run deep. It was a senseless act showing a lack and even an absence of compassion. I grieve him, too. I understand the cause that the protesters are fighting for — but the message has been heard loud and clear all over the world. Even when we protest peacefully, if we defy orders to go home when the curfew has ensued, the civil disobedience we commit can detract from the message and the cause we are fighting for.

Other groups have been taking advantage of the anger and the grief. It is suspected that some of the violence instigated by supposed protestors are actually the doing of groups who want to sow further violence and discord. More people are getting hurt. Cooler heads need to intervene. The voices of reason need to make themselves heard.

And for the last few days, the issue that has beset us for the last almost 100 days of stay-at-home/sheltering-in-place has taken a backseat. I look at the sea of people in all the places where the protests have been taking place and I am afraid at the spike I anticipate we will see in infections in the next 10-12 days. All those lives lost to the disease, and here we are tempting fate again, brazenly daring the disease to come and overtake us anew.

Ten days ago, I was getting ready for the ultimate return to office — and it didn’t matter that I didn’t know when that would actually take place. With a Phase 1 reopening slated for this coming Monday, the delineated two week gap per phase, and knowing that I would likely be returning in Phase 3, I don’t think I will be called back earlier than mid-or late July. Possibly even later. Still, I feel a need to get ready for that day when I would have to wade through the commute and enter the building via a transportation hub were thousands of people walk through on any given day.

At the back of my head, I was also trying to prepare for a possible second wave. Disposable face masks are available again, and there are the very expensive bottles of hand sanitizer on some store shelves. Alcohol and disinfectant spray or wipes continue to be a prime commodity that continue to be unavailable, so I am trying to just have some in stock so that I am ready if they disappear from the shelves again.

I know that our battle with the disease is far from over. We have just managed to catch up with it with the social distancing and the sheltering in place. We managed to prevent people from congregating and giving the virus a Petrie dish to fester in.

Until the last couple of days.

I want to see people going back to work again, and the economy taking a deep breath that will somehow revive it even at the slowest of paces. I want to go back to something close to normal — because I know we will never go back to the way we used to do things before we were all sent home to slow the spread of disease. But I do not want to return to the daily report of hundreds of people dying and losing their battle with the on Covid. That is one place I don’t think any of us would want to go back to.

So I keep my fingers crossed that the protests happening in our midst will not be an ember that will light up a fire that we will battle to put out later on. We have barely recovered from the battle we are yet to wrap up. What happens if we get into that kind of a race against this disease again?

I don’t have a solution to the problems that face us regarding race. I think it has sparked a new stream of dialogue that will hopefully help us flesh out the pain and the struggle — and maybe bring us to a better place. Eventually. This is one problem that, like Covid, will take time to solve. One problem at a time, they say. No matter how unrelated these two issues may be, they beset us and besiege us. We need to fight each one as if there were two attackers threatening our lives on two sides. We cannot forget the one that took thousands of lives in the very recent past, while we fight for the lives that continue to be lost because of the color of their skin.

I’m afraid all I can do is keep my fingers crossed. That, in itself, is sad, and almost makes me feel helpless, because that only means there is really nothing I can do either way, except see how things play out in the weeks to come.