On October 30, 2015, I attended a preview of my Asian American artist friend, Cesar Conde, newest exhibit “Bang Bang Project.” In 2013, Cesar has been a major supporter of the Bayanihan Foundation and its efforts to plant over 10,000 mangrove trees in Liloan, Cebu to combat climate change. The moment I saw the first painting of his new exhibition I knew “The Bang Bang Project” is different from his other shows. I was confronted by larger than life, haunting faces of professional African-Americans wearing hoodies. Cesar’s inspiration was the result of the shooting of African-American Michael Brown by a white male officer. On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American male, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson 28, a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The shooting of Michael Brown and the disputed circumstances of the shooting of the unarmed young man sparked existing tensions in the majority-black city. Consequently, protests and civil unrest erupted in many major cities around the US.
I know that the topic of race and racial discrimination is almost a taboo subject in the Filipino American community. No one really talks about it openly even though it exists. The Filipino Amerasians in Clark and Subic, Philippines face discrimination and the stigma of being different everyday. Cesar Conde confronted these difficult questions of race, racial discrimination and racial profiling. I asked Cesar why is a Filipino American asking these questions of race and racial prejudices especially among African-Americans? Why should we as Filipino and Asian Americans be worried? Aren’t Filipino Americans and other Asian Americans part of the “model minority”? Didn’t we ‘made it’? So shouldn’t we just be happy that we’re not like ‘them’ (the blacks)?
Cesar looked me in the eye and said, “We have to do something about it. We should talk about the elephant in the room called racism. It looks you in the eye and asks ‘How are you part of the problem? How are you part of the solution?’ I admire Cesar for being brave. We all have to be brave sometime in our lives. I remembered the poem by pastor Martin Niemöller who spoke against being complicit through silence during the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people during World War II:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Thank you Cesar for being brave for all of us and for talking about the elephant in the room – race and racial discrimination. You can see the “Bang Bang Project” art exhibit at the Zhou B. Art Center, fourth floor 1029 W 35th St, Chicago, IL. You can also contribute to the Bang Bang Project at this link: http://bit.ly/1OeJYfU