A weekly magazine-style radio show featuring the voices and stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders from all corners of our community. The show is produced by a collective of media makers, deejays, and activists.
Tonight, Powerleegirls hosts Miko Lee & Jalena Keane-Lee focus on Filipinos on the Front Line. We look at two films that feature Pinoy nurses, The First Wave, a feature documentary by director Matthew Heineman. and We Are They a poetic short we talk with Brussels and Athens the nurses featured in the First Wave and filmmakers Diana Diroy and Jaclyn Reyes.
Filipinos make up, 4% of registered nurses in the US according to the National Nurses United the country’s largest nursing union. For perspective in California, almost 20% of nurses are Filipinos. Immigrants from the Philippines makeup over 13% of all foreign born healthcare workers, more than any other country. There’s one in four working Filipino adults in this country that are frontline healthcare workers providing critical care for covid-19 patients this is according to the data by national nurses united and Filipinos are continuing to head America’s call especially as the pandemic drags on. We’re going to talk about some of these issues tonight.
More Info & Research links:
according to a February 2021 report on death rate
Filipino Immigrant healthcare workers 2018 figures from the Migration Policy Institute
Filipinos on the Frontline Show Transcript
[00:00:00] Opening: Asian Pacific expression. Unity and cultural coverage, music and calendar revisions influences Asian Pacific Islander. It’s time to get on board. The Apex Express. Good evening. You’re tuned in to Apex Express.
[00:00:18] Jalena Keane-Lee: We’re bringing you an Asian American Pacific Islander view from the Bay and around the world. We are your hosts, Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-lee the powerlee girls, a mother daughter team,
[00:00:28] Miko Lee:
tonight, we’re focused on Filipinos on the front line. We’re looking at two films that feature Pinoy nurses, the first wave, a feature documentary by director Matthew Heineman. and we are they a poetic short we talk with brussels and athens the nurses featured in the first wave and filmmakers Diana Diroy and J aclyn Reyes.
Filipinos makeup, 4% of registered nurses in the U S according to the national nurses United the country’s largest nursing union. For perspective and our own California, almost 20% of nurses are Filipinos and immigrants from the Philippines makeup over 13% of all foreign born healthcare workers, more than any other country. So there’s one in four working filipino adults in this country that are frontline healthcare workers providing critical care for covid-19 patients this is according to the data by national nurses united and filipinos are continuing to heat america’s call especially as the pandemic drags on and we’re going to talk about some of these issues tonight
[00:01:30] Jalena Keane-Lee: and since we’re talking about statistics, we’ll be posting links to the data in our show notes, along with transcripts for the entire episode. So for data heads, you can dive in at your leisure. First, we’re going to listen to Miko’s chat with Brussels, her bone and her sister, Athens got, who were featured in Matthew Heineman’s the first wave, which takes place inside a hospital in Queens, New York during the first four months of the pandemic.
Born in Davao city, Philippines, Brussels, and her family immigrated to the U S in 2000 Brussels and our sister Athens, are nurses as are most of their family. Here’s Miko talking with sisters athens and brussels
[00:02:06] Miko Lee: welcome to apex except press the amazing sister nurse duo, Brussels Gabon, and her sister AthensGarrote and they are both featured in the amazing new film, the last wave, which can be seen on Hulu right now. So welcome both of you to apex express.
[00:02:24] Athens Garrote: Hi Miko
[00:02:26] Miko Lee: My first question to both of you is how are you both feeling and how are your families?
[00:02:32] Athens Garrote: I’m good. Families all well everybody’s okay. The kids are good and back to work.
[00:02:37] Brussels Jabon: For me, everything was great. I was back to work the kids are making me so busy. My husband’s back to work too.
[00:02:45] Miko Lee: How many people in your family are either in the caregiving profession or are nurses.
[00:02:50] Athens Garrote: Everyone, except my brother. And then, the Garrote side of the family in New York, I think all of them are right. I think about eight RNs. No, maybe 10 there’s a lot of both our parents, our caregivers our mom, she used to be a pharmacist back home in the Philippines.
[00:03:11] Miko Lee: Why do you think so many Filipinos and Filipinas are in the caregiving industry?
[00:03:17] Athens Garrote: Because we’re very nurturing. It’s not unusual to take care of our elderly parents , it’s a tough job. They have the patience for it, especially Filipino women . A lot of Filipino women just tend to be very nurturing and very caring. it’s so genuine and nobody wants to do the job too. It’s a tough job. It’s being patience. I see that in my mom, whether she’s at work or not. And a lot of Filipino woman, her friends. Or when I worked with a private client and then, you have a Filipino caregiver. There’s a lot of caring there and I don’t know, maybe it just comes natural to Filipinos to to care.
[00:03:51] Miko Lee: So when did you first hear about COVID-19?
[00:03:54] Brussels Jabon: Around December. I try to watch Filipine news every day and they had it there December and then it went on January and then becoming news here in America. Around the holidays and then.
[00:04:08] Athens Garrote: They were canceling flights from places in Asia. Then it’s never going to come in here and that was pretty much it, you see it on paper what’s going on in China and seeing the videos they were very concerned about it in, in compared to the U S.
[00:04:21] Miko Lee: Where were both of you working at that point where you both working in hospitals?
[00:04:25] Athens Garrote: I do work in in a rehab facility in Northwest. I worked for a private practice in ophthalmology, so we do ambulatory surgery and patient care family care.
[00:04:38] Miko Lee: So at that time, at the start where you both working in those positions at in the,
[00:04:42] Athens Garrote: yeah, yes, I was pregnant and working
[00:04:45] Miko Lee: At what stage in your pregnancy did you find out that you had COVID now.
[00:04:50] Brussels Jabon: it was April like a COVID my due date was may, so it was towards the end of my seventh month.
[00:04:56] Miko Lee: And how did you begin to notice that you had it?
[00:05:00] Brussels Jabon: Oh, this is funny. I don’t want to say funny, you know how a pregnant woman is like craving everything. I just want to do everything you went to jolly bean, please. That is my that’s my favorite crazy craving I was craving for. I think it was a spaghetti. So when I. went into the car I think I’m having like sore throat. I thought it was just because I was just eating so much and it was a pineapple juice that I had and I was just starting to like cough so much. I was with Athens and my husband apples. We were trying to drop off Athens in her apartment. That’s where it started. That’s all I remembered.
[00:05:40] Athens Garrote: I think I recall, like you’re having a sore throat and Brussels told me, I think you should get tested too. Cause I feel funny. At that time it’s so hard to get tested. If I didn’t tell the place that I was a nurse, they wouldn’t even test me. Like the doctor would ask you all these questions and the results would be like seven to 10 days. There is not enough supply and, people were, they just didn’t know should I be tested? Once I tell them I’m a nurse, like, all right, we’re gonna, do a swab and you might have to wait for a week before it comes out. Then when Brussels results came out and then it was like a snowball effect. Then we had to get our parents tested. We were worried about Brussels. We were just, hoping, or we’re just gonna go through the course. And at some point we just had to drop her off at the ER.
[00:06:28] Miko Lee: You being a nurse Athens, at what point did you decide to drop Brussels off at the ER?
[00:06:33] Athens Garrote: So I was there we’re in long island. I don’t live with them. I have my apartment in the city, nap called me and Brussels. Like my saturation is low. It was at 90 for a pregnant woman or okay. Like we really need to drop her off, you’re holding it off, we’re calling our friends and then we just said, okay, this is not.
[00:06:54] Brussels Jabon: It was me who said, let’s go to the ER, honey.
[00:06:57] Miko Lee: Brussels, where you just feeling like you couldn’t breathe very well. Is that why you made that decision?
[00:07:02] Brussels Jabon: Yeah. Like first things first I’m pregnant. My husband told me like three days before we went to the ER, you know what I think should go to the hospital. I told him, you know what, I’m still okay. Let’s see how it goes for tonight. Then second night came in and then the third night I was like, honey, I think we need to go. I’m having trouble breathing. I’ve been having shortness of breath. He checked my nail beds, it was like purple already.
[00:07:25] Miko Lee: Wow. That must’ve been scary for you, huh?
[00:07:28] Brussels Jabon: Yeah, it was scary, but always thinking it was Lyon moment. That wasn’t my main concern. I think probably because I’m just being a mom, I was just thinking about my son.
[00:07:39] Miko Lee: Your baby inside you, right?
[00:07:41] Brussels Jabon: Yeah.
[00:07:42] Miko Lee: At the very beginning of the pandemic Athens, you were saying how getting testing was really hard, but also I remember there was so many questions about access to masks and personal protective equipment and actually a Filipina in LA. I don’t know if Alison may all she organized a protest over the lack of gear at the hospital that she was working at in LA, she was suspended for that actually she’s back at work. But I’m wondering if this was an issue that you two had as well, that the hospitals you were working at didn’t have masks or personal protective equipment?
[00:08:13] Athens Garrote: I was lucky that as an ambulatory surgery we don’t have admissions like hospitals, so we had enough supply, but then you think about it. How long is this thing gonna last, do we have enough supply to last us for the next two or three months? And then there was a thing about if the hospitals ran out of supply. Usually you just use your supply as, at work and now you have to use it when you’re outside of work. I was lucky that I had, our practice was very liberal about here, take this mask. I had to get masks from my facility and give it to my friends. So within the hospital, because there was a spirit at the, you’re going to run out. Usually you just have the supplier and then, they’ll deliver your stuff and all of a sudden there’s no mask. There’s no N95s. I had to get my own supply and give it to my friends needed it more.
So those were in the ER, there was one in the ICU. Everybody was like on a group, like who has masks, who has this? You just try to help each other out or you try to improvise, but yeah, it was a big concern. because you don’t know how long things would, would have, it’s going to be a month, six months a year. Do we have enough supply for everybody?
[00:09:19] Miko Lee: Now two years later, we’re still dealing with it. And what point were you approached about being in the documentary film?
[00:09:30] Athens Garrote: When Brussels was still at the hospital . At the height of it all, actually Brussels doctor and mentioned about this documentary do we want to be a part of it at that time? Or I, okay. They’ll probably call it two weeks. I wasn’t expecting to call in like a few minutes. I was talking to my brother-in-law and I, vividly remember I told him like, what if we say yes to this, they’re going .To show all these people that help Brussels in the hospital and all these people that help us. Then, maybe that’s a good thing. at that time, we were stuck at home. We were isolated and you were literally just getting what’s given to you. Food that was prepared for us, news from Brussels and this news from the doctor. So I’m like so far so good. Everything has been, getting into our house has been good. I convinced my brother-in-law. It’s yeah, we should do it. And then the first wave. The reason why I wanted I said, yes, Was if they tell Brussels story, there’ll be able to highlight all these healthcare workers and our family. So help us through this process. So it wasn’t more about, cause the narrative then was like, then they don’t know what nurses are going through. They didn’t know what was going on inside the ICU and the ER or in, in the wards. They don’t know that our friends and family have been feeding us for days, dropping off meals and medicine. So I was like, somebody needs to know what was going on. I told Nap it’s another way to thank our colleagues who literally kept Brussels and Lyon alive. That was just really it. I was like, okay, maybe, they’ll show Brussels and you’ll definitely get to show a doctor, or a nurse that took care of her. My intention was, I didn’t want the story to be Brussels. I want them to start to be people who took care of us.
[00:11:24] Miko Lee: Oh, that’s lovely. And Brussels, there are so many moments in the film where you are so vulnerable, you’re very sick. And it’s very scary actually. You’re like the, one of the highlights of the whole film, I’m wondering if, were you cognizant of what was going on or were you just, you were so sick that you weren’t really paying it to. To the film about the filming, like they were filming some really vulnerable moments for you. Were you aware that there was a camera like in your face or you’re out of it?
[00:11:53] Athens Garrote: In the beginning? I wasn’t. And then later on I’m saying, I think I really thought that there was just like a marketing thing in our company. Cause I’m used to it, like they’re always have those all marketing stuff. So I was like something’s going on? I remember asking one of the crew, it was. Almost like genes or how many families have you been visiting? Because when they were filming me we were doing FaceTime and then there were in the house. I was like, oh, probably they’re visiting families who got COVID. That was the first thing in my head. They were like, oh, we’re like five families. That’s what he says. I was like, okay. All right. And then as the day goes by, I keep on waiting for them every day. Cause I’m alone in the ICU. So I was like, okay. Then we went home. I was like, something’s going on here? Like threes, fours in the car. And he still ended up dead. I was like, what’s going on? So after a night my sister, Athens and Nap told me about, what happened. They explain it to me. So I was like, okay. I think she really made a good decision for you.
[00:12:54] Miko Lee: Can you talk a little bit about how your broader family, your aunties and uncles and cousins, how they pulled together for your family? When you got COVID.
[00:13:04] Brussels Jabon: When we had all COVID, the first thing I did was we informed each other families from here and then back home in the Philippines. I informed my friends here. We have a group chat because I wanted them to be aware of what’s going on because there were an eye on me because I was pregnant. Later on when were things happen? I think every one who we knew. Pass on the message, because for us Filipinos, we grew up in a Catholic country. The first thing though, everyone does is pray. So everyone was just doing prayer. They were like doing a prayer brigade, rosery brigade. I think even before pandemic is just like our nature. So like how are you because we know how stressful it is here in America. When you work here, you work so hard and a little saying of, how are you or what’s going on? Do you need anything? It makes you more, give a little light, light side and yourself.
[00:14:03] Athens Garrote: during the pandemic, it was hard to keep in touch with everybody. Most of our circles are all nurses working in the hospital. So we were constantly just checking everybody, like friends somebody got exposed, somebody gets sick. I think Brussels was really the first one within our circle of family and friends that was, very critical. At that time, when you’re exposed as oh my God, you have to stay at home. He didn’t have to be sick when you’re exposed. Okay don’t go to work. Or, it was like a weird time. So when everybody knew that everybody he found out that Brussels was sick or gave birth we were just so worried. I was worried, I was very worried about restless because I remember talking to her after she gave her. She was a 10 liters per minute on it, her oxygen. I even told her, let’s just text us on FaceTime. You have to, save your energy. So even if after Leon was was born, it was a emergency c-section. I was so concerned. I was able to say, okay, she needs to get my thinking was if he’s still in the hospital I’m, I still don’t be, calm, like I still have to be keep on thinking about her. And then the fact that she was also alone, that you know, that nobody can visit her, that kind of made things worse.
[00:15:15] Miko Lee: Your cousins ended up taking baby Lyon for a while, right?
[00:15:20] Athens Garrote: Yeah. Yeah. They had to keep Lyon for obvious reasons. They didn’t know if he had COVID they didn’t know if he would have any complications. He was premature. So we have two family members in hospital we’re trying to get out. He was there for a good week and after all the tests and they’re like, this baby needs to come out and like, where is he going to go? good thing we have my cousins they’re like in their mid forties, they never wanted to have kids. All of a sudden they have to take care of his newborn. So with my cousin and it was, we just needed to get him out of there because. If he stays, there’s more, like he’s just going to get sick. He was healthy. He really just needed to get out. The best case scenario was both of them would come out, together. Lyon was like, “Bye mom, I’m going to go.” But I was happy. He was safe. We had great family who just like, Hey, we’re going to take him. No questions while we were waiting for Brussels to come home. We were so lucky.
[00:16:17] Brussels Jabon: I think blessed is the word.
[00:16:18] Athens Garrote: Yeah. We were so blessed to have such a great support system. , as Filipinos you have extended family. That’s something that we’ve always had, before the pandemic and then with the pandemic. It shows how family and the community you make really helps out. At some point you’re gonna, you’re really going to pull forward and you’re going to get the strength from them and they’re going to give strength to you. Yeah we’re, looking back, it was a mess, but it was beautiful.
[00:16:42] Miko Lee: Yeah, the closeness of your family and the fact that so many people are nurses, actually, both of those things really are apparent in the film. I’m wondering how this whole situation has changed your relationship as sisters?
[00:16:55] Athens Garrote: I’m older than Brussels through a few years, but as we got older, I felt like things were in reverse, she’s really the nurturing one. I always tell people she’s really the strongest one in a family. My sister tells me what to do. I feel like outside of work, I’m totally useless. I’m just so happy go lucky. And my sister like tells me. You need to come home. We need to have family dinner. You need to spend time with mom and dad need to see the kids. You need to do this. So when I had to take care of mom and dad and her husband and the kids I kid you not, I told myself “Brussels, you need to come home because I can’t take care of everybody. Like you need to get, they need to be better because I can’t do this. I don’t know how to be in the house, do the laundry for five people.” for I don’t know for how many weeks. I think we just gotten really, closer. Once we moved to New York, like we got closer, it’s a different, it’s a different city, it’s a different culture. Our parents always tells us, you, you have to stick together. And we did. This experience with the pandemic just gotten us like really close.
[00:17:57] Brussels Jabon: She doesn’t have a choice. It’s every weekend
[00:18:00] Athens Garrote: I’m gonna change my name to Brussell’s sister. I’m just so proud that I have a sister who motivates me, who inspires me even before all of this happened. To have that constant support that I can call her anytime and she can call me anytime. She puts me in a straight path. It’s really all her, not me. I’m very thankful. I have a sister like Brussels. She inspires me to be a better person and she gave me a new niece and nephew.
[00:18:25] Miko Lee: What was your reaction for both of you when you watched the film for the first time?
[00:18:30] Brussels Jabon: I was just like crying in tears. Matt was the “What’s wrong. You’ve seen this already.” It’s different, it’s really different. Like all the emotions, like seeing myself, it was just like, I think I was more still sensitive about it. I was still clinging to that moment of my life,. But I was like to watch that I was really grateful because everyone was there. I was just overwhelmed with what I saw and how the different stories were, made up altogether like Dr. DJ Kelly Carl and Ahmed and Alexis and the other stories. It was just amazing to see how beautiful it was shown and how, love and family. Put into it.
[00:19:13] Miko Lee: Were there, things in the film that surprised you
[00:19:17] Brussels Jabon: I was surprised that I saw myself intubated, I didn’t know that. They shoot out. I think when I saw myself in that position, I told myself, so I don’t want anyone to be in that position. I feel so sensitive about hearing stops about pregnant women, getting COVID and then, it’s either ending up in ICU or they didn’t make it. Yeah. It’s just very. Sensitive for me.
[00:19:42] Athens Garrote: What really surprised me was that scene when they saw what was inside of the cooler truck. My friends told me what was inside, but then nobody was showing that and to see that, really putting a visual what’s inside those trucks that always really wow, how did they get access? Or can people still continue watching the film if they’ve seen that part? .
[00:20:07] Miko Lee: So you got involved in this film because you wanted people to have appreciation of healthcare workers. Is there anything else you would want people to walk away from the film with?
[00:20:18] Brussels Jabon: I just want them to, reflect on the movie and see how hard it is to be in the four walls of a hospital and how hard it is to, be being isolated. I hope people would be more grateful and more appreciative of the little things. I think it’s much more of being grateful and appreciative.
[00:20:40] Athens Garrote: For me too, I think the pandemic has taught us, as far as essential workers also is what is essential in our lives. If we did, it had a moment or a few days to reflect on that, then, What was that all about? I’ve read that if what you have right now is not enough, then it’s never going to be enough. at the time when we were isolated at home, everything I thought I have or had or won, they didn’t all matter because at the time I just wanted everybody to be alive. And, I go home, I look at my mom and my dad. I look at my nephew and my niece and it really got me think this is all I wanted. This is you want a lot of things and, you search for purpose and it was a blessing that I realized that I actually have purpose. I’ve actually thought we solved why I’ve always had this question, why I wanted to be a nurse and I’ve got my answer. I want people to take away that, you’ll be grateful for life. You appreciate your family, the good in the bad, you stick it out because in the end, you’re going to help each other out and you appreciate your friends and, know, you just appreciate life in general,
[00:21:42] Miko Lee: Thank you for that. I really appreciate hearing both of your important voices and such a great film. I have one last absolutely frivolous question, which is do either of you watch any medical shows on TV?
[00:21:56] Athens Garrote: I used to a lot.
[00:21:58] Miko Lee: What did you watch?
[00:22:00] Athens Garrote: Is do a lot, but the Amsterdam, what was that?
[00:22:03] Miko Lee: New Amsterdam,
[00:22:04] Athens Garrote: Grey’s anatomy and house. Those were the ones in my time.
[00:22:07] Miko Lee: And what do they get right or wrong about your professor?
[00:22:10] Athens Garrote: What I realized is not really a lot of Filipinos in those films. Those are shows and there’s always been a debate about it that’s one of the things that actually that made me realize about being part of this film. And I think I’ve also mentioned to Matt that, if you’re going to make a pandemic film and there’s no Filipino face in there. Yeah. It’s not right. It’s not right, but it just, there’s something missing. And that’s actually one thing that we realized later on that, oh my God, Did we just with no intention to represent a very marginalized group of specifically Filipino nurses. there’s pride in that too to be, to be a representation, not just Filipino nurses, but Filipino families, and in America or anywhere in the world. We’re like any hardworking Philip, immigrants and family, just helping me chat around and trying to survive. And now, it’s nice to be a little bit, a very small part of that.
[00:23:07] Miko Lee: Thank you so much. I so appreciate you all. Is there anything else you want to add before we close out?
[00:23:14] Athens Garrote: I’m just thankful that people took time to see this film and give us a little space to talk about and, hopefully our kids would see this and they’ll appreciate it.
[00:23:22] Miko Lee: It’s a really powerful film and the fact that it’s intersectional, different ethnicities and different ages and just the impact that this has had as really not even just an American, but a world wide problem. It really helps to illuminate that. And Brussels, you look great by the way.
[00:23:43] Brussels Jabon: I always say, I was just like mostly I look so horrible, whatever. It’s everybody says that it’s first of all, you’re always afraid. But then remember you, they just saw you intubated. So they’re like, oh my God, I’m going to be. If I could be offended, I’ll be like, I’ll just take it
[00:24:05] Miko Lee: flattered, because it is true. We have just left you in this film where you were like, what was the question? If you were going to die or not. So to see you gorgeous and thriving in the world, it’s a blessing for us because we’re able to say, okay, you can overcome this. You’re that model. That’s right. embrace it, love it up. It’s a good thing.
[00:24:25] Brussels Jabon: I don’t know. After I always say to Athens is my other cousin, Carlos took care of the honest a lot of people messaged me, especially if the issue was like COVID with the pregnant woman, they didn’t make it. So I was like, I dunno, like I felt bad. It’s like, why did I, sometimes I question myself, like, why did I, why immediate? They didn’t make it. So I was telling Athens and tell my husband and my cousin was like, why is. I say, I feel like I have a guilt and they said it was like some sort of life of scale. So that’s why I just, I don’t know. I just, it’s just, I get so emotional when it’s like a pregnant woman. When I see a pregnant woman, right now, it’s get good or bad as needed. I try to say isolate or whatsoever, things that you know, needs to be done. It’s all thing and you’re going to be, you’re going to be all right. Just trust your doctors and your nurses.
[00:25:23] Athens Garrote: She was struggling with that thing about, why I made it and here all these side families and friends, or, friends of friends who didn’t make it. I tell her, Hey, listen, some people, they cross the street and they’re not going to make it the next corner. When we had that crazy premiere. The First Wave of the New York city and I saw her and I was like, this is why you made it. It’s you’re going to wear that beautiful green dress. I get to tell this story and people aren’t going to know about you. You’re going to say a lot of things, and this is why you made it. We just wanted her to come home and this documentary fell upon us. I don’t know if you believe in faith or destiny. They could have been any other pregnant woman. It could be any other family. we’re just thankful that, maybe this is God’s plan or it’s just meant to be. It just keeps on going. To see her being alive and over come. I think people will really resonated that, People might not know a nurse to a doctor or health care worker, but they have a sister, they have a mom and they have a dad and you have kids. This is also something that, the film greatly represents, family. Yeah. .
[00:26:23] Miko Lee: Thank you all.
[00:26:24] Jalena Keane-Lee: That was such a great conversation with Brussels and Athens. And I’m so glad that the first wave can document these really important stories, especially from a Filipino lens. According to a February, 2021 report, 26.4% of nurses who died from COVID-19 and from related complications in the us were Filipino. Like Brussels family, many Filipinos live in multi-generational households, and there has been a high death toll among the elderly. That figure is unknown at this time. Let’s focus on the power of resilience of island women and listen to Rubia Ibarra
Rubia Ibarra’s Us.
[00:27:00] Miko Lee: That was Ruby Abara us. Next we’re talking about we, are they a poetic, short film? By Diana Diroy and jacqueline Reyes . Here’s Jalena’s conversation with the filmmakers.
[00:29:13] Jalena Keane-Lee: I have Diana Diroyand Jacqueline Reyes with me here, who are the co-directors of we, are they a really beautiful dance film about being first responders for COVID and Filipino identity. So thank you both so much for being here.
[00:29:27] Diana Diroy: Thank you for having us.
[00:29:29] Jalena Keane-Lee: I’m curious, how did this project come about? Like whose idea was it first and how did you two connect to make this project happen?
[00:29:36] Jaclyn Reyes: In 2020, I was a resident artist at the laundromat project in New York city. And before the pandemic hit, I was working on public art interventions in the Filipino community in Queens, New York. And I, I guess like around March, I think there was An application that I submitted to do public artwork about the lineage of care workers, of the wave of immigration of particularly healthcare workers that kind of makes up the diaspora now. The healthcare workers that basically made little Manila and quick in Queens, New York happened.
And then this was before everything got shut down. And then yeah, like months after I submitted the application, I found out that we got some funding to do this project and I was already Talking to the choreographer, Joelle Kuboto and then the composer Wilson bowl. We were friends that have performed together in the, in the traditional Filipino dance space in New York.
And we’re also all from California. But then we realized that we wanted it to have Actual healthcare, voices and it’s. And what I thought would be like a very simple performance. It turned out to be like a film in everyone’s mind. And then that’s when Deanna. Suddenly manifested.
[00:30:51] Diana Diroy: It was during COVID and my mom and I were on our way to get some pun to solve, which is like traditional Filipino bread from a nearby bakery. And when we got there Jacqueline was painting a mural that said Mabou high. And I was like, so intrigued as a filmmaker. Cause it was. Beautiful. it was huge. And it’s something that I have not seen in the neighborhood. I was living at Woodside Queens at, during the time and I approached Jacqueline and we started having this conversation and it led to this collaborative.
[00:31:29] Jalena Keane-Lee: How did your relationship to each other and to the project change and evolve over COVID and over the process of creating the film?
[00:31:36] Jaclyn Reyes: Intimate real fast. Cause it was a lot of navigating, a lot of just setbacks are so many setbacks there. It was hard to plan because a lot of us weren’t actually meeting in person then, there was no vaccine yet in 2020. So it was a lot of are we willing to risk this? I think we were navigating trauma like that. That was like, I think like the biggest thing. And we were all coping at different levels. And so getting people to still be part of this project while like we’re dealing with trauma, like trying to get interviews with healthcare workers, making sure that we were shaping the project so that we can bring in other collaborators like dancers that was a struggle, yeah,
[00:32:18] Diana Diroy: we were just being really careful too, because it was early in the pandemic. and thinking of how to be creative with this piece it was about like thinking how are we going to, where are we going to be shooting and how come. Can we be. And how, when I interviewed some of the nurses, it was all over zoom. And one of the nurses, Patricia too, was open and willing to be captured on camera in the streets of Woodside. So that was nice, but it was also making sure that she was comfortable being with me during that time. And it was hard to also coordinate with nurses and Arianne is a physician’s assistant. So there’s two nurses and my physician’s assistant because of their schedule. Their schedules were always like working either really late, late at night or long hours. So coordinating with them was a challenge and then coordinating with how many dances there were 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 different dancers. During the pandemic was challenging as well.
[00:33:21] Jaclyn Reyes: Yeah. And then because it was still really like tumultuous, like whatever the public narrative was about. COVID this was like election year, Trump was still president people like this is when it like masks, like wearing masks started to become really politicized. I think early in the pandemic, people were being pulled together. But then it started to fray like in the summer. Yeah. So as far as trying to figure out what story you wanted to tell, it kept shifting, because of that. And then and because we were recognizing that it was, volatile landscape, like trying to figure out how we want to tell this story. It was also like, okay, where do you think will be next year? When this, when we’re editing this? Like, when we actually get the footage, like, how are we going to shape this to be resonant beyond just like our reactiveness to what we were experiencing, day to day. And then, yeah, but we were able to answer those questions just amongst each other. After we had shot all the footage and then we just over a month just like unpacking. Just quotes, like from what the health care worker has said and trying to see, like, how does this connect to the choreography, a year after we had shot it, so that, that was the challenge it was like just putting this puzzle together.
[00:34:29] Jalena Keane-Lee: Some of the interviews were so emotional with the healthcare workers. I’m curious about your approach to that and sensitivity, but also just hearing about what it is that they’re going through day to day. Because of course the pandemic was, it has been very hard for all of us, but especially hard for people that are, having to face it everyday and interact with it.
[00:34:47] Diana Diroy: . one of my best friends is a physician’s assistant. And during the height of the pandemic, I was really worried about her. I would hear certain stories from her and she also actually connected me to one of the physician’s assistant in this film. And so when I was talking to them Approaching them as if they were also like that friend as well, or like my cousins who are nurses and trying to be really sensitive to what was going on with them and making sure that they felt comfortable about expressing what happened during that time. And so I think also there’s this. This connection of connecting with other Filipinos and being able to talk about, first talk about the neighborhood of Woodside Queens, and how that, how they’re personally connected to that location. And then talking about just certain different things about our culture and then going into. How things have been going with them personally with not being able to see their families and how their experiences at the hospitals affect them with their families.
[00:35:58] Jaclyn Reyes: That question of how to deal with grief and like how to what is what is appropriate to share? What, where is that line where it gets exploited? How could we make it cathartic also? And like that empathy like how do we elicit it? Because I think at some point, there was a lot of efforts to support healthcare workers. At a certain point, like some of the health workers were, a little disheartened by. Even, I think now that they still see that they’re encountering a lot of the same issues as burnout, there’s some systemic issues. But yeah, at the time a lot of references to war was made, and I think we were taking that pretty seriously cause it really felt like that, so scary. But like at one instance I remember is when Ramelle is speaking and his, he’s emotional talking about all the decisions he had to make between just like amongst his own family of who can come home and like what the protocol would be when everybody came home. So nobody exposed each other because he comes from a family of healthcare workers. And the question he asked him stuff about whether or not he should stay a healthcare worker that, that was like a real question, an existential question, do you help people, like when you’re in this and it, it means You potentially dying. I think we wanted to be really respectful of that question. I think the impulse during that moment, at least in the film was like, maybe to show his face, but instead we were, it was footage of, a Lola and the grandson and it was more like, okay who else is impacted by this? What is the intergenerational ramification of this question? And I think that those things came up like later when we were reflecting on that.
[00:37:31] Diana Diroy: When we were interviewing remodel, and that was such an emotional interview I definitely was tearing up when I was talking to him and destroyed that you’re talking about. Jacqueline was when it was, he lives with a family of nurses and everyone that wasn’t a nurse had to leave the house and go upstate. So the only the nurses could actually be living together. They had to like physically separate for months from like their own kids.
[00:37:58] Jaclyn Reyes: I think that was something also the composer Wilson ball wanted to reference in his music was like this longing to go back home to go back to a place of comfort. And that’s why He chose us on a lullaby to I guess honor that, that emotion as well. So that way it was all about this bigger picture of what it’s not just like hashtag care for healthcare workers. It’s like these are healthcare workers and their families and the communities that are being impacted by this.
[00:38:25] Jalena Keane-Lee: Yeah. Speaking of that I’m curious about if you both have family or how much family you have in the medical industry, working as first responders and how that impacted your perspective when it came to the film..
[00:38:37] Diana Diroy: My mom is a nurse. And then yeah, like my extended family, all nurses. But but they’re all like in California, I guess grounded me, particularly in the Filipino community here in New York. With regards to how I was thinking about the pandemic. My husband actually works for the department of sanitation here in New York and he was working on the emergency feeding efforts for the communities who face food insecurity and He was dealing with that while like staying up all night, making sure that people get their food. Then we were seeing like that where the way the systems were feeling like vulnerable people. On top of that I was part of a mutual aid effort in the early spring to connect Filipino restaurants to health care units where they’re predominantly Filipino healthcare workers and doing it really like big galvanizing, more. help visibalize the issues because all of us who were part of this mutual aid effort all of our moms are nurses like that. That was just very clear. We were all women, mostly women doing the work. And that was that’d be came to the connection point for us. And that like that gendered aspect of it it just it just kinda hit home, for us, because we’re just like, we’re all women and we’re still doing the care work, even though we’re not healthcare workers we’re trying to make sure that what we do like matches the efforts of what our mothers were doing. At least that’s how we were feeling at the time. And that’s also what motivated this.
[00:40:00] Jaclyn Reyes: I have cousins that are our nurses. I have a lot of friends that are, working in the healthcare field and during the whole 2020 the first way it was scary. And I wanted to always check in with them and text them and make sure that they were right. And I think. Working on this piece with Jacqueline we talked about having this as like it attribute to the nurses that we know and the nurses. In general, who we wanted to honor them and their work and what they do. And when I was editing the piece as well, I kept on going back to this post to note that it was on my desk that says let’s create a piece that heals. And it goes back to the conversations I would have with Jacqueline about not wanting this to be something that retraumatizes the nurses, but something. That they watch and they feel that it recognizes the hard work that they had done and still do.
[00:41:03] Jalena Keane-Lee: I’m curious about how. About your choice to include the Lola and grandson in the storyline. And if it has to do with any of that, healing and also making it really personal,
[00:41:14] Diana Diroy: it’s really funny because I’ve like Jacqueline mentioned, we had several cuts and the first cuts, they were not in any of them. During that time I was. Already shooting a lot of my mom and Mateo. And it was more of just like documenting for myself. But after a conversation with Jacqueline I brought up the idea of I want to do this, but I don’t know if I should. And Jacqueline totally encouraged me to actually, however much I feel comfortable putting my own family in it to try it out and see, I think wanting to actually show these close, intimate moments with family. I came from a need to show who is affected when their family members are in the hospital. When they have to leave and take care of other people, like who’s left behind to have those intimate moments on fill my head to show those intimate moments with my own family. Because during that time we couldn’t go into any hospitals or anything like that. And it felt personal that way most, especially because this family was, my family was living in Woodside during this time.
[00:42:24] Jaclyn Reyes: Yeah, I remember there was this hesitancy because we were like, should we just try your best to be very objective. About this. I think we just resolved to just say it’s kinda silly to assume that we could be objective when we’re all experiencing this. And then I think what I loved about. Diana’s like I’m home seems just that little Manila, the way that we talk about it in the community out here is that it’s kinda just it’s not kinda, it doesn’t feel lived in, I will say it’s just this is the concentration of the Filipino businesses, but But there are people who actually lived there. We were showing a lot of street shots, shots of the public life, but the intimate life. That is something that I think we, we wanted to acknowledge during the pandemic cause we were all at home. So to have that added through Diana’s lens because this was made in like with her vision, like really the part of the whole thing that it just made sense to honor.
[00:43:14] Jalena Keane-Lee: Yeah, it really makes it so personal and grounds out the film for me in a really beautiful way. I was curious if we could talk more about what you had brought up Jacqueline about care, work, and gender, and maybe what you were taught by your moms or other women in your life about caring for other people and how that relates to femininity and being a woman.
[00:43:35] Jaclyn Reyes: I think it’s important thing we should talk about more in the Filipino community. The influx of Filipinos moving to USA came after 1965, that immigration care act. And if you look at the numbers, the majority of the people who leave the Philippines are with. And then they’re addressing the need of care workers, not just in the us, but all over the world. There’s like a global care deficit. And this was even before the pandemic and, the Philippine government actively advertises Filipino. Two different governments. And there’s a lot of pride in saying that, oh, our care workers are the best. And then there’s this belief that flipping a women are naturally maternal, naturally nurturing all these things.
And it makes us we carry now this, this projection that we are going to always be submissive that we will We’re always loving but then it discredits like the actual labor of caring for people. And I think this kind of feeds into the invisibility of not just like women’s labor and care labor, but it’s exacerbated by Filipinos being perceived as immigrants. And then immigrants are already pretty invisible. I think that was also the connection with bringing in dance and then having like women dancing like it’s to for me, I feel really strongly about women being seen in public spaces and then being accommodated in public spaces because oftentimes we’re not, like I can’t help, but make the connection that with the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, a lot of the targets are women, immigrant women. So I think it’s all tied together that we’re taken for granted for doing this really difficult work because of the supposed deficit of care. But really like the, even though we’re our community is suffering for that. Like the real issue is that why aren’t. Governments are more, these societies caring more for themselves rather than having just the Philippines exports us out, but that’s, I don’t know. That’s, what’s been on my mind a lot lately.
[00:45:36] Jalena Keane-Lee: So I’m curious if you could both speak to how your work, whether that’s through dance or through film or any medium works with this issue of visibility and invisibility, especially in seeing it as gendered as.
[00:45:49] Jaclyn Reyes: I think about this a lot this gender question, and when I think of gender, I don’t necessarily think in terms of like binary, I think also that, we have masculine parts of our identities and your feminine parts of identities. What informed me and what continues to inform my work as an artist I was involved with. Transnational, feminist organizing like within the Filipino space, like in the lineage of Gabriela and affirm.
And I learned a lot about these issues. And then for me as an artist who also likes to be in the civic engagement or political space I recognize that a lot of like the problems that we deal with, obviously they’re systemic. And then of course we need to act politically. Sometimes you can’t do the political work unless you bring attention to it or you there’s a culture shift or a narrative shift. I think that’s the value of what artists can do. Artists have the ability to bring people together to spotlight things, to really challenge the way you think about something. And it could be disarming because I think. Currently the political space is it’s really hard to have a real conversation, I think we get tripped up. We get distracted by. Language when and when we should be having conversations. And so with that, I try to lean it into the, the visual part where I don’t have to say much and hopefully the images they show you can, maybe you can make those connections on your own.
So back to my point about brown women in public spaces, like I think that when I was working on that Mabu high mural, I had my friend Xenia, Deontay, who was also Filipino artists too, like physically being out there and painting it. That’s enough visibility that I wanted. Like just the community to see we, we did it at the height of the pandemic. Like when I talk to random people on the street, they appreciated the. And then I’m sure they just seeing that it was Filipinas doing it. That was already enough. It didn’t have to be validated by a social media post or, some sort of like art piece, but like just showing up physically showing up as just like something I think we take for granted. But as far as like the things I make or the way that I like, build my projects, yeah. I think it’s recognizing when sometimes women are doing so much of the work in the background and then like men are getting the other credit. I just try to like, make sure that the women get credit.
[00:48:06] Diana Diroy: When I do create work, It’s a process for me. And it takes a long while because it takes me a while to digest, like what I’m trying to say. And I think that’s why I’m drawn to creating visual stories. Just like you, Jacqueline, where you like here, look at this. Instead of like me trying to explain certain things and like what you were saying about being. Out in the public while you were painting the mural. I feel I could relate to that whenever I’m out in public and shooting with my camera. And it’s not very common for women to be behind the camera , and I think when people see you with that, they know I feel like I have something to say to have something to show and being , a woman, a brown woman, a Filipino woman, and creating these stories about other women, I think is so important because we are usually on the sidelines and quiet and have other people tell our stories of how other people speak before as people that are a lot more vocal than at least that I am during this process to Jacqueline, I felt like I’ve learned so much about being artists because of working with you too. Like you have allowed me to listen to my art, the artist within, and I really appreciate that.
[00:49:30] Jalena Keane-Lee: What messages do you hope audiences will walk away with from this film? In the present day now, but also in the future, thinking about yourselves as future ancestors, what do you hope that future generations will learn from this project?
[00:49:43] Jaclyn Reyes: I think that what has gotten me through some tough times, especially dealing with, race related issues I like, I take a lot of comfort in reading the history, of our ancestors who fought back or who were really strong. For me on a practical level, because I am an organizer and a little Manila now, like I know that they’re planning to develop that area and the community is at risk of being displaced or gentrified. And. What the motivation of this film, in addition to trying to tell the story of Filipino American health care workers was also just like saying, Hey, like little Manila is here. A lot of people didn’t even know that there were Filipinos there and that it was because that community is proximate to Elmhurst hospital. So like actually showing like where the businesses are. I just hope that those businesses stay. But it’s also if the worst happens and then the community gets displaced again. Cause it’s a little, Manilas, I’ve always been displaced in American history. This is their, this is evidence that we were all there, and I hate to end it on a very like sad note, but this is the reality like of our history in this country, so that’s why it felt urgent, important to make it.
[00:50:59] Diana Diroy: When I was editing this piece too and watching the footage of Mateo I was thinking about him watching this in the future he probably won’t remember living in Woodside Queens, And you probably won’t remember the beginning. I was like this pandemic. I really want him, and I want future generations to remember this scary time and all of the hard work that a lot of the Filipino healthcare workers did. I want future generations to remember our own strength within and not to forget that . I think sometimes we forget certain things that have been passed down from us, from like our grandma or our mom or generations from before. And I think. Generations in the future. It’s just to remember the strength that our ancestors have that we have currently and that they have sometimes I think we forget how strong we are.
[00:51:54] Jalena Keane-Lee: Thank you so much to deanna and jacqueline for joining us and next up we have someday by
Ruby Ibarra’s Someday
Jalena Keane-Lee: that was someday by Ruby Abara. What were some of your key takeaways from the show mom?
[00:54:05] Miko Lee: Well, we always knew that there’s tons and tons of Filipino nurses. And what I didn’t know was how embedded this is in the history of American imperialism in the Philippines.
[00:54:16] Jalena Keane-Lee: I thought it was really interesting too, thinking about Kara as something that’s gendered and, Filipino women being a really big export and like their care being a huge. Pride of the country.
[00:54:27] Miko Lee: Right. I thought it was really interesting to, to learn about this book on 2003, by Catherine Ceniza Choy, which is all about the empire of care, nursing and migration in Filipino American history. And the whole thing really talks about how the whole Filipino nurses. Really started with America. Coming up with a pact with the Filipino government after world war II to fill. A void of nurses in our American culture. And so they basically set up nursing training programs throughout the Philippines and then put into place laws to have folks apply for migration to the U S specifically in nursing jobs.
[00:55:08] Jalena Keane-Lee: And it’s obvious that. Mainstream us TV shows and other pop culture have not caught up to that movement. And that wave because I agree with Brussels. and Athens that there are not nearly enough. Filipino nurses represented in doctor shows.
[00:55:24] Miko Lee: We always joke about that. About all those doctor shows. There’s just not enough Asians at all and Filipinos, especially. I also thought it was really interesting that 60% of the nurses that came into the country. On H one visas were from the Philippines. So it shows how that policy played its way out into reality. And even still Filipino nurses are facing exploitation, not just with the stat that you said earlier about more folks dying during COVID. But actually facing a lot of different discrimination.
[00:55:57] Jalena Keane-Lee: Yeah, I think Deanna and Declan talked about that in a really beautiful way, just being in New York and the hate crimes. That was just an added layer when you’re working so many hours and dedic, and really risking your life to care for other people. in addition in 2019 200 Filipino nurses, won, a human trafficking lawsuit in which they alleged that the owners of a group of New York nursing home were not paying their wages, promise and contracts, and we’re forcing them to work in unsafe conditions with inadequate staffing.
[00:56:28] Miko Lee: And that’s one case. For the pandemic before the pandemic one case that made it through. So, you know, the one that there’s just hundreds, more instances that are like that, that just don’t get reported.
[00:56:38] Jalena Keane-Lee: Yeah. And I think it’s really nice with this show that we highlighted these different films and the storytelling to make sure that these stories will live on.
[00:56:46] Miko Lee: Thank you so much for joining us. Please check out our website, kpfa.org to find out more about we are the leaders and the guests we spoke to and how you can take direct action. We thank all of you listeners out there.
Keep resisting, keep organizing. Keep creating and sharing your visions with the world. Your voices are important. Apex express is produced by Preti Mangala-Shekar, Tracy Nguyen, Miko Lee Jalena Keane-Lee and Jessica Antonio. Tonight’s show was produced by your hosts, Miko Lee, and Jalena Keane-Lee thanks to KPFA staff for their support and have a great night.