Two employees at a Whole Foods Market store in Albuquerque say they were suspended last month after complaining about being told they couldn’t speak Spanish to each other while on the job.
Bryan Baldizan told The Associated Press he and a female employee were suspended for a day after they wrote a letter following a meeting with a manager who told them Spanish was not allowed during work hours.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Baldizan, who works in the store’s food preparation department. “All we did was say we didn’t believe the policy was fair. We only talk Spanish to each other about personal stuff, not work.”
He said Whole Foods officials told them about company policy and issued the suspensions.
Ben Friedland, Whole Foods Market Rocky Mountain Region Executive Marketing Coordinator, said the Austin, Texas-based company believes in “having a uniform form of communication” for a safe working environment.
“Therefore, our policy states that all English speaking Team Members must speak English to customers and other Team Members while on the clock,” Friedland said in a statement.
“Team Members are free to speak any language they would like during their breaks, meal periods and before and after work.”
Friedland said the policy doesn’t prevent employees from speaking Spanish to customers who don’t speaking English nor does it prevent them from speaking Spanish if all “parties present agree that a different language is their preferred form of communication.”
Whole Foods Market spokeswoman Libba Letton told the AP that in addition to safety reasons, the policy is in place so employees who don’t speak Spanish don’t feel uncomfortable.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved an immigration reform bill last week that would gradually make citizenship possible for as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants. The bill is widely described as sweeping in scope. In fact, it is not quite sweeping enough, as it leaves the plight of another group of would-be Americans unaddressed.
Although by birthright, children born out of wedlock to an American father and a foreign mother are entitled to United States citizenship, they must file paternity certifications no later than their 18th birthday to get it. But since the military bases in the Philippines have been closed for over 20 years, virtually all Filipino “Amerasians” — a term coined by the author and activist Pearl S. Buck to describe children of American servicemen and Asian mothers — have passed that age.
Amerasians in the Philippines substantially outnumber those living in neighboring countries, with recent estimates as high as 250,000.
The large numbers are explained by our military’s 94 years in the Philippines, from the Spanish-American War in 1898 to its withdrawal in 1992. During the cold war, the United States leased military installations throughout the archipelago, including Clark Air Base and Subic Bay Naval Base, the United States’ two largest overseas bases at the time.
Around them emerged bars and clubs, where servicemen were encouraged to find “rest and relaxation.” While some Amerasians were conceived through prostitution, many were born out of committed relationships. Soldiers’ limited tours of duty — and, later, the abrupt closures of the bases — tore couples apart.
The closures dealt a serious economic blow to many Amerasians. A 1999 study commissioned by the nongovernmental organization Pearl S. Buck International showed that Amerasians had disproportionately suffered from underemployment, poverty, domestic violence and sexual abuse.
They also face relentless discrimination. In a Catholic society that stigmatizes illegitimate children, Filipinos deploy an arsenal of slurs against Amerasians: iniwan ng barko (“left by the ship”) and babay sa daddy (“goodbye to Daddy”) among them. Black Amerasians are often called “charcoal,” or worse.
For these reasons, most Filipino Amerasians dream of coming here for a better life. But despite their American blood, it is very difficult if not impossible for them to immigrate legally and eventually become naturalized citizens.
Some members of Congress have tried to rectify the omission of the Philippines. On several occasions between 1997 and 2001, Senator Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii, who died last year, introduced a bill to extend the Amerasian Act to the Philippines and Japan. But the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected it, claiming that Filipino Amerasians were not victims of discrimination, that they were conceived from illegal prostitution, and that, unlike Amerasians in South Korea and Vietnam, they were born during peacetime. But none of these are conscionable grounds for selectively preventing Filipino Amerasians from coming to this country.
What we now know as Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. It was a tradition initiated by former slaves to celebrate emancipation and commemorate those who died for that cause.
These days, Memorial Day is arranged as a day “without politics”—a general patriotic celebration of all soldiers and veterans, regardless of the nature of the wars in which they participated. This is the opposite of how the day emerged, with explicitly partisan motivations, to celebrate those who fought for justice and liberation.
The concept that the population must “remember the sacrifice” of U.S. service members, without a critical reflection on the wars themselves, did not emerge by accident. It came about in the Jim Crow period as the Northern and Southern ruling classes sought to reunite the country around apolitical mourning, which required erasing the “divisive” issues of slavery and Black citizenship. These issues had been at the heart of the struggles of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
To truly honor Memorial Day means putting the politics back in. It means reviving the visions of emancipation and liberation that animated the first Decoration Days. It means celebrating those who have fought for justice, while exposing the cruel manipulation of hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members who have been sent to fight and die in wars for conquest and empire.
Kochiyama’s life in social change is inspiring, both for its longevity and for her willingness to take on the most controversial causes. She is, perhaps, most famous for her association with Malcolm X, and for the photos of her holding Malcolm X in her arms as he lay dying after being gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom on February 12, 1965. But there was much, much more to Kochiyama’s activism than her sojourn with the Organization for Afro-American Unity. She fought for Puerto Rican independence, provided support for social and political prisoners, and was instrumental in the fight for reparations for Japanese American internees.
But the importance of Kochiyama’s story doesn’t end with her personal history. For while she is no doubt a remarkable person, she was not alone among Asian Americans of her generation in her commitment to social justice. Throughout her story we are reminded of others who struggled alongside her, of the the Asian American movement of the 1960s that was inspired, in part, by Japanese American internment, exclusionary and blatantly racist immigration laws, the Vietnam War, and exploitation and discrimination of Asian immigrant workers. That movement gave birth to the phrase “Asian American” as a statement of inter-ethnic solidarity, and it stood against unjust wars and with the movements for African American civil rights, workers rights, and immigrant rights, and for multiculturalism, open enrollment in colleges and universities, and diversification of university curricula. That movement gave us Asian American studies, and Asian American studies has allowed us to create a record of our history, in our own words.