Thanks to those who showed the support of the Bamboo Girl Zine nomination for the Utne Reader's Choice Award! Though I didn't win the Zines General award, it's all good, I wasn't expecting to even be nominated!

Saw "American Adobo" on it's opening night here in NYC. I guess I have to say that I was expecting a bit more from this much hyped commercial production. I give it much props in trying to tackle various subject matter, especially on the interactions between Fil-Fils and Fil-Ams, and for addressing gay reality without mocking it, but I found it too predictable a movie, and the story a bit formulaic. I think the weakness was in trying to encapsulate the ENTIRE Filipino-Filipino and Filipino-American experience in one movie. More focus would've made the movie more effective. I can't entirely bash it because how many Pinoy movies have made it commercially? I think it's a start, but more crafty portrayals would be quite welcome! If it was some kind of Pinoy-made "Priscilla Queen of the Desert" mockery, on the other hand, then I would be the first to bash it senselessly. Unfortunately, the movie wasn't received well by the NY Times. I think the fact that the movie forgot to include it's English subtitles midway through this Tagalog-laden movie might have had an effect.

Anyways, through these first few weeks of my going back to school after all these years, I'm surprised my brain hasn't burst yet, as I've been memorizing body sinews, bones, chromosomal interactions, and the 5 phases of chinese medicine and how they effect their corresponding organs. Lack of brain combustion is always a good sign.

January 28, 2002

Dear friends:

I am writing to you all to let you know about a most disturbing, painful incident I experienced yesterday afternoon.

My friend, Marnee Meyer, and I entered the St. Mark’s Bookshop, in New York City, around 5:45pm on Sunday January 27. I was immediately approached by one of its employees, Karen, who asked me to check my bag. Both Marnee and I then walked over to the counter to hand out our backpacks, a fact that seemed surprising to Karen, as she only expected me to turn mine in. We thought nothing of her actions at the time, even though we both had been at the store numerous times, and this was the first instance I have ever been asked to do this.

Incidentally, a few minutes later, we noticed that there were several customers inside the store who were still carrying their backpacks. I thought this rather strange, and went back to the counter to ask Karen why she had asked for my bag, and no one else’s. She reacted in a very defensive manner, stating that my bag had sounded off the alarm by the entrance, and that this was the policy for the store. This was news to me. The sign at the store’s entrance reads “All bags must be checked,” but says nothing of checking only the bags that tick off the alarm. Furthermore, Karen herself never said to me that this was the reason she had singled me out until I questioned her. Another interesting point was that both Marnee and I had backpacks, and we entered the store at the same time, making it difficult to point out who indeed had triggered the alarm. Still, Karen picked me to be the culprit.

Karen became more agitated, even though I was only curious about her motives for singling me out. At no point did I level any accusations towards her. The most telling moment, then, came when she uttered, in a loud voice, “I’m not racial profiling! I’m looking at you in the eye, and I’m telling you that I’m not racial profiling!” At this moment, Marnee intervened, and asked her why had I been targeted, while there were at least three other white people in the room with their backpacks intact. This seemed to infuriate Karen. I asked her why she was becoming upset—I was not accusing her of any wrongdoing. I told Marnee that I wanted to leave, and handed Karen the tag corresponding to our backs. Karen took it, and stomping over to where our bags were held, passed them onto Marnee. While noticing the large crowd gathering all around us, Marnee said to Karen, “You’re embarrassing yourself,” to which Karen responded that it was us who were doing so. In the end, she stormed off, but not before screaming “Fuck off!” to us.

At this moment, I told the two other clerks at the cash register (who witnessed this exchange) that I wanted so see the manager. Neither seemed to be very inclined to help, only muttering that, indeed checking bags that make distracting noises was the (unspoken) policy, and that the manager was in the back (meaning, we would be responsible for calling him up).

Marnee went looking for the manager, Benjamin. I recounted this incident to Benjamin, who seemed to react as if I had just told him that it was raining outside, and I had no umbrella to take me home: “Sorry, but there is nothing I can do.” I explained to him that I was a valuable customer, who made it a point to shop at his store rather than the nearby Barnes & Noble. He understood that, but what he didn’t seem to understand was that his employee had just acted in a most rude, unnecessary, and inappropriate manner. I did not say that I believed they had engaged in racial discrimination, an infinitely more serious charge. Benjamin appeared reluctant to give me the name of the offending
employee, or that of the daytime manager, even as I made clear to him that I wanted to write a complaint letter.

This entire incident could have been easily avoided. If Karen had explained from the beginning why she asked me, of all people, to check my bag, thissituation would have died right then and there. If Karen had remained calm, and had admitted that she made a mistake by not explaining this policy, there would not have been any problems. If the rest of the clerks at the counter had recognized that yes, Karen is their co-worker, but that she acted inappropriately, we would all have gone home content. If the manager in charge, Benjamin had taken my complaint seriously instead of acting in a condescending manner, perhaps I would not be writing this email. None of these options were explored. I believe the staff of the St. Mark’s Bookshop acted in a racially discriminatory manner towards me. Discrimination is the treatment based on class or category rather than individual merit. That the St. Mark’s Bookshop has a store policy that is not consistent, but rather enforced selectively is discriminatory, proven without a doubt by Karen’s unprovoked proclamations to the contrary, and by the passive behavior of the rest of the staff.

This kind of treatment on behalf of the St. Mark’s Bookshop is appalling. Ironically, several of the titles this bookstore carries are some of the most well-known, important books on race politics. In addition, its website lists Edward Said’s “Power, Politics, and Culture,” and “Palestine” by Joe Sacco under its “New and Recommended” section. You would think that the clerks at this store would put to better use their employee’s discount, and actually read these publications. Still, an education that is only based on books about race, and not firmly
grounded in the realities of everyday life will always be incomplete.

To what do I attribute this gross incident? It’s hard to say because I believe there are several factors involved. As a person of color and an immigrant, I am most aware that I am living in very difficult times. Times when innocent people are being detained in jail and are denied basic civil rights. Times when you are guilty until proven innocent, and even when that is accomplished, you’re still not free, and what’s more, the damage has been done. Times when the most fitting way we can commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is to publicly protest the “disappearance” of more than 2,000 immigrants at the hands of the U.S. government. Times when not even a week ago, I received a snowball to the back of my head, and was told by the perpetrator to “Go back home!” I find it most unfortunate that the St. Mark’s Bookshop has fallen prey to this mass hysteria.

The St. Mark’s Bookshop’s collective reaction is not entirely surprising if we consider that this is a business that has an approximately 95% white (my figure) workforce, and whose customer base also reflects this figure. Should I be shocked, then, when my demands to this bookstore’s staff for respect and fairness are blatantly ignored?

These past few days, I have learned several painful lessons: that New York City’s reputation as a mecca of tolerance is an urban myth; that the East Village’s time for radical thought and action has long passed; that the spirit of Rudy Giuliani haunts even the most “alternative” purveyors of culture; and that racism is not just men who burn crosses and hide under white sheets.

I am writing a complaint letter to the St. Mark’s Bookshop, and so is Marnee. I am not calling for an outright boycott of this store. But for those of you who shop there regularly, please consider carefully if this is the kind of business you wish to support. Most importantly, I ask that if you’re in the neighborhood, that you stop by the St. Mark’s Bookshop and tell the clerks on duty that you heard what happened last Sunday. In most likelihood, they probably didn’t! If you’re not in the East Village, or in New York for that matter, write to them or call them, and let them know that this kind of treatment is unacceptable. And please, forward this email along to your trusted friends and associates. For the bookstore’s contact info, see below:
Roger Jeschke
St. Mark’s Bookshop
31 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10003
Tel: 212-260-7853
Fax: 212-598-4950
Email: stmarksbooks@mindspring.com

Last night, I had trouble sleeping. The sad event kept replaying in my head. I like to brag that as a Scorpio, I have “tremendous inner strength, which when properly developed, gives me great power to turn negative situations into positive outcomes, and to rechannel destructive energy into constructive purposes.” But the truth is that last night I was shaking--from not wanting to believe what had just happened, and from the pain and the rage that this episode brought to me.

In the next few weeks, I hope to learn a more important lesson: That prejudice, no matter how disguised (and the art types and graduate students staff of the St. Mark’s Bookshop are a prime example of this), is wrong, and will be made accountable.

Lala Endara