The Polar Bears Invaded, What Do We Care?

The Polar Bears Invaded, What Do We Care?

After all this is on the other side of the world, it can't possibly impact us.

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On February 10th, news started circulating about something pretty unheard of; some near 50 polar bears have made their way into the small Russian town of Novaya Zemlya. These bears have been reported roaming around the streets, and to people like us, this seems rather bizarre, and to some degrees fascinating. Florida is the polar opposite of the type of climate these animals live in, and so the majority of us have never seen a polar bear anywhere except maybe in a zoo. Taking this into consideration, it makes sense why we'd see the whole situation this way. After all, how cool would it be to be able to look out your window and see these guys walking around? How many people could say that they've experienced that? Probably not too many!

When you look into the details of this situation though, it becomes evident that this is actually a major nuisance and concern for the people affected. People have reported being scared to leave their homes, or send their kids to school because of the looming threats of these bears and their aggression, and there have been issues reported with the polar bears wandering into human residences. A state of emergency had to be called because of the safety hazard that they pose, and also because there is no known way to get rid of them. They've lost their fear of humans, and consequently, they no longer responded to things like guns being fired off, or alarms sounding.

This situation is a major issue, and as a conservation enthusiast, I believe it is one that everyone should be concerned with. Yes, even those of us who live over 6,000 miles away from Russia, and have no possible way of being impacted by the event itself.

When these polar bears wandered into this town, they began scavenging for food. If it were only one or two bears it could be said that maybe they just weren't fit enough to adequately hunt, but when these animals are arriving in the masses it's a major testament to the condition of the environment. The habitat that these bears live in is no longer able to sustain them, and considering the species is already endangered, that means that their habitat is in a terrible state. Some will argue that their habitat decline is due to climate change, and those who don't believe in climate change will protest against that.

I say forget whether or not you believe climate change is real or not; the fact that the environment can no longer sustain a shrinking population is problematic enough, without pointing fingers at a cause. The state of the world is changing, and it's not going to stop with impacting just the polar bears.

People tend to underestimate the importance of environmental issues. We don't really care about things until they're knocking at our front door and interfering with how we go about life. People ignored the fact that the ice stretches polar bears need to hunt have been shrinking, and now an entire town is having their livelihood completely disrupted because of it, for some continuous unknown amount of time. I say that people need to care about this because this could've been any community that is near a rural area. This could've happened much closer to home, with any species of animal that is facing environmental pressures. People need to take this event and learn from it. We need to stop turning cheek to environmental issues until they're hurting us. We need to start taking care of problems as they're presented and stop making taking care of the world we live on such a debate. It was polar bears this time, and unless we act it's only a matter of time before it's something else, and maybe it's us and our neighbors staying inside, too scared to go out.

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Filipino-American Mental Health: It Starts with a Conversation

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When it comes to talking about mental health struggles, I feel like a lot of Filipino-Americans share a similar attitude—sure, it happens, but not with my family. Whether it is because the language is still inaccessible to our communities, or we refuse to approach the topic because of fear, or a little bit of both, a lot of us have yet to really contextualize and express how this particular topic shows up in our daily lives. So you can just imagine how radical it was when a group of Filipino-American health professionals, academics, student leaders, nonprofit leaders and more participated in the first ever National Forum on Filipino American Mental Health held at the Philippine Embassy. On that day, members of our community said yes, mental health struggles absolutely happen, and they are experienced by our families too.

I participated in the forum as an EPYC Ambassador for the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). The EPYC Program, in its sophomore year, hopes to empower the next generation of Fil-Am leaders across the country by assisting in the personal and professional development of students and young professionals. As an ambassador for the Capital Region, I was quickly introduced to the scene in the D.C. Metro Area. I made my way from one community event to another, increasing my networks and learning about the resources that I wished I knew when I was younger. But it was, ironically, the topic of mental health that made me very anxious to attend the forum. At the time, I was going through one of the hardest college semesters of my life, and I was afraid to participate in an event dealing directly with this very topic. I woke up that morning with every intention of fading into the background to listen rather than to speak.

But that is not what happened. The hosts made it clear that they wanted to hear what the young people had to say. Jon Melegrito, a local community pioneer known fondly as "Tito Jon" said that that day was about sharing our stories, because we rarely have the opportunity to do so. The room had prominent scholars like Dr. Kevin Nadal (who sat next to me!) and Dr. E.J. Ramos David, but their eyes were focused on us. And so we spoke. We talked about dealing with stigma both inside and outside the community. We talked about the structural barriers (like costs) that make it hard for anybody to get support, regardless of their ethnicity. On the topic of collaboration, I mentioned that it was important for us to address that Filipino-Americans are not a monolith, and that we must always strive to center the most marginalized among us.


Pictured (left to right): Andrew Bartolome, Janis Manalang, Jon Melegrito, Kevin Nadal, and Austin ChavezPhoto by Lia Macadangdang


There was one topic, however, that we kept circling back to: the disconnect between parent and child, between first gen and second gen, between the homeland and the diaspora. I often find these conversations to be very interesting, because as someone who identifies as 1.5 gen (someone who immigrated to this country as a child), I serve as a good example that those conversations are not black-and-white. If there is anything I learned from being pushed into the diaspora it is that this life is very hard. No amount of Filipino resilience can prepare you from dealing with so much loss when you are away from your people. Diaspora asks us to rebuild and re-envision a new life without having much of a blueprint to borrow from. So who should we be? What kind of life should we have? These are some of the broader conversations our communities will need to have for some time.


Quezon City, Philippines. 2003.


And what we are seeing now is that more and more of our people are willing to have them. Recently, Instagram hired Filipino-American student Jazmine Alcon (@pettyofcolor) as an Instagram Ambassador. Alcon uses her platform to create online spaces for youth, specifically Filipinx youth, to talk about mental health issues. Malaka Gharib of NPR has published a heartwarming multimedia piece on Filipino-American Mental Health with the help of Ryann Tanap of AARP. Academics like Nadal and David have been making a name for Filipino-American psychology for some time and still continue to make breakthroughs.

And we should not stop there. We also need to take a look at what Ruby Ibarra is doing, what Bambu DePistola is doing. We must engage with Elaine Castillo and Jose Antonio Vargas. We have to ground ourselves in the work of Dawn Mabalon and Carlos Bulosan who did so much work for our people when they were here. We also have to be humble enough to look at what other communities have done that help paved the way for us. Fil-Ams, especially non-Black Fil-Ams, need to be just as dedicated in reading their bell hooks and Audre Lorde and James Baldwin and Kimberle Crenshaw and Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston, and so much more. Inclusivity, intersectionality, and solidarity should be the heart of our many conversations. Kapwa (connectedness) must not come with any conditions.

As I unpack my own struggles with mental health, I often look back on the day of the forum. I often have to stop myself from feeling like a hypocrite because I was talking about a topic that I have yet to fully resolve on my own. And then I realize that perhaps the bigger problem was that I thought I had to resolve it alone. As I get closer to graduation, I am beginning to understand that I should not beat myself up any longer, because life in the diaspora already does a good job of doing that. What I should do is be more gentle and give more grace for those are the more radical things to do in the face of what we are dealt with. The business of being free is hard work, but to echo Dr. E.J. Ramos David—"it's hard work, because it's the heart's work."

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Our Leaders Need A 'Time-Out'

We all learned a few essential rules as children.

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As I look watch the news, I can't help but wonder if the lessons we learned as children might not serve our leaders well. They seem to have forgotten these basic lessons. I am reminded of the book by Robert Fulghum "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."

Watch out, hold hands, and stick together.

I think this could be useful in a couple of different contexts. First, the current divisiveness in the country doesn't serve us well. We are first and foremost, a part of the family of humankind. Differences in politics, religion, and so on come in far behind that one important attribute. What happened to the notion of agreeing to disagree?

Second, when leaders get off a plane in another country, they should remember who they came with and who they represent - "watch out, hold hands, and stick together."

Clean up your own mess.

Trump seems to take great pleasure in blaming everyone else for their "mess." The government shutdown was someone else's fault – any Democrat. When the stock market went up, he happily took credit, but when it went down, he quickly shifted gears and placed the blame on the Federal Reserve Chairman. Daily and hourly tweets out of the White House place blame on someone else for his "mess." Sadly, he still likes to blame Obama and Hillary for his mess.

Don't lie.

Politicians have always had a bad reputation when it comes to honesty. Still, the number of lies that we hear from Trump (and members of his staff) is unprecedented even for a politician.

We all learned these lessons when we were little more than five years old. Now more than any time in history I think our leaders need a " time out" to re-learn these lessons.

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