Besides being known for singing (which I’ve seen with how many Filipinos there are in NYU’s acapella groups), Filipinos are often associated with being nurses. Jo Koy, a half-white half-Filipino American comedian and actor often makes this a main premise of his shows, when he jokes about how the hospitals must be empty since all the nurses must have called out to see his show. He really isn’t wrong, though, since the Filipino jokes are met with the proud cheers of Filipinos in the stadiums who celebrate their acknowledgement. This may not be known to those outside of the Asian community since I’m pretty sure my white roommate had no idea before rooming with me that this was a stereotype.
Going back to Jo Koy–a few days after I was accepted into NYU ED II, I watched Jo Koy in Prudential Center. My family and I have watched all of his specials on Netflix so I was mentally prepared for the nursing jokes about Filipinos. However, when I looked around, most of the people who were also watching the show weren’t Filipino. This was probably the first time they had heard of the Filipino nurse stereotype so it was not surprising when most of the laughs I heard were other Filipinos who had raised their hands when he asked how many Filipinos there were nurses.
When I went to another Jo Koy show in Madison Square Garden in November 2022, Koy brought up how people need to be more appreciative of Filipino nurses. Again and again, there was this call for better representation yet I could tell not everyone cared enough to heed his words. I wondered what more would it take for people to care, or if it was even possible to rally people together for this cause. How much more do we need to do for people to take this seriously? Besides specifically pointing out Filipino nurses, this lack of appreciation calls for better treatment for all healthcare workers who have put their lives at stake for their communities and who continue to work as the world continues to recover. This is a reality I’m familiar with, as a child of two healthcare professionals, and a reality for many people as well.
I grew up with my pinsan (cousins), Titas (aunts), and Titos (uncles) being nurses to the point where I gave up asking what my cousins wanted to do in college since at least half of them would choose to be nurses or be coerced by nosy family members. Seriously, the number of nurses in the family is insane. I was also told that, if I have trouble picking a major, I should “go be a nurse.” According to One Down’s instagram post, 31.5% of Filipino nurses died from working through the Covid-19 pandemic even though they make up only 4% of the total registered nursing population in the United States. Now, I may suck at math but 31.5% is basically a third of the nursing casualties, and many of them were immigrant nurses looking to send money back to the Philippines. According to Time magazine, one out of 20 registered nurses were trained in the Philippines with over 150,000 Filipino nurses having immigrated to the United States since 1965. The United States has had a history with needing Filipino nurses; the government built western medical schools in the Philippines to import Filipino nurses to fill the gaps in US healthcare. Where was this in my AP US history textbook when Filipinos and Filipino-Americans faced so much discrimination for doing a job they were specifically brought to a country for? This issue became most prevalent to me as I read articles on Asian hate crimes as a result of the racism that skyrocketed during the pandemic. It hit home reading these article titles with the word “Filipino” in them. Given that many of these attacks took place in New York City, I felt that I could have been next especially as I began to attend NYU.
Due to the impact Filipino nurses had on my youth and during the pandemic, I wondered how my roommate had no idea about the stereotype. I figured medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy would have a prominent character to express the US’s reliance on immigrant nurses, but there was no Filipino character till the introduction of Gerlie Bernardo, played by Aina Dumlao, for an episode in the 17th season. It took 17 seasons for a Filipino nurse to appear on arguably the most prominent medical show. The Good Doctor has Dalisay Villanueva, played by Elfina Luk, a Filipino nurse with regular appearances compared to the brief introduction of Gerlie Bernardo. However, the general public still has no idea about the impact ofFilipinos in the medical field, which was brought to attention by Jo Koy in his film Easter Sunday as well as his comedy shows.
And I know…people are tired of hearing these calls for representation but I think it’s vital to ask why we must keep asking for more representation. If it was already given to us, we wouldn’t have to continue to ask over and over again for the bare minimum. This is why I continue to write about this desire for representation which can easily be quelled by Western media’s continued improvement as the years go on.
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