450+ Artists and Writers Denounce Asia Society Event With Son of Filipino Dictator

This Wednesday, September 21, activists took to the streets of Manila to mark the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of martial law in the Philippines, when Ferdinand E. Marcos assumed dictatorial power. Demonstrators, chanting “never forget,” held placards denouncing the brutal killings, human rights violations, and corruption that defined his 14-year rule.

Just two days later — today, September 23 — his son and namesake, Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the current president of the Philippines, is delivering an address at the New York headquarters of the Asia Society. But not without the dissent of 450 artists and writers, including prominent Asian-American and Filipino scholars, who have signed an open letter urging the Asia Society to revoke the invitation and pledging to boycott the organization.

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“We call out Asia Society for its embrace of fascism and historical lies in the person of Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.,” reads the letter sent this morning to Kevin Rudd, president and CEO of the Asia Society. The missive was co-authored by novelist Gina Apostol; Nerissa S. Balce, associate professor of Asian American Studies at Stony Brook University; Joi Barrios, a poet and lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley; public programs curator Nancy Bulalacao; and independent scholar Fritzie de Mata.

The Asia Society has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Marcos Jr. secured the presidency in a landslide election this May to the shock of pro-democracy advocates and victims of his father’s regime, the horrors of which the current leader has done much to downplay. During the Marcos dictatorship, the open letter says, an estimated 35,000 people under military detention were tortured and sexually abused; 70,000 activists and journalists were jailed; and 3,200 people were extrajudicially murdered. Marcos Sr. was ousted in a 1986 army-backed revolt and forced into exile, denying until his death accusations that he embezzled billions of dollars in state wealth.

But in the years leading to his presidential campaign, Marcos Jr. and his family harnessed the power of political propaganda and social media to whitewash the abuses of the past, and Marcos Jr. has gone as far as to openly defend the 1972 proclamation of martial law.

Protest outside of the Asia Society today (photo by and courtesy Gina Apostol)

“We refuse to normalize the history of state violence that the Marcos and Duterte names represent,” the letter reads, referencing the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, who preceded Marcos Jr. and whose legacy was also tarnished by deadly persecution campaigns.

“Unless this event with Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is revoked, we are boycotting events at Asia Society, and we will refuse to speak at their events and will relay this boycott to fellow writers, artists and scholars to make clear to Asia Society that their actions are harmful to our community of Asian American Pacific Islanders,” the authors continue. As of Friday afternoon, a crowd was gathered for a protest outside of the Asia Society in Manhattan.

In a conversation with Hyperallergic, Bulalacao, who led the Asia Society’s Asian American Programs from 2003 to 2005 and later co-founded the Filipino American Museum, said the Asia Society’s decision to host Marcos Jr. was disappointing but not entirely surprising.

“The Asia Society was founded by John D. Rockefeller. It was never intended as an organization for community or for Asian American Pacific Islanders,” Bulalacao said. The letter recognizes the organization’s “hard-won” relationship with New York’s AAPI population, one bolstered by programs and partnerships meant to draw in Asian Americans who long felt excluded by a space attended primarily by White audiences.

“I can’t speak to what exactly Asia Society’s larger mission or purpose is,” Bulalacao said. “But ultimately I think that they’re in the business of brokering power and I think that it benefits them and their relationships to host this current president.”

Source: Hyperallergic.com

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