This story has been updated.
D.C. council member Marion Barry spoke to the ambassador of the Philippines late Wednesday afternoon to try to resolve the growing controversy over the former mayor’s remarks about Filipino nurses.
Barry said he requested a formal meeting with the ambassador to discuss how to bolster ties between the District and the Philippines.
“I reached out and had good conversations,” Barry said.
“This is about improving human relations. There are still cultural gaps between various groups in this country and we have a responsibility to understand and close them.”
Barry declined to comment on when, and if, such a meeting will be held.
Barry made his comments about Filipino nurses as he questioned University of the District of Columbia officials on the future of their nursing program. Barry said he wanted UDC and other nursing schools to identify and train unemployed residents in the District for careers in the industry.
“In fact, it’s so bad, that if you go to the hospital now, you’ll find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines,” said Barry during the hearing, which was videotaped by WTTG-TV. “And, no offense, but let’s grow our own teachers, let’s grow our own nurses, so that we don’t have to be scrounging around in our community clinics and other kinds of places, having to hire people from somewhere else.”
The ambassador issued a statement Wednesday condemning Barry for “intolerant, narrow-minded comments.”
“Council member Barry’s penchant for blaming Asians, who only want to work for their American dream, fuels racism, discrimination and violence,” said Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. “Such rhetoric does nothing but harm relations among community members, when the times call for developing relationships and finding solutions to common challenges.”
In a related development, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) issued a statement Thursday morning calling on Barry to apologize for, as she called it, "the time dishonored pattern he seems to be adopting of targeting racial groups to call attention to issues."
Filipino nurses, she said, "do not deserve to be insulted for helping fill an indispensable health care need in a profession that we in this country have neglected."
"Racially cloaked language deflects attention from the underlying issues of concern," Norton continued. "Such language also carries special danger when it comes from elected officials to whom people look for guidance and remedies, and as African-Americans have learned over hundreds of years, can lead to racial scapegoating."
Staff writer Mike DeBonis also contributed to this story.