D.C. Council member Marion B. Barry has created a diplomatic row between the Philippines and the District government.
Following Barry’s remark Monday that he wanted more District residents to become nurses so hospitals don’t have to rely on “immigrants” from the Philippines, that country’s ambassador issued a statement Wednesday condemning him 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.”
Cuisia is calling on Barry (D-Ward 8) to apologize, saying Filipino nurses have stepped in to fill a vital need at U.S. hospitals.
“Filipino nurses are known to be competent, hardworking, caring, and possess good work ethic,” Cuisia said. “These are some of the reasons why most patients prefer and trust them to fill a critical nursing shortage at U.S. hospitals. “
Barry was not immediately available to comment, but told The Washington Post on Tuesday that he had no plans to apologize.
Unlike the controversy he sparked earlier this month when he referred to Asian-owned businesses as “dirty,” Barry said his latest remarks have been taken out of context.
Barry made his comments as he grilled University of the District of Columbia officials on the future of their nursing program. Instead of hiring nurses from overseas, 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.”
Barry’s remarks closely track with existing city policy, including the First-Source program that requires city contractors to give priority in hiring to District residents.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and a strong majority on the council also back preferential hiring practices and more training of District residents to lower a city unemployment rate that tops 20 percent in Barry’s ward east of the Anacostia River.
Neither Gray nor any of Barry’s colleagues have publicly requested that he apologize for his remarks.
But Asian American groups are stepping up their rhetoric against the former four-term mayor.
“This is the same kind of inflammatory rhetoric that flamed the fires of racism toward Japanese Americans in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and led to the indefinite detention in concentration camps during World Ward II,” the Japanese American Citizens League said in a statement Wednesday. “Responsible public officials should be closing the racial divide and not widening animosities that are based on false and misleading assumptions.”