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Gregory Cendana, the Democratic National Convention delegate who pulled more votes than former mayor-for-life Marion Barry in the March D.C. caucus, is concerned about Barry’s recent comments about hiring Filipino nurses.

At a D.C. Council hearing on Monday, Barry said: “In fact, it’s so bad, that if you go to the hospital now, you find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines. And no offense, but let’s grow our own teachers, let’s grow our own nurses—and 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.”

No offense!

It’s Barry’s second problematic statement this month about Asian workers, just as the firestorm around his comments about “dirty” Asian businesses had begun to cool.

Cendana, who is Filipino and runs an AFL-CIO affiliate for Asian American workers, says in a statement:

The assumption that Filipino nurses, as well as Filipino teachers, are substandard employees by insisting that they were ‘scrounged’ from ‘community clinics and other kind of places’ can create a strong disconnect with the value of the diversity of DC’s population.

Cendana is calling on Barry to meet with Asian Pacific American leaders and workers, and to increase funding for the D.C. Office of Asian Pacific Islander Affairs—which Barry created as mayor.

“I think it’s important for elected leaders—and very well respected leaders, by some—to be mindful of how what you say can impact the larger community,” Cendana tells us. “My initial reaction was frustration, and that transitioned to how we can take this energy and turn it into something more forward thinking.”

Cendana thinks a meeting with immigrant workers would be a good first step. “Even for me, it was powerful to hear the stories directly from them and to hear their struggles—I think it would be valuable for Councilmember Barry to hear those stories. I look forward to sitting down and hearing more from his perspective too.”

We find it a bit frustrating that Barry seems to be making a habit of wrapping good points in racially divisive statements—and obscuring the good points in the process. Increasing opportunities for black residents doesn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of immigrant workers or business owners.

“Barry, I think, is making these comments and bringing up underlying issues,” Cendana says. “But he isn’t the only person we should be engaging with.” It’s time, he says, to come up with new models and partnerships.

Meanwhile, Barry seems to have had enough scrutiny. He told an Examiner reporter he was “sick of” the media attention for his comments.

Full Cendana release after the jump:

As a Filipino and Delegate to the Democratic National Convention alongside DC Councilmember Marion Barry, I want to take this opportunity to address his recent comments against the Asian Pacific American (APA) and immigrant community.

I am deeply concerned about his recent remarks made against immigrant health care and education workers because of the negative effects it can have on our community. As a fellow minority who has achieved success despite socio-economic adversities and stereotypical doubt, I would think that Councilmember Barry would understand first hand why these negative remarks are so hurtful to the APA population and the District of Columbia’s sense of community as a whole.

The assumption that Filipino nurses, as well as Filipino teachers, are substandard employees by insisting that they were ‘scrounged’ from ‘community clinics and other kind of places’ can create a strong disconnect with the value of the diversity of DC’s population.

Those comments only fuel an already visible disconnects through other communities in the area and I encourage Councilmember Barry to take this opportunity to engage himself into the diversity that is and makes the District of Columbia.

By having a cross cultural engagement into the APA and Immigrant communities, Councilmember Barry will not only open up a dialogue to a better understanding of their community but assist in coalition building in the area.

Therefore, I ask Councilmember Barry to meet with local Asian Pacific American business owners, immigrant workers and other leaders in the APA community to see how he can further their missions and to expand funding for the DC Office of Asian Pacific Islander Affairs, an agency he helped create when he was mayor and now has jurisdiction over in his current role.

Furthermore, I will work with Mayor Vincent Gray and the DC council to support programs and efforts that foster community partnerships and fall under the banner of Mayor Gray’s “One City” Initiative. While I do not condone Councilmember Barry’s statements, we must come together to find proactive solutions that unite all of our communities.

As one of the most diverse cities in the country, we need a leadership that recognizes, embraces and brings together the diversity of DC. Who is ready to join me?

Photo by Darrow Montgomery