by Emy Lallana Reitz

Breathing should be easy and unobstructed. It is horrifying not to be able to catch your breath. We know what happened to George Floyd. He stopped breathing because a Minneapolis Police Officer’s knee was pressed into his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. As a consequence of this unacceptable behavior, we have been witnesses to massive Black Lives Matter protests, not only in several big and small cities in the U.S., but in other countries as well. The marches were organized to express anger over police brutality, social injustice, racial discrimination, poverty and homelessness. George’s death was the tipping point for these voices to be heard; they were cries for reforms to take place NOW.

I came to Philadelphia, PA, on September 25, 1970, as a foreign exchange student in nursing. My recollection of racial discrimination occurred on the first day of orientation at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate Hospital. We were told never to “go south,” into an area that was predominantly black. “It is not a safe place, the neighborhood is bad.”

While I continued to function as a graduate nurse, I observed that the RN’s in charge were mostly white (they stayed at the nurse’s station) while the bulk of patient care was done by black nurse’s aides. I heard for the first time some really bad names given to these folk. They were looked down upon because of their skin color. I never understood the big deal about having a dark skin; it is a pigmentation issue (increased melanin) and should not be the basis for discrimination.

While working at the City of Hope for 15 years, I was exposed to cultural diversity. I worked with medical personnel and took care of patients from five continents: from countries such as Germany, Hungary, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, South Korea, Pakistan, to name a few. Also, the majority of MD’s were Jewish. They were not only the leading experts in the field of oncology but the kindest, most compassionate doctors I have ever worked with.

Altadena Baptist Church also had a huge impact: my perspectives on racial issues were positively enhanced. I came to know many wonderful families and I appreciated the multi- generational and multi-racial nature of ABC, something we have missed a lot here in Hemet.

I have experienced some “breathing problems” myself but mine are miniscule compared to the degree of difficulty George Floyd had. Being Asian (Filipino), I’ve had those moments of frustration, sometimes anger, when people see me differently.

Here are some of them:

  • I have been asked this question several times: “Where did you come from?” Do they want to know my ethnicity or simply where I live?
  • I have been mistaken for Chinese many, many times.
  • I have been told, “To me, you look more Japanese than Korean.”
  • Some people have said to me, “I know you are Filipino because I can detect that Spanish accent when you speak.”
  • Often while shopping in thrift stores, I have been asked if I worked there. One lady asked me to get an item she could not find without first asking me if I was an employee.
  • Some have asked, “Do you speak English?” This query has been very frustrating because, on three occasions, I never had a chance to speak first.
  • I have been questioned at work, as to why I was hanging out with a lot of African-American nurses.
  • Our daughter Erin (the product of biracial marriage) was denied a Sunday worship bulletin while visiting a church in Albuquerque, NM. The usher assumed she was Hispanic and did not read in English.
  • Even now, when Erin tells people she is part Filipino, the overwhelming response is, “No way.”

I am fully aware that these frustrations are minor when compared to the pain of suffering experienced by my African-American brothers and sisters. Ed and I never told Brian (son) and Erin to “be careful out there” when around the police. We never experienced loss of jobs, lack of food, inadequate housing; we never lacked access to health care. I have been breathing easily and unobstructed. African-Americans need that kind of breathing, too!

I am reminded of the song “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” I will NOT be silent; I will share my story—let people know where I stand socially, politically and spiritually. I will look at someone without any biases and say, “You matter to me.” Most importantly, I will allow Jesus and His Word to guide me along the way.

Emy Reitz, along with her husband, Ed, and two children, were part of ABC’s fabric for decades until they moved to Hemet. Ed was Assistant Pastor here, Emy was a deacon, their two children grew up here—they were embedded in ABC’s community life. Emy writes about some of her own experiences as an immigrant, as a Filipina, which have opened a window for her to the much worse experience of Black people.