This V-Day don’t just be valentines, be “Natural Helpers”

Jon Michael Torres and Michael Hoy show their certificates for completing 25 hours of training to become Natural Helpers. (Photo by Jill Mangaliman)
Jon Michael Torres and Michael Hoy show their certificates for completing 25 hours of training to become Natural Helpers. (Photo by Jill Mangaliman)

Sure, it’s Valentine’s Day. But unbeknownst to many, tomorrow is also International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

It’s an issue I return to time and again, one that impacts me, people I care about, and my community.

Since last February 14th, violence against women worldwide has in no way slowed. In the western mainstream songs like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” still get plenty of air-time and perpetuate rape culture.

And still fresh in my mind from last year’s API Chaya Vigil for Susanna Blackwell, are the words of Dr. Sutapa Basu from the UW Women’s Center telling the crowd that it’s not just up to women to stop the violence… men have an active role to play too.

The first thing I thought of when she said that was a youtube video that went up during Anti- Harassment Week in 2012 that featured NY men challenging male misogyny:

“Shit Men Say to Men Who Say Shit to Women on the Street”

Then I got to know Derek Dizon, organizer of this year’s vigil, whose deep involvement with the organization started way back in 1995 with the Susana Blackwell case.

A little backstory: Susana Blackwell was a Filipina woman brought to Seattle through the marriage broker system. After marrying Timothy Blackwell, she began to experience abuse, both physical and emotional. Being new in the country, she faced big cultural and linguistic barriers in seeking help.

She did, however, know two other Filipina women, Veronica Laureta and Phoebe Dizon — Derek’s mother.

“They were the first natural helpers,” Derek says, remembering the meetings they would have at his house when he was little; his mother and Laureta encouraging Blackwell to leave and get the help she needed.

Despite their efforts to bring safety to Blackwell, her abuser eventually murdered her — and her two confidants — outside their divorce hearing at the King County Courthouse.

“I experienced a great loss,” Derek says “However the deaths of my mother and her friends were catalyst for domestic violence and human trafficking movements to push for strong legislation… Then and now, Filipina women were mobilized and activated to take action.”

These days, Derek Dizon works with API Chaya to create spaces of healing for survivors, and to address how systems of power and oppression are the root cause of abuse. The conversation is specifically about the Asian-Pacific Islander communities, where language and culture have long been barriers.

From my own experience I can feel that’s true — as API’s we just don’t talk about it.

Twice a year, API Chaya puts on the Natural Helper Training. The idea is to be able to go back to community and be advocates, by developing skills to support survivors of violence and to not blame victims. We talk about human trafficking, the impacts of slut-shaming, and what does alternatives like transformative justice look like. Just sharing this space as a group was transformative in itself.

I was glad that it wasn’t just women and LGBTQ folks taking the training, but that there were a few men who joined too.

Jon Michael Torres, a UW student majoring in Social Work, who finished the training with me, told me afterwards:

[infobox color=”#e2e2e2″ textcolor=”#000000″ icon=”quote-left”]I wanted to learn to how to become a better ally and at least take steps forward to understanding… Going through this highlighted how much more I don’t know and how much I need to still learn and how important it is. I think it’s important for men to recognize our own privilege.

Just speaking from my own personal understanding, men in general really need to take a look at what it means to be a male in society and how we continue this oppression over women. We need to examine sexism and unpack it, see what our role is in that while reflecting on our own actions.”[/infobox]

Torres and I agreed that even though we completed the Natural Helpers training, we wanted to keep reflecting on it and may need to refresh the lessons again and again.

Dizon added that as API men recognize the violence that women experience, it also starts the conversation about how they too experience systems of violence. Together, we can start to build unities in our own survivorship.

Ending patriarchy and violence in our communities isn’t going to happen overnight. But as more of us learn how to be natural helpers, as we keep the conversation going, and as more men join this fight to end violence against women, I feel that it will happen.

Happy V-Day!

Join  API Chaya on Thursday March 6, 2014 for “Kapwa: Seeking Resiliency and Healing through Our Shared Survivorship.” “Kapwa” is derived from a Tagalog (Filipino) word meaning, “the shared interconnectedness among and between beings; seeing yourself in another person.”