Skyler Reid

Vigil in Queens

“The typhoon really hit me hard,” she said. “I live in New York, but I’m still Filipino.”

By Brock Stoneham
November 14, 2013 |

As the 7 train rolled above them, loudly rattling the tracks, a group of Filipinos sang a quiet, slow hymn on the streets below. They had convened a candlelight vigil in Woodside, Queens to raise money and organize their community in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Just five days earlier, the storm had wrought havoc on the island nation leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Waxed paper cups served as makeshift candle holders at the evening vigil in Queens. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Waxed paper cups served as makeshift candle holders at the evening vigil in Queens. Photo by Skyler Reid.

The night began at a press conference just down the street, organized by the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON). In the small, cramped room, about 60 people stood shoulder to shoulder and discussed the logistics of sending material support to those most devastated by the typhoon: Would the airlines help expedite the shipments? Was there a way around paying the heavy taxes levied by the Filipino government for donated goods? Where could the supplies be stored if they decided to collect them locally?

One of the primary concerns for those in attendance–some of whom were still unable to contact loved ones–included how to raise funds for supplies in the hardest hit areas.

Cris Hilo, the Northeast coordinator for NAFCON and a restaurant worker in Park Slope, highlighted the importance of individual fundraising. She urged those in attendance to talk to local businesses about hosting their own charity drives. And, she encouraged others to a follow her own tactic of simply asking others to chip in—Filipino or not. She gave the example of her boss who offered to donate one-third of a Friday night’s drink sales to the cause. “I gave her a big hug,” said Hilo who also emphasized that the bar owner was not Filipino.

Some speakers also stressed the importance of finding a way to transport supplies quickly while guaranteeing that the supplies actually made it to their destination.

Attendees at Wednesday's meeting in Woodside asked questions Photo by Skyler Reid

Attendees at Wednesday’s meeting in Woodside asked questions and shared information about upcoming fundraisers for Typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda relief. Photo by Skyler Reid.

Kelly Somoza, a registered nurse who moved to the United States from the Philippines 13 years ago, admitted to being skeptical about the likelihood of charity reaching those who need it most. She was especially doubtful of the intentions of the Filipino government.

“I don’t believe in elected officials in the Philippines,” she said. “But hearing the leaders of NAFCON talk about their organization made me somehow believe that there’s hope that through them, there’s a way to help my countrymen.”

Somoza said that while she often gave money after natural disasters, she had never before felt the need to get engaged like she did after Haiyan hit. “The typhoon really hit me hard,” she said. “I live in New York, but I’m still Filipino.”

Photo by Skyler Reid

Photo by Skyler Reid.

 

Brock Stoneham Brock Stoneham is a freelance multimedia journalist. Originally from New Orleans, he's now based in Brooklyn, where he focuses on immigrant issues and international affairs. Follow him on Twitter @BrockStoneham

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