Since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last week, the largest Filipino community in America has come together to grieve and to help.
Friday night, about 25 miles south of Los Angeles, members of Long Beach’s Filipino community gathered at Grace United Methodist Church to hold a vigil for typhoon victims. One by one, attendees came to the microphone and named people who died or remain lost in the storm.
Rev. Nestor Gerente, the pastor at Grace United, came to the U.S. from Manila 15 years ago. He lost relatives in the storm. As the crowd held electric candles and bowed their heads, he prayed.
“Your word of peace stills the storms that rage in our world. Bring hope to all persons and places that know devastation in the calm, following the winds and rains of Typhoon Haiyan,” he said.
The church community is raising money, gathering supplies to send overseas. A few attendees plan to go to the Philippines, to offer medical assistance.
Almost 3.5 million Filipinos live in America. California has the largest concentration, with more than 300,000 living in Los Angeles alone.
Gerente says that diaspora is grieving by giving.
“How we cope is we become active. We have the power to do something here –not to question why this has happened, but how we’re gonna deal with this tragedy,” he says.
But for many Filipinos in the states, staying hopeful is hard. It’s been more than a week since the storm hit. People here have been glued to their televisions, watching news of the disaster. They’re frustrated by what they see: aid not getting where it’s needed fast enough, so many people still missing.
“It’s rough. It’s devastating. It’s frustrating. It’s shameful,” says Ciara Sauz, who moved to LA from the Philippines just a few months ago.
At L.A. Rose Cafe, a Filipino coffee shop near Hollywood, Sauz says her immediate family in Manila wasn’t seriously hurt, but a family friend lost a lot.
“Her house in the province has been washed out. And she also lost an uncle over there. Right now they’re staying in evacuation areas, just living in tents,” she says.
Sauz and her husband are sending money for that friend’s family and putting together other donations to give to charities. But she says she’s worried about where her donations will end up.
“Everyone knows that corruption is rampant in that country. They hope that the help will reach the people,” she says.
Many point to a recent corruption scandal, in which three prominent senators in the Philippines were charged with misusing more than $200 million in state funds.
Nevertheless, Sauz says she’s remaining hopeful.
At the vigil in Long Beach, Pastor Gerente said the storm has a silver lining.
“The best in humanity happens when there is a tragedy such as this. I am pleased with the outpour of support,” he said. “People seem to be very open to just be with other people.”
Being with other people, supporting the community where you are, and reaching back out to the place you came from.