Barry Makes Public Apology for Comments
Washington, D.C.–In a joint press conference with a coalition of Asian American advocates on May 24, D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry apologized for remarks he made, on two separate occasions in April, against Asian American-owned carry-out restaurants in Ward 8 and Filipino nurses.
Speakers also discussed key steps for working with Asian American advocates to benefit all Ward 8 community members. The news, which came as this paper goes to press, also elicited positive comments from community leaders.
Barry’s public apology followed a private meeting with coalition representatives on May 18, when Councilman Barry made a sincere apology, and he also offered to clear up any misunderstanding by agreeing to participate in the press conference.
At the press conference, held at the Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Anacostia, Councilman and former D.C. Mayor and civil rights activist Barry said, “I’ve been enlightened by this dialogue. We want Ward 8 to be a model of diversity and inclusiveness.”
“While we are glad for the apology, this was never solely about an apology,” said Olivia Chow, a campaign organizer with Asian Pacific Americans for Progress.
“This was about restoring mutual respect as a basis for working together and moving forward to lift up all Ward 8 residents,” she stressed. “A public official can’t be allowed to get away with using words that divide us when their role as a leader is to unite us.”
At the event, OCA Executive Director Tom Hayashi also noted the importance of continuing the discourse that is crucial to moving forward.
“The outcome of this event reflects the collective resolve of our community to stand up against insensitive, xenophobic, and unfounded claims,” OCA later underscored in a statement. “While the dialogue between Mr. Barry and the APA community is symbolically important, this event must not be an end-all or be-all for race relations.”
The coalition is moving forward with scheduling regular meetings with Barry to examine policies that benefit Ward 8 business owners. These policies include improving the D.C. Restaurant Association’s process for inspecting and evaluating businesses in the primary language used by the owner. Barry also hopes to model the H Street economic development initiatives to rehabilitate dilapidated businesses in Ward 8.
On April 3, Councilman Barry told his constituents, “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops.”
On April 23, he targeted Filipino American nurses, saying, “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,” he added during a hearing, “so that we don’t have to be scrounging around in our community clinics and other kind of places, having have to hire people from somewhere else.”
During the May 19-20 weekend at a conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, Barry suffered a blood clot. A Filipino American nurse treated him.
“Your people were very good, professional, and nice. They treated me very well, I really appreciate the way I was treated,” he told Bing Branigin in a conversation at the press conference. Branigin is the director of Community and Media of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), based in the capital.
Marissa Usman, president of the Philippine Nurses Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., accepted Barry’s apology and told him that her group would be available to mentor senior students in Ward 8. “I urge you, Mr. Barry, to put up scholarships for future nursing students in your Ward,” she said.
Barry’s two comments resulted in an outcry from other officials and the mainstream media. A campaign brought together over 30 local and national Asian American advocacy groups, and over 700 community members who signed the “Say Sorry Barry” petition. The petition by the D.C. Asian Pacific Americans for Progress first launched after Councilman Barry’s remarks about Filipino nurses.
Over the last several weeks, supporters of the campaign included Many Languages One Voice, the Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus of the DC Democratic Party, the Asian Pacific American Bar Association-DC, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, and Asian American LEAD.
At the May 24 press conference, David Chung, a local business owner and member of the Office of Asian Pacific Islander Affairs Commission at the press conference said, “On behalf of all of the hard working Filipino nurses, small Asian business owners in Ward 8 and the Asian American community in general, I would like to thank Mr. Barry for his apology today; especially given that it is during this month, the month of May that Asian Americans celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage month.”
“It takes courage,” Chung said, “to grapple with issues that implicate changing demographics, economic development, and leadership–all of which came into play in the events that led up to this moment. Our focus should be on what we all will do tomorrow so we don’t forget about today.”
Asian American organizations that supported the campaign for apology and dialogue follow: Local Organizations: Asian American LEAD (AALEAD); Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington DC Area; Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance – DC Chapter (APALA-DC); Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC);
Asian Pacific Americans for Progress-DC Chapter; Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co.; DC Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus; Kaya: Filipino Americans for Progress - DC Chapter; KhushDC; Korean American Drycleaners Association; Korean American Grocers Association of Greater Washington DC (KAGRO-DC); Many Languages One Voice; National Organization of Vietnamese American Leaders of Greater Washington DC; Network of South Asian Professionals (NetSAP DC); South Asian American Bar Association–DC (SABA-DC), and Washington Area Liquor Retailers Association (WALRA).
National Organizations: APIAVote ; Asian American Action Fund; Asian American Justice Center, Member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice; Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS); Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF); Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA);
Council of Korean Americans; Japanese American Citizens League (JACL); Filipino Nurses Association; National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC); National Asian Pacific American Center on Aging (NAPCA); National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA);
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF); National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD); National Federation of Filipino American Associations; National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance; OCA; Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF); South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), and Southeast Asia Action Resource Center (SEARAC).