By Marivir R. Montebon
New York – At the screening of We Are They, a documentary on the struggles of three Filipino nurses during the pandemic woven in the artistry of indigenous dances, powerful words rushed images into my head.
“Sleep, back in the battle, sleep, back in the battle…” That’s how the nurses behaved and braved the pandemic.
We Are They provided snippets of the lives of nurses in Queens, New York’s largest borough and home to the largest population of immigrants in the world. The film’s sites: 61st Street Subway Station, St. Sebastian Church, the Mabuhay Mural on Little Manila were familiar corners of my hood, giving me affinity to the nurses stories.
Through narratives and indigenous dances, the documentary imparts healing and community which are essential to the front liners’ own survival and renewed strength. It amplifies the voices of dedicated service and the innate strength of revering one’s roots vis-à-vis the soul-consuming culture of New York.
During the early times of the pandemic, Filipino nurses, who composed 1/3 of all immigrant nurses in the US health care system, stepped up to be leaders and human beings, as nurses Patricia Tiu and Rommel Milanez quipped.
Tiu is 29 years old and has been a nurse for the past six years of her life. She still can speak the Visayan language despite being fully immersed in the American life, thanks to her parents Patrick and Amy from Cebu and Basilan.
During the pandemic, Tiu said that Filipino nurses have decided to step up and be leaders in the chaotic and confusing environments of the ER.
Milanez, an immigrant from Bicol at age 16, shared how Filipino nurses were human beings at those difficult times. They maintained their compassionate regard to patients in the most dreadful condition.
Physician assistant Ariane Meliton served as COVID ICU service provider alongside the US Navy and Army at her hospital. She said she tries her best to treat patients like her own family – as she observed that many Filipino health care workers treat complete strangers everyday like family.
The 10-minute film is produced and co-directed by Jaclyn Reyes with Diana Diroy who is also director of photography and editor.
Diroy is a documentary filmmaker, editor, and cinematographer whose works have made their way to film festivals in the California and on the global stage as well.
Reyes is based in NYC and earned her BFA in art photography from Syracuse University and master’s degree in Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Actor and playwright Claro Reyes moderated the conversation after the screening at the Kalayaan Hall on November 18, 2021. The Philippine Consulate General in New York was its main sponsor.
About the film
We Are They is a documentary and dance film that features the voices of three Filipino American health care workers reflecting on their battle with the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, with music and choreography informed by indigenous traditions from the Philippines, and performances situated at various sites in the Little Manila neighborhood of Woodside, Queens.
Inspired by the lineage of care labor and sacrifice that has come to define the Philippine diaspora, the video is an offering to show appreciation and bring attention to a community who has made significant contributions to New York City.
During the Covid-19 crisis, the Filipino community was severely impacted. According to reports, 67 Filipino nurses have died of Covid-19—approximately a third of the nationwide number of registered nurses, even though Filipinos make up only 4 percent of those nurses.
We Are They draws on both cultural heritage and the lived experiences of Filipino health care workers, the performances showcase embodied storytelling, utilizing the body and voice to tell a “story” resonant not only to Filipinos but other communities who face similar challenges of reclaiming their histories. #