Asian Americans on to the next thing should really take a longer look at that picture of President Biden and Mohammed Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
I paid $6 bucks for gas this weekend. And I’m still not over the “fist bump for gas pumps” photo op quite yet.
Not if you have any Filipino blood running through your veins.
As a Filipino American, I know how lucky I am to be born here in the U.S. My father was allowed to enter freely 94 years ago. Of course, he was colonized. But subsequent generations in my family have not been even that fortunate.
A few have been part of the Filipino diaspora to Saudi Arabia, leaving for jobs, both high and low, in order to send money back to families in the Philippines.
The 938,490 overseas Filipinos in Saudi Arabia sent $1.84 billion back to the Philippines in 2021.
After the U.S., Saudi Arabia is the second largest hirer of overseas Filipino workers and has the largest Filipino population in the Middle East.
So when you can’t make a living in the Philippines and the U.S. isn’t in the cards (green or otherwise), the American dream to Filipinos becomes the Saudi Arabian “dream.”
But what a dream, to find yourself going from a poor country to a rich one that is antithetical to everything you would want in a dream land.
According to groups like Migrante that work with overseas Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, workers there are routinely mistreated by employers through unfair labor practices or made victims of sexual abuse.
Being a Filipino worker may be worse than being a woman or an LGBTQ person in Saudi Arabia. They have no rights in Saudi Arabia.
All of them, however, are better off than Jamal Khashoggi, the late Washington Post columnist, who went in to take a meeting with the Crown Prince and never came out alive.
It was the reason Biden despised MBS as a “pariah,” in the first place, and we all took him at his word. If America is the exemplar of moral leadership, what the leader of the free world says has impact.
But pariahs with oil reserves don’t stay pariahs long.
Biden’s news conference on Friday was telling. After going on about a litany of economic gains like opening up Saudi to Israeli air space, Biden got to the issue of human rights and Khashoggi.
“I raised it at the top of the meeting making it clear what I thought at the time, and what I think of it now,” Biden said.
But I doubt he called MBS the “p” word.
Crown Prince Pariah.
When pressed by the media about how the prince replied, Biden said, “He basically said that he was not personally responsible for it. I indicated he probably was.”
“It” being the murder of Khashoggi. But it was the shortest of shorthand, too unsatisfying even to call it “pushback.”
And what did we get in exchange for that? Relief at the pumps?
“I suspect you won’t see that for another couple of weeks,” Biden said, indicating we’d see a bigger drop in gas prices when gas stations lower their prices consistent to what they’re paying. Really? Oil companies giving up profits to help consumers? Don’t expect relief anytime soon.
And that’s what we got out of this. Maybe a promise of greater freedoms for women? LGBTQ? Journalists? Nope. None of that.
But it was different for the prince, his pariahness. He got to drop that moniker–and show the world that Biden gave him the U.S. fist bump of penance.
It was just tough to see if you’re an American, who believes in human rights and in a free and uncensored journalism.
But tougher too for those who know the Asian journey to the Middle East and know the Asians there who are forced to make do with their Saudi Arabian dream.
When the moral leader of governance and the free world fist bumps the bully, hearts sink all over.