National Nurses United

National Nurse Magazine October 2011

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Filipino_JulAug 11/29/11 10:09 PM Page 19 "This was really humiliating for our clients," said Carmina Ocampo, a staff attorney at APALC. "Some have been working there for 10, 20 years, and it was just stressful and humiliating for them. People would stop them and say, 'English only.' A lot of times they would be told to speak English because people would mistake their accents for Tagalog. They were afraid that they were going to get in trouble if they accidentally spoke Tagalog." A trial date has been set for Sept. 10, 2012. Enlightened coworkers and employers understand that multilingual staff is a strength, not a problem. Trande Phillips, an adult and pediatric RN in Northern California, believes staff should be able to freely converse in their native language, but has seen misunderstandings arise when Filipinos take breaks or speak Tagalog together. "Some of the other nurses will feel like they're being excluded," Phillips said. "I don't think it's an intentional thing, but a cultural misunderstanding." Phillips notes that where she works, it's an international workforce of nurses that includes Filipino and other Asians, Polish, Russian, and African nurses. Instead of being divided, nurses need to be brought together. "It's important for nurse leaders to help people understand that cultural diversity is not a bad thing, and how we can work together." Michelle Diamante, 42, an ICU nurse at John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital in Chicago, is a third-generation Filipino nurse who also sees diversity in race, ethnicity, and languages spoken as an asset in her workplace. Her grandmother, Rosario S. Diamante, was president of the Philippine Nurses Association in 1968 and her mother is also a retired nurse. "It's a melting pot on my floor," Diamante, 42, says. Her colleagues include Nigerians, Filipinos, Thai, African Americans, Poles, and Mexicans. "If a patient can't speak English, I just grab one of my nurse colleagues. It's wonderful to work in a multicultural, diverse floor. Even the doctors, they're also from different cultures and countries." Another area where Filipino RNs often encounter bias and prejudice is when seeking advancement or promotions in their positions. Take the case of Triunfo-Cortez, a CNA co-president and a postanesthesia care unit (PACU) nurse at Kaiser Permanente in South San Francisco. In 1990, while working as an ICU nurse at the hospital, she tried to transfer to a PACU position. She knew she was a fully qualified, in-house applicant who had worked for Kaiser for eight years. Yet she was denied the transfer and an external candidate was hired. She heard rumors that the manager in PACU said that there were "too many Filipinos" in that department. Instead of accepting the situation, Triunfo-Cortez brought her case to her union, the California Nurses Association, filed a grievance, and her complaint was reviewed by the hospital. She won the position. Though the hospital would likely never say that TriunfoCortez was discriminated against, she believes she was. "The stereotype is that we're the quiet types," Triunfo-Cortez says of Filipino nurses. "They think we won't pursue or escalate the issue, or bring up the issue at all. I think the manager was surprised that I took it all the way up through the escalation process." hough filipino nurses have established themselves as an essential part of the American RN workforce, they are still unfairly seen by some as inferior. "There is a pattern of viewing foreign-trained nurses, who are predominantly Filipino, as second-class professional citizens or second-class workers," Choy said. This is despite the fact that many nurses, such as Servillon, graduated from the top nursing programs T O C TO B E R 2 0 1 1 in the Philippines. And that stigma shouldn't apply to Filipino nurses who either attended American nursing program or were born, raised, and educated in the United States, but it still exists. Today, Filipino nurses come to the United States through a combination of ways: as immigrants through family visas, or employment-based visas to fill shortages, such as the H-1 or EB-3. And some are second- or third-generation American nurses, such as Diamante. Choy believes that two things need to change in order to protect workers and patients: ethical recruitment of foreign nurses, and ethical employment. Ethical recruitment would include advertisement that is accurate, so that nurses have a clear idea of what their placements are and what they are going to be paid, and are informed of their rights and responsibilities. Ethical employment means fair working conditions, wages, professional respect, and employment as nurses – and "more sensitivity to their cultural background," Choy says. She also believes that nurses should be allowed to speak their home language during break time. Many interviewed also say that having union representation is critical in helping nurses speak up about injustices. "Having the union back up the suit made me more comfortable bringing it up," said Ron Villanueva about the St. Luke's grievance. For many workers, standing up and speaking out has been a way to combat stereotypes and forge alliances with non-Filipino nurses. Many interviewed said that speaking up is one of the only ways to combat discriminatory practices. Triunfo-Cortez says she is glad she fought her case until she received her transfer. She is now one of the highest-ranking Filipino nurse leaders in the country. Choy believes that Filipino nurse migration will continue due to the aging U.S. population, so it is even more important to understand the group's history and culture, and to combat discriminatory practices. "It's a form of intimate labor that relies on people that can't be outsourced." Since so many Filipino nurse graduates will eventually end up working in the United States and other countries, it is important for them to avoid exploitation by getting educated about the standards they should expect and demand for their working standards and compensation, as well as how to stand up for themselves by understanding their labor rights and relevant laws. Triunfo-Cortez has given talks to graduating classes of nurses at four universities in the Philippines to cover these issues and explain how her own union and professional association helps nurses be patient, collective, and social advocates. "The students are in awe when I tell them how our RNs are engaged, how public officials seek and value our endorsements," said Triunfo-Cortez. Meanwhile, Filipino nurses like Villanueva keep up the fight. He still works at St. Luke's, but his bad experience with management's prejudicial attitudes prompted him to step down from his supervisor position to return to work as an ICU nurse. He is happy being a bedside nurse again, he says. The case in which he has been outspoken about is still pending. "After all this, I'm still here because I love working for St. Luke's," he said. "Our patients here are so appreciative of what we do. This all stems from the fact that we want to advocate for the underprivileged, underserved population in this area and for future nurses, whether they be local graduates or foreign nurses." Momo Chang is a freelance journalist based in Oakland, Calif., where she writes about Asian American communities, immigrants, and youth. W W W. N A T I O N A L N U R S E S U N I T E D . O R G N AT I O N A L N U R S E 19

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