Hello, my name is Arline Lansangan Datu. I am a Filipinx-American woman, the eldest of three daughters, born to parents who immigrated from the Philippines and settled in Chicago in 1949 to make a better life for themselves and their soon-to-arrive first-born.
We weren’t a poor family, but with my father’s postal clerk salary, we managed to get by and lived for a time on Chicago’s West Side in one of the housing projects, built for lower-income families.
Our parents sent my sisters and I to parochial school, where we made friends with white, black and brown children. My parents encouraged us to do well in school, but they also encouraged us to speak English and be “good Americans.” They made no effort to teach us their language, Tagalog or their dialect, Ca pampangan (from the province of Pampanga). So, we grew up speaking American.
So from my earliest years, it was ingrained in me to be a “good American,” which I translated to mean be like a white person. As I grew older, this notion was conflated with the idea of being a success, just like white people–get a good education, get a good paying job, get promotions, climb the ladder, get married, have kids, get a house with a yard and a two-car garage, have it all.
My life followed along that course. I attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. to pursue a B.S. and eventually an M.S. in journalism. I launched a career in communications with a job at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), followed a year later by a stint at a major medical center on the city’s South Side. After three years in not-for-profit, I made the leap into the corporate world and spent the next 27 years of my life professional working my way up the corporate ladder to head up the communications departments for a number of major companies both in Chicago and here in Minnesota.
It was in moving to Minnesota that I experienced an epiphany. I was between jobs in Saint Paul, and I enrolled in a nine-month social justice workshop at my church, organized through “Just Faith.” My eyes were opened. It may seem odd, but I had no clue at that time what social justice actually meant. In Chicago, I thought I was working for social justice by volunteering at the local soup kitchen or helping out in our church’s homeless shelter.
It was shortly after finishing that workshop that I was persuaded by our church’s social justice director to join the social justice team and from there to become part of ISAIAH. ISAIAH has changed my life. As a person of color, I didn’t get woke to the issues of racial and economic inequity until I found myself working on efforts to stop foreclosures on poor and black families during the economic downturn in 2008; to call attention to how payday lenders were burdening families and individuals with increasing, horrific debt; to pressuring legislators at the capitol to grant driver’s licenses to immigrants.
And then there was my own coming to grips of recognizing and acknowledging myself as a person of color, a woman of Filipinx heritage, whose ancestors had been oppressed by the Spanish. I realized I had been so wrapped up in becoming that good, successful “white” American, that I had co-opted what was inside of me and who I believe I was meant to be.
It is still a journey for me, and I am grateful to be on it, just as I am grateful to be here in Minnesota. I believe the move here was a gift of the Spirit, just as losing the job I had moved here to accept after only a year placed me at the right moment to sign on to that social justice workshop. I can track the Spirit’s move as if they were on a map, my personal map. The map keeps unfurling, and I don’t know where it will lead, but I am up for the adventure and the opportunity to open up my life to all the possibilities.
My goals for the workshop
As per the above, I believe that embarking on this workshop is part of the adventure, to explore the avenues that are open to me. Part of me is drawn to the ministry of the diaconate, but I’m not sure why. I think of myself as a spiritual person. I’ve experienced a number of silent retreats; I’ve gone through the Ignatian spiritual exercises with a spiritual director. I love the liturgy and have been involved in various aspects of the liturgy since I was in my mid-20s. I’ve even preached once at a church in Chicago that had a liberal pastor. I am currently involved with ISAIAH and Faith in Minnesota as a leader/organizer (not a paying position). I’m wondering how I might combine what I learn through this workshop with my work for justice. What ISAIAH did was ground me more strongly in who I am as a person of faith and what I feel my faith is moving me to do. I’m hoping that what I receive from this workshop is a stronger impetus to ground my faith in meaningful work for myself, for others and for God.
I would like to call on the spirit of Dorothy Day, soon to be a saint, I believe, to help me through this journey and to give me inspiration in my work for justice and how I may apply what I learn in ministry to my faith community.
I just finished reading “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy” by Ta-Nahesi Coates, a journalist for “Atlantic” magazine. He chronicles the history of the oppression of African-Americans from the time they were brought to America as slaves, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement and up to and including the presidency of Barack Obama. It is sobering reading, but one of the must-reads for all who have not experienced racism first-hand.