The tragic events in Charlottesville last month, where brazen acts of bigotry, hate, racism and violence were in full display during the white supremacist rally, remind us of Filipino American postal worker Joseph Ileto. He was killed on August 10, 1999 by a white supremacist, shortly after he shot five people at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles.
The racially-motivated killing of Ileto was shocking and heart-breaking. The self-professed white supremacist, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, confessed that he killed Ileto because he looked Latino or Asian.
The Filipino American community, led by Filipino Civil Rights Advocates (FilCRA) and NaFFAA, held demonstrations to denounce the slaying. They also assisted the Ileto family in pushing for anti-hate crime and gun control legislation and engage the community in a conversation about race relations.
According to Stewart Kwoh of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC), around the time of Joseph’s death, the national media had prominently focused on the brutal hate crimes perpetrated against an African American man in Texas named James Byrd, and a gay man in Wyoming named Matthew Shepard. In the wake of these murders, Kwoh said, the Iletos were aware that hate crimes were happening but it never occurred to them that someone in their own family could become a victim.
“You come to realize no one is safe when hate is all around,” Deena Ileto, Joseph’s sister-in-law, explained. “After Joseph’s death, we realized that we needed to do something.”
What the Ileto family has done is admirable. They turned their grief into action, and made it their mission to support all victims of hate crimes, regardless of race, creed, national origin, or sexual orientation. The brutal deaths of Joseph and other hate crime victims have helped raise the nation’s consciousness regarding hate violence.
It’s crucial that we not forget the Aug. 10 shootings that left Joseph Ileto dead. Remembering keeps us vigilant, so we can take strong action against hate crimes that threaten to tear apart the very fabric of our society.