Meet the Filipino Heroes Fighting COVID-19 in New York, And Those Who Sacrificed Everything

Filipino nurses

New York, the world’s epicenter of COVID-19, is currently home to over 400,000 cases of the disease.

In the frontlines of the state’s fight are Filipino nurses, who make the largest contingent of foreign health workers in the U.S.

Image Screenshot via Al Jazeera English

Filipino nurses are the subject of a new film from 101 East, a flagship documentary program on Asian-Pacific issues by Al Jazeera.

The 30-minute film centers on the nurses’ lives as they help New York battle COVID-19, but it also sheds light on certain challenges they face, such as exploitation, indentured labor and the risk of dying from the coronavirus.

Image Screenshot via Al Jazeera English

One of the nurses featured in the film works in a COVID-19 ward at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. She contracted the disease herself.

“I was so scared,” said Gemma Penaflorida, who suffered a fever for two weeks. “I really had the coronavirus. My family lives with me in an apartment and we don’t have PPE (personal protective equipment). The apartment is small.”

Image Screenshot via Al Jazeera English

The film also features the family of Ali Dennis Guillermo, the nurse who died from COVID-19 in early April.

“They say he brought around like a presence with him, where you could trust what he was doing,” his son said. “I always knew that my dad was a hero. As a nurse, he was always helping people.”

Image Screenshot via Al Jazeera English

The film also touches on the history of Filipino nurses’ immigration to the U.S., which dates back to World War II. Since then, many have lived the American Dream, improving their quality of life as well as their loved ones’ back in the Philippines.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous employers have also taken advantage of these nurses’ commitment to their profession. The film cites a case against SentosaCare, in which the plaintiffs complained of being overworked, underpaid, denied insurance and squeezed into crowded housing facilities.

“What happened was they were moved to other facilities that were owned by the same global corporation, but were not the name listed on their direct hire applications,” said Oscar Michelen, the lawyer who represented the nurses. “And when they got here, they had other issues with respect to how they were treated, how they were paid.”

Watch the full film below:


Feature Image Screenshots via Al Jazeera English

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