Philippine: Filipino becomes symbol of resistance to Asian hate in NYC

NEW YORK — On a cold, rainy day a year ago, a short, brown-skinned man stepped onto the stage at a protest rally against Asian hate at Foley Square, a few blocks from Chinatown.

Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old immigrant from the Philippines, stood silently, displaying his badly disfigured face — the result of a brutal slash attack by a black man a couple of weeks earlier on the L train, which the city’s working class uses to get to work every day.

Political titans took the stage and spoke for Quintana, who was still nursing his wounds from the attack that left his face numb and with a hundred stitches marking it.

“I look out my window in Brooklyn and I see the Statue of Liberty,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, 71, the current majority leader of the Democratic Party in the U.S. Senate, himself a son of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, and a self-described “descendant of victims of the Holocaust.”

Turning to Quintana, Schumer added, his voice rising: “That is America, not the slasher who hurt you, not Donald Trump and these bigoted, nasty people.”

Trump, the twice-impeached 45th president of the United States, is a New Yorker. He learned to sharpen his demagoguery as early as the 1980s — and has been widely blamed for fanning the flames of racism at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that saw a surge of physical and verbal attacks on people of Asian descent like Quintana in New York and many others in big cities nationwide.

Former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also spoke at the rally, reassuring Quintana that the city government would do its part to help him and prevent targeted attacks on his fellow Asians.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams laid down a set of measures to remove from the city subway system the homeless and mentally ill people said to be the perpetrators of these attacks.

‘But I had to fight’

The assault on Quintana made him a cause celebre and catapulted him from a nameless immigrant to a famous face on TV and in newspapers.

He became a reluctant symbol of resistance against Asian hate in New York, where the 8 million population includes 1.2 million of Asian descent (from the 2020 U.S. Census).

Quintana lives alone in a small apartment on Suydam Street in Brooklyn.

“I did not want to be famous. But I had to fight. Otherwise, we will continue to be voiceless,” said Quintana, who is still sought for interviews by the media more than a year after the attack.

Hate crimes against Asians in the city rose from 28 to 129 in 2021, according to the New York Police Department (NYPD) Hate Crime Review Panel.


Of that number, per the Philippine Consulate, 23 were against Filipinos or Filipino Americans.

“We believe there are more. Unfortunately, the culture of silence remains strong among members of the Filipino American community,” said Elmer Cato, a former journalist who has been serving as Philippine consul general in New York since March 30.

Cato said he met with the Rev. Al Sharpton and expressed his concern about the spate of attacks against Asians, mostly by black people. Sharpton is the acknowledged leader of the black community in New York.

As Eagles’ frontman and drummer Don Henley sings, “In a New York minute, everything can change.”

For Quintana, the New York minute that changed his life came shortly after 8:30 a.m. on the L train on Feb. 3, 2021, when Pashawn Boykin attacked him with a box cutter, slashing his face from cheek to cheek.

Other commuters were horrified, but no one came to his aid. They looked away or covered their faces, or moved away as he bled profusely.

“What has happened to our humanity [that nobody helps you anymore]?” said Quintana, musing on the absence of kindness and civility in this melting pot that Tom Wolfe described as “the greatest city of the 20th century” in his 1987 book “The Bonfire of the Vanities.”

Still recalling the moment, Quintana said a bystander outside the train called emergency services and he was taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan for treatment.

“I do not know their names, but three Filipino nurses took care of me in that hospital. They were my angels,” he said with great pride.

Three days later, the NYPD arrested 29-year-old Boykin, a black man from Brooklyn with a long criminal history.

With the help of Assistant District Attorney Bethanie Spiro, Quintana filed assault charges against Boykin. His trial is pending.

The Asian American Federation, an advocacy group, is paying Quintana’s legal expenses and wants Boykin charged with a hate crime.

Praying the rosary

At the time of the interview, Quintana had just returned from attending Mass at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Ridgewood City, where many Filipino immigrants worship.

He recalled that he was praying the rosary when he was attacked. “They said nothing. But you could see the hatred in their eyes,” he said of the other commuters.

Quintana is an accounting graduate of De La Salle University in Manila. Like most immigrants in America, he holds two jobs as a tax preparer. He also volunteers at a local migrant center run by Franciscan priest Fr. Julian Jagudilla.

Looking back at his old country, Quintana said he feared the return of authoritarian rule and unbridled corruption if Ferdinand Marcos Jr. were to be elected president in the May 9 elections.

“I was an activist who fought against corruption in the Philippines. I marched at Edsa and I was happy when the Marcoses fled [in 1986],” said Quintana, who was a 26-year-old certified public accountant when Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship was toppled.

A native of Project 6, Quezon City, Quintana served in the staff of then Sen. Rene Saguisag from 1987 to 1989.

After 18 years at Planters Products chemical company in Makati, he immigrated to America in 2007 when he was 47. He became a U.S. citizen in 2013.

Quintana recalled that in 2019, he was punched in the face by a homeless black man. A Brooklyn judge declared his assailant mentally ill, and the case was dismissed.

Asked whether the series of unfortunate events had shaken his view of life in America, he quickly shook his head.

“Coming to America opened a door to my dreams,” Quintana said. “This country is now my home.”