Emil Guillermo: A new divided America after the midterm elections, but Trump? Still the same.
November 7, 2018 6:34 PM

On the day after one of the biggest turnouts ever for a U.S. midterm election, the president of the United States won't let reality spoil his view of life through Trump-colored glasses.

2018 midterms? Why, they were a  "tremendous success," according to a succinct Trump tweet.

But then he gave a news conference to let people know how he really feels. 

Trump boldly stated, "I think people like me. I think the people like the job I'm doing, frankly." 

That's even though exit polls showed these midterm elections really were a referendum on Trump himself and his reckless style of blunt governance. 

Whatever attracted voters to Trump in 2016 was rejected in the very states that gave Trump his presidential margin of victory, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Those voters led an anti-Trump switch back to the Democrats throughout the nation on Tuesday. 

So here's how a normal objective person might see the midterm elections of Tuesday night: 

In a resounding rebuke of anti-immigrant, hot rhetoric, a record number of voters returned Democrats to power in the House of Representatives, flipping the required 23 Republican-held seats, and adding perhaps as many as a dozen more as post-election counting continued.

It also saw that the anti-diversity tone of the president was not a winning strategy. The first two Muslim women and the first two Native American women won seats in the House. 

But the message was mixed. While voters voted to make House Democrats a check on Republican power, they also gave Republicans an even wider majority in the Senate. 

Still, voters, in their wisdom, put an end to one-party rule.

That would be a fairly objective assessment.

America stays divided, but in a new way, where neither the president nor the Republicans can avoid the oversight scrutiny from powerless Democrats, as they did in the first two years of the Trump presidency. 

Road to bipartisanship? 

At his news conference on Wednesday, Trump was hardly holding out an olive branch.

He seemed to be ready to swing a blunt stick at any threat, especially while standing before the media. And through it all, of course, Trump continued to insist what a good night he had. 

"I'll be honest," Trump said. "I thought it was close to a complete victory."

And then, he implied the way things worked actually could be good for deal-making.

"I really believe we have a chance to get along well with the Democrats," Trump said. "And if that's the case, we can do a tremendous amount of legislation and get it approved by both parties."

But will the temperature be lowered in the name of bipartisan progress?  

"I would love to see unity, and peace and love, and any other word you'd like to use," said Trump. "And obviously I think we had to, especially at this juncture, wait until after the midterms were over, and now they're over. If they would cover me fairly, which they don't, I'm not saying this in a hostile way, I get extremely inaccurate coverage, I could do something fantastic and they can make it look not good."

A few quotes let you see the president's rambling. And then he came back to the original idea of how he "would love to see unity."

This was also the very press conference where he personally berated a CNN reporter for being rude (Jim Acosta was aggressive, but not rude). We've come to expect Trump's unfair singling out of CNN. But I didn't expect to hear him go after an African American reporter from PBS, Yamiche Alcindor, for asking a question about Trump calling himself a nationalist, which the reporter said "emboldened white nationalists."

Yamiche 2 - PBS.jpeg

The president was rude and interrupted the PBS reporter, calling it a racist question.

But maybe he was upset that he had to come up with a real answer to the very fair question. Trump punted and started talking about his poll numbers with African Americans. "The highest," he said.

Still, he couldn't get over the initial question.  

trump to yamiche.jpeg

"That's so insulting to me, that's a very terrible thing you said."

Sounded fair to me. The reporter didn't imply he was racist. But Trump saw an opportunity to dodge. He attacked the media and made himself into a victim. Oh, and mention that he wasn't a racist.

Another reporter asked the president whether he'd change his tone after the election. The reporter asked if he was serious about bipartisanship, especially after the divisive anti-immigrant tone he used in the final weeks of the campaign. Would we see a softer Trump? 

Trump said: "II would love to have an even, modest boring tone, but you know what, when you have to fight, all the time fight because you're being misrepresented by the media, you really can't do that."

That's how the president sees it.

He still hates the media. And he apparently didn't learn much after a night that finds him staring at a House of Representatives with subpoena power that it is sure to use judiciously as a watchdog to power.

But it almost guarantees Trump is ready for a fight against all comers in the coming year, and into 2020. 

Trump seemed ready to go to war.

And then almost like clockwork, he ended the press conference and carried on, like the midterms never happened. 

Right after the press conference, the announcement came out that his attorney general whipping boy, Jeff Sessions, was fired. Asked to resign. Gone.

With the House no longer rolling over like Devin Nunes, Sessions' future was a foregone conclusion.

Sen. Mazie Hirono issued a statement to connect the dots.

"In a direct move to undermine the Mueller investigation, Donald Trump forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign," Hirono said. "I am concerned that the Mueller investigation will now be overseen by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker--someone who has raised troubling views about the investigation."

Not surprisingly, Whitaker has publicly espoused Trump's "witch hunt," belief, which probably means he should recuse himself before he becomes Mueller's boss. 

Trump's action does set the agenda almost immediately. He sure isn't acting like someone with nothing to hide. Bipartisan legislation to protect the Special Counsel's investigation of Trump will be needed pronto.  And we'll have to make sure that a permanent attorney general will be independent in order to safeguard the rights of every American, from immigrant rights to voting rights. 

It sure didn't take long to feel the harsher realities of the end of one party rule. Expect the partisan divide to worsen. Then again, that's what Tuesday was about.

Voters empowered Democrats in the House to ensure Trump doesn't trample our democracy or think he's above the law.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

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Emil Guillermo: Tuesday's vote, our Asian American identity, and the Harvard case
November 6, 2018 9:22 AM

This is the most racially charged election I've experienced in nearly a generation.

It was 1994--24 years ago-- that California voted overwhelmingly for Prop.187, a ballot initiative to deny public services to the undocumented. The law was later ruled unconstitutional. But it proved that even in the bluest and  most Asian state in the union by population, hate and fear can win elections. 

It's the anti-immigrant script that Trump and his ilk are following to the letter in the 2018 midterms. 

Trumpism? Be as blunt as the man himself and call it what it is. 

Flat-out racism.

If the racist fearmongering works on Election Day, diversity be damned. It won't be far-fetched to say a nouveau white supremacy, modernized and sanitized to appear 'Mercan enough, will become the Republican playbook for the immediate future.

So the big question on Tuesday is whether America will repel that notion, flip from red to blue, and work toward a more perfect union.   

As an Asian American of Filipino descent, I sure hope so.

As I like to say, I am an exiled San Franciscan who lives in the red part of a blue state, the Central Valley of California.

I'm in an imminently "flippable" district, one that was won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, but retained a GOP House member. It's deadlocked in CA District 10 as I write, but the Democrats have knocked on my door three times in two days to remind me to vote. I'm in one of the toss-up districts that could make the difference between the Democrats winning just enough (at least 23 seats) to gain control of the House. Or turning the entire political map blue.

It all depends on a turnout already fueled by more than 34 million early voters. The more the merrier? It sure could set off a seismic shift that gives Democrats double the minimum they need to win the House, and maybe even tip a stunning 1 to 2 vote majority in the Senate. 

Could happen if the Dems win in Texas, Tennessee, and defend Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's seat in North Dakota.

If you're Asian American and have heard the rhetoric, you may be angered by the racist tone of this campaign, one that harkens back to the days that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act. 

That makes this no time to be apathetic.

Given the anti-immigrant statements made by the Republicans, this could be the election that defines the identity of our nation for at least a generation or longer.

That makes these midterms more than a referendum on Trump, but one on race and diversity, where Americans figure out who we are as a people and what we are as a country.  

In the coming years, racial issues will only become more central in the political conversation, and even more testy.

On Monday, the Commerce Department was in Federal Court in New York fighting over the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 Census. It could result in an undercount of people of color and immigrants. 

The census numbers are fueling the identity crisis in the first place. Minorities becoming the majority? Whites feeling the competition from hordes of foreigners?

As demographics become more threatening to those in power, the things we thought were settled will be under attack. Gerrymandering? Voter suppression? Who gets to participate and take part. Who gets excluded. It's all being reassessed as the new numbers become real.
So it shouldn't surprise anyone that one of the advocates in the Shelby County v. Alabama voting rights case was Ed Blum, the very same person who spearheaded the case to end affirmative action at Harvard.

The Harvard case, in which Asian Americans sued Harvard for discrimination, is far more important than you might think. It could determine access to higher education for all people of color for decades to come.

It also easily defines where Asian Americans stand on diversity. And just who the good guys are, isn't exactly clear at first.

Do we back the aggrieved Asian students, our kids, as some prominent pro-Asian groups advocate? Tiger Moms and their kids with the perfect scores who didn't get in--we're for them, right? 

Well, not so fast.

Over the last three weeks, the trial in Boston came down to a battle of statistical models, with expert witnesses tweaking the numbers to prove their perspective. 

But let's go with the kids who took the stand. 

And notice who didn't.

Ed Blum's group, Students for Fair Admissions---the anti-Harvard, anti-diversity, anti-affirmative action side claiming that Asian American students were discriminated--sent zero students to the witness stand.


Maybe they were too busy with midterms at their second and third choice schools like Yale or UC Berkeley, the places they wound up after being rejected from Harvard.

So for me, the real difference in this case are the Harvard students, past and present, who bravely testified under oath. 

African American, Latino, as well as Asian American students and alums spoke of the power of diversity and the holistic admissions policy at Harvard. 


The most important student may have been Sally Chen. 

She was one of those less than perfect Asian Americans. 

And we both had a lot in common.

We were both from San Francisco, from a family where the father was a cook in a restaurant and the mother was a homemaker. We were working class, not "poor." But not rich. 

Both of us went to the same all-academic magnet school, Lowell High. 

And we both didn't have the best SATs and GPAs.

What we had was a story. We overcame our parents' immigrant past. And we both got into Harvard.

Chen testified that if Harvard couldn't consider race, she wouldn't be at Harvard now. "There's no way in which my flat numbers and resume could've gotten across how much of a whole person that I am," Chen said.

But life's more than test scores. Chen was a student leader in high school.  A community advocate. Her application reviewer said she had a balanced approach to life. A sense of humor.  She was a whole person. 

Was the kid with the perfect scores better than Chen? 

That's a judgment call. But Harvard says race is just one factor. And this holistic approach has been upheld as constitutional, and has admitted freshman classes that are over 20 percent Asian in recent years. 

The U.S. Asian population is around six percent. Hard to prove discrimination given that record.

Yet, Blum found his Asian victims, mostly Chinese Americans, who felt their top scores merited admission, and sued Harvard. They argued Harvard could be more than 40 percent Asian if some kind of illegal quota weren't in play. 

Who wins this case depends on how you define discrimination and whether you believe the highest score MUST win. 

Maybe in basketball. 

At the start of the case years ago, I called the case our "civil war," as it both threatens to define and tear apart our Asian American community. I first saw it happen in California when state legislators tried to restore affirmative action in college admissions in 2012 and a group of Asian Americans loudly protested.

But it also alienated Asian Americans from other beneficiaries of affirmative action, namely blacks and Latinos.

It's interesting how in the Harvard case, the students who testified came from all racial groups, and didn't defend Harvard so much as it extolled the virtues of diversity and equal opportunity.

That's how those who wore the blue Defend Diversity shirts defined the case.

But other Asian Americans may see it only as "my kid, my scores, my Harvard." 

That's why where you stand in the Harvard case may do more to define where Asian American identity is in 2018 and beyond.

Do we stand for each other, all people of color? 

Or just for ourselves? (Sounds kind of Trumpy, no?)

In the meantime, the election results may or may not show where Asian Americans stand on identity politics.

Mainstream exit polls don't normally sample enough Asian Americans to make a difference.

But AALDEF is targeting Asian Americans in exit polling in 14 states including D.C on Election Day.

That might give a better sense of the Asian American community.

Did we stand for ourselves? Or did we stand united and reject Trumpism and help drive some kind of blue wave?  

These are the most significant midterm elections in a generation. 

Make sure that your voice is heard on Election Day. Vote.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

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Emil Guillermo: Vote now to stop campaign hate rhetoric; and more on birthright citizenship and Wong Kim Ark
November 2, 2018 6:30 PM

On the U.S. southern border, a newspaper editorial wrote about "an ignorant, filthy, leprous horde."

And in California, another newspaper spoke of a group that was "half-human, half-devil, rat-eating, rag wearing, law-ignoring, Christian-civilization-hating, [drug] smoking, labor degrading, entrail-sucking Celestials."

They're all sentiments toward Chinese laborers written in the late 1800s.

You see, America's had a long history of hot, racist,  anti-immigrant rhetoric used in a shameful grab for white voters. It brought both votes and bigoted policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In fact, politicians loved playing up to the anti-Chinese sentiment so much that in California, March 4, 1882 was set up as a legal holiday for anti-Chinese demonstrations. 

And after the Chinese, other Asian American groups have been sent through the race gauntlet. 
Japanese were commonly called by the single syllable racist abbreviation for years, from the first phase of immigration in the 1880s to the 1940s.  

In the 1930s, politicians in California feared 30,000 Filipino males arriving as American Nationals would take jobs and women, and condemned them all as "lusty rabbits."

So consider today's racist rhetoric a throwback to a not-so-great American tradition of racist politics. Your empathy is quite natural for the new "invading hordes," mostly innocent brown mothers and children from Central America.  

It only seems far worse because the vitriol comes not from some regional enclave of hate, but from the White House itself, and out of the mouth of the president of the United States.

Sadly, in 2018, America is still prone to racist hate at the highest levels.

But you can do something about it.


I voted earlier this week. Then I drove 30 miles to my county registrar to make sure my ballot didn't get lost in the mail. Or end up shredded in Moscow. 

Now I can shut out the angry, hateful rhetoric and wait for Tuesday's results.

It was getting pretty bad when Trump, without evidence, claimed that caravan of asylum seekers was filled with MS-13  gang members and Middle Eastern terrorists. 

But now we've reached a new level of ignorant hate when Trump says rocks thrown at the border will be considered a firearm and justification to shoot to kill.

Nothing like a little blood lust for his base, as Trump talked about his intent to send 15,000 troops to the southern border. 

That's more troops for Trump's fake invasion than there are in Afghanistan.

He's tried to soften his remarks. But on Thursday, Trump said what he said about the caravan members who might throw rocks: "Consider it a rifle, when they throw rocks like they did at the Mexico military police, I say consider it a rifle."

And then, out of self-defense, the order is shoot to kill? 

This is what happens if you were one of the folks who in 2016 thought government needed a little shaking up and voted for Trump. Or maybe you said to yourself, "Government should be run like a business."

Problem is businesses are about profits. Governments are about people. 

Now we have a president who does run things like a businessman and cares only about his own  shareholders--a Republican base that's white, angry. Pro-gun. Pro-border wall.  Anti-diversity. Virulently anti-immigrant. Nationalistic to the point of racism.

What about everyone else? You mean non-Republicans? People of color? Women? Not a major shareholder in the Trump democracy, if you even count. 

By focusing on his base alone, Trump can be as vicious and nasty and uncaring as he'd like in the final days of the midterm campaign.

He riles them all up with xenophobic fear, gets them emotionally charged to vote, and doesn't care about any residual racism that might be left over after the campaign.

He even gets to ignore all those great economic figures that came out today because that only lulls and doesn't motivate voters. Good news doesn't get people to the polls like bad news and fear. 

So now we have Trump in campaign mode with the threat of new executive orders changing asylum rules, based once again on Trump's false assertion that people claim asylum, get into the court system for up to 3-1/2 years, and then don't show up. That sort of thing may occur, but not at a level to change what Trump called the "catch and release" laws and start tent cities on the border.

Other executive orders that Trump says could come out next week may include a proposal to end birthright citizenship.

But birthright citizenship itself is protected by the Constitution. 

And you'll recall we have a Chinese American to thank for that.

I've written about Wong Kim Ark before. He's the San Francisco native, born to Chinese immigrants. He was a Chinese American who worked as a cook, like my dad. He went to China for a vacation, then was told he was not a citizen when he re-entered America.

The case went to the Supreme Court and is the basis of birth-right citizenship.

But conservatives continue to use birthright citizenship as an "oldie but goodie," at the ready in their quiver of racist tools. 

Trump's has attacked birthright citizenship before. So when they take it out to shoot a policy arrow into the sky, you know it's campaign time. 

Let's be clear, the president really can't change the Constitution by executive order. A king might be able to do that, but Americans revolted against a king and we all should remember that as Trump starts acting like one.

That's why in San Francisco's Chinatown today, San Francisco's leaders will honor Wong at the very place of his birth, 751 Sacramento Street.

It's the logical place to take a stand against any thought that a Trump executive order would take away an important constitutional right. It's the actual site that confirmed the birthright guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

And it's a part of our Asian American history.

If you don't like how history keeps trying to repeat itself, fight back the best way members of a great democracy can.

Remember, citizens get to vote. Value that right, whether naturalized or by birth. Use it to counter the racist campaign energy generated by Trump. 

It's the most revolutionary thing you can do on Nov. 6 to make sure our country gets back on track. 


I'll be at the FANHS National Museum in Stockton doing part of my "Amok Monologues," talking about my story slam performance at Harvard (Did I win?), the Harvard affirmative action suit, my vacation among the hoodoos, the elections (predictions?), AND a workshop on how to tell your story. You will leave with a blueprint of your story!

So much this Sunday! 

More coming in November in SF. But if you're lucky enough to be in Stockton(!), come by.

$10 donation This Sunday, Nov. 4, 2pm, 337 E. Weber Ave., Stockton, CA. 

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

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Emil Guillermo: On hoodoos, the Harvard trial, and story slamming at the HAAAA summit
October 25, 2018 8:56 PM

(CAMBRIDGE, MASS)--I got back from a vacation just in time for the pipe bombs and attempted assassination attempts on two former presidents, among other prominent outspoken people, and a major media organization.

It's the reason I took a vacation in the first place--to get away from the nasty hot rhetoric that only seems to serve the cynical administration in its quest to ruin our democracy. 

So I went to the perfect place. Two national parks, Zion and Bryce Canyon in Southern Utah, because my friend Sandy Close told me that more people of color should be visiting national parks. (She's right--there's more diversity in the flora and fauna than among the park goers.)

Bryce was the perfect perspective provider. It's home of the hoodoos, shaped over millions of years by erosion, water, and violent earth movement, leaving these magical geological forms.


Could be human. Or animal. Or god. 

This one is called Queen Victoria. (It's the smallish white one above all. The others are members of her court.)


Though Trump upon first sight might claim to see himself. 

At Zion National Park, I walked the Narrows. Nothing like walking on water between massive sandstone rock to feel a perfect sense of humility and smallness.


There's also a kind of Lao-Tzu, Bruce Lee thing going on. The Narrows were shaped by the Virgin River, which, compared to the Mississippi, is practically a trickle. The power of water, right? 
It's also the kind of thing that reminds you of the things that last, and the things that don't.
Trump won't.

So I gladly missed Trump's nationalistic rants; his indecisiveness and lack of resolve on the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the hyping of the caravan folk; the immigrant scapegoating; and the scourge of the public charge. 

But then I came back to pipe bombs and Trump's half-hearted call for unity. But not for CNN, of course. The president made no mention that the network also was a target. Instead, Trump sounded like the body-slamming advocate of the media that he is. 

So it's good that Asian Americans are revved up for the midterms, with voter enthusiasm higher than in 2014. That's one of the findings from the 2018 Asian American Voter Survey released earlier this month.

The Asian American electorate has doubled, adding three million new voters in 16 years.

The AAVS shows a high degree of dissatisfaction with Trump, 58 percent to 36 percent.

The only ethnic groups to diverge are the Vietnamese, giving Trump a 64 percent approval, and the Filipinos, with a 48 percent approval. Maybe it's the Trump love of Duterte that has garnered a following among Filipinos. 

We'll get more into the coming election next week. But it's shaping up to be  the most important midterms in our lifetime, especially if you are concerned with equity and justice for people of color and women.

With all the noise, it's interesting to see that a hot-button race issue like the Harvard affirmative action trial has not been totally overshadowed.

I've written about the political contours of the case previously. But what most don't understand is how the majority of Asian Americans, 58 percent, see affirmative action as a good thing. 
And when asked if they favor or oppose affirmative action programs designed to help blacks, women, and other minorities get better access to higher education, 66 percent of all Asian Americans are in favor. 

Even the Chinese American voters were 64 percent in favor.

So what is the Harvard case about?

It's really the last stand of the professional anti-affirmative action crowd, which once thought they had something going with California's Proposition 209. By referendum, affirmative action was banned in that state and the group sought to nationalize the idea. But it's run into some bumps along the way. 

After losing Fisher v. U. of Texas in the Supreme Court, conservative advocate Ed Blum turned to the use of Asians as victims, formed Students for Fair Admissions, and made affirmative action a semi-hot issue again. But in the time since Prop 209 in the 1990s, the racial demographics have changed so much that it's the whites who are more concerned about their dwindling part of the pie. Blum's group purportedly represents Asian applicants in the Harvard case, but if the federal court decides to ban race-conscious admissions, the real beneficiaries will be whites.

That's why you won't see many Chinese American plaintiffs taking the stand to tell their story.

So far in the first weeks of the trial, it's all about stats and numbers.

But is there intentional discrimination against Asians, when race is just one factor in the admissions process? 

No matter what stats you use, the bottom line is that Asian Americans have been anywhere from 16 to 23 percent of Harvard's freshman class in recent years. 

In other words, they've been well represented.

It would be great to hear from the Chinese American students who feel they were discriminated against.

But so far, reports say none will be testifying. 

That's why in the last week of the trial, the big guns for Harvard may be its students. The ones who got in, who didn't have perfect scores and highest grades.

Sally Chen is one of them.

While I was with the hoodoos, I sneaked in a call to her and asked what she'd do if she hadn't gotten into Harvard.

"I would have gone to another university, like UC Berkeley, where I could have been just as happy," she told me.

Now that's an attitude the rejected Asian applicants, represented by Students for Fair Admissions, should have. 

Don't buy the line from some Asian American groups that say this is about your kids and future Asian American kids. That's what Ed Blum wants you to think, while he uses Asians as white proxies in his life mission to end affirmative action.

Your kid can go to MIT and maybe make more money than a Harvard kid. 

I will have more with Sally Chen next week, when she talks about race-conscious admissions and the Harvard case. 

In the meantime, I am heading to Cambridge this week for the Harvard Asian Alumni Alliance conference this coming weekend. As I'm fond of saying, it's the organization that put the HAAAA in Haaaa-vahd.

I will do a six-minute bit at the story slam, and if you are in the area and want to cheer me on, email me at emilamok[at]gmail.com by Friday at 6 pm (EST)--I  have a limited number of free tickets. 

It's likely to be a "veritasian" event. 

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies

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Emil Guillermo: October is Filipino American History Month--Get out the birthday suit and celebrate!
October 12, 2018 5:26 PM

Once the 15th passes, the confluence of National Hispanic Heritage Month and Filipino American History Month ends, and the Filipinos have October all to themselves. 

Or so I thought. 

October turns out to be a little promiscuous.  It's also German American Heritage Month (Oh, yeah that Octoberfest thing). LGBT History Month (Andrew Cunanan, anyone?), and it's Polish American Heritage Month (Hot dog!)  

And why stop there? Since there are only 12 months, can you blame breast cancer, dyslexia, anti-bully, anti-vaccine, orthodontists, and even pit bulls from wanting a piece of October? Why not, the more the merrier. It's also ADHD Awareness month. 

The ultimate October parade just might be one with a trans breast-cancer survivor, who was bullied and suffered a vaccine injury, but who had a really great smile with straight teeth and good dental hygiene, proudly marching their (gender neutral) pitbull as they patrol the neighborhood. (Didn't you know? it's National Crime Prevention Month.)
That could be the look of the best overall October poster child, if they were at least half Filipino with a Spanish surname, with another parent of German/ Polish descent. 

And to top it off, let's sit down to a meal of that Chinatown specialty roast pork, Filipino lechon. What do you know--it's National Cholesterol Month.

Ah, Diversity! 

But let's keep it simple, shall we. 

We're Asian Americans.

From now until the end of Halloween, Filipinos are the pumpkin spice of the tribe. 

Literally, we're the Asian American flavor of the month.

And the month started off with a bang when I won a Plaridel Award for best commentary for a column on the first Filipinos to America that appeared on this blog and in the Philippine ethnic media.

Plaridel is the pen name for one Marcelo H. del Pilar, billed as a writer/journalist above lawyer, and known as a Philippine national hero--the father of Filipino journalism--for his passionate writings railing out against the Catholic Church and colonial Spain. 

Of course, he wrote in a small publication and died a pauper. What an example for the modern ethnic journalist who writes the first draft of history for the community. 

For this amok columnist, it was an honor to receive the award. And another for Best Radio/Podcast for an interview on the Congressional Gold Medal for Filipino vets of WWII.

And all of it so close to my birthday, the self-cancelling Leif Ericsson Day, the day Scandinavians celebrate immigration to the U.S.! 


That was the subject of my  award-winning column and one of the reasons October is Filipino History Month. Filipinos were actually first to step foot on America, Oct. 18, 1587.

That's 33 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. And they get a holiday. And yes, it was nearly 100 years AFTER Columbus, but he was somewhere in the Bahamas.

Filipinos were first.

The Filipino American National Historical Society picked October as the month based on the scholarship of Eloisa Gomez Borah, a librarian who published her analysis of explorer Pedro de Unamuno's logs in UCLA's Amerasia Journal.

Her article details how Unamuno, sailing for Spain, had at least eight Filipino crew members. It was the Filipinos who led the landing party off the central coast of California in what is now Morro Bay.

Of course, the help doesn't get the glory. And the land was taken for the Spanish. But the Filipinos technically were the first non-indigenous people to step foot on the continental U.S.

Being fodder comes with some privilege. Any sliver of mention are points of pride in a whitewashed mainstream history worth savoring. 

But the day after I got my award, I had lunch with Alex Fabros, a former FANHS trustee and San Francisco State Asian American historian, who has long taken issue with the accuracy of Morro Bay. 

Unamuno's landing is solid. The diaries back the dates. But where did he land? 

My column didn't question that. But Alex Fabros set me straight. 

Fabros, 72, is somewhat of an American Filipino renaissance man. He's a retired military officer, as well as a sailor, and in 2001, he took a class on a boat with the hopes of replicating Unamuno's voyage.

That's when Fabros noticed something fishy.


"Unamuno talks about having to avoid some islands and then he comes inland," Fabros told me. "There are only two places on the California coast that meet that criteria--one is San Francisco, which has the Farallon Islands, the other is Santa Barbara. But if he's sailing south, it's the Farallons, and chances are it could be Half Moon Bay."

As he replicated Unamuno's galleon sail, Fabros was armed with an astrolabe and a sextant in 2001, and noticed that he could be 100 miles off. With the island reference and the error factor, Fabros is almost certain that Unamuno landed in Half Moon Bay, about a three-and-a-half hour drive north of Morro Bay on U.S. 101.

Borah mentioned the "crab mentality" of others and stands by her interpretation. 

But Fabros is no crab. He's a former adjunct Asian American history professor, who happens to be a decorated veteran, exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. He's not interested in a fight. Just the truth. He simply says his replication of Unamuno's journey shows Morro Bay is just the wrong place for history.

Fabros' challenge goes beyond the first Filipinos. He'll say unabashedly that it was the Salinas Valley, Steinbeck Country, just north of Monterey, where the Filipinos really fought the violence of discrimination and racism in America. Much more so than Stockton or San Francisco. 

The Stockton Filipinos were mostly migrants, Fabros said. Hence, the labor contracts would come and go. In Salinas, the workers stayed, so labor contracts were usually hard fought victories that resulted in stronger more lasting contracts, Fabros said.

Fabros tells the story of the Central Coast Filipinos in a new curated exhibit, "Postcards from Salinas," at the National Steinbeck Center's art and culture gallery. 

You'll see the sepia toned photographs Filipinos sent home during the 1920s and '30s to let the family know all was well in America.


Meanwhile, Filipinos were being violently harassed for consorting with and marrying white women. It led to anti-intermarriage laws that were the emotional subtext of the day. 

Fabros uses the Caliva family photos in the exhibit. Narciso was a cousin of the legendary Filipino writer Carlos Bulosan.


Caliva is seen with his wife, Lucy, in a key photograph. Just the sight of a Filipino man and a white woman was enough to justify rage and anger among white men at the time. 

Love meant courage. 

Filipinos stood their ground.

If you don't know Filipino American history, the postcard exhibit in Salinas is a great primer.  The evocative photographs are as comprehensive a look at Filipino American life from the 1920s to the 1950s.  

Along with the FANHS National Museum in Stockton, they're both worth a visit to Northern California, especially during October, Filipino American History Month. 

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

*     *     *
Other columns of interest this week:
Anti-affirmative action in yellowface
Harvard's Asian Americans prove Blum suit is bogus
"Some Asians"? A retired Harvard dean's telling remark

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