Emil Guillermo: Emil Amok's Takeout Podcast - No rest on Memorial Day for a WWII Filipino Vet; and a conversation with AAAS President-elect Theo Gonzalves on APAHM
May 26, 2017 7:36 PM

Memorial Day always winds up the annual observation of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

And what better way to remember the one story (along with the Japanese American Internment) that lingers as the moral compass of the community.

For that reason, this Memorial Day will be a special one for Filipino WWII Veteran Celestino Almeda.

Despite many vets seeing an equity pay windfall in 2009, a handful like Almeda are still in appeals.

His fight for justice with the U.S. government has been the bureaucratic version of the Bataan Death March.


That's no disrespect to the survivors of that historic event 75 years ago.

Almeda certainly will remember deceased friends like retired U.S. Air Force Major Jesse Baltazar, a former POW who survived the Bataan Death March in 1942, and died just last year at age 96.  

Baltazar often accompanied Almeda, fighting side by side in the latter's bureaucratic battle with the VA over equity pay.


Almeda was a young soldier in the Philippine Army reserve, when he answered the call of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to protect the Philippines with the U.S. Armed Forces of the Far East. The added lure was full benefits as a soldier, including U.S. citizenship.


As you'll hear in my interview with him on Emil Amok's Takeout, Almeda, the reservist, was made active for a year. 

He was then made inactive when Gen. MacArthur retreated to Australia as the Japanese took over Manila.

Almeda has official Philippine Army documents signed by U.S. officers to document all that. What he doesn't have is the record that he served in the guerrilla forces, which Almeda says were only verbal orders.

Once the war was over, he was made active again and served side-by-side Americans.

There would be no problem until President Truman signed the Rescission Act of 1946. which stripped the Filipino veterans of any right to the benefits that had been promised for their service.

Ever since then--for more than 70 years--Filipinos like Almeda have been fighting piecemeal for a restoral of all the benefits due them. 

Almeda's service has been good enough to help get him U.S. citizenship in 1990. He's even been given a VA card for medical benefits. 

But it wasn't until President Obama in 2009 finally came through with a lump sum payment of $15,000 to Filipino veterans living in the U.S., and $9,000 for those still in the Philippines, that Almeda found himself in the bureaucratic battle of his life.

The VA has approved more than nearly 19,000 cases, according to its website. The payout has been more than $220 million.

But it's also rejected close to 24,000 cases. 

There's about $56 million left in the pot.

But that doesn't mean the VA is willingly giving it out, at least not to Almeda.

The VA wouldn't honor his Philippine Army documents, though he has kept the originals in pristine condition. He's still currently in appeal, but in the meantime, he's taken to public protests like one last year when Robert McDonald, the VA Secretary under Obama appeared in public. In the Q&A part of the program, Almeda tried to appeal to McDonald but had his mic turned off.

MacDonald's reaction got a stern rebuke from retired General Antonio Taguba, the general who led the investigation into Abu Ghraib. 

Taguba additionally pointed out that updates to the law--PL 111-5, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation)--directed the Secretary of VA to consider all forms of evidence of service and not just those originally considered. 

"This amendment has not been fully executed by the VA," Taguba complained to Mc Donald.
Now a year later, McDonald's out, a new VA head is in, and Almeda is still fighting for justice, seemingly locked in the Bataan Death March of appeals, hoping to get approved for his lump sum before he turns 100.

It's Memorial Day, but his taste for justice has not died.

Listen to him tell his story on Emil Amok's Takeout. Days before his 100th birthday, Almeda's still got a lot of fight left.

AAAS President-elect Theo Gonzalves on the relevance of Asian American Studies today
On my recent trip to Washington, DC, I was able to talk to an old friend, Theo Gonzalves of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and the president-elect of the Association for Asian American Studies.


What are they doing? How has Asian American Studies stayed relevant? How valuable is the AAS degree?

Use the fast forward and listen to Gonzalves, where he thinks Asian American Studies is going, and the importance of APAHM.

All that and my comments on the news, including martial law in the Philippines, and the Warriors/Cavs NBA Final on Emil Amok's Takeout

Show Log:
:00     Emil's opening rap

1:46   San Diego Fringe Festival and SF Marsh shows

2:30   Coming up intros of top stories

5:05   What made me go amok this week

6:25   Martial Law in the Philippines? Oh, just "Partial Martial"?

18:12 Intro Celestino Almeda, the 100-year old Filipino WW2 vet still fighting for his equity pay

24:12 Interview with Almeda

42:28 Intro and interview with Association of Asian American Studies President-elect Theo Gonzalves, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

1:30:00 My NBA Finals Pick

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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 PODCAST: Randall Park at the APAICS gala for AAPI Heritage Month talks about Asian American representation in the media
May 22, 2017 10:19 AM

On Emil Amok's Takeout, I corner Randall Park at the gala dinner of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS). a/k/a Asian Prom.

Listen to my short conversation with the "Fresh Off the Boat" star, as well as an excerpt from his speech accepting the 2017 APAICS Vision Award.


Oddly, I forgot to ask him if politics was in the cards for him. Writing and producing was. But politics? He does play a governor in HBO's "Veep." 

As I flew into D.C., I noticed at the airport magazine racks the conservative National Review trying to make the case for a presidential bid by "The Rock"--a Republican.

President Rock?

Dwayne Johnson hosted the season finale of "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend, and was joined by Tom Hanks.

Hanks said if they ran as a ticket, he'd "get them the senior vote because he fought in WWII--in ten different movies.

The Rock added that he'd get the minority vote, "because everyone just assumes, I'm, well, whatever they are."

It got a big laugh. 

It sounds like a joke, but given the rise of a reality show star to the presidency and the immense popularity of Johnson and Hanks, you never know.

And with that, the SNL banners unfurled to reveal the slogan "Johnson Hanks 2020."


Considering that The Rock and Hanks seem like stable personalities with decent vocabularies, anything would be an improvement over the present White House occupant.

All that, plus the places I spoke and what I encountered, and "Fresh Off the Boat" star Randall Park, on this week's podcast, Emil Amok's Takeout.

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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 Alex Tizon's "Lola"
May 19, 2017 11:05 AM

Among Filipinos, "Lola" is used out of respect for an older person, regardless of relation.

It is a term of endearment, not a term of enslavement.

Still, I was more surprised that Alex Tizon had died in March than that he had a family slave.

May he rest in peace--though he has left many of us in a tizzy after his posthumously-published piece in The Atlantic on his "Lola," "My Family's Slave."


I didn't know Alex well, but knew him to be a good reporter and writer. I had been in touch with him when his book, Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self, came out.

I also knew him to be an immigrant from the Philippines.

As a born-in-the-USA Filipino, I know immigrant status puts one on a different level when assessing what I've long called one's "Filipinoness."

Alex was trying to come to grips with that as he was becoming more and more American.

Me? I was born American, son of immigrants, trying to understand my own Filipinoness.

I just never thought slavery was an option, until Alex's story.

Make no mistake: slavery and exploitation of a human being, no matter where it occurs, is immoral and wrong.

There is nothing charming about Alex's story of Eudocia Pulido, the woman whom Alex called "Lola," and who was enslaved for 56 years as the caretaker of his family in both the Philippines and the U.S.

Where was ICE? Where was the Labor Department? Not looking out for the interests of Eudocia Pulido.

Alex talks about her being beaten in the Philippines, exploited both there and in America, and working long hours with little to no pay. Pulido, being from a poor provincial part of the Philippines, saw there were few better options than to be committed to being a family "helper," albeit for life.

Having household help, or maids, is part of Filipino society especially among the elites, or simply those with more dollars than the masses. In the peso world, where 50 pesos make a dollar, labor is cheap and plentiful.

A relative of mine retired to Manila with her U.S. pension recently. One of her perks of retirement was having people to clean and cook for her family.

But she never referred to her help as slaves.

So Alex's story outlines an abuse, something I can understand given the poverty of the Philippines, where millions of Filipinos seek work overseas, mostly as domestics.

In that sense, Alex's piece is more confessional, of a now-Americanized Filipino returning the ashes of the woman whom his family had called "Lola," but, in fact, was a human being they had trafficked among themselves.

There's no excusing that.

And there's no excusing the system that allowed the practice to be exported from the Philippines to the U.S.

Lola Pulido had come with papers, overstayed her visa, and became what Filipinos called a TNT--which stands for "tago ng tago," literally "hiding and hiding"--the apt description for one on the run.

It's a part of that broken system that allows for people to disappear, for abuses to happen, and for tragedies like Lola Pulido.

I found it interesting that the reaction to her story has been varied.

Some want to throw the book at Alex's family. But the main perps--Alex's grandfather, and his own mother and father, have died.

Others defend Alex for what his family did, saying it's a cultural thing. They criticize those in the West for being self-righteously indignant about the treatment of Lola without really understanding the conditions of the Philippines.

But there's no defense for what happened. 

There's no way what they did to Lola was acceptable--unless they paid her an hourly wage, overtime, benefits, and vacation. Barring that, it's exploitation, human trafficking, and, as Alex himself points out, slavery.

There's only one way to see Alex's story. It's a journey of personal redemption, not just for what his family did to Lola, but maybe for his own lost sense of Filipinoness as he became Americanized.

After centuries of colonization, deferential subservience is in the DNA. That explains Lola, so you know there's more than one instance out there in both the Philippines and the U.S.

The flip side of that is how Filipinos have been, in a small way, too eager to be colonizers themselves. 

That's the takeaway of Alex's story for me.

After centuries of Spanish rule, and a few decades under the U.S., Filipinos have shown they are all too willing to exploit each other. 

The worst aspect of the dehumanization of slavery is when it's based not on race, but class. Anyone is susceptible if they're poor.

That makes a Lola incident possible where the wealth of a country is controlled by the richest 1 percent over the remaining 99 percent.

It's like that in the Philippines. And it's certainly true in America.

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Coming soon: Emil Amok's Takeout podcast - An interview with Randall Park of "Fresh Off The Boat"
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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: "Mommy, I need you," a Mother's Day podcast memory; plus Trump grows more Nixony by the day
May 12, 2017 3:04 PM

I wrote an essay about my mother that was in my collection of Emil Amok columns in my book Amok back in 2000.

I read it here, along with a preamble on the podcast, because I've too often given short shrift to my mom's story, in favor of my dad's.

But my mother's story was pretty incredible too. She survived the Japanese occupation of Manila during WWII and found her way to the U.S. with the help of an angel, a Spanish aristocrat who was unrelated, and whom I remember as having so much makeup on her face that she she looked like a ghost. I only knew her as Lola Angelita, world traveler.


My mom is in this picture, on the left. Another one of her comadres, my Lola Rosie, is holding me. I'm just horribly disoriented looking for the right nipple. And probably crying.

All that and more on the podcast for Mothers Day in May, which is also AAPI Heritage Month.

Here's a shoutout to The New Yorker for its funny, satirical cover, the positive yellowfacing of Dr. David Dao, who is replaced by the ousted FBI chief James Comey.

It's funny, not racist, as some have suggested. It's a recognition of how we felt about Dao, and how we should all feel about what's happened to Comey.


In Trump-speak, the Comey thing is as important as the Russia thing, and so much more important than any email thing. 

In the firing, Trump as Nixon was pretty obvious from Day 1. But Trump doesn't leave well enough alone. He's compounded it with subsequent steps that only create a growing credibility gap between his White House and the American public.

Where is the Truth about the firing of Comey? We have several versions, at this point. One too many for a real democracy.

And if Trump isn't getting really Nixony, why did he tweet about the possibility that conversations with Comey were taped?

So our democracy under Trump is getting shakier and shakier, especially when Trump feels his people must be loyal to him and not the American people.

King Donald?

It leaves us with motherhood to hang on to for now, while we can.

My tribute to my Mom and all mothers on this podcast.

Show Log:
00:    Opening
:20     About our show
1:15   My theater performance
1:56   This episode
3:17   New Yorker spoof: Comey as David Dao
4:29    More on Trump
10:26  Preamble on my Mom, followed by the "Mom's Sundae" commentary from my Amok: Essays from an Asian American Perspective

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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: After firing Comey, Trump emerges the New Nixon
May 10, 2017 2:02 PM

Donald Trump's classless firing of FBI director James Comey, just days after Comey reportedly asked for more money for an investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia, elevates the situation to historic levels. 

There is only one word to describe Donald Trump going forward.


Nixon's the one who tried to cover up the Watergate scandal by firing special prosecutor Archibald Cox on October 20, 1973, a day known as the "Saturday Night Massacre."

I remember that night as a college freshman wondering what was happening to our country.

And now the parallels are striking. 


Firing the man who is investigating you and your administration? Just like Nixon did?

Using the political "N" word to cast Trump's villainy may have been premature before this week.

A few months back, Trump went to Twitter one Saturday morning and suggested that then-President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. 

That didn't stop former Nixon lawyer John Dean, the former White House counsel who was charged with obstruction of justice for his role in Watergate. He went on MSNBC in March talking about how the Trump administration seemed Nixonian.


"In fact, they are in a cover-up mode. There's just never been any question in my mind about that," Dean said. "I've been inside a cover-up. I know how they look and feel. And every signal they're sending is 'we're covering this up.'"

"This White House is not showing their innocence," he said. "They're showing how damn guilty they are, is what we're seeing."

Since then, Comey has already shown his unwillingness to help Trump by declaring there was no evidence to back a claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped. And then there was his recent testimony before Congress, which coincided with reports that he asked for more money and resources for the FBI investigation into the Trump-Russia links. 

It must have finally triggered Trump's infamous phrase: "You're fired."

Great for a reality show. Lousy for a democracy.

Even the way Trump did it was a bit odd. He didn't talk directly to Comey, who was in Los Angeles speaking at a field agent function. Reportedly, Comey got the dagger while TV monitors, tuned in to news stations, heralded the news on the lower third of the screen. 

Comey thought it was a prank.

But it was just the way Trump does the presidency. And America.

This is why those who say they want the government run like a business will eat their words. 

Because Trump is running things like a capitalist authoritarian who puts his interests above all.

It's in his letter firing Comey.

"While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau," Trump said in a letter dated May 9, asserting his innocence as he threw Comey under the bus. 

The White House also released another letter by Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who recused himself on all things Russia) and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, which gave Trump "cover." That provided the pretext--the reason that's not the reason-- that it wasn't the Russian investigation, it was the handling of the Clinton emails that caused the firing.

Almost plausible?

But no Clinton supporters or Democrats were pushing for Comey's head, not now.

Clinton's emails are old news. Candidate Trump liked the ruckus Comey caused when it helped him win the presidency. But this Russian investigation is another matter.

Even in the day after the news conference, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders only made the swamp talk murkier, when she pointed out that Trump was actually upset with Comey back in July.

So why now?

How about this: Getting rid of Comey allows Trump to "fix" things at the FBI with a Trump "loyalist" who will do exactly what he's told.

That's more credible than Kellyanne Conway, who resurfaced on TV to defend Trump and say it wasn't about Russia. Conway is good on pretext though short on truth.

Even the Justice Department has come out saying that reports of Comey's firing, following his request for more resources for the Russia probe, is false.

But it's too late. 

Comey's firing is about Russia, even if just by coincidence. 

The emails don't matter any longer. Russia still does. And now Trump has lost all credibility firing the man investigating Trump's approach to power and the presidency.

Even moderate Republicans are questioning Trump's timing of the Comey firing. Why didn't Trump do it in January, they ask? Well, he liked Comey then. But once the FBI began to move in and work for the American people, not so much.  

Now Democrats, caught by surprise, have new life. They're demanding a special prosecutor to be appointed to assure fairness and strict adherence to the rule of law. They didn't mind Comey as long as he was going after Trump.

In the meantime, the optics just aren't working for Trump, who manages either wittingly or unwittingly to make things worse for himself.

When Trump talked directly for the first time about why he fired Comey, his answer was Trumpian: "Because he wasn't doing a good job very simply, he was not doing a good job."

It wasn't Nixon saying, "I am not a crook." But the historical echo was clear as Trump gave his answer while sitting next to Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State under Nixon during Watergate. 

It was the first statement on Comey for the ethically-challenged Trump--The New Nixon. 

What he's done is far worse than the Saturday Night Massacre. And as the probe plays out, raising issues of treason and abuse of power, we're facing a far greater threat to democracy than even Watergate.

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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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