Emil Guillermo: The Slants' Simon Tam speaks candidly on PODCAST: "The cure for hate speech isn't censorship...let communities decide, not government."
July 10, 2017 6:58 PM

It's been a big summer for Simon Tam, musician and founder of the Slants, now trademarked, reappropriated, and unanimously affirmed by the Supreme Court.

He also got married recently in his native state of California, so there's been much to celebrate.


And yet it seems there still some who aren't cheering his nearly eight-year-long battle to trademark his band's name and use the disparaging term "slant."

People of color remain divided since the Slants' victory is certain to allow for the Washington NFL team to continue using its disparaging name. 

Tam told Emil Amok's Takeout, he's aware of that and it bothers him. 

"It makes my skin crawl, it's terrible," Tam said. But he ultimately feels the decision was a win for all, protecting vulnerable communities who have had no say in the trademark process until this case. "Our identities were used against us," said Tam, who feels it will now be up to the marketplace and our own communities to say what's inappropriate, rather than the government. 

"The cure to hate speech is not censorship," said Tam, who believes that the First Amendment allows for a deeper and more nuanced approach than simply to say some words are good, and others are bad. 

In recent reports, some Asian American legal groups like NAPABA and AAAJ have criticized the Supreme Court decision. (AALDEF and other Asian American groups joined the ACLU amicus brief and supported the Slants.) But Tam has held steady and rejects the "slippery slope" notion of critics who believe that an avalanche of hate speech will result from the decision. In an open letter to his critics, Tam sees the decision as advancing legit reappropriation.

"In fact, now communities can be equipped to protect their own rights and prevent villainous characters from profiting and misleading people with these same terms," Tam wrote.

In his open letter, Tam cited the case of Heeb, a Jewish publication on pop culture, granted the registration for their magazine, but when they applied for the exact same mark in the categories of t-shirts and events, were denied for "disparagement." 

As Tam points out, it meant when a group of Holocaust deniers sent harassing communications to subscribers, inviting them to Heeb Events, the organization was unable to stop them. "Had Heeb not been wrongly denied a registration, they would have been able to get a cease and desist order. This case now allows a just procedure against other people wrongly profiting from racial slurs or countering the work done by reappropriation."

Tam concludes: "Laws, like words, are not always inherently harmful. It depends on how they are used. It is like a sharp blade: in the hands of an enemy, it can inflict pain and suffering. However, in the hands of a surgeon, it can provide healing. The law I fought against was a large sword used by the government to haphazardly target "disparaging" language, but the collateral damage was on the free speech rights of those who need protected expression the most. Like other broad policies around access and rights (be it stop and frisk or voter ID laws), there was a disparate impact on the marginalized."

That logic may still not satisfy those conflicted by the decision, especially when it leads to a result like affirming the use of the Washington NFL team's slur.

But the bottom line is still the First Amendment, which Tam is busy expressing in the studio on the follow-up to the group's last EP, "The Band Who Must Not Be Named."

The new disc will definitely be named, eponymously, the group's first ever under its proud SCOTUS affirmed banner. For Tam, in the name of the broader Asian American community, it was worth it.

Listen to the Slants here.

Listen to Simon Tam on Emil Amok's Takeout.

*     *     *
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.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments

Emil Guillermo: Oh no, "Hawaii Five-0" and what it means to all of us
July 6, 2017 4:18 PM

When I first heard about Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park leaving "Hawaii Five-0," I couldn't believe it.

The stars of the long-running TV crime procedural based in the 50th state simply asked for pay equity. They got the cold shoulder instead. Their exit leaves CBS with what it deserves. Hawaii Five-nothing.

Kim -Park (LorenJavier)W.jpg
                                                                                                                                         (photo by Loren Javier)

I'm not watching a show with zero Asian American stars going into the eighth season.

Really, how do you just let your top Asian American cast members on a TV show set in the nation's most Asian American state just pick up and leave? 

It's easy if you don't value diversity. Or to be more specific, equality.

Here's the deal the white co-stars get that the Asian American stars don't. More pay. And a cut of the series profits. As if the white stars are the draw that carried the whole show. 

They're not.

I don't even know who the co-stars Alex O'Loughlin and Scott Caan are.

Frankly, I couldn't pick them out in a line at a Panda Express.

But, of course, CBS Television Studios, the show's producers, wouldn't budge. 

And this is in a show that I would say was equally Kim's and Park's.

All this proves is Asian American leverage in showbiz remains zero. Unless you're married to the boss like Julie Chen, who has climbed to the top on the shoulders of "Big Brother." But for the majority of Asian Americans who appear on the glassy side of the camera, the message is pretty clear. Just be happy to get SAG/AFTRA scale. Know your place. Don't overreach. You're the hired help. 

As my old friend Guy Aoki of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans told Hollywood Reporter, "the racial hierarchy established in the original 1968-1980 series remained intact in the 2010 reboot: Two white stars on top, two Asian/Pacific Islander stars on the bottom."


It's sad that at this time in history, in what should be a vehicle for Asian Americans. this is how Asian American stars are treated.

If you can just let a guy like Kim, arguably one of the top male Asian American stars in Hollywood, just leave, that's a major message to someone like me who wants to be the next Victor Wong. Or Amy Hill. 

Despite all the window dressing and Asian American stars you can point to, showbiz remains as racist now as it ever was.

I'm particularly depressed by this after coming off a short run at the San Diego Fringe Festival with my one-man show, "Amok Monologues."  

My one good review made it worthwhile. 

Still, I'm a journalist and storyteller by trade. I combined the theater at this juncture in my life because I studied acting and drama a long time ago when I was in college and in grad school.

Back then, I even thought about going into acting. But when the only Filipinos I saw played beach boys and drivers, I thought better of my stereotype.

In fact, the best role I ever got was playing the white guy in black theater. But then maybe that's because my college roommate was the director and he owed it to me.

I realized early on that it wouldn't happen for me in showbiz unless I write my own stories. But for me, the urgency of journalism outweighed the lure of show business. I felt the facts needed to be established before I felt comfortable telling stories on stage.  

That meant turning to journalism to tell our stories, even with hairspray and makeup, as I did when starting in TV. 

I thought TV would provide the right balance between showbiz and journalism. At KXAS in Dallas, I worked with Scott Pelley. (Would he have ended up like me had his name been Pellicito?) At KRON-TV in San Francisco, I worked with some of the most talented folks in the business. 

Oddly, my career climbed to its furthest point the more people couldn't see me--- in radio, where I could sound as white as anyone.  

But my life in the media shows, you still can't escape what Aoki calls that "racial hierarchy." Whites still control. And if being Asian American is important, or being deracinated sounds hideous to you, you're out of luck.

Some make the compromise anyway, and hang on. Temporarily. But it catches up to you. You are who you are. And that can be a factor in how far you go in media.

Maybe there are enough Asian American anchors around (predominantly women), so you can debate me and insist that things are changing. But that may be all show. If salaries were revealed, like in the "Hawaii Five-0" situation, I bet we're still being lowballed. 

So what does it mean to everyone else not in showbiz or journalism? Plenty. If you don't play in the ensemble, or play the lead in fake TV life, don't think you'll get a fair shot in real life quite as easily. 

TV helps create the stereotypical reality. When we don't show up in the image-making machinery of our culture, it's much harder to show up anywhere. Did CBS care that Hawaii was the most Asian state in the nation?

When a show can get away with dumping its key Asian stars just like that, it will surely embolden those in other industries. 

Gains don't come without a challenge. For as long as necessary. Look at American history. And look at the current backslide on major issues from affirmative action to voting rights.

"Hawaii Five-0" is TV giving us a reality check, just when we thought we had made some progress. I mean, more than 50 years after the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, you'd figure we would get a break on things that are pretend. But somewhere on top of the heap, someone has made a decision. Paying two Asian American actors what they're worth isn't good business. So Kim and Park are gone. The white fantasy of "Hawaii Five-0" lives on.

In the meantime, I'm not watching a Kim-less, Park-less 5-0. 

I encourage you to do the same, and to support Asian American actors, producers, and writers in their projects.

And I'm doing what others are doing these days. Writing my own stuff. Telling my own stories. It seems to be the only way to beat the racial hierarchy of Hollywood.

So watch for the next Emil Amok's Takeout coming soon here!

*     *     *
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.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 2 comments

Emil Guillermo: PODCAST - Last night of "Amok Monologues" at the San Diego Fringe Festival
June 29, 2017 11:47 PM

Tonight, Thursday, June 29 at 10:30 pm PT, is the last night of "Amok Monologues" at the San Diego International Fringe Festival. The one-man show got a great review in San Diego Story, a local arts publication. 

Coming next week after the San Diego Fringe Festival: podcast interviews with Asian American photographer Corky Lee, who organized a protest in Nevada against Ronald Ebens, Vincent Chin's killer; and Simon Tam of the Asian American band The Slants, which will be allowed to trademark its name after a major First Amendment victory in the U.S. Supreme Court,

Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments

Emil Guillermo: Lessons from Vincent Chin murder 35 years after; Podcast interview with Helen Zia; and thoughts on my interview with Chin's killer, Ronald Ebens
June 18, 2017 8:40 PM

We have now arrived at the 35th year of these essential Asian American facts:

On June 19, 1982, Chinese American Vincent Chin, 27, who was with friends at his own bachelor party, was mistaken for being Japanese by two white auto workers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz, at a Detroit strip club. Ebens told me Chin sucker-punched him. The fight was taken outside, but then broken up. It would have ended, but Ebens and Nitz pursued Chin by car and found him at a nearby McDonald's. In the parking lot, Ebens brutally beat Chin with a baseball bat. 


Chin was comatose for four days and pronounced dead on June 23.

For that crime, Ebens and Nitz, his accomplice, were allowed to plea bargain. They pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, were sentenced to three years' probation, and fined $3,720.

There was no prison time for the murderers of Vincent Chin.

The Asian American community was outraged, which led to a federal civil rights prosecution against Ebens and Nitz. Ebens was found guilty on one charge and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He appealed to the Sixth Circuit, and a second federal trial was moved from Detroit to Cincinnati. Ebens was acquitted by a Cincinnati jury that found no racial motivation in the killing of Chin.

That's where the story has been for the last 35 years: The perps are free. And Asian Americans can still be victims of extremely violent hate crimes, like Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Asian Indian mistaken for a Muslim. This year in Olathe, Kansas, Kuchibhotla was allegedly killed by a white gunman who yelled, "Get out of my country."

For the 35th year marker of Chin's death, I called to get an update from the writer Helen Zia, who is also the trustee of the Chin estate.

Zia said the Chin family was awarded a $2 million judgment in civil litigation against Ebens back in the '80s, and continues to monitor Ebens, now 77 and retired in Nevada. "The judgment has been continued," Zia told me. She said that with interest and penalties, the judgment could be in excess of $8 million, but Ebens has "not paid a dime."

Zia said she's philosophical about recovery. 

"The guy did what he did," she told me. "He's a killer. He got away with murder. But the things that need to be done on behalf of the community don't depend on him or his death. It will bring closure. But it doesn't mean hate crimes have ended."

An edited portion of my interview with Zia is in my podcast, Emil Amok's Takeout.

Besides being the trustee of the estate, Zia was right there in the thick of the Chin case in Detroit. A journalist with legal training, she wrote for the daily newspaper there, but refrained from writing about the case so she could be one of the founders of American Citizens for Justice, the group formed to fight for Chin.

It was just a handful of Asian American lawyers and activists. At that time, there were few Asian Americans in the law or in journalism. And there was no one with the expertise to do a federal hate crime case.

Thirty-five years later, Zia said that what strikes her the most are the things people don't bring up about the case. 


The human stuff, like the late Lily Chin, Vincent's adoptive mom. "She died feeling that if she hadn't adopted him, he'd be alive," Zia told me. "It's so sad to me to think about it that way."

But the human stuff also includes the human opposition to the case within the community and the backlash that existed at the time.

"We had civil rights people who said, 'We'll support you because Vincent was Chinese and thought to be Japanese, but if he were Japanese, we won't support because he would've deserved it,' " Zia said. "I said 'What? You're kidding?' The Michigan ACLU and the Michigan National Lawyers Guild strongly opposed a civil rights investigation because Asian Americans are not protected by federal civil rights law. That was something we had to argue."

Fortunately, the national offices of those legal groups prevailed and forced the state chapters to comply.

"Here were some of the most liberal activist attorneys saying Asian Americans shouldn't be included under the civil rights law. Vincent was an immigrant. We had to establish he was a citizen, with the implication there might not have been a civil rights investigation if he had not been naturalized. All of this stuff...these were hurdles we had to overcome with major impacts today," Zia told me.

"Can you imagine if the Reagan White House had followed the National Lawyers Guild's Michigan chapter and the ACLU of Michigan and said, 'Why should we look expansively at civil rights? We shouldn't include immigrants and Asian Americans.' And at that time, that would include Latinos too, because at that time if you were not black or white, what do you have to do with race? Those were the things people would say to us."

Zia said after 35 years, a quick telling of the Chin case rarely discusses just how difficult it was to fight for justice. But she says those are the enduring lessons of the Vincent Chin case, because it has contributed to a modern sense of social justice for every American.

"Every immigrant, Latinos. Every American," Zia said. "Hate crime protection laws now also include perceived gender and disability. It was the Vincent Chin case when we had to argue civil rights was more than black or white."

Zia said the case was also more difficult because it was during a pre-digital, non-computer, pay-phone age. Communication occurred slowly. 

But the case was also slow because Asian Americans were a micro-community.

We're 21 million now and feel empowered.

In 1980, the Asian American population was just 3.7 million nationwide. And most were timid, non-boat rockers.

"In the Vincent Chin case, people were incredibly reluctant to become involved," Zia told me. "They had never gotten involved before. And I think that's what gets lost [in the retelling of the story]. Exclusion didn't end till about 1950, and so what that meant was Asian Americans of every kind, from Chinese to Filipinos, everybody, were pretty much totally disenfranchised till the mid-20th century."

"So when Vincent Chin was killed 30 years later [in 1982], the communities had. . .I think of it as stunted growth. There weren't people running for office. If there were, it was a miniscule number. There weren't people standing up; we didn't have advocacy organizations, except for AALDEF in New York and Asian Law Caucus in California, with no pan-Asian advocacy groups in between."

A right to justice, and a community's sense of empowerment, was a difficult thing to imagine for many Asian Americans. "Not only did we not have it," Zia said, "People didn't even recognize it was something we could have. The idea we all came together with the Vincent Chin case and sang 'Kumbaya' and took over and went to the Reagan White House and the Department of Justice and got all these things to happen. . .that's a mythology. And I think it's a disservice to the next generations to think this."

Helen Zia knows what was happening in Detroit in the '80s as the fight began for Vincent Chin.
More of her thoughts on Emil Amok's Takeout.

I don't know what Vincent Chin's killer did for Father's Day.

I last talked to Ronald Ebens in 2015, around the June 23 anniversary of Chin's death. "I'm doing fine," he told me then, adding quickly he had a good Father's Day with his kids.;

I asked him then if he ever thought about the anniversary. "Like what?" he said. "I never forget it."


"Of course not."

It was 2015. "I'm 75 years old, and I'm just tired of all that after 33 years."

He's 77 now, and Helen Zia doesn't want him ever to tire or forget the truth.

"He will never spend a day of his life without knowing he has a huge debt to society and a huge debt to Vincent Chin's family," Zia told me. "And one day, he will pay for it."

The very first time I talked to Ebens was in 2012, on the 30th anniversary of the Chin murder.

On the podcast, I read aloud the column that I wrote on June 22, 2012.

It has Ebens explaining himself and describing what happened that night. He was reluctant to talk to me, but he did. And during our conversation, he apologized for the murder. 


"I'm sorry it happened and if there's any way to undo it, I'd do it," he told me in my exclusive interview. "Nobody feels good about somebody's life being taken, okay? You just never get over it. . .Anybody who hurts somebody else. If you're a human being, you're sorry, you know."

But Zia, who read my column at the time, has never bought that as an apology.

"I stood next to this guy in court, and I see his face, over and over, read his words, and frankly, I don't see a shred of sincerity," Zia told me. "[He's really saying] 'I didn't even mean to kill, why should I have to go through this.'"

And then to me, Zia said, "It would take more than you interviewing him saying, ' I'm sorry, I killed him.' Let's see how sorry he is and set an example for future people who are thinking of killing a Muslim student in North Carolina, or a man in Kansas. These killers who kill out of hatred and go to justify their killings, it takes more than saying I'm sorry."

Listen to the podcast, a special on the Vincent Chin case 35 years later, on Emil Amok's Takeout.

:00       Intro, basic facts about the death of Vincent Chin, update from Helen Zia, and observations about the case. How the civil rights community was sometimes at odds with Asian Americans.

10:21   Audio portion of interview with Helen Zia

23:26   Emil reads from his 2012 column in which Chin's killer Ronald Ebens apologizes for the murder.

34:04   End

*     *     *
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.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments

Emil Guillermo: Who is Asian American? On AMEMSA, Vincent Chin, and my Amok Monologues for Father's Day. PODCAST EXTRA: Karthick Ramakrishnan
June 16, 2017 11:57 AM

Say Asian or Asian American, and people think "Chinese."

Most people know that's not the case, but that tends to be the prevailing stereotype. And not just among whites, blacks, and Latinos. 

It's harder when even Asian Americans believe in the stereotype.

"East Asians need to recognize that Southeast Asians and South Asians are Asians too, " Karthick Ramakrishnan told me on Emil Amok's Takeout. "If you combine the Southeast Asian and South Asian categories, all these nationalities together, they're the overwhelming majority. East Asians are now a minority within the Asian American category."


Ramakrishnan is Professor of Political Science and Associate Dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside. He directs the National Asian American Survey, which recently revealed the jaw-dropping finding that some Asian Americans don't consider South Asians as Asian American.

Previously, I spoke with his NAAS cohort Jennifer Lee about this survey question here.

In my interview with Ramakrishnan, we discuss who has the power to define who is Asian, and how the "Asian American" umbrella is being threatened. Is an AMEMSA--Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, South Asian--category inevitable? 

"If you're brown and someone thinks you're Muslim, you get a different racial experience," Ramakrishnan told me on Emil Amok's Takeout. "That's what "AMEMSA" captures.

But what happens then to the broad Asian American category of 21 million and growing when 5 million South Asians can't identify and adopt a new category? 

Ramakrishnan also talks about how the NAAS findings may explain why there wasn't a massive mobilization from Asian Americans to protest the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla earlier this year. 

While Vincent Chin's murder inspired the activism of Asian Americans 35 years ago, the ire over the Kuchibhotla hate crime has not had a similar impact on the community. Ramakrishnan said it should have, and the fact that it didn't reveals Asian America's implicit and explicit biases.

"It's kind of a game of whack-a-mole," Ramakrishnan told me. "Unfortunately, when particular parts of our community are getting whacked, other parts of our community don't stand up nearly as much and are not nearly as vocal as we should be."

Uh-oh. We're reverting back to the other prevailing stereotype. Non-boat rockers. Just get on the boat. Don't miss it. Get off the boat. Just don't rock it. 

But maybe we should. The upcoming 35th anniversary of Vincent Chin is the time for some reflection.

In 2014, I wrote about how the entire community should use the days Chin was in a coma from June 19 to June 23 to think about what it's like to be Asian American.

We are coming up to that time.

It's a wide ranging Emil Amok's Takeout, including a special treat: I read my annual Father's Day essay, part of a story in my "Amok Monologues: A short history of the American Filipino--NPR, Harvard, Death on Mission St.," which I'm premiering at the San Diego International Fringe Festival, June 23 to 29.


If you're in San Diego, come on by! It's another part of my exploration of the solo performance form. It's funny.  It's tragic. It's amok! 

Listen to Ep. 17 of Emil Amok's Takeout here:

00: Intro, Emil comments on news, the week's gun violence and the NBA champion 
      Golden State Warriors. 

14:35 Karthick Ramakrishnan, UC Riverside, School of Public Policy
15:52 Interview begins

1:01:20  On bias against South Asians

102:49  On Vincent Chin Anniversary

1:07:10 Emil reads his Father's Day Essay

*     *     *
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.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments