Emil Guillermo: 22 years later, making sense of 9/11 on 9/12

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I was feeling sad on Monday. After all, it was 9/11. I was in New York. I was dreading it. What do I do to honor the day?

I’ll never forget where I was in 2001. In the San Francisco Bay Area, I was thinking about trading the markets, so I was up way early with CNBC at 5.46 a.m. Pacific time when the first plane flew into the North Tower.

Then the second plane at 6:03 a.m. Pacific struck the South Tower.

And then the third plane struck the Pentagon at 6:37 a.m Pacific.

It’s too early for all this, I recall thinking, my head spinning from the news. But then the South Tower falls at 6:59 a.m. Pacific.

OMFG wasn’t an acronym back then.

I would need something stronger at 10:03 a.m. Pacific, when a fourth plane crashed in Shanksville, PA.

Within the half hour at 10:28 a.m. Pacific, the North Tower falls.

I will never be in doubt again about what to do on Sept. 11.At each time stamp of terror, mark it with a moment of silence to honor the dead and the brave. That’s what they’ve done in New York the last 22 years.

It’s the timeline of when the terrorists’ war came to us. It was in Lower Manhattan. But I felt it instantly via television in California while still in my pajamas.

It was also a day I lost my taste for the markets and the mindless chase of the almighty dollar. Sept. 11 made me sense something more was at stake, our sense of country, of ourselves, and of our America.

There were shattered buildings in New York, but was there ever a moment when the country was more united?

It was there, I felt it. Maybe not on Sept. 11 itself. The shock was too raw.

We may not have really felt it until the next day.

Remember that America. Because there have been times since then when we forgot what it’s like to be on the same side, always, together.

It shouldn’t take an act of terrorism to get back that feeling. Just think of what we did for each other when our real patriotism emerged Sept. 12.


Moments of silence help anchor our feelings, but they deepen as we hear the names read of the nearly 3,000 who were lost on Sept. 11.

Names are like stories that tell of America’s great democracy–diverse, strong, and open to all who believe in it.

If you ever doubted America’s power as the great democratic experiment, sit through the ceremony and listen to the names.

They’re not one of a kind.

It’s Wong, Jones, Patel, Papageorge, Lee, Lau, and Nakamura.

That would be the name of a pretty diverse law firm.

But that’s America. And there were at least 20 Filipino Americans in the towers.

Jayceryll de Chavez’s name set off all my Filipino sensors. His young nephew, who had never met him, read his name, calling him “Tito,” the Filipino term of respect for Uncle. The young nephew reminded me of Mayor Bloomberg’s quote that half the world now wasn’t around when the death and destruction of 9/11 claimed Tito Jayceryll.

For some, the history is new and raw.

Jayceryll was just 24 when he found himself with no escape. His name is a combination of his two grandfathers, the patriarchs of the family, Jacinto and Cirilo. Jayceryll was a portfolio analyst for Fiduciary Trust, hoping to start his MBA when terrorism had the last word.

When I heard Benilda Pascua Domingo’s name, I paused hard. She was from Laoag City, my father’s home town in the Ilocos Norte province of the Philippines. Just 37 at the time, she was a maintenance worker for the restaurant Windows on the World. Her family was in the process of petitioning for her U.S. citizenship. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. And then it ended on Sept. 11.

I was fascinated by all the names being read. But Domingos are related to Guillermos in Ilocos Norte, Philippines.She was simply following all the Ilocanos who had come to America.

Just as my dad did in 1928.

I tell his story in my one man show, “Emil Amok, Lost NPR Host: A Phool’s Filipino American History.” The last show is this Thursday, Sept. 14, @ 9:30pm at Under St Marks Theatre in New York’s East Village @ 94 St. Marks Place. Tickets here:


After 2001, my life really did take a different path. I went from television and radio into newspapers. This is not unlike saying to the modern world that you prefer communicating through cave drawings.

But I survived.

One of my friends became a big-time corporate lawyer and is now retired. Our politics are polar opposite, but we’re still buddies. We have history together. We both graduated from San Francisco’s Lowell High School

If Sept. 11 can have a unifying effect, would it happen when I had dinner with my friend Jonathan?

The answer is yes.

We disagreed on everything. Especially on affirmative action. He sided with the Supreme Court against Harvard. I didn’t. He brought up the historical discrimination against Jews. “There were some law firms that wouldn’t even talk to me when I graduated,” said my friend, who is Jewish.

We agreed that was wrong. But he couldn’t get past his belief that discrimination happens to everyone. You deal with it and get over it, he said.

Easier said than done, if you happen to be a lighter shade.

But we’re friends and respect each other.

On the matter of 9/11, he told me where he was that day. His office was a few blocks from the World Trade Center. But he came to work shortly after the first tower fell.

He remembers seeing people walking up FDR Drive from Lower Manhattan covered in soot, their faces in shock.

I told him about my theory of 9/12, how it sparked a feeling of unity that is so rare these days.

He said it was still there, though admittedly, it’s gotten worse. “It doesn’t matter about your politics,” he said, adding how he didn’t care about my point of view. We went to high school together. I called him. He saw my show and now we’re having dinner.

“So you’re a crazy guy, but so what, I am too,” he said. “You’re my friend and if you need anything, you just ask me.”

Maybe that’s the best we can hope for in a polarized America.

To have a meal together. Laugh. Then fight over the check. Not politics.

That was my 9/11. How united can we stay on 9/12 and beyond?

We’ve been friends more than 50 years. A shared history, some common ground helps.

Being American should be enough too.


SO: I’m here in New York City another week to do one last solo show, “Emil Amok, Lost NPR Host: A Phool’s Filipino American History.”

It’s in a basement theater at 94 St. Marks Place in New York City’s East Village.

Come see the latest iteration. And if you can’t be there in person, get the livestream here.

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on