Emil Guillermo: AANHPI Heritage Month? May is the month for all of us, every last Asian in America.

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It’s here. So, for this heritage month, take a stand.

Know who we are. Be all inclusive this month of May to honor all of us.

The acronym already makes sure we have the Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in the mix with the East Asians and South Asians.

Thanks to the Biden administration, old monikers like AAPIs and APAs have been transformed into Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders.

Ah, my fellow AANHPIs. All accounted for. Mostly.

We just assume the Turkic peoples of Central Asia are folded in with us (Hello, Uyghur Americans! Hello, Mongolian Americans!).

But what about other West Asians and the peoples from what is generally known as the Middle East, which would include Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Morocco, Syria, Yemen, and yes, our brothers and sisters from Israel and Palestine.

West Asia is a part of Asia. And yet there are still some people who say “Asian,” and think, aren’t Asians all just Chinese?


Asian America is all of Asia in America. All of it.

I first realized this years ago when I visited Dearborn, Michigan, home of the largest Arab American population in the U.S., and where the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) held one of the largest and most successful convention events in its history.

But for some reason, people don’t generally see Middle Eastern people, especially Arabs, as Asian, though by geography, they most definitely are.

What happened?

According to the Arab American Museum, it goes back to the turn of the 20th century.

America was in hyper-racist mode against Asians in America, particularly the Chinese. The Exclusion Act began in 1882 as temporary but was made permanent in 1902. Asians here were already banned from citizenship due to the Naturalization Law of 1870, which gave African Americans the right to be citizens, but not Asians or Native Americans.

This exclusionist streak would continue in America and peak in 1924, when quotas were placed on all immigration. The most severe was still the Asian quota set at ZERO.

There was no honor being Asian in America, no matter what part of Asia you were from.


All that changed because a prominent Los Angeles area attorney’s son was arrested in Venice, California and successfully used an uncanny racist defense. In a “Daddy to the rescue” defense, the attorney father claimed his son’s arrest was invalid because the arresting officer, George Shishim, had no right to arrest his son.

Shishim, born in Lebanon, was considered not of the white race, and was not and could not become a citizen. The defense claimed Shishim’s status invalidated the arrest of the lawyer’s son.

That in turn inspired Shishim and Arab community members to fight the government's view that Shishim was not white.

Backed by statements from university ethnologists that Lebanese and Syrians belonged to the “white race,” they persuaded a superior court judge to rule against the government’s claim that Shishim was Asian.

As Shishim stated in court: “If I am a Mongolian, then so was Jesus, because we came from the same land.”

We don’t have to take up the debate over an Asian Jesus for now. The point here is that Shishim won his case in 1909 and was immediately administered the oath of allegiance becoming a U.S. citizen on the spot.

The Justice Department later affirmed the decision in Shishim’s case, and that led other states to see Arabs not as Yellow but White—enabling Arabs to become U.S. citizens. And make arrests stick if they happen to be cops.

But sometimes white isn't enough.

But the Census still doesn’t give Arab Americans a designation some community members feel is right. Many Arabs see their experience in the U.S. as more aligned with people of color. They’re a different white from white, and have paid a price.


The answer is simple. Let’s embrace our West Asian brothers and sisters. There are an estimated 4 million Arab Americans. If AANHIPIs stand around 24 million, another 4 million only add to our coalition.

Currently, there is a movement to gain recognition for peoples from Middle Eastern/North Africa, or MENA. But that looks and sounds like someone misspelled MENSA.

The Office of Management and Budget has yet to decide what to do, which makes you understand how artificial all these acronyms and designations really are.

There are people who see all this heritage stuff as BS. They tend to wear red baseball caps with white letters. You are American, they say. Of course, but that’s oft forgotten by the public. Witness the rise in hate crimes during the pandemic, when too many people failed to see us and the truth in the phrase “Asian American.”

There’s power in that last word. It says who we are and defines this country’s true greatness.

So, as we celebrate our month, remember: we celebrate every one of us.

We are linked to each other.

Don’t be limited by the bureaucratic and political term AANHPI, which is ironically, at once inclusive and exclusive too.

Instead, take the broadest view possible. AANHIPIs are all descendants geographically from Asia, 360 degrees in every direction, and if you’re in America, we are in solidarity.

All of us. Every last one of us.

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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