Emil Guillermo: An Asian American perspective on the history-making of Trump and Harvard

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If you’re Asian American, there may be something more important than the future of American democracy.

Yes, Trump getting indicted, arraigned, and arrested in New York City is historic news. But from an AAPI parent’s perspective, it’s not like he got into Harvard.

The coincidence last week of Harvard’s incoming freshman Class of 2027 that is an historic 29.9 percent Asian, and the announced “matriculation” of Donald Trump into the U.S. criminal justice system as the first ever president–sitting, standing, or kneeling–to be indicted for breaking the law, combines the two most divisive issues in Asian America today.

That would be the future of affirmative action hinging on the Harvard case now before the Supreme Court, and the future of our country with Trump as a possible “recidivist” president.

Both topics can easily split a room of AAPIs in any number of ways, generationally/foreign born vs. native born/ethnically. It can even bring people to blows.

Let’s take the affirmative action case first.

The Supreme Court is set to make its decision in the Harvard case by June. But last week under Harvard’s current admissions policy, where race can legally be used as one factor of many, the school announced that of the 1,942 students admitted, 29.9 percent were Asians.

If you were one of those 580.65 people, congratulations. Especially, the lucky .65 person.

If you were a rejected Asian and in the general pool of 56, 937 applicants, buck up and look on the bright side.

Donald Trump went to Fordham for two years, then Penn’s Wharton School for two. And look at the history he’s making. He’s No. 1, right? The first-ever criminally indicted leader of the free world.

He didn’t need Harvard, and neither do you.

But rest assured you probably were not discriminated against. Not enough to file a new lawsuit. You weren’t rejected as a human being; you were told “no.” It’s a good lesson to learn the difference early in life. Unlike Trump who is just now learning it. And you might really like UCLA better (see below).

Actually, the current admissions process at Harvard has shown a remarkable effectiveness in admitting Asian Americans: 25.4 percent in 2019; 24.5 percent in 2020; 27.2 percent in 2021; 27.8 percent in 2022; 29.9 percent in 2023.

Should it really be higher—maybe as much as 40 percent, as some Asian parents say–based on “merit” like grades and test scores? But would that be equitable? At 7 percent of the population, AAPIs are already exceeding expectations. And yet some in the community still want more and complain about discrimination.

One problem is that with the use of the so-called Common App to make college more accessible, the number of applications to Harvard has skyrocketed. This year’s 56,937 was just a tad off last year’s all-time high of 61,220 applicants. In 2021, the pool was 57,435.

This is the competition for the same 2,000 or so freshman class spaces, a number that has been consistent for more than 20 years.

The only thing that’s changed has been the enormous applicant pool.

In 2002, when the applicant pool was 19,605, the acceptance rate was 10.5 percent.

This year, with the applicant pool approaching 57,000, the acceptance rate was 3.41 percent, the second lowest in the school’s history.

When you have only 2,000 open spaces a year, there’s going to be some discrimination. But it’s not necessarily illegal or racist.

That’s the frustrating thing about the Asian Americans who are being used successfully by anti-affirmative action advocates as proxies to end the practice at Harvard and set a precedent for all of higher ed. Race has been the focus, but the more relevant issue is really resources.

There’s not enough Harvard to accommodate everyone.

But for some AAPI families, it’s still Harvard or bust. Or could there be another school that best aligns with your values?

Two Asian American data reporters at The New York Times created an interactive model where you use a slider to dial in your values, i.e., what’s important in a college, including upward mobility, academic ranking, cost effectiveness, party life, athletics, and both racial and economic diversity. We want to see more Asians, of course. And not just the crazy rich ones, but the crazy poor ones.

After I assigned my values, my No. 1 school was UCLA. NY’s Baruch College was No. 2 for me. My geographical location wasn’t noted, but California State University Bakersfield (Kevin McCarthy’s alma mater) came up at No. 30.

Harvard? No. 235. Who wants to go to your 235th best choice?

Which leaves us with the other divisive issue for AAPIs, the elephant in the Manhattan courtroom, Donald Trump himself.

When it comes to the BIPOC community, AAPIs are among the Trumpiest of them all. Is now the time you quit him when he makes history in the race to become the worst president of all time? Arrested? Indicted? Arraigned? He’s still your guy? Even Trump at his height would have said something like, “I prefer a guy who doesn’t surrender.”

AAPI love of Trump brought out the racism in Korean American Michelle Steel’s lies about her Democratic opponent Jay Chen in the 2022 race for California’s 45th Congressional District.

But let’s look back at 2016.

That’s when Trump got 34 percent of the Vietnamese vote; 35 percent of the Chinese vote; 28 percent of the Filipino vote. I use these numbers from the Asian American Voter Survey, because 2016 is when Michael Cohen, allegedly directed by Trump, paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to hush up her story. Would her published account of an affair with Trump have had an impact on the vote, especially after the Access Hollywood tape was released in October? And would that make the $130,000 a campaign donation?

How the $130,000 is characterized as a campaign donation could determine how a business documents case is transformed from a misdemeanor to a federal crime. Or will it be a state law that was broken? As I write, the case is still under seal, but how the case is corroborated and laid out will be critical.

Get used to it. There are at least two more indictments to come out of the Georgia voting irregularities case and the Florida documents case.

Frankly, I would indict Trump for his use of the China Virus and Kung Flu slurs that resulted in nearly 12,000 instances of hate transgressions from major to minor during the pandemic.

But those aren’t indictable crimes. Just his unindictable crimes against humanity. Still, as a community, it’s safe to say we have seen enough of his recklessness firsthand.

As the former president makes history today, if you haven’t yet, now is the time to do your part to end Trump’s illogical hold on American politics.

Dump him. Move on. We don’t need a fake witch hunt.

What about waiting for all the potential indictments to run their course– you know, Trump’s “innocent until proven guilty,” right?

Merely a legal standard that applies to those who may serve on one of the juries. Doesn’t apply to you, the average citizen, says MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.

I tend to agree. We’ve witnessed enough of Trump in the court of public opinion. We didn’t need this week’s throwback to the OJ/White Bronco scene on Monday. Nor do we need to follow the minute-by-minute of Trump’s nascent perpdom.

AAPIs should turn the gaslight off now. But let’s be fair minded when the trial or trials actually begin. And let’s watch the rule of law in action in our democracy.

We’ll see if Trump is innocent without his spin, lies, or bluster.

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

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at 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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