Emil Guillermo: Being Asian American in 2024; Plus, my O.J. memory

Image for Emil Guillermo: Being Asian American in 2024; Plus, my O.J. memory
Image: Atlantic Council

I’m in New York doing my show, “Emil Amok, Lost NPR Host, Wiley Filipino, Vegan Transdad” as part of the New York City Fringe/Under St Marks Theater for three more shows, including one this Saturday.

But I’m still working as a journalist, viewing the world from an Asian American lens.

This week, I was taken by an image that should help you find, or at least confirm, your “Asian Americanness” in 2024.

It’s a photo of Biden, Marcos, and Kishida.

That’s not a law firm but an historic public bonding for all to see, especially China.

It’s the historic image of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida with President Joe Biden at the first-ever trilateral summit meeting among the three countries at the White House this week.

And as an Asian American Filipino whose family still has blood ties to the Filipino province of Marcos, when I look at that picture, there is no doubt as to where my allegiances are.

I’m with Joe. At this point, there’s none better.

This is one of those not so obvious observations that we take for granted, and it sometimes takes a while to sink in. Or you come upon a photograph from a trilateral summit, and then you realize.

Strip away everything and what we have is an image with people who look like us, Asian.

But our allegiance is with the white man. The president of the United States.

This is what it means to be Asian American.

Politics and history complicate things, of course. At a ceremony in the White House with the Japanese leader this week, even Biden commented on how things have changed.

“Just a few generations ago, our two nations were locked in a devastating conflict,” Biden said, referring to World War II. “It would have been easy to say we remain adversaries. Instead, we made a far better choice: We became the closest of friends.”

The same could be said of the history between the US and the Philippines, a major focus of my one-man show.Just a few lost generations ago, the Philippines was Imperial America’s first colony, first conquest. There were consequences. They are still felt today.

And now the past is set aside for this historic trilateral summit because Thitu Island is endangered.

Thitu, part of the Spratly Islands, owned by the Philippines, is a small strip of land less than a mile long, but as any real estate person will tell you, it’s location, location, location.

Thitu is an island in the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as the Filipinos prefer. China’s aggression in the region has been ongoing for nearly a decade. It threatens peace not just with the Philippines but the entire region. I’ve been writing about the Spratly Islands here for years as a potential spark.(See this one in 2015:

And despite an international ruling in The Hague rejecting China’s claims over the Spratlys, China continues to big foot the region.

Enter the United States.

As China’s aggressive stance has grown, a reminder is needed for all the world to see.

At the meetings on Thursday, Biden told the leaders of both countries that the U.S. military commitments to Japan and to the Philippines are "ironclad."

What emerged was the stark contrast: An alliance of the U.S., Japan, and the Philippines as the paragon of democracy in the region versus the authoritarian communism of China.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to put Thitu and the Spratlys on your radar now.

Taiwan isn’t the only island that could spark a major conflict.

Die-Hard Filipino or Japanese nationalists may reject the symbolism of the U.S. coming in as Big Brother to the rescue. But as Asian Americans, our hope should be for peace in the region, and for support of the two largest democracies in Asia.

It’s a special plus when we have blood still in the lands to which we provide aid.


I was really hoping for more TV coverage of the trilateral summit. In the past, when the Philippines was propped up by the U.S. through the Reagan-Bush years, there were demonstrators every time Marcos’s father came to the U.S.

Marcos was a dictator supported by U.S. dollars. Marcos Jr. is the president of a democracy. Big difference.

There are still questions about how the family was rehabilitated back into power and how it enriched itself by looting the Philippines’ coffers. But the tiger changed its stripes. And now it needs U.S. military help.

We’re lucky to get a glimpse of Marcos and Biden and Kishida in the news, especially with the death of O.J. Simpson.

Before there was a Trump, we had O.J. to polarize our society. In 1995, when I was a radio talk host, O.J. could light up the phones.

I won’t go over the case now. But I do remember how O.J. was, for many of us, our law school. Court was in session on TV, and we found out the difference between a criminal case (where O.J. was acquitted), and a civil one (where O.J. actually testified and was found liable in a wrongful death suit).

We also learned about that high bar for prosecutors in our system—“beyond a reasonable doubt.”

O.J. got karmic justice later when he served 9 years for robbery and kidnapping in Nevada.

But my memories of O.J. came as a kid growing up in San Francisco. I went to the same junior high school as O.J. My father was 50 years older than me, so we didn’t communicate. I had to seek out surrogates. O.J. was one of them. He played football, so did I (Pop Warner MVP). He was always held up as the role model for me in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. He was a Heisman winner out of USC, a kid from the hood. We could be that. Transcendent. And he was beyond race. He would say, “I’m not black, I’m not white, I’m O.J.”

But he wasn’t beyond the law.

O.J. was a decent role model, until the juice went bad.

I mention O.J .in my one-man show, “Emil Amok, Lost NPR Host, Wiley Filipino, Vegan Transdad.” Come see it in New York City live or at home via livestream.

Three shows left: April 13th, Sat. 5:20 pm ET; April 19th, Fri. 8:10 pm ET; April 21st, Sun. 5:20 pm ET.

94 St Marks Place in Manhattan’s East Village as part of the NYC Fringe Festival.

A portion of the profits will go to AALDEF in celebration of its 50 years of service to the community.


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 (I’m a little erratic timewise since I’m on the road, but check in for new updates).