Big fires in NorCal; Vandalism in Little Manila


These are hazy, smoky times in the most Asian state (by population) in America.

Most of California is essentially an orchard paved over to varying degrees, and I am on the edges of the rural and urban–the ruburbs of the great Central Valley, a few hours away from the gourmet grapes of Napa and Sonoma.

But even I cannot escape the headline of the day. The winds transport the tragic news. More than 20 deaths, 285 missing, more than 3,500 structures burned to a crisp. No need for apocalyptic images. From my front door, I can smell the fires.


The air quality in my county is so bad, unnecessary outdoor activity has been cancelled. A local high school nixed a powder puff football game. Closer to the fires, schools have closed. An Asian American friend, once far from the fires, is now less than 30 miles away.

More than twenty fires continue to burn throughout the state, with the biggest ones in Sonoma and Napa counties still out of control. Calistoga, known for wine and mud baths, is now under mandatory evacuation. People out. The grapes are on their own.

At a news conference on Wednesday in Santa Rosa, Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said ominously that it was going to get “worse before it gets better.”

Emergency shelters are already packed. But officials also wanted to dispel an ugly rumor that people were being asked to show immigration papers at the shelters.

“Not true,” declared an unequivocal Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano.

That the rumors were started says something about our times. When a catastrophe should summon up the best in all of us, there are still the evil ones all too willing to sow seeds of division with a nasty rumor.

What do you expect? It’s the ugliness of our times, when the nation is without a comforter-in-chief and instead is led by an instigator-in-chief who sets the tone for our nation.

VP Pence came to California for a photo-op as Trump can’t be bothered. He’s Nero fiddling or tweeting about IQ tests and his exclusive membership to the order of morons; threatening news outlets for reporting his desire to increase our nuclear capability ten-fold; and generally causing domestic and international political mayhem.

All while California–and its 55 electoral college votes–burns.

It’s just another gigantic calamitous event to add to the growing list of recent natural and manmade disasters to which we’ve been subjected.

Besides the fires, Maria continues to put Harvey and Irma to shame, with nearly 90 percent of Puerto Rico without power, half without phone communication.

We’ve had an earthquake in Mexico City; an historic mass shooting in Las Vegas by a shooter so non-descript he amassed an arsenal without detection; and then there’s the sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, a Democratic rival to the pussy-grabber-in-chief.

October’s not done. And it’s already been one hard fall after another.


Next Wednesday, Oct. 18, I’ll be doing a special performance of my one-man show, “Amok Monologues: NPR, Harvard, Death on Mission Street,” at the College of the Pacific in Stockton, CA at 7 p.m. at the Wendell Phillips Center, Room 140. It’s free, and it’s open to the public.

I was especially looking forward to the show because Stockton was at one point the epicenter of Filipinoness in the U.S. and October is Filipino American History month, as designated by the Filipino American National Historical Society.

But now the event comes in the wake of a little news too.

This week the Little Manila Center in downtown Stockton sustained nearly a thousand dollars in damages when someone ripped up posters of iconic Filipino banners at the center’s storefront site.


Five of six wall-size posters were ripped, including large images of a 1920s local beauty queen; an Army veteran of WWII; and an asparagus worker in the fields, typical of the manual laborers who found jobs in the valley and then came to Stockton to live and play.


Dillon Delvo, the executive director of Little Manila, said the incident should be seen as a hate crime, though reportedly it’s being viewed as an act of vandalism by the Stockton Police. The culprit, whom a witness described as a female, is still at large. But besides ripping the paper images, she scrawled some graffiti that included a sentence, “You’re the real bigot.”

“We’ve been here 3-½ years and have had no problems, and no other businesses were hit,” Delvo told me, indicating his belief the center was targeted.


He was also struck by the irony of how the vandalism was a fresh reminder of the history that Filipinos have endured since the 1930s. The Little Manila Center is on Main Street, which back then served as a de facto Mason-Dixon line. Filipinos weren’t allowed to go north of Main Street. An infamous sign published in Look Magazine even showed an establishment proudly displaying signs that said, “Positively no Filipinos allowed.”

At the time, the thousands of Filipinos who came to America helped foster a reactionary eugenics movement that led to violent anti-Filipino race riots in California. Labor newspapers reported Filipinos lynched.

That more Filipino men were brought to the U.S. than women led to policies fueled by sexual jealousy. Filipinos were banned from intermarriage to whites in California and a handful of other states. On the federal level, the U.S. shut down the flow of Filipinos to America by changing their status from colonized nationals to foreigners. Essentially, it was a Filipino ban.

“It’s hard to look at our history, and look at the news today, and not think that there’s something more going on here,” Delvo said referring to defacing of the center.

I tend to agree. The police may never find the culprit. But there’s an ignorance of the past that needs to be addressed this Filipino American history month.

My late father, who arrived in California in 1928, lived through all of that history. I walk through the center in Stockton and see replicas of Filipino life that break my heart. My dad was a city boy in San Francisco, but he knew Stockton too.

His story is the basis of my “Amok Monologues,” which I bring to Stockton next week with a renewed sense of urgency.

_The Amok Monologues, written and performed by Emil Guillermo is coming Oct. 18 to UOP Stockton, 7pm, Wendell Phillips Center Room 140. FREE, sponsored by College of the Pacific.

Also coming to Baltimore’s Charm City Fringe Festival in November.

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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