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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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.