Emil Guillermo: Emil Amok, masked in Manhattan

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I’m officially coming out of hiding. I’m in New York City doing my live one-man show, though considering the venue, maybe I’m still hiding. It’s the small and intimate Under St. Marks theater, Feb. 16-March 4. Click this link for tickets.

It’s actually under a tattoo parlor and not a church as I originally thought, an Off-Broadway place in the East Village. So no need to quote Mark 16:16, you know, where the believers are saved and the non-believers are condemned. Just believe that I really would like to see you after three years.

That’s how long I’ve been avoiding New York, live performing and theater, due to the pandemic.

Of course, my three years is not exactly Rihanna’s seven years before her Super Bowl LVII performance (more on her later).

My small black-box is actually the perfect place for the kind of show I do. I don’t sing songs like Lea Salonga, but I do tell some jokes—to make the pain entertaining. Mostly, I focus on how my life has been affected by Asian American Filipino history.

It’s the stuff you should know about but don’t. (You’ll know it if you read this column regularly). It’s the history that everyone who says they’re American should know but doesn’t. It’s the story of Filipinos in America, going back to 1587.

While much has been made of Asian American success (e.g., “the model minority”) as a way to mitigate the pain of history, it doesn’t quite undo the past.

In American history, there’s no shortage of discrimination and hate toward Asian Americans. If you ever doubted how we fit in, or whether we really fit into the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) spectrum, come see the show. (Or get a ticket to the livestream). You’ll see why the model minority is a myth, and how Asian Americans continue to struggle to find our way to social justice.

If you do come, I’ll be the guy in the mask. Not just the masks of tragedy and comedy, but of Covid.

I’ll take it off on stage, of course, but I hope you’ll wear one.

You do know the pandemic isn’t over, right?

And that is really the subject of this column.

I was flying this weekend, but well below 60,000 feet. So I was an identified flying object. I was just masked. Shouldn’t we all?

When I boarded my plane to go from west to east, I saw some people wearing masks on the plane. But not the majority.

I saw a Filipino woman walking down the aisle unmasked. In my row, I sat next to two youngish Asian Americans, one a South Asian guy, the other a Chinese girl. Forget about how none of us spoke a word to each other during a nearly five-hour flight. They had air buds on and were in their own digital worlds. That I don’t mind.

But here we are in a flying metal tube, in close proximity to each other, negating whatever filter system is in use. And neither of my row mates are masked.

I’m masked the whole time, even during the pretzel eating, because I’m courteously protecting others from whatever germs I have.

Are they thinking of me?

And why aren’t they?

What happened to that notion of Asian respect for older generations?

If you saw Paula Span’s article in the New York Times this weekend, you know that three-quarters of Covid deaths have occurred in people over 65. That was true during the height of the pandemic and remains true to date, with the most deaths in people over 75.

But break down the death numbers for January and you’ll see how scary real Covid is for older people.

For those 65 to 74, there were 2,100 deaths.

For those 75 to 84, there were 3,500 deaths.

For those over 85, there were close to 5,000 deaths.

That’s about 90 percent of the Covid deaths in January.

Counting deaths may seem macabre, but it tells you something about who is the most vulnerable, and whom we should care about.

Instead, there’s actually a debate over whether there should there be any responsibility to fellow members of society when it comes to Covid. That’s debatable? Are we throwing people off the life raft?

And let’s not be ageist: what about the immunosuppressed and others with chronic illness? Who cares about those still at risk?

The government is planning to remove the national emergency and public health declarations related to the Covid-19 on May 11.

Too soon? After the January we had, it’s really fingers crossed.

But for now it looks like public health is becoming a DIY matter. Do it yourself if you want a sense of it.

If you want to show a public responsibility to others, great. You’re a saint. But after three years of Covid restrictions, it seems most of us don’t want to think about it anymore. We want to live our lives and take the risk.

Me? I’m finally going back out. But I’ll be wearing my mask. Except when I’m on stage doing “Emil Amok: Lost NPR Host Found Under St. Marks.”

Get your tickets here.

I can’t not mention the Super Bowl after the thriller this weekend in LVII.

My team wasn’t in it, so there were other things more enticing. For those of us who remember Super Bowl I, we can recall a time when the idea of a Black quarterback was something of an accepted racist belief.

Black quarterback? They couldn’t be. They weren’t good enough. They weren’t smart enough or even so athletic to be the top position in football. That was reserved for the white guys. Guys like Johnny Unitas, Bart Star, Roger Staubach. Not a Black athlete.

That is so blatantly racist now, but it took nearly 60 years—three generations—to overcome.

Now at Super Bowl 57, we have two black quarterbacks, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. Both put up the stats worthy of Super Bowl MVP, but Mahomes won the game. Now he’s considered one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the sport, period.

Add to the two great black quarterbacks, the singer Rihanna, who wowed the crowd when they weren’t watching football.

Her first live performance in seven years was a spectacle for the woman whose business brand is said to be worth $1.7 billion.

It made me wonder while watching, why aren’t people calling Blacks the model minority? Why is that tag reserved for Asian Americans?

That’s how you know any use of the phrase “model minority” is pure b.s. Maybe they tag us Asian Americans with the phrase because everyone (Asian and non-Asian) will easily buy into it. Don’t. It’s a manipulative myth.

Our communities continue to struggle despite our successes and shining stars.
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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