Emil Guillermo: Our history, our democracy, our lost paradise

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I’ve read over the latest indictment on the disgraced former president who wants to be president again. Don’t get inured to the shock of it. That’s the real threat to democracy. And yet we also must understand No. 45 is innocent until proven guilty and will no doubt say that his tweets, his misstatements, and his cajoling of officials to help him steal the election was some form of free speech.

But it’s not. Not when it’s connected to the commission of a crime. In this case, the theft of our democracy.

Free speech I know intimately. And I’m not committing a crime in the pursuit of art.

I’ve been preparing and doing my one-man show, “Emil Amok: Lost NPR Host…” at the San Francisco Fringe.

(Tix are available at Eventbrite, Thurs, Aug.17, 8:30 pm PT and Sat. Aug. 19, 1 pm PT. It’s also coming to New York again, one night Wed., Sept. 6, tickets TBA.)

The show got its first really bad review this week. That I don’t mind. I was an arts critic before I became a critic of just about everything else under the sun; I can take criticism.

Critics have the right to free speech.

Still, it’s the unfair reviews that bother me.

My show is about the Filipino Asian American history very few Americans know about. How people were colonized and brought to the U.S. as an underpaid labor force subject to discrimination and racism.

It’s not “Here Lies Love.” I don’t sing and dance. I tell the truth.

Just as African Americans know how slavery affected their lives, I know the impact of being a direct descendant of those early Filipinos who came in the 1920s and 1930s as colonized Americans.Like African Americans, Filipinos were subjected to laws that prevented them from intermarrying, owning property, or voting.

For people of color, this is our shared American experience.

My show examines how that history impacted my life to this day. It’s not a show about grievances about my employment at NPR or about Harvard so much. I’m not the victim. My father was.

My show is about the weight of history that no one knows about. But you’ll know about it if you see my show. Is it art? It’s expressive. And sometimes funny.

And that’s what’s unfair about the bad review I got.History is more than 50 percent of the show. It’s Filipino American history for dummies, intended to fight the erasure of Filipino American history in our society.

But the reviewer doesn’t mention it, which only contributes to the cultural erasure of people of color and their history.

See the show for yourself if you can, in its limited run in SF and NYC. You’ll learn about what we have in common and why we fight for justice together.

And you’ll see why I’m offended by a critic all too willing to deny our history. It reminds us of the importance of telling our stories. In public. Out loud. To everyone.

Now that is free speech in action.

Donald Trump can't claim a free speech right in his new criminal indictment.


We knew a historic fourth indictment against the twice impeached, criminally indicted former president was going to happen. And now that it has, there can be only one reaction by every American.

Are you ready for America’s pro-democracy movement?

We should embrace the efforts of Fulton County DA Fani Willis to seek justice and accountability in the attempted steal of the 2020 election.

The 41-count indictment names Trump and 18 people, including his lawyers Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman, Sidney Powell, and his chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Yes, they’re all innocent until proven guilty, but there’s a lot of evidence and 31 unindicted co-conspirators, who may feel ready to throw someone under the bus.

In the first count alone, there are 161 acts of criminality charged, from making false statements, concocting a fake elector scheme, harassing and intimidating election workers, soliciting high-ranking U.S. Department of Justice officials, soliciting Vice President Pence, breach of election equipment, general obstruction in the “furtherance of the conspiracy and the Cover-up,” and soliciting state legislators and high-ranking state officials.

You’ll recall the Trump conversation with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who felt threatened when Trump asked him to “find 11, 780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”

You’ve heard that one. It’s that plus another 160 just as damning, such as Trump telling aide John McEntee to come up with a strategy to disrupt and delay the official count on Jan. 6. “An overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy,” the indictment reads in Act 19.

There’s 161 acts in count 1 of the 41-count indictment.

Each act within the 41 counts comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of 5-20 years.

And it had to be this voluminous, considering the framework of the racketeering charges. Done under the state version of the federal RICO ACT (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, signed into law by Nixon in 1970), it’s the law that targets groups of individuals who commit a series of crimes in an ongoing criminal concern. It’s usually reserved for organized crime mobs and gangsters.

In this case, it’s organized political players attempting to steal our democracy.

The narrative laid out by Willis is blunt and stark.

“Defendant Donald John Trump lost the United States presidential election,” is the first line of the indictment. “One of the states he lost was Georgia. Trump and the other defendants charged in this indictment refused to accept that Trump lost, and they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump. That conspiracy contained a common plan to commit two or more acts of racketeering activity in Fulton County, Georgia, elsewhere in Georgia, and in other states.”

That’s the simple narrative. The indictment is more list than narrative, but it tells how many people allegedly were willing to steal the election and break the law in the name of Trump.

This one is so much broader than the narrow set of federal indictments for Jan. 6 brought by Special Prosecutor Jack Smith.

While Smith seems geared to get to trial, Willis’ focus is on the depth and breadth of the criminal activity. This wasn’t just Trump. He may have been the leader, but this was a group effort to commit crimes against democracy.

It’s also a state case, which means Trump can’t rely on winning the election and pardoning himself. He will have to fight it, even if he manages to become president again.

And what a spector that would be, with cameras allowed in the courtrooms in Georgia. The whole world will be watching our national civic lesson on whether the U.S. can protect its democracy from historic bad actors at the top.

Just remember: The good guys are the ones protecting the Constitution, not the ones trying to destroy it.


As Hawaii is the most Asian American state in the nation, my heart hurts for all the victims of the Maui wildfires. This is definitely a “there but for fortune” moment.

I lived and worked in Honolulu on Oahu for two years. Maui was for vacations and seeing family. My sister and kin used to live in Napili, Kaanapali, and Kihei. We’d do things like drive to Hana. But they always avoided Old Lahaina Town as too touristy. Now I regret never spending much time there. The pictures of the destruction are devastating, and the history connecting us to our past is irreplaceable.

Please remember Maui through a charitable aid entity of your choice.

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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