Emil Guillermo: Historical Jan. 6 events at the Capitol bring up shameful anti-Asian American history

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What’s happening in Congress to Kevin McCarthy hasn’t happened since 1923,100 years ago. But it’s nothing like what’s happened to Asian Americans in that Congress.

Still, that’s not the history people will focus on today.

Instead, they’ll be talking about the history of January 6 and how in 2021, a violent mob tried to stop the certification of a free and fair election and disrupt our democracy.

People lost their lives that day, including five Capitol police officers. 140 were seriously injured. Today, on the Capitol steps, Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries led a bell-ringing ceremony in their name.
But we cannot forget how close we were to the bell ringing for all of us. That’s how close we were to losing our country.

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Two years later, there’s no violence, but there is a mob. The effect of the right-wing bloc by MAGA/GOP members to elect a new speaker of the House of Representatives is almost the same.

As long as there’s no speaker, the House can’t function, pay bills, assign committees. In an emergency, it couldn’t convene the intelligence committee. Without a speaker, the nation’s congressional branch is totally stymied and rendered useless.

This would a good day at the office for any Proud Boy or Oath Keeper.

The House has been immobilized by primarily five members: Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Bob Good (R-VA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Andy Biggs (R-AZ), who essentially have held the government hostage.

All of them are Trumpettes with a stubborn sense much like the former president. They are shamelessly unwavering in their intransigence.

And their five votes are all it takes to deny the presumed GOP majority leader McCarthy the speakership from the number of votes he needs—218.

McCarthy has usually ended up with around 200 votes. Fewer than the Democrat Hakeem Jeffries. But Jeffries can’t be speaker with just 212 votes. And McCarthy can’t win with 200.

After three days, McCarthy’s been denied 11 times.

That’s more times than Peter denied Jesus.

But McCarthy is no Jesus. So maybe he deserves multiple denials.

Here’s one reason: Remember House Res. 908 in 2020? It was Rep. Grace Meng’s legislation that condemned the anti-Asian hate rhetoric of the pandemic, phrases like “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” and “Kung-flu” that perpetuated anti-Asian stigma. The resolution also called on public officials to denounce all expressions of racism, xenophobia, and scapegoating, as well as collect data on the rise of hate crimes during Covid-19.

Who could be against that? See all the NO votes (mostly Republican) at this link.

The YES votes won, fortunately. But among the NO votes, Kevin McCarthy was one of the loudest. He called the resolution a waste of time.

For that alone, McCarthy deserves what he’s getting now. And McCarthy is amassing NO votes at a record-breaking pace.

It was 100 years ago that it took multiple ballots to get to a speaker—-9 rounds of ballots in 1923. McCarthy had that by late afternoon Thursday, then adjourned for the night after the 11th defeat. And there’s the promise of many more rounds of votes.

“So if this takes a little longer, and it doesn’t meet your deadline, that’s okay,” McCarthy told a gaggle of reporters as he walked out of the chambers. “Because it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. If we finish well, we’ll be very successful.”

McCarthy has already been accused of “selling shares” of himself. Any deal going forward contains so many concessions to his detractors, like the ability to call a vote to vacate McCarthy on just one vote. The job nearly seems powerless and ceremonial. McCarthy will be no more than a removable hood ornament.

But it’s that multiple vote record set in 1923 that’s worth dwelling on, particularly for Asian Americans. Then as now, America was divided, on many of the same things that divide us now.

And this is where your Asian American history comes in.

Congress that year produced perhaps one of the most racist and xenophobic immigration laws in American history. The Immigration Act of 1924, a/k/a the “Oriental Exclusion Act.”

It set quotas for immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the 1890 census.

But it set Asian immigration to zero.

Chinese were already excluded from entering the U.S. in the 1890s. But this law updated that sentiment and lumped all Asian countries together, with two exceptions. The Japanese had a so-called Gentlemen’s Agreement in 1907 to limit Japanese immigration to the U.S. And then there was the Philippines, a U.S. colony at the time. Their colonization enabled Filipinos to travel freely to the U.S.

Not exactly lucking out, considering how Filipinos fared in America at that time, mostly as field hands and migrant workers. But it was lucky.

Everyone else was locked out.

To what end? As the Office of the U.S. Historian points out, “the most basic purpose of the 1924 Immigration Act was to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity.”

It was America’s anti-diversity, white purity sentiment of the day. Let’s be all the same, namely, pure and homogenous. And not Asian.

I’m sure there’s more than a few current members of Congress who dream of passing an exclusionary immigration law like the one in 1924.

That would be a step too far backward, right? But have you heard the modern racist anti-immigrant rhetoric of white supremacists the last few years?

Ask folks who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Or the five keeping the House from electing Kevin McCarthy speaker on Jan. 6, 2023.

We aren’t so far from a politics of 100 years ago in more ways than one.

More unsettling is that for as bad as McCarthy is, there are people blocking him to be house speaker who are far worse.

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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