Emil Guillermo: NYC Beating Survivor Vilma Kari is an Asian American Filipino

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Did you go to church on Easter Sunday?

Did you feel like Vilma Kari?

If you hadn’t heard, Kari, widely identified as “Asian American Woman, 65,” is the Filipino American who was viciously attacked as she walked to church on Easter Monday of Holy Week in New York City.

Her attacker, arrested last Wednesday, is 38-year-old Brandon Elliot, who was living in a midtown hotel that’s serving as a homeless shelter.

Elliot and Kari crossed paths on the sidewalk as they walked past a luxury apartment building’s wide angle security camera.

The camera catches Elliot brutally beating Kari, enough to break her pelvis and land her in the hospital with multiple welts and bruises throughout her body and forehead.

Elliot was charged with two counts of assault as a hate crime, and one count of attempted assault as a hate crime. The hate crime enhancements mean Elliot could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

But it may not have been a hate crime, if Elliot had beaten Kari for the pure brutality of it all.

In a news conference last week, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said that Elliot was “accused of brutally shoving, kicking and stomping a 65-year-old mother to the ground after telling her that she didn’t belong here.”

I took note of how the DA sequenced the accused’s attack. Elliot used hate speech first, then acted.

I’ve actually found that it does make a difference what comes first, the hate speech or the hate attack.

In one California case assault case I covered, mocking first then attacking was a successful argument for the defense! Ultimately, how it’s perceived will depend on the jury.

Elliot is being investigated for other anti-Asian attacks, which is standard. But perhaps more telling is that Elliot was on parole for fatally stabbing his mother in 2002 when he just 19. After being sentenced to a minimum of 15 years to life, he was released on lifetime parole in 2019 after serving 16 years.

That’s who Kari walked past last Monday.

So it’s hard to tell the good, the bad, and unfortunately, the indifferent.

The security camera video shows the building staff close the doors as the attack of Kari took place within their view.

Building owners are investigating the circumstances, but at some point, people have to stand up, distract, call the police, do something, to let the perp know his actions are in full view.

Would perps act at the top of their hate if they knew we are all witnesses?

So we can add another victim to the national bull market of anti-Asian American hate, which includes nearly 4,000 incidents from epithets to murder for over a year.

It’s not just a local story when it’s in New York. The headline most of the world read about Kari referred to her as “a 65-year-old Asian American woman.”

Generic victim.

But as was finally revealed, Kari is Filipino.

Were Filipinos just made invisible?

I know I often use the term Asian American and Filipino interchangeably. And I even wrote about the beating last week. I used “Asian American” because sources never identified her as anything but in the generic way—“Asian American.”

But isn’t it time we start using the ethnic identifier explicitly when we are able, which means getting comfortable with phrasing such as “Asian American of Filipino descent.”

My inclusive, less generic naming convention would simply be “Asian American of [ethnic] descent.”

All three component parts are important.

My “AAF” which could be seen as the extremely emphatic as “Asian as F—.” But it’s intended to be the more informational–“Asian American Filipino.”

By my naming convention, you’d have AACs (Chinese) and AAKs (Koreans), AAVs (Vietnamese), etc. Try it.

This sort of thing may seem to be a quibble, but it’s not.

A good friend of mine, a real social justice warrior, the head of a non-profit, and an AAF, complained to me about generalizing our ethnicities under the Asian American umbrella.

He was the first to raise the idea of our self-invisibility.

He’s a big proponent of disaggregating from the aggregate. And why not–all of our individual ethnic experiences are different. Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Burmese, Korean, Indian, Hmong, and more. Especially when you sort through data involving everything from health care to economics.

We’re all different– except when we are seen as all the same.

Like when an attacker sees us and acts out of ignorance and hate.

It’s our time to educate. And let people know, we are a complex and unique American community of communities.

Individualistic, yes.

But united, for sure.

I have a tremendous amount of empathy for Vilma’s story. My mother in her only trip to New York was once mugged outside Macy’s and had her purse stolen. No one was hurt.

I’ve also often walked around midtown where I tend to stay with friends, and I’ve often found walking to St. Patrick’s to be my quiet urban refuge.

So the idea of a Filipino American walking to church on a Monday, then getting beaten to a pulp and no one responds to help her enrages me to no end.

Then I saw that Kari, now recovering and yet to speak to a reporter like myself, has a GoFundMe page.

It’s set up by her daughter Liz Kari, who commented on the video that showed no one coming to her mother’s defense.

“What this video did not capture was that there was someone who was standing across the street that witnessed my mom getting attacked who yelled and screamed to get the assailant’s attention,” Liz Kari wrote on the Go Fund Me page. “ That is where the video cuts off as the attacker crossed the street to him. To this person, I understand your decision in remaining anonymous during this time. I want to THANK YOU for stepping in and doing the right thing. This gesture of action is what we need in our world right now. I hope one day, my mom and I can thank you personally.”

As I write, there’s been nearly $245,000 raised from about 6,000 donors. The family intends to also use the money to help other victims.

Sadly, every day there’s another Vilma Kari. There will be, until the love we can all generate overcomes the hate that we all harbor.

Image by AALDEF

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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