Emil Guillermo: Sen. Cotton's shameful racist congressional interrogation

Image for Emil Guillermo: Sen. Cotton's shameful racist congressional interrogation

Let’s thank Tom Cotton, the MAGA Republican Senator from Arkansas, for inspiring the uniquely racist Lunar New Year greeting for 2024.

I can hear Cotton now saying, “Gung Hay Fat Communist!”

Or words to that effect. More on that later in this column, but first, the Lunar New Year officially begins on Feb. 10th.

But the AALDEF Lunar New Year Celebration is on Monday, Feb. 5th. So, from me a hearty, appropriate and sincere, “Gung Hay Fat Choy!” (If you’re going to the reception, I will be in California with you all from afar but will be at the 50th Anniversary Dinner on May 20 during Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, or Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, or whatever you wish to call the umbrella we all stand under.)

This Lunar New Year is special, not just because it’s the Year of the Dragon. It’s also a unique year politically where Asian Americans could all be subjected not just to lion dances, red envelopes, and family dinners. After last week, we could face more nasty interrogations from people like Senator Cotton.

You may have missed it in the mad news rush at that Congressional hearing on social media and child safety, which included an apology to parents of families harmed by social media from Meta founder, Mark Zuckerberg, honorary Asian American by way of marriage, and the parent of a young Asian American.

Zuckerberg’s apology made all the front pages.

But it pushed another story out of the news, and it's something we really needed everyone to see–an openly hostile, crystal clear gem of outright xenophobia from Cotton.

Cotton went after TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew with an unusual zeal, trying to pin down Chew as a Chinese loyalist and enemy of the state.

It was as if Cotton were Sen. Joe McCarthy of the 1950s looking for commies, even using McCarthy’s language.

Cotton aggressively pointed out that the actions of ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, are essentially monitored and under the influence of the Chinese government.

Chew never denied that TikTok was directly affected but implied that the TikTok he runs and does business in the U.S. was different.

But Cotton didn’t stop there.

Here’s a clip of the hearing from C-SPAN:

At 2:24 in the C-SPAN clip, Cotton in a “show me your papers” move asked what nation Chew is a citizen of.

“Singapore,” Chew answered.

Cotton then piled on. “Are you a citizen of any other nation?” and “Have you ever applied for Chinese citizenship?”

Chew said no to both and added that he’s served in the Singaporean military and still holds a Singaporean passport.

Cotton kept pressuring. He asked about Chew’s wife and daughter, both of whom are American citizens, then asked if Chew has applied for American citizenship, as if it’s relevant at all.

“No, not yet,” said Chew.

Then there was a beat, and Cotton delivered the McCarthyesque low blow. “Have you ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party?” he asked.

“Senator, I’m Singaporean, no,” said Chew.

Cotton kept going. “Have you ever been associated or affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party?”

“No senator, I’m Singaporean,” said Chew.

It was a jaw-dropping exchange–outright badgering that was over the top racist.

Listen to the tape. Cotton’s interrogation was disgusting.

Between Cotton’s display and the FBI’s warning about Chinese hackers at another hearing last week in Congress, the political tone is being set for how Asians and Asian Americans can expect to be treated.

This is the kind of moment that could lead to loyalty oaths and outright discriminatory treatment, all sadly recurring themes in U.S. history.

That is why it all needs to be called out now, loud and clear.

Frankly, I have been called a member of the CCCP, or at least looking like a member for my black hair. And I’m Filipino. Maybe it was a joke, but this is how all that trickles down.

It starts from the racist rhetoric on display in Congress last week.

Xenophobia in the Year of the Dragon?

Let’s put Cotton and his ilk on notice that we won’t stand for any of this.

We’re definitely not going to let it to spoil Lunar New Year celebrations in our great country.

# # #

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