Emil Guillermo: The last 50 and the next 50 at AALDEF

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I couldn’t make the AALDEF 50th anniversary gala in New York this week, because I was in Florida fighting for the next 50 years.

I’m doing my show, “Emil Amok, Lost NPR Host, Wiley Filipino, Vegan Transdad,” an iteration of the show I did while in New York a few months ago.

Here’s what I found in Florida. Asian Americans, especially Filipinos, had no clue about the history of racism toward Asians that is a theme in my play. I talk about the colonized Filipinos brought to the U.S. to replace the Chinese victimized by the Chinese Exclusion laws.

One of them was my father. As a colonized “American National,” my father couldn’t vote, own land, or intermarry. Was he free? Just free to work and take the abuse of xenophobic white males. Filipinos would take their jobs and endure white male rage. And then they would date and marry white women. That got Filipinos killed, lynched, and shot.

It’s part of American history few know about. And, of course, in a state like Florida where they have many low-information voters, you also have the blowback on so-called “critical race theory,” creating a population with a low-history mindset.


“I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know a lot of our history,” said Emily Janninck, a Filipino American recently retired from the medical field. She came to my show and was both entertained and informed.

Janninck was born in the Philippines and was left with her grandmother as an infant as her parents became the first to leave for the U.S. after the historic 1965 Immigration Act lifted the racist quotas that kept a large Asian American community from forming.

Her parents were in Brooklyn and were divorced when Janninck was reunited just with her mom. As a unique 1.5 Filipino generation, she moved with her single mom to Chicago where she grew up and met her husband Jim. For the last 20 years, they’ve been in Orlando. . .clearly, waiting to see “Emil Amok.”

Another, Asian American in the Fringe audience was Jennifer Chandy, a Filipino Pakistani.

Chandy was curious about my show and said she’ll see it this week. (If you’re in Orlando this week and want to see it, check for times and tickets at

Chandy’s mom, like many of my Filipino relatives in the Philippines, was forced to go to Saudi Arabia to find work. That’s where her mom met her dad, who came from Pakistan also to find work. Together, they started a family that eventually found its way to the U.S.

And now Chandy is a “Pakipino.”

“There’s not too many of us,” she said. “But we have great food!”

These are the Asian Americans who come to my show. They get the history, but few understand that the rights of Asian Americans are still threatened like they were 100 years ago.


The 1924 Immigration Act was the most racist immigration act until the 1965 law ended the zero quota for Asians.

At the same time, aliens couldn’t intermarry, couldn’t become citizen or votes. They also couldn’t own property.

That last part, property, is still being fought today.

In Florida, SB264 would ban many Chinese immigrants from buying homes throughout the state. It’s a xenophobic reaction to Chinese people who are seen as possible threats to national security.

The fight from 100 years ago is back.

“Florida’s alien land law specifically targets Chinese individuals in a clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause,” said Bethany Li, legal director of AALDEF.She hoped that the recent halting of the law would keep copycat laws from coming up in other states. “As a country we should be making progress and passing laws that protect all communities rather than going back in time and reviving antiquated laws.”

Bethany is soon to be the executive director, taking over for Margaret Fung, who retires later this year.

The fight in Florida is an example of the fights AALDEF will be forced to wage in the coming years.

We climbed the mountain once. We are forced to climb the same mountains again.

It’s the lesson for the modern Asian American activist.

As we’ve seen in issues like abortion rights and voting rights, the rights game requires perpetual vigilance. Nothing seems settled anymore in America. There is always someone willing to take away our rights at a moment’s notice.

So while I regretted not being able to see the sunset on the Hudson, I was happy to be in Florida where I could see what the battle looks like in the next 50 years.

We’ll be fighting the undoing of major victories. And of course, fighting for gains in areas where no one thought we had any rights at all.

But the last 50 years got us to this point. And for that we all must be grateful.


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, or at (During my Fringe dates, the schedule may be erratic. Keep checking back!)