Emil Guillermo: Walter Nauta, “Jeopardy,” LA City Council racism, and the first Filipinos to the New World
If Donald Trump were watching last night’s “Celebrity Jeopardy,” he would have seen this answer seeking a question: “October is the history month for this Asian-American ethnic group that includes Olivia Rodrigo and Jo Koy.”
First, we must call “sic” on the hyphenated “Asian American,” with apologies to the late copy editor genius Henry Fuhrmann (see my Sept. 19 column).
On Sunday’s show, the correct answer was delivered by Ike Barinholtz, of “Mindy Project” fame, who said “What is Filipino?”
To which our designated AAPI man of the hour and contestant Simu Liu punctuated the moment by asserting some mock outrage at Barinholtz.
Said Liu to highlight the point of the invisible: “What is Filipino?”
Indeed, what is Filipino? It is an existential “Jeopardy” answer, and the reason for Filipino American history month. Come to think of it, it really should be “What is Filipino American?”
Few people know any of it, let alone that it encompasses “Sour” singer Olivia Rodrigo (half-Filipino), and comic Jo Koy (formerly half Chelsea Handler).
But now, especially if Trump were watching, we must add another name.
You might say, in “Jeopardy” speak, who is Walter Nauta?
Quite simply, he is the man who has Donald Trump quaking in his hair weave.
Walter Nauta is the most important man in American political history at this juncture. No matter what your political persuasion, Nauta is a star – witness, of course.
Nauta is the former Navy steward who served Trump in the White House, historically an exalted post for many a Filipino. Nauta has been called Trump’s Diet Coke valet, but he was more than that.
He followed Trump after the lost election to Mar-a-Lago, and there he has become “the guy who…”
Nauta’s the guy who told the FBI Trump ordered him to move boxes containing all those top secret, classified documents and personal presidential items after a subpoena had been issued seeking return of the documents to the official presidential archives.
And the moving of the boxes is all on surveillance video.
Ah, video. It makes Nauta a bigger star than Rodrigo and Koy.
We have video and we have Nauta. A daily double for a prosecutor looking to bring Donald to justice.
Nauta was making $135,000 as Trump’s assistant in Mar-a-Lago. I hope he’s lawyered up sufficiently to stay safe. At this point he is, as the Filipino community would say, a TNT: Tago ng Tago, for “hiding and hiding.” It’s what the undocumented call themselves.
But his value is that he is real TNT to Trump, the GOP, and the American political landscape.
So if Nauta doesn’t pick up my phone calls, I understand.
Because of that, I could not independently confirm that Nauta is in fact Filipino American. He was born in Guam and joined the Navy from there. I just know the Nauta family name is generally a mix of Chamorro and Filipino. As a Guamanian, Nauta has the special status of one from an American territory. Like the Philippines once was. You are considered a citizen. But you can’t vote. You have a member in Congress, but they can’t vote. You are a colonized American, but no one likes to put it so bluntly.
You are nowhere.
But he was making $135,000 a year fetching Diet Cokes for a former president. And that is somewhere, a good gig for a citizen who can’t vote.
Now Nauta needs to be protected from his truth-challenged employer and his cronies. Because Nauta knows the truth. Trump can’t say Nauta was the “coffee boy” or that he didn’t know this low-level worker. Walter Nauta?
The fact is Donald Trump knows the “Jeopardy” answer.
And now so do we.
Nauta and the surveillance video are proof.
Nauta is the former White House steward who could be the steward of our democracy if his words are enough to bring down Trump.
That would be more than a footnote in Filipino American history.
AUDIO PROOF IN L.A.
As we move into the Filipino part of October and Filipino American History Month, we leave Hispanic Heritage Month, which went 30 days splitting September and October.
But we exit with a bang: the scandal over racist remarks made by Nury Martinez, the Latina leader and now former president of the Los Angeles City Council.
The remarks were in the recording of a meeting at a union hall in LA Oct. 18 a year ago, but only mysteriously leaked now. It included most notably Martinez and two other members of the Los Angeles City Council, Gil Cedillo and Kevin DeLeon.
They were talking about redrawing the council district lines in order to create more Latino political power, but at the expense of Black and Asian representation in Koreatown.
That’s offensive, but that’s politics. The incendiary parts? On the tape, Martinez is heard making disparaging references to a white gay city councilman and his adopted Black child. And then Martinez made another statement referring to indigenous people of Oaxaca, Mexico.
I’ve heard the tape, and it sounded like typical hypocritical white politicians talking about the rest of us. But in LA, this was the old guard Hispanic political machine in action revealing themselves with some salty, racist talk.
Fortunately, a fly on the wall hit the record button.
And now we know the truth.
In these times, it’s one thing for a comedian to say racist things as jokes, but a public official representing a population as diverse as Los Angeles? That’s no joke.
Martinez, who was thought to be mayoral material for the future, now has resigned entirely from the council. Cedillo and DeLeon, who said nothing to challenge or soften Martinez’ tone, seem complicit for going along with the Martinez theme.
Asian American groups in LA have called for both their resignations as well, creating a Black/Asian alliance that could bode well for greater diversity and representation in the largest city in the most Asian American state in the country.
That would be a good thing. And it’s all due to an insider who leaked that recording.
No one has claimed to be the leaker yet. But my sources think it was part of a broad coalition of young diverse labor activists ready to remake LA politics.
And just for good measure, Rob Bonta, California attorney general and the highest ranking Filipino American official, is looking into the matter because the council members were talking about redistricting.
Oct. 18 is not just the anniversary date of that call that has rocked LA. It’s also the day that Filipinos first came to the U.S. in 1587.
The proof? Ship logs from the Spanish explorer Pedro de Unamuno. They landed somewhere between Half Moon Bay and Morro Bay on the Central Coast of California.
But aside from the logs, they did not leave a consistent record of their presence.
What did they do? Did they have babies? Start a Plymouth Rock/Jamestown-like community? Leave a trail of lumpia somewhere?
No, the Filipinos were deck hands. It wasn’t their call. They were outclassed and left California with Unamuno, after he claimed the area for Spain.
Prof. Dan Gonzales and I talk about this on Episode 411 of my podcast. He says the date of Oct. 18 is legitimate, but the way to look at it may be that it is the “First Contact” of Filipinos in the New World.
That’s not insignificant.
“It’s an assertion of presence,” Gonzales says. “It’s not an assertion of the continuity of presence.”
If only they had audio or video, eh? Still, their presence is more than a drive-by event. (I write more about it here.)
Their arrival is the reason October was chosen as Filipino American History Month in the first place, my birthday notwithstanding. Add the emergence of Walter Nauta as the man whose word could put the orange man in an orange jumpsuit, and you have a special month indeed.
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 www.amok.com.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.