On Asian American Pacific-Islander Heritage Month, and other matters

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Funny how immigration has become the issue gripping all of us “professional ethnicists” during this Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

How’s this for a replication of the Nueva Arizona experience? When someone asks me for my papers I’m all ready with a standard reply:

“Papers? I don’t have any — not since AsianWeek folded.”

(By the way, since its passing, I have gone all digital with the 21st Century Amok column that you can follow it as it develops 24-7 by going to www.twitter.com/emilamok. You can also check out my blog at www.amok.com. )

While May is normally our time on the ethnic calendar, the subject of immigration has turned this into the season to join other people of color and stand united against Arizona’s xenophobic law. The law’s fair only if everyone can equally be suspected of being here illegally. Perhaps that’s the case in theory, but it doesn’t happen that way. If Arizona wants such a law then ask everyone their status, especially those whites on tourist and student visas who are overstays from Russia, Canada, England, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden. You know, the countries where people can pass for “American,” just by shutting up and smiling. That’s the problem in a police state that insists on a de facto definition of “American” as white.

If Arizona only picks on Mexicans, then the law is clearly racist. If that’s Arizona’s prerogative then call it a states’ rights issue, just as we did slavery. And then join the protest to condemn it.

Responsible folks can call for a boycott of Arizona, but I’m considering going there myself. Besides, I have a brother-in-law and a little niece Olivia to visit. I need to see if the indigenous white people are safe.

And I’d like to see if I get asked “the question.”

I got the treatment years ago in Boston. I was on a Greyhound headed West at a bus depot in Philadelphia . Some guy in a suit and a badge in his wallet asked me for my papers.

My papers? All I had was a rolled up New York Times.

So while people are talking boycott of Arizona, I’m actually encouraging all of you to visit. Really. There’s a nice little Asian strip mall in Phoenix partially owned by the Chinese government and filled with Asian restaurants that will make you feel like you’re on Grant Avenue. Only you’re in the desert. While you’re at it, wish them all a happy Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And extend to them your sympathies.

I was in Arizona two years ago and found only the 114 degree heat oppressive.

This time, I look forward — as an American of Filipino descent, who in sweltering heat is dark enough to be suspected of being Mexicanto arrive in Arizona and have someone ask me for my AsianWeek.


No one is saying the recent rash of incidents on Muni are hate crimes yet, but they do come close enough for concern, especially if you are an Asian American living in the Bay View and Visitation Valley.

But take the race out of some of these cases and what do you get? A woman in her 50s, a man in his 80s.

That doesn’t sound like race is as big a factor to me. I don’t think the perps would pick a fight with Bruce Lee III. Jet Li Jr. or the second coming of Michelle Yeoh.

The Muni perps are young cowards who prey on the weak. We’re not talking race war. We’re talking about the need for security on the streets and public transportation. And we’re talking about the need for parenting, and lessons of mutual respect. I know, how old fashioned.


The Muni incident is the real reason we need AAPI Month. Most of the time, I’m ready to give up on the month.

For example, before today, did any one greet you with a happy AAPI Month hug? Karate chop? Any Hallmark cards? If you follow me at www.twitter.com/emilamok, I did tweet you an AAPI Month greeting.

Still, if it weren’t for this street fair, AAPI celebrations would be lame, boring, governmental affairs at the Federal building or City Hall. AAPI Month is the law, after all. Government bodies have to celebrate it, or else. It’s a little like a shotgun wedding celebration.

But because it’s the law, it literally would take an act of Congress to rid ourselves of it.

So when I think we no longer need an AAPI Month, I think of Huan Chen, the 83 year old Muni rider beaten and killed in the Bay View in January. It makes me think of Vincent Chin, the Chinese American mistaken for Japanese and beaten to death in Detroit in 1982.

And then I’m reminded how AAPI Month isn’t just for us. It’s for all of us, especially the non-Asians who have no clue of the past.

See how many non-Asians are here at the Street Fair. That’s a measure of success. AAPI Month is not a separatist movement. It’s a real opportunity for everyone to get to know what it means to be Asian American in this country.

Updates at www.amok.com

Emil Guillermo, an award-winning TV, radio and print journalist, was a former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” and a columnist for AsianWeek. His new business helps raise consumers’ financial IQ.

About the Author

For almost 15 years, Emil Guillermo wrote his "Amok" column for AsianWeek, which was the largest English language Asian American newsweekly in the nation. "Amok" was considered the most widely-read column on Asian American issues in the U.S. His thoughtful and provocative social commentaries have appeared in print in the San Francisco Chronicle, SFGate.com, San Francisco Examiner, USA Today, Honolulu Star Bulletin, Honolulu Advertiser, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and in syndication throughout the country. His early columns are compiled in a book "Amok: Essays from an Asian American Perspective," which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation in 2000. Guillermo's journalistic career began in television and radio broadcasting. At National Public Radio, he was the first Asian American male to anchor a regularly scheduled national news broadcast when he hosted "All Things Considered" from 1989-1991. During his watch, major news broke, including the violence in Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of dictatorships in Romania and Panama. From Washington, Guillermo hosted the shows that broke the news. As a television journalist, his award-winning reports and commentaries have appeared on NBC, CNN, and PBS. He was a reporter in San Francisco, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. After NPR, Guillermo became a press secretary and speechwriter for then Congressman Norman Mineta, the former cabinet member in the Bush and Clinton Administrations. After his Hill experience, Guillermo returned to the media, hosting his own talk show in Washington, D.C. on WRC Radio. He returned to California where he hosted talk shows in San Francisco at KSFO/KGO, and in Sacramento at KSTE/KFBK. Guillermo's columns in the ethnic press inspired a roundtable discussion program that he created, hosted, executive produced, resulting in more than 100 original half-hour programs. "NCM-TV: New California Media" was seen on PBS stations in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, and throughout the state on cable. Guillermo also spent time as a newspaper reporter covering the poor and the minority communities of California's Central Valley. His writing and reporting on California's sterilization program on the poor and minorities won him statewide and national journalism awards. Guillermo, a native San Franciscan, went to Lowell High School, and graduated from Harvard College, where he was an Ivy Orator and class humorist, a distinction shared by fellow Lampoon members like James Downey (Saturday Night Live) and Conan O'Brien. Find out what he's up to at www.amok.com.