Emil Guillermo: Syrian refugees, Japanese American internees, and the new American hysteria
November 20, 2015 8:05 AM

Does it feel like 1942 to you yet?

America, if you haven't noticed, isn't feeling like itself these days.

Instead of large, gracious and visionary--the bastion of freedom and liberty---our country and its leaders are feeling puny and small. Donald Trump "Put up a Wall" small. 

And it all changed on Nov. 13. 

Add that day to Sept. 11 on your list of days we should never forget. 

On that Friday the 13th, the terrorist attacks in Paris seemed to make everyone a Francophile again. And it turned most of our politicians and leaders into raging Islamophobes.

Sure enough, by Monday, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump was linking the ISIS terrorists responsible for the Paris attacks with the Syrian refugee crisis. What do the two have to do with each other? 

Nothing really. 

But you can make the uncritical link like Trump did the other day and sound totally reasonable.

Then again, he tries to make deporting 11 million people seem rational.

Trump was on with a right-wing radio host in Boston this week and didn't sound apologetic for practically stripping the Statue of Liberty naked and blowing out her torch.

"This isn't a question of refugees," Trump reportedly said on the radio program. "This is a question of safety for the people for our country. . .This could be the ultimate Trojan horse where people are coming in under the guise that we are taking care of them and they end up blowing up big parts of our cities."

Meanwhile, President Obama was in Turkey, before heading to the Philippines for APEC this week. 

And before he got to Manila, he put ISIL/ISIS in its place. 

It's no nation state, the president said. It's a band of suicide killers. 

I was struck by his blunt line: "If you have a handful of people who don't mind dying, you can kill a lot of people." 

That's what America is up against. 

When the fodder doesn't mind being the fodder, that's worse than going up against the terminator. 

But the president warned that stereotyping ISIL will lead to greater recruitment if this becomes defined "as a Muslim problem, as opposed to a terrorist problem."

The puny terrorists need leverage to win.

In fact, they can't win, unless the leaders in the west act even punier--which our leaders do when they rely on fear. 

So what do our politicians do? 

They go straight to fear.

There are now more than 30 governors who want to ban Syrian refugees in the U.S. 

When I talked with Congressman Mike Honda (CA-17) this week, he was trying to stay optimistic. "There are about 17 governors who will say yes," said Honda, when I called him this week.

Yes, that's a little bit better than 1942, when only a single governor (from Colorado) was brave enough to stand up to the anti-Japanese war hysteria and say no to the internment. 

But if we're better than 1942, it's not by much. 

Not when one public official, Mayor David Bowers of Roanoke, Virginia, proudly proclaims this: 

I'm reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.

You see, it really is 1942.

Honda, an incarcerated relocation camp baby, was astonished by Bowers' wrongheadedness on the matter. He remembers Executive Order 9066.

As a bawling infant, Honda's camp experience was not much different than that of the infants and orphans among the Syrian refugees. Yearning for a clean diaper, he was an innocent caught in the hateful politics of the day.

But he was lucky.

He survived the camps and grew up to be a congressman.

The Syrian refugees are being denied even a horse-stall in America.

By week's end, the House of Representatives has followed suit with a veto-proof 289-137 vote to block Syrian refugees' entry without a more thorough screening in place. 

Never mind that it's pretty stringent now and can take up to two years for the majority of refugees who want to come to America---orphans, women, senior citizens.  

The vote was an act of political cowardice. Politicians giving in to fear, with 47 Democrats swayed by GOP hysteria.

Make no mistake, this was led by the "small government," "free-market" types, who were more than happy to shut the door on the people we used to routinely welcome to America. 

There are better approaches to the entire mess, ISIS and refugees. 

But it will take less fear mongering and a lot more understanding.

Iyad Madani, the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the OIC, was on CNN this week donning a headdress scarf known as a keffiyeh.

I hope people watching could get beyond his keffiyeh.

Because Madani makes a lot of sense.

The OIC is the second-largest intergovernmental organization after the UN, with a membership of 57 states over four continents.

The group condemned the Paris attacks, and this week, Madani said pretty bluntly what America should do.

"If you want to face up to this phenomenon of terrorism of extreme violence, you have to understand the context, the causes, the roots, the environments were such phenomena breeds," he said. "Security measures, military bombardments will not do the trick. This should be part of a larger approach...It's unfortunate that all the money is spent on military action in Syria and Iraq. But what about the political context, the socio economic environment? What about dismantling the discourse on both sides." 

Dismantling the discourse on both sides? It's changing the narrative to a more humanitarian approach. 

"What you call ISIS, we call the Non Islamic state, NISIS," Madani said. "They are criminals, nihilists. We should deprive them of the legitimacy they claim for themselves."

But ISIS knows what ails Syrians, Iraqis, and sympathetic Muslims worldwide. ISIS sees young people with no purpose and gives them something to live for. Madani sees it as part of the ISIS process: It gives the hopeless a sense of promise, a source of income, a sense of community. 

Then it bags a new recruit.

Likewise, the manipulation works on the west. 

The more you hear about "boots on the ground" and see Congress pass an anti-Syrian refugee bill, ISIS knows it's winning.

The GOP, and the 53 percent in the Bloomberg national poll who say Syrian refugees should go home, play right into the hands of the terrorists.

In the wake of all that, Asian Americans should be the loudest critics.

We know from history that a strategy of xenophobia and hate isn't right for our democracy. 

It didn't work in 1942. 

It's not going to work now.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

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Emil Guillermo: The fight for pay equity is not over for many Filipino veterans of WWII
November 11, 2015 3:06 PM

For Asian Americans, two issues always give us the moral high ground: the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans and the fight over equity pay for Filipino American veterans of WWII.

But just because you have the moral high ground doesn't mean you are guaranteed victory.  

That's been true for the Filipino veterans, thousands of whom are still fighting for pay equity.

In that sense, it's like the war never ended for Celestino Almeda, 98, of Maryland, and a proud Filipino American World War II veteran. 

On Veterans Day, he stood out in the cold at Lafayette Park, right in front of the White House gate, to read aloud his protest letter to anyone who would listen. 

Maybe even President Obama. 

You see, the president signed something in 2009 called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The what? 

That was the official name for the so-called "stimulus" package. 

Like a big turkey, it's stuffed with goodies for politicos and constituents. Intended to stimulate the economy, it also finally ends a major issue for Filipino veterans of WWII.

Tucked deep within the bill was the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Act--the very law that gave the vets a $15,000 lump sum if they were in the U.S.; $9,000 if they were in the Philippines.

How are they doing six years later? 

As of August, here are the latest numbers available from the Veterans Administration:

* 42,755 applications processed

* 9,305 approved for $15,000

* 9,646 approved for $9,000

It amounts to a payout of over $224 million awarded to eligible Filipino Veterans.

Before you jump for joy, go over the numbers again.

Of the 42,755 applications, more than 23,804 have been disapproved.

That's a 56 percent disapproval rate.

In other words, if you're a Filipino vet of WWII looking for your lump sum, or think you have a claim, just flip a coin.

It's better odds than Keno, but with Keno, you might get lucky and win a whole lot more. 

That's what it's been like for the vets the last six years.

Many of the 23,804 were denied because they truly were ineligible. You must be a surviving spouse or widow. No kids. 

But the biggest fixable issue is whether you are a verifiable vet, with legit documents from both the Philippines and the U.S. 

It's tougher than you think, considering how documents in the Philippines were lost during the Japanese occupation.

Given all that, of the more than 23,804 denials, more than 4,500 have appealed their rejection.

Of those, 1,253 have been denied again as of August. For those folks, that's it--end of the road. War over. Game over. Many could have used the money and die as paupers.

But that leaves about 3,000 veterans still in the process of being vetted by the VA. Still hopeful. Still alive.

One of them is Almeda.

Almeda knows about the broken promise of Roosevelt that brought him as a member of the Philippine Commonwealth Army to fight side-by-side with the U.S. Army. He's got pay stubs and a formal discharge to prove it.

His documents are good enough to be made whole on some of the FDR promises broken when President Truman signed the Rescission Act of 1946. 

Almeda was granted citizenship in the '90s, and in 2003, began getting VA medical benefits. He has a VA card to prove it.

But none of that has been good enough so far the VA to approve him for the lump sum payment.

When I talked to him last year, Almeda had testified in Washington, D.C. before a Congressional subcommittee.

There's no doubt in his mind he served.

"I was called to duty when the Japanese invaded the Philippines," he told me. "I have in my own personal records all the documents to support that I am a veteran from the beginning to the end."

This year in June, Almeda met with Sec. Robert McDonald of the VA and even posed with the secretary for a picture. 


Almeda said McDonald promised to get back to him.

So far, Almeda has heard nothing. That's why Almeda was out in front of the White House protesting the inaction of the VA.

But something has also happened since Almeda's June meeting. The U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals has determined in at least one case that the VA secretary does have the right to use his "discretion" on the evidence provided by veterans like Almeda.
In a memo to the VA, veterans advocate Eric Lachica asked for clarification on the discretion that Secretary McDonald may have in deciding which documents will make veterans eligible.

"When will you make your recommendation? As you know, a FVEC claim would be worthless if the veteran dies and has no surviving spouse," Lachica wrote in his memo to VA officials about Mr. Almeda. "If you recall, Secretary McDonald personally assured Mr. Almeda he would expeditiously consider his appeal by forming your review team to make recommendations to him."

Almeda's case may be the one that could resolve the document snafu that has stymied thousands who are appealing denials.

VA Secretary McDonald should use discretion at least in Almeda's case. Accepting his documents, granting him the one-time lump sum payment wouldn't just be the right thing. It would be the humane and honorable thing to do.

Almeda has made it his mission most of his adult life to be made whole after the Rescission Act. He is now the latest of the dwindling number of vets to lead the charge for Filipino Americans, for Asian America, at the forefront of the high road.

At age 98, time used to be on his side. But for how much longer? 

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

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Emil Guillermo: We should have heard from UC knife suspect Faisal Mohammad
November 6, 2015 8:06 AM

I'm still trying to understand the events of this week in the red part of the blue state, California.

The news was jarring on Wednesday morning. A stabbing at UC Merced? Is that Berkeley? No, more like three hours away. Merced is in the deepest part of the least populated and most underserved part of California, the Central Valley. It is the forgotten interior, the last place you'd expect to hear an alert about a mass stabbing involving five people.

Not in a place of higher ed like UC Merced, which should be the crown jewel of civility in the arid valley.

At least it involved a knife, not a gun. A little less volatile.

But there was a gun, as well. 

The campus police were armed, and a gun ended the drama that left four with stab wounds: two students, one employee, and one university contractor. All of them taken to area hospitals, all expected to survive.

The real victim? The then-unidentified suspect with the knife who was shot and killed by the UC Merced police. An overreaction?

Let's see. Gun, knife. I know what trumps. I've played rock, paper, scissors.

Consider too that the suspect reportedly was running away from the scene with a backpack. You'd figure a properly trained and fit campus cop would be able to overtake and subdue such a suspect.

But a gun makes for easy justice, making a cop judge, jury, executioner--a one-stop shop.

It wasn't until nearly 24 hours later that the one thing we all wanted to know---the identity of the suspect--was revealed.

Faisal Mohammad, 18, of the San Francisco suburb of Santa Clara.
That's all the Merced Sheriff's office and the campus sources would say. 

But we knew they couldn't just leave that out there alone. Or keep mispronouncing his name as FAY-zell, rather than FIE-zell.

They would have to say more. 

And finally they did.

But it was nearly six hours later at 1 pm PST that they decided the internet had enough time to play. 

From the start, trolls had begun making fun of how people would want to ban knives now, or do a knife buyback. And when the suspect's name was revealed, well, the assumptions flowed freely. That's when I began to see the racist tweets.

So Chancellor Dorothy Leland finally said the most assuring thing she could to a modern-day America: "Based on the evidence gathered so far, which include the crime scene and the suspect's campus dormitory room, we have no reason to believe that this was in any way related to terrorism."

That's the clarification everyone wants to hear any time something like this happens.

Please just say it's not...an act of terrorism.

That the UC Merced chancellor had to say those words is indicative of just how far we are from a post-racial America.

Because these days, we are quick to judge on face value alone.

Black. White. Asian. Latino. South Asian. We all have our stereotypes. You know them well, and instead of taking our time when pressured, too many of us are happy to take the short cut to understanding.

Historically, Asian Americans know all too well. From "Yellow Peril" to the Chinese Exclusion Act and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.

We've been there.

In the case of Faisal Mohammad, we see an Islamic-sounding name. We see a non-white possibly South Asian face, and out of fear and ignorance, many of us now are more than happy to take the leap.

That made the chancellor's reassuring second line even more necessary than her first:

"At this point, it would be irresponsible to draw such conclusions solely on the ethnicity of the suspect," she said. "At this point in time, preliminary evidence suggests that freshman computer science and engineering student Faisal Mohammad of Santa Clara appeared to have been motivated by personal animosities, not a political agenda."

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told reporters that the lead FBI agent during the course of its investigation said, "[T]hey have found nothing in this person's history, personal  belongings or electronic devices, or any other  items to suggest anything other than the act of an individual for vendetta or whatever pertaining to what happened [Wednesday]. There is nothing to indicate there's any political or religious motivation pertaining to what he did." 

Warnke said Mohammad was deemed just a normal college kid at UC Merced.

He was and he wasn't.

The June graduate from Santa Clara's Wilcox High School was a young kid growing up, a freshman away from home for the first time. A quiet, but smiling loner. Maybe, in his way, he was reaching out?

And then came a micro-aggression.
Warnke said on Thursday night, something that was being called a "manifesto" was found on Mohammad's body by the coroner. 

They all have manifestos now.

Apparently, Mohammad felt slighted from being pushed out of a study group, and he had targeted his transgressors.

Warnke said at a Wednesday press conference that Mohammad was found with petroleum jelly, a nightscope, some zip-tie handcuffs, a small hammer, and duct tape. 

"I think he planned on doing extra stuff," said Warnke, who later told reporters that the plan included drawing police into a situation and then stealing a gun from them. 

Mohammad seemed to have some video game fantasy. He had no gun. There was no gun in the situation at all, until the police introduced one..

Maybe knowing there was a troubled kid with personal issues, and not some jihadist, the police would have acted differently as they chased him down.

The Merced Sheriffs' office will conduct the investigation on the UC Merced campus cop's action. Was pulling a gun on a knife suspect really justified? Was the suspect without a gun threatening as he ran away from the police? Did the race of Mohammad play a role in the decision to shoot?

At some point, we'll hear from the cop and go over his/her training and experience.

But we'll never know what Faisal Mohammad thought or saw, or what he felt that day.

In Merced, they took the shortcut to justice.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

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Emil Guillermo: San Francisco for Halloween--Shrimp Boy or Ed Lee?
October 31, 2015 6:22 PM

If you had a choice, who would you rather be--longtime criminal Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow or San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee? Not just for one devilish day on Halloween, but in real life.

If you need help, here's Ed Lee in Giants drag last year in San Francisco's World Series parade. 

This year, the New York Mets, not the Giants, are in the World Series, so maybe Ed's dressed all in black instead.

And here's Shrimp Boy, who recently got the New York Times Magazine treatment that might look like an inexpensive Halloween outfit. Tank top, shaved head, tats. Cool. 

shrimpboy copy.jpg

Sure, the question is a no-brainer. Preposterous, right? 

Of course, you'd want to be Ed Lee. Because he's the mayor of San Francisco. Not Shrimp Boy, the guy with the rap sheet as long as the longest noodle in your birthday soup.

Still, it's an important question, not just for Halloween but as an overall matter of justice. 

The issue will be raised at Chow's trial in San Francisco, where jury selection begins on Nov. 2. The charges against Chow include murder in aid of racketeering and money laundering. Chow has been accused of killing Allen Leung, his predecessor in the Ghee Kung Tong, and being implicated in the killing of another rival tong leader, Jim Tat Kong. Chow recently pleaded not guilty to the murder charges. The judge combined all the charges last week when federal prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty.

As you may recall, Chow was part of a major FBI undercover investigation last year that ultimately forced California state senator and Asian American community leader Leland Yee to resign.

Among the myriad issues raised was Yee's friendship with Chow and the trade of a senate resolution that honored Chow in exchange for campaign cash. In July, Yee acknowledged all of that, as well as other bribes and the brokering of a weapons deal with Philippine nationals. He accepted a plea arrangement that could still get him 6-10 years in federal prison.

Right now, you don't want to be Leland Yee for Halloween, or real life.

Yee and others caught in the sting have cleared the way for Chow's legal star turn. But Chow's defense boils down to other people not being named in the sting.

Chow is claiming selective enforcement of the law.

Chow says he's not the convicted ex-pimp and thug of old. He says he's a reformed ex-con leading his Ghee Kung Tong, or CKT, back to respectability as an organization that does good for the community.

His lawyers, led by the legendary defense attorney J. Tony Serra, say selective prosecution is at play since others implicated in the investigation, including Mayor Ed Lee, have avoided indictment. 

According to news reports, two Human Rights Commission officials affiliated with Lee's 2011 election campaign were caught in wiretapped conversations describing how to avoid campaign finance laws by breaking up $10,000 donations into small amounts given by straw donors. One of the officials said Lee was aware of the scheme. Lee has denied any wrongdoing.

That's why it's better to be Ed Lee, at least for now. And not the tattooed Shrimp Boy Chow.

The Lee political costume is still working like a charm. Shrimp Boy still looks like an ex-con Tong boss.

But if Chow's defense lawyers are right, who knows if Lee will be another Yee? 

Maybe it's better to be the bad guy trying to be good, instead of the good respectable guy who reveals another side behind the mask.

That's one thing the New York Times Magazine article did: humanize Chow in a way few media outlets have in the past. Many have fallen in love with the crustacean nickname. But few have bothered to flesh out the image of the Asian bad boy, preferring to leave him as a semi-comic bad dude with the amusing nickname. 

Sort of the Asian Baby Face Nelson.

You may recall the historic Times mea culpa in the Wen Ho Lee case. Not only did the Times rely too heavily on government sources in reporting on Lee's case, it made him appear like a shadowy foreign spy instead of a real human being. 

The Times story on Chow, based on prison interviews and personal conversations, describes how Chow just wants to be a regular guy on the outside. How he falls in love with an Asian American woman from the burbs and tries to reform. How he uses too much toilet paper when suffering from anxiety.

The reporter, Elizabeth Weil, talks about his shiny head and soft hands.

And how Kwok Cheung Chow, born in Hong Kong, gets tagged by his grandma who called him Ha Jai, or Shrimp Boy.

He was lucky grandma didn't like tofu.

But life really goes downhill when he was eight and his father loses the family barbershop due to gambling debts. Shrimp Boy, four brothers, parents, and grandmother moved to a one-room shack with no running water and just two beds, according to the story.

Seeking comfort, Shrimp Boy tried to get in bed with his grandmother whenever he could.

But by age nine, he got into fights, including one with a knife where he drew blood from his victim.

By 16 when he came to San Francisco, he was already an accomplished hood. Instead of high school, he had a letter of recommendation from a Hong Kong gang member to a Chinatown tong. 

A life of crime was assured.

The piece also talks about how in this last sting, he was double-crossed by the feds, who put him out there, like his nickname implies, as bait to attract other nefarious characters.

And he did. But not everyone was indicted, and now only the Shrimp Boy remains.

Normally, it's not a great defense to say, "What about the other guys?" But the Times article is probably all defense attorney Serra had hoped for, as the trial starts up this week. 

If you had no idea about Shrimp Boy, hearing the story of his life--as a human being and not a cliche Asian gangster--would probably make you stop and ask if Shrimp Boy, on the road to recovery, had been set up to fail. It may be all the doubt Serra needs to muster to get the Shrimp Boy off the hook.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

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Emil Guillermo: Gay Manongs, the hard life of Larry Itliong, and the sexual fluidity of the first wave of Filipino Americans
October 23, 2015 1:22 PM

On Sunday, California celebrates the first statewide Larry Itliong Day, honoring the Filipino American farm worker labor leader on his 102nd birthday. 

And what a way to start the final week of October, as Filipino American History Month winds down to a close. Add the coincidence that the Mets are in their first World Series since 2000, when one of their most productive players that year was Filipino American baseball great, Benny Agbayani, (15 HR, 60 RBI). Indeed, the October stars have aligned.

Itliong has waited longer than the Mets for this recognition. Now, his star will shine in perpetuity--a whole day, each year, every year--for taking the bold first move to walk off the job in the historic Delano Grape Strike of 1965. 


Larry Itliong (photo courtesy of Filipino American National Historical Society)

Too often, that credit has gone to the Mexican American labor leader Cesar Chavez, who has been practically beatified because of the strike known as the civil rights movement in the fields. However, it was Itliong who led Chavez after convincing him that he must join the Filipinos in solidarity.

Yet Chavez is revered today with schools, parks, and post offices that bear his name.

In San Francisco, they renamed Army Street for Chavez.

For Itliong, there is no street. Without that, there's not even a bus line on the Muni to bear his name.

There's no No. 65 Itliong to deliver us to our destiny. Not even a No.7 Itliong, for his legendary nickname "Seven Fingers" that commemorates his three fingers lost in a cannery accident.

There's nothing for the macho, cigar-chomping street fighter.

For the record, you'll find little in public school textbooks, as Itliong has remained ignored--just like many aspects of the first wave of Filipinos seemingly condemned to live a lonely bachelor's life.

Unless, of course, they preferred it. The bachelor life, that is--the confirmed, closeted, Filipino life.

The subject comes to mind as I witnessed what I consider a theatrical breakthrough: Lysley Tenorio's "Remember the I-Hotel," a short story adapted for stage by the Japanese American playwright Philip Kan Gotanda.

Presented by the American Conservatory Theater, the regional theater power in San Francisco, the play is packaged as "Monstress," the title of Tenorio's short story collection. Sean San Jose adapted the title for the stage in another one-act. Together, the two plays are a two-headed tour-de-force of emotional history. But it is "Remember the I-Hotel" that lingered for me. (It's at the ACT/Strand Theater, now through November 22 in San Francisco.)

Ogie Zulueta plays Vicente, a Filipino in the '30s in "Remember the I-Hotel," adapted for stage from "Monstress" 
by Lysley Tenorio (photo by Kevin Berne)

Don't worry. It's not like a Ken Burns documentary. You won't see the former San Francisco Sheriff Richard Hongisto on horseback evicting tenants, or be subjected to some political screed.

No, "Remember the I-Hotel" is a simple, yet complicated love story involving two Filipino Americans and a white woman. Althea's the hypotenuse in a very irregular triangle involving Nado and Vicente, a love story few Filipinos have shared, or history has told.

At least not if you're a good traditional Filipino Catholic.

As I watched it, I had no reason to be stunned. I grew up in the Mission and saw the Castro change. Bought film from Harvey Milk's store and reported on LGBTQ issues. My only IMDB credit is for the AIDS quilt movie. I'm in solidarity.

But I've never seen the story of the early Filipinos told from Tenorio's perspective. 

Author Lysley Tenorio, born in the Philippines, now living in San Francisco. 
(photo courtesy of Lysley Tenorio)

And I know the story of the first wave of Filipinos to America by heart.

I lived it.

The story of the so-called "manongs" is Larry Itliong's story, but it's also my father's story. He came to San Francisco as an American national in 1928. Itliong came a year later, as a 16-year-old with a sixth-grade education. The boats were full of Filipinos, but with more men compared to women, by about 10-1.

Why? Well, you wouldn't want these monkeys to procreate on American soil and start familes in our country, would you? That was the plan, and for the most part, it worked.

My father stayed in San Francisco to work the city's restaurants. The shoulder-padded suits, topcoats, and fedoras just seemed to fit better in the city. But most were like Itliong, who went to work in the fields of the Valley. That fostered a severe backlash from white males. They didn't care about the jobs the Filipinos took. They were concerned that the Filipinos wanted the white women. It fostered a palpable sexual tension that expressed itself in beatings of Filipinos on the streets and in the fields. There were also the infamous riots in Watsonville and the murder of Fermin Tobera. Other murders and lynchings were reported in Stockton.

Years later, I found myself working for a paper that in the '30s printed horribly racist, anti-Filipino editorials pandering to its angry white audience. Filipinos were declared "unassimilable."

The strong "ethnic purity" sentiment brought on new laws. In 1934, Filipinos' status went from American nationals to Filipino aliens. Other laws limited property ownership. But the most damning were the laws against intermarriage, the anti-miscegenation laws.

Filipinos who loved to mix had to stop mixing. With few Filipino women, the bachelor society was locked into place. Alone, together.

Maybe that's why as a kid, I never had my own bedroom growing up.

We always rented out a room to a male Filipino on the move. I usually slept in the living room or in my parents' room on a cot. Our three-bedroom flat was practically a Filipino AirBnB. The renters were sometimes a relative, but they all became related. An Uncle Amancio. An Uncle Phil. Manong Pepe. And there was one I just called "the man."

But they all seemed to be the same guy.

I never wondered about their sex lives. All I cared about was that my father was able to find his wife--my mom--and spawn me. Selfish? That's the sociobiology of things, the struggle to marry and have kids is everything. Itliong himself was the macho overachiever, marrying six times yielding seven children.

Most of the others weren't nearly as productive, by discrimination or by choice. Many found there was no one to whom they could pass on their genes. What's left? Do you hum the song "Love the one you're with?"

The bachelor men, if they didn't land in whatever San Francisco flat my family lived in at the time, ended up in an SRO, like the I-Hotel, where they came to depend on each other for everything. In their story, sex becomes loving, then advances with age simply to caring.

"Remember the I-Hotel" is the imagined emotional truth of the Filipino bachelor society of the first wave, and what they did to survive the shortcomings of American life.

I hate to admit I'd never thought about anything outside of the traditional manong story, the one my dad struggled to have.

But gays were living in America back then too, of course. Just not in an openly gay culture. Remember, Rock Hudson didn't come out until the '80s. In a bachelor society, gay manongs were also present, yet even more repressed. The bakla. It's the Pilipino word to describe gays. I heard it used derisively when growing up.

That's all the more reason "Remember the I-Hotel" is an eye-opener. And now we're ready for the tale.

With Tenorio's story adapted for the stage, accompanied by the first Larry Itliong Day, this Filipino American History Month proves again that our stories are never static, always evolving, with new truths awaiting discovery.

I thought I'd heard them all from my dad. Or from the other manongs, who saw me dating a white woman and said, "We'd get beaten if we were with someone like her."

That was the prevailing narrative.

But there were a few other manongs, too, who just looked at me and smiled.

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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. 
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The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.

Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 1 comments