Emil Guillermo: Wall Street Journal's "chink in its armor" absolutely requires an apology
August 31, 2015 4:58 PM

I read the Wall Street Journal's tweet on Sunday night about China's president, seen by Asians and Asian Americans around the world. 

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Is there any question the Wall Street Journal must apologize? 

And yet by Monday, nothing.

Just this non-apology.
No offense intended?  But ignorance of audience sensitivities doesn't excuse the offense.  And hiding the evidence by getting rid of the tweet doesn't make the offense go away either.  

Just ask all the guys in prison who thought all they had to do was dump a body in the East River. 

Once you've used a silly cliche and crapped on all Chinese people around the world, you can do just one thing.

Apologize. 

Of course, all bets are off if the story indeed was about Xi Jinping wearing a suit of armor with a funny blemish on his breast plate. 

A diplomatic faux pas! Especially in August.

Or if Xi Jinping were on his way to a joust with Lancelot and Galahad.

Then sure, talk about his not-so-shining armor.

But that's not what's going on here. That literal defense is out. 

There's also a literal defense that suggests "chink" refers not to a person, but to some quality or a "weakness" in the character of that person. 

But where does that leave you when, coincidentally, the subject is an Asian of Chinese descent? It's the overall weakness of the literal defense. When you take it literally, you end up with a slur, and no one's laughing.
 
Some will insist we must look only at meaning, otherwise we succumb to censorship.

Hogwash.

The unfortunate double entendre of the word that rhymes with "fink," makes it both a blemish and a slur. And the somewhat innocent history of the phrase doesn't matter. It might pass muster for the Round Table. But in 2015, the "C word" is our "N word." 

Those who still wish to argue for its use may point to the word "niggardly," which refers to one's frugality or cheap nature.  

It has everything to do with Jack Benny and nothing to do with Jackie Robinson.

But the homonym of the base word is usually enough to set off plenty of misunderstanding. 

Better not to use the word and simply call someone "cheap," if that's your intent.

Back to journalism. If the purpose is truth and clarity, any word or phrase that might bring about confusion should simply be edited out.

And the writer who was trying to have some clever fun must be dealt with appropriately.

I thought the modern precedent had been set with ESPN and Jeremy Lin.

That caused such an uproar that I truly believed the cliche (referred here in "N" word style as "C.I.T.A.") was retired for good, at least as a reference to people of Chinese descent. (Once again, for you medieval fashionistas actually referring to blocky, ill-fitting metal suits, go for it. Everyone else, hold your jousting poles.)

In the Lin situation, ESPN, the outfit known as the "Worldwide Leader in Sports," knew exactly what to do, and quickly.

It withdrew the copy, fired the writer, and apologized to all concerned.

The Wall Street Journal? It's withdrawn the copy, but that's all.

Or maybe the editors there think, like Donald Trump or Jeb Bush, offending a few Asian and Asian Americans when talking about "anchor babies" and immigration policy is just a matter of political correctness? 

It's not about political correctness at all.

It's simply common courtesy and respect for a sense of diversity. 

The paper wouldn't use the "N word," or the word "honky," "wop," or  "kike." 

Where was the copy editor with the updated diversity style book?

People used to get away with saying anything they want about Asians and Asian Americans--even the most offensive things---because we didn't speak out, or we didn't care. 

And then again, there just weren't enough of us to matter.

Well, times have changed. People can't talk about us like we're not in the room, because we're in the audience. We're subscribers, employees, readers. 

We're here. We care. And we matter.

And these days, we'll definitely let you know when you've crossed the line.

Wall Street Journal, take a note from ESPN. 

Apologize.

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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 silencing of Roanoke journalists by bullets, Jorge Ramos by Donald Trump
August 27, 2015 12:00 PM

While in college, I was a TV news intern at WNAC, now WHDH in Boston. Later, I was a full-fledged TV professional and worked as a 20-something reporter at KOLO in Reno, KXAS in Dallas, and KRON and KPIX in San Francisco.

I knew the life Alison Parker and Adam Ward were embarking on.

I know what it's like when the world revolves around "the station." 

ParkerWard.jpgAs I saw the lives of Parker and Ward being reported all day Wednesday, I felt like they were fellow travelers on the media path. I was horrified to see their young careers end in a barrage of bullets.

But I also knew the path of Vester Flanagan (a/k/a Bryce Williams), born in the Bay Area like me, who also worked at KPIX (I was a young investigative producer there).
 
I felt his pain too. 

I know how hard it was to make it in a business when you're a person of color in a mostly white industry. I know what it's like to be the only Asian American on the air, at a given station or newsroom in the '70s and '80s. The first Asian American to sit in the host's chair at NPR's Washington studios in 1989.
 
I just went to an Asian American Journalists Association convention and was reminded of it all. I saw young people moving up, less young people hanging on, and older people who have just left the business.

Me, I created my own path. When things didn't always work out, I didn't take the Defcon option. I didn't sue anyone for discrimination or seek revenge to harm anyone physically.

I just kept finding a way to be a journalist.
 
Clearly, Flanagan was in the throes of mental illness and needed help. When you call the Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui "my  boy," as Flanagan did in his writings, you have problems. 

I just wish he had gotten help more easily than he got the gun he used to kill the first journalists in America since 2007.

Sadly, I knew that 2007 victim even better than Parker, Ward, or Flanagan. 

Chauncey Bailey, the editor of the Oakland Post, was shot dead August 2, 2007, by a person connected to a story Bailey was working on. Ironically, I heard the news while attending an AAJA convention that year.

Chauncey was a colleague in the ethnic media in California and often appeared on my "Meet the Press" roundtable program of ethnic journalists that aired throughout the state.

I didn't initially connect Chauncey's death with the Virginia shootings. Parker and Ward were doing a live shot on a garden-variety feature story with a Chamber of Commerce person.

Chauncey was doing an investigative report on a Muslim bakery. 

But it doesn't matter. A dead journalist is a silenced journalist.
 
In places like the Philippines, journalists are killed all the time. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 77 journalists have been killed in the Philippines since 1992.  

It's not supposed to happen in America, where the First Amendment gives us all the license--the right--to speak and report.

But there have been 5 journalists killed in the U.S. since 1992. That number went up 40 percent just on Wednesday.

JORGE RAMOS AND DONALD TRUMP
This doesn't mean that journalists aren't "killed" or silenced in other ways every day.

If the Parker and Ward deaths didn't dominate the news Wednesday, the silencing of Univision's Jorge Ramos would have.

If you saw the outburst of Donald Trump at his own news conference, then you saw a public display of racism for which he has yet to apologize. 

RamosTrump4.jpgWhile decorum is to be respected, the need to get the news is more so. When journalists are compliant and "on bended knee" waiting for their handout from a newsmaker, it takes courage to do what Ramos did.

He wanted to know about Donald Trump's immigration plan, the details of which Trump has yet to share. That's the news. Ramos was well within his right to ask the question, and to demand an answer first. 

And whomever Trump called on first should have been ready to defer. Because the immigration question was the most newsy thing that Trump could have shared, if he was willing to talk and not dodge the question.

Instead of showing grace and answering Ramos head on, Trump insisted on bullying and shouting at Ramos, as if the reporter were a hired hand on "Celebrity Apprentice." 

"Sit down," Trump said with condescension, "Sit down. Sit down."

And when Ramos insisted on his right as a journalist, Trump stood bully strong. "No, you don't, you haven't been called," Trump said. And then he got personal and racist. "Go back to Univision."

He could have said, "Shut up brown man, go home." Or the more politically correct, "Go home person of color, you don't count."

But then The Donald has made his feelings about political correctness very apparent. He doesn't believe in it. Unless the correctness suits him and is defined by him--such as calling on handpicked compliant reporters at his whim and scolding all those who dare to challenge him.

What really drew my ire was seeing Ramos being shoved, touched, and handled by one of Trump's henchmen.

That's a no-no. 

It gave me chills to see it. 

That's one step toward Roanoke. Or Chauncey Bailey.

As a reporter, I've talked to high ranking newsmakers on more than one occasion and have been told to shut up and get out. I've had my mike turned off. I've been physically taken by the collar and shown the door. When that happened, I was just stunned.

That's why we have a First Amendment.

So in this one week alone, we have Trump thumbing his nose at Ramos and the First Amendment, and then with his anti-birthright citizenship ideas, dissing the 14th. There are 25 more amendments to the Constitution he can trample on.

The GOP already has a problem with blacks. The Ramos incident halts any thought of attracting Latinos. And Asian Americans? All the anchor baby talk by Trump and Jeb Bush this week, especially with Jeb saying it was really "Asian people" he was talking about, energizes the same coalition that put Obama in for two terms. 

Both Trump and Bush have mentioned "political correctness" at the core of the pushback they're getting.

Recently, The Atlantic's Caitlin Flanagan did a piece suggesting that the reason we're seeing a heightened sensitivity is due to a generation of identity politics taking hold.

And so what? What would be better? A rising majority that stays silent and says nothing? Compliant ethnic journalists who fail to represent their viewers and readers and ask softball questions of white candidates who want to be policymakers in a new America?

What we're seeing isn't political correctness defined by identity politics.

What we're seeing is political awareness of large groups that until now were not part of the equation. They were used to their own silence. And so were all the people in power.

Now, however, these groups have emerged and must be addressed. 

They are empowering Jorge Ramos and other journalists of color to ask different questions from the white mainstream press. Ramos and others who have fought to have their voices heard are reporters who know the importance of getting the right question answered once they get a foot in the door.

Ramos ultimately got some answers out of Trump when The Donald let him back in. But people better get used to it. 

It's a different America, and it has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with political inclusion.

If you don't like it, expect a furious debate.

That's also thanks to the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment. 
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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: Riding Wong Kim Ark to combat GOP's anchor baby talk, and thanks to family of Dr. Suzanne Ahn
August 21, 2015 11:07 AM

One hundred twenty years ago, in the latter part of August, the U.S. picked a fight with Wong Kim Ark, who then took his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Wong was simply coming back from a vacation to China, when he was denied re-entry in San Francisco. 

Wong Kim Ark2.jpg

His Chinese parents weren't citizens, but they lived in San Francisco's Chinatown. Wong was born right there at 751 Sacramento Street, behind Old Saint Mary's Cathedra

Wong was a U.S. citizen and #NotYourAnchorBaby. But what is that? The illegitimate love child of Connie Chung and Dan Rather? 

No, in today's parlance, "anchor baby" refers to the American-born child of non-citizen immigrants, who "use" the baby to get all the benefits of citizenship. 

In the 1890s of Wong, saying "anchor baby" would just seem strange, unless you were a drunken sailor.

These days, Tea Party-types and birthers, those midwives of xenophobic hate, like to use the anchor-baby rhetoric because it's cute, masking how downright offensive the term really is. Sure, politicians love to kiss all babies--just not those darn anchor babies.

Perfect for The Donald, the candidate who believes he's invincible like a human trump card, better than all. He's been trumping the GOP candidates left and right and playing the anchor baby card. 

But in his zeal to defend the Constitution, Trump, like many others, have a massive blind spot.

It's called "history."

And that's where Wong Kim Ark trumps Trump.

It's imperative to invoke Wong every few years, whenever the xenophobes in places like Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona, get their dander up about immigration and start throwing up the "anchor baby" rhetoric.  

The first time I even heard of Wong, who was always a relatively obscure constitutional law milestone, I was writing columns at San Francisco's
AsianWeek, where I went amok for 15 years. 

Since then, in my five years writing in this AALDEF space, I've written about Wong once before in 2011, when the Tea Party crowd in Arizona revved up the anti-immigrant frenzy and tried to codify an actual two-tier citizenship system. 

Imagine the possible marketing ads: Come home all ye anchor babies to Arizona, where you can be an official second class citizen! 

Thankfully, that law didn't pass. But here we are in 2016, and everything old is new again.

A new batch of GOP hopefuls are trying to convince conservatives that they are more hateful than the other. And there really isn't anything better in the campaign trick bag to divide the base and make one seem more of a conservative bad-ass than to use anti-immigrant, anchor baby rhetoric.

It leaves good "citizen historians" little option but to ram back birther ignorance with a little chapter and verse from the legal file of Wong Kim Ark, U.S. citizen. 


The final graph of Justice Horace Gray's majority opinion on birthright citizenship reads:

Upon the facts agreed in this case, the American citizenship which Wong Kim Ark acquired by birth within the United States has not been lost or taken away by anything happening since his birth. No doubt he might himself, after coming of age, renounce this citizenship and become a citizen of the country of his parents, or of any other country; for, by our law, as solemnly declared by Congress, "the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people," and any declaration, instruction, opinion, order or direction of any officer of the United States which denies, restricts, impairs or questions the right of expatriation, is declared inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the Republic.


In many ways, Wong's fight for what should have been a no-brainer--birthright citizenship--has been the basic problem of American identity.

What does an American look like? A real one, of course. Is it just White, like all those non-natives who thought they had arrived first? Can an American really look like any of us--Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Indian, Korean, etc.--all who stand under the AAPI umbrella?

Our Founding Fathers bought into the English common law of birthright citizenship when they forged the Constitution. 

When Wong took his case to the Supreme Court, there was little question that "birth by soil," an idea that is nearly as old as dirt, would stand.


But let's not give Justice Gray too much credit for an heroic Wong Kim Ark decision. He also was in the majority in
Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the idea of "separate but equal."

Still, the Wong Kim Ark decision has held for more than 100 years. 

And though legal scholars and historians consider it settled law, campaigning politicians consider it an ideal subject to unsettle and disrupt. 

History, however, is on your side. Born here? Stand your ground. It's your birth right. Fight back the birthers by trumping them with Wong Kim Ark. 

DR. SUZANNE AHN AWARD FOR CIVIL RIGHTS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
Last Saturday, I was humbled and honored to be named the winner of the Asian American Journalists Association's Dr. Suzanne Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice. 

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Dr. Ahn was a Korean immigrant who grew up in Arkansas and later became a prominent physician, neurologist and inventor. She died of lung cancer in 2003 when she was just 51. But with the award, she is remembered as a civil rights fighter.

"She made a conscious effort to include anyone regardless of their background, if they too shared her passion for righting wrongs and exposing injustices," her niece Suzy Pak told me. "In her later years, she used her stature in the community to expose discrimination against Asian Americans at many levels. Despite the attempts to intimidate or discount her position, she never backed down. Ever.

Pak continued: "I can recount stories of her going to the White House to meet with senators to discuss bills that were discriminatory. She was not afraid to stand up for what was right, and felt compelled to fight for those who were not in positions to be able to do so. She realized that the press was the most efficient way to reach the largest number or people, across all socioeconomic lines."

"She recognized the great importance journalists play in alerting the general public of social injustices, " Pak said to me. "She wanted to establish a way to recognize journalists who go above and beyond in advancing the rights for the AAPI community."

"She wanted to offer some recognition to those who shared her passion for civil rights and let them know the work they were doing is vital and changing the world. Twelve years after her death, my aunt would be proud of the award recipients like yourself who have impacted our world with their work. She would have wanted to talk to each of the AAJA members in attendance and encourage all of you to keep fighting the fight and not rest, for there is plenty of work still to be done."

At the AAJA dinner, I thanked the Ahn family for recognizing the importance to tell the story that's in our blood. That's the legacy of discrimination that we all share. It's been the main disruptor of Asian American lives. From the Chinese Exclusion Act, to the passing of the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934, which changed Filipinos' status from American nationals to aliens, to the Japanese American incarceration during WWII, the earliest Asian American groups have all felt the sting of anti-Asian hate and discrimination.

And even as Asian American journalists, we know it first hand from our job experiences. 

But it's also in our DNA to fight back. 

Wong Kim Ark sure did. And so did Dr. Suzanne Ahn. 

emil2.jpg*     *     *
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: Why I write and go amok on behalf of Asian Americans everywhere
August 12, 2015 2:33 PM

I'm at the Asian American Journalists Association's annual convention this week, a time for personal reflection. 

Why didn't I become a doctor or lawyer? 

Just kidding.
YoungEmil.jpg

From Orwell's "Why I Write:"  "From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer." Me too, in San Francisco's Fillmore district. But there was always that TV in the background.

It's been 40 years since I first cracked open a mike or banged a keyboard professionally--meaning, someone actually paid me money--to do something in the name of journalism. ($3 an hour, KLOL, Houston, where it wasn't all LOL. Not when most Texans there thought I was Mexican.)

Since then, I've had some successes and many failures. But no more than a good baseball player who bats .300. And fails 70 percent of the time.

It's even tougher in an all-white profession like journalism in all its forms--radio, TV, newspapers. Everywhere I worked, I was usually the only Asian American, if not the only person of color in the room. And Filipino? I didn't see any. All that was true in Dallas 35 years ago, when I worked with a guy named Scott Pelley. 

His official first name now is "The CBS Evening News with."

My real "Jackie Robinson" moment may have been the time I said, "It's 'All Things Considered,' I'm Emil Guillermo," as one of the hosts of NPR's flagship show in 1989. I was the first Asian American to serve as a regular senior host. But I wasn't the first Asian American to anchor a national news program. That would be Connie Chung, when she anchored at CBS.

In the past, I've joked about being the male Connie Chung. 

But by ethnicity, in terms of hosting or anchoring a national news show, I would be the first Filipino American, male, female, or transgender.  

When I left that job, I realized the limitations of doing the news straight. With hairspray. The stories that meant the most to me, that I was proud to have done, were always the ones about Asian Americans or Filipino Americans.

I wasn't biased, but you might say I had "skin in the game."

Or some blood. 

If I didn't speak out and fight to do those stories, no one else would have. And the stories would generally go untold. 

At KRON, when it was the NBC affiliate in San Francisco, I had to fight to cover the assassination of Benigno Aquino, the husband of Cory, and the leader of the anti-Marcos movement in the Philippines. It was 32 years ago this month. I was the only Filipino in the newsroom. Armed with the 1980 Census detailing the number of Filipinos in California, I persuaded the news director to send me to Manila. 

At NPR, I had to fight to tell the story of Manuel Fragante, an American Filipino, who was fired from his job because he had a thick Filipino accent. His case on accent discrimination went all the way to the Supreme Court--which refused to hear his appeal. My producers finally let me do the story--once it was covered by the beat reporter for the New York Times.

The more personal stories were the ones I remember best, and they made me realize I didn't want to be Walter Cronkite. (That would be Scott's job eventually.)

I wanted to be a columnist. Like Chicago's Mike Royko. Or like Boston's Ellen Goodman. (We shared initials and a Harvard pedigree). 

But an Asian American columnist? They make those? Rare diseases are more common.

I made some breakthroughs on the op-ed pages of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Oakland Tribune, and, for a while, at the old Honolulu Star-Bulletin. I even did a few op-ed columns for USA TODAY, one where I took the Filipino Little League to task for cheating with overaged players, another where I defended Howard Stern's free speech rights (It was excerpted in his book, "Private Parts.")

The majority of my columns were commentaries on the Asian American experience. But there was only one place where I could do that on a regular basis.

The ethnic media, the underground media of our time.

At one point, San Francisco's Asian Week was considered the largest circulating English language daily on Asian America in this country. In 1995, I wrote my first "Emil Amok" column on our Asian American news star Connie Chung, and how she got Newt Gingrich's mother to tell her he had called Hillary Clinton a name that rhymes with "ditch." 

I was on my way. From January 1995 to the time Asian Week pulled the plug in early 2010, I wrote about a thousand words a week--"Emil Amok" on the issues and stories important to Asian America. Sometimes seriously, sometimes with a fun tweak. But always amok. 

It's the middle name on my driver's license. But the Malay term aptly described my state, where a pent up sense of everything just had to come out. 

Silence interrupted.

Was I angry? No, I was amok. Writing in a "murderous frenzy"? I only killed dangling participles and bad stereotypes.

The column was simply my way to make sure people knew that Asian Americans weren't voiceless--on anything that mattered. 

There was a voice. 

But by 2010, "Emil Amok" needed a new home.
 
At the annual AAJA convention (held that year in Los Angeles), I bumped into an acquaintance I'd known for years, Margaret Fung of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. 

In an era when non-profits are doing more to support journalism, it seemed natural to migrate the column to AALDEF. 

Now, nearly five years later, the streak of 20 years writing a weekly column on Asian American issues continues on the AALDEF site.

Twenty years, about a million or so words. 

Somebody had to do it. 

Because if it wasn't done, everyone would just assume we were all silent.

We're not. But when you rarely see an Asian American face on a talk show, an op-ed page, or as an analyst or regular news columnist anywhere, you know there are still gatekeepers in our society who believe Asian Americans just don't count. 

On an elevated level, what I do is more than just a column, more essay. And shooting high, as the title of this piece suggests, the standard bearer is George Orwell, of course.

In his "Why I Write," Orwell says "All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy... And yet, it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality." 

While the filter is me, I don't see it as just my experience. It's all of ours. While I may not speak for Asian America (to answer those of you who say, "Who elected you, smarty pants?"), I do have a sensitivity to the experiences we all share.

And that's where I come to Orwell's bottom line. "[L]ooking back through my work, I see invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally." 

And so to coincide with the Asian American Journalists Association 2015 annual convention-- celebrating the importance of the journalists' role in our community--here's a short list of some of my more memorable "Emil Amok" columns, or "blogumns," since 2010 for the AALDEF blog that I feel are mostly humbug-free.

1.   By far, I consider the best column to be my exclusive interview with the killer of Vincent Chin, Ronald Ebens. He never spent a day in prison for the murder, but says he thinks of Chin every day. I talked to him in 2012. And then I did a second interview this year, when the unpaid judgment on the civil suit against him continues to grow close to $10 million.

2.   As we go through the 50th year celebrations of America's march to equality, my columns on the March on Washington and the MLK "I have a Dream Speech," and on Selma marcher Vincent Wu are important markers that Asian Americans are part of the legacy.

3.   It hasn't been easy being an Asian American in journalism. Here I talk about my journey in the media, and my NPR period

4. Transgressions against Asian Americans. There are lots of them every day. Hardly any of them are mentioned in the mainstream. But they're all noticed, because they all cut deeply. Milena Clarke knows about them. And so does a perp like Rush Limbaugh. And most of the time, Asian Americans just take it. They hold it in. They don't go amok.

5. I write a lot about my father. He loved to go to the horse races. But he wouldn't recognize the game today

EGdad3.jpg
The author with his father at a graduation from a college in Cambridge, MA 
 
6. Every time an unarmed person of color is shot and killed, I think of my 26-year-old cousin Stephen, gunned down in San Francisco. His killer was never charged. Do Asian American lives matter? 

7.    Pop culture anyone? It's the incubator of stereotypes. Dogeater jokes in "Anchorman 2" just seemed gratuitous. This year's "Fresh off the Boat" got us back on the right track. But just when you think all is well, there's SNL's "Asian American Doll" bit. Not funny. I can take a joke. But some jokes don't elicit laughs, just rebuttals.

8. Affirmative action is the wedge of the day, whenever a wedge user wants to invoke it. Now some Asian Americans have discovered it and they're not going away. It's the new Asian American civil war.  

9.  On this 50th anniversary of the immigration reform that opened up the floodgates creating Asian American communities, why is it so hard to get further reforms through

10. And finally, when April 1st comes along, there is an excuse for something like this. Did I mention I was the class humorist at Harvard? I had a lot of competition, like Bill Gates, the funny guy who gave us Windows.

Thank you for being part of the amokness.

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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: So many Republican candidates, but do they want the Voting Rights Act to help us vote for them?
August 7, 2015 10:01 AM

At the first GOP debate, as Republicans flooded the stage with presidential candidates on both the varsity and JV level, I didn't hear a thing about one very important topic.


gopdebate2.jpg
Did anyone even mention the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act? 

This, of course, is what often is referred to as the "crown jewel" of America's civil rights movement, the very thing worth fighting for in a democracy. 

All of the rolling celebrations of 50th anniversaries have been leading toward this pinnacle of racial equality. 

In this blogumn (my term for this hybrid communique), we've commemorated MLK's march on Washington in 2013 and the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 2014. And this year, there was the anniversary of the Selma march, which led to the signing of the Voting Rights Act. 

Big deal, right? 

You probably didn't hear much in the media about President Obama's event on Thursday at the White House with advocates and community groups, when he acknowledged how the real gains of our right to vote are eroding. 

"There are still too many ways in which people are discouraged from voting," President Obama said to the crowd in the South Court Auditorium of the White House. "Some of the protections that had been enshrined in the Voting Rights Act itself have been weakened as a consequence of court decisions and interpretations of the law. State legislatures have instituted procedures and practices that, although on the surface may appear neutral, have the effect of discouraging people from voting, may have a disproportional effect on certain kinds of folks voting." 


The President continued: "And if, in fact, those practices, those trends, those tendencies are allowed to continue unanswered, then over time the hard-won battles of 50 years ago erode, and our democracy erodes. And that means that the decisions that are made in the corridors of power all across this country begin to reflect the interests of the few, instead of the interests of the many. So we've got serious business to attend to here. One order of business is for our Congress to pass an updated version of the Voting Rights Act that would correct some of the problems that have arisen."

He was talking about restoring Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires areas with a history of discrimination (not all in the South) to have any voting changes "precleared" or approved by the U.S. Attorney General before they take effect. 

There's also the little known Section 203, which provides for translated ballots and voting materials for voters with limited English proficiency. 

The president drew applause where he spoke, but I wonder what kind of applause he would have drawn at the GOP debate in Cleveland. 

I didn't hear one mention of the Voting Rights Act, and I tried to do the GOP debate in an empathetic way, as a non-partisan. 

I was even trying to adopt a Republican principle. 

I was colorblind, listening to Fox News on Sirius XM while stuck in west coast commute traffic.

Ben Carson could have been Johnny Carson to me. 

And he was for a moment. After one question in the first five minutes, he wasn't heard from again for about 50 minutes, when he got a laugh responding to a question on waterboarding: "Well, thank you, Megyn [Kelly of Fox News], I wasn't sure I was going to get to talk again."

And that, I thought, was the problem of the debate. Candidates disappeared. There were just too many of them. 

But I'm sure that wasn't what the president was referring to when he said, "there are too many ways in which people are discouraged from voting."

No, the president was referring specifically to voter ID laws or rolling back early voting, things that make it harder for people to vote.

"How can you rationalize making it harder for people to vote?" Obama asked. "How can you rationalize penalizing people because they don't have a lot of money not being able to vote? That's contrary to who we are. That's not what we believe. That's not what John Lewis fought for. In the United States of America, we should have no patience and no tolerance for laws that aim at disenfranchising our fellow citizens."

I kept thinking about that as I listened to the big boy GOP debate, where Trump eviscerated Rosie O'Donnell and made her a saint. Where moderator Chris Wallace was far from moderate when he kept insisting on using the word "Illegal" to describe the undocumented. Where Trump was asked to provide proof to back up his statements that the Mexican government was sending criminals, "rapists and drug dealers" across the border. 

Trump couldn't do it.

He should've just channeled the cherished line from that Humphrey Bogart film, "Treasure of Sierra Madre." Trump should have looked into the camera and said, "Badges, I ain't got to show you no stinking badges."

Now that would have won points with me. 

Instead, Trump exposed himself as evasive. He started by declining to pledge not to run as an independent if he lost. Later, he declared, "the big problem this country has is being politically correct." 

Spoken like a true white billionaire. 

As I listened, there were few sparks for me.

Some will talk about Mike Huckabee as a winner. But he scared me when the wanna-be-Commander-in-Chief said: "The purpose of the military is [to] kill people and break things." 

Marco Rubio scored early when he took on Amazon and the digital revolution, and the disruption to the non-tech middle class.

"If I'm the nominee," Rubio said. "We will be the party of the future."

And then he practically disappeared from the debate. 

John Kasich actually scored for me when the snarky Fox folks tried to get him on big government. He stood up for Ohio's health care for drug dealers and the mentally ill, and for Medicaid expansion. 

And when they came back and tried to get him on same-sex marriage, he mentioned he has been to a gay wedding. Next debate, I expect to see him do his Caitlin imitation.

Then there was Dr. Carson, who said that unlike the others, he has separated Siamese twins. But would he be able to separate politicians from their high donors? 

All that and not one mention of the historic signing of Voting Rights Act 50 years ago. No one talked about the right to franchise so that Asian Americans like Mallika Das might vote for them.

Das is a registered voter in Texas who last year tried to vote but was denied the language assistance she deserved because her designated interpreter, her son, was registered in an adjacent county.

It's the basis of a lawsuit that AALDEF has filed, citing a violation of the Voting Rights Act. 

So while the republicans were inadvertently discouraging voters through their words, I kept thinking of how Das has to fight for her right to vote for them--or not.

I doubt the GOP candidates were even thinking about Mallika Das and other Asian American voters like her. Not if they didn't even bother to mention an important foundation of our modern democracy, the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

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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.



Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments