Fighting the overwhelming images of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
July 19, 2014 4:48 PM
As an Asian American visitor to Malaysia, I climbed the steps of Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine just north of Kuala Lumpur. There I was both panhandled and entertained by an enterprising macaque.
One in particular struck me as especially curious, charming, and wise.
(© photo by Emil Guillermo)
I took him home as my screen saver, and I think of him and his country often.
More so now.
On my trip late last year, there hadn't been Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, nor a Flight 17, with a combined total of 537 people dead or missing.
But I imagine there are many people in Malaysia mirroring my screen saver wondering what has happened to the luck of their country?
On the map, that protuberant strip between Thailand and Singapore, Malaysia--specifically West Malaysia, also known as the Malay Peninsula--looks like a blunt instrument that seemingly has wedged and split Indonesia and Borneo (where East Malaysia is located) in two.
The Asian Tiger is indeed a force. Its tin-shack image has been transformed by its shiny pewter industry. And it's constantly adding another glass edifice of modernity to its Kuala Lumpur skyline.
But over the Petronas Twin Towers now hang the images of the twin air disasters.
(© photo by Emil Guillermo)
The Asian Tiger has a PR problem and an impending crisis of confidence.
"It is very sad and so tragic--it feels like the nation is going through a shaking," wrote Katharine Chua, whom I met in Malaysia. With her husband, she runs the Tropical Spice Garden, an eco-tourism spot outside of Penang. It is a garden built on a protected rain forest filled with the natural tastes and wonders of Malaysia, the very things that lured the European imperialists.
(© photo by Emil Guillermo)
Chua says that in the aftermath of MH17, people aren't glued to the TV as when MH370 went missing, because the answers in the new air tragedy come quickly. But something's not right.
"You are still left with a grieving and very sorrowful nation," she writes. "There is a feeling amongst my friends of being very sorry for Malaysian Airlines--a recognition that they have been a good airlines. But to have two major tragedies is too uncanny. People say bad luck, but I regard this as a shaking upon the nation, not just upon our national carrier."
When I visited, you can't help but notice the diversity of the country and how its people coexist as one Malaysian blend of different ethnicities and religions. Chua herself, ethnic Chinese, educated in England, and Christian, is proud of her Malaysian heritage. And with that comes the recognition and respect of the different opinions she encounters in her daily life.
"At my church there is the urgency to pray and intercede for what God is about to do in the nations, including ours," she writes. "These seem to be urgent times-I do believe this is only the beginning of more tribulation to come."
"Amongst my other group of friends, there is a feeling of unsafety and precariousness and vulnerability about being anywhere in this world--no man is spared from danger. Amongst others, there is anger that such incompetency from the pro-Russian rebels or carelessness could exist."
"But I think anyone coming into Malaysia for the first time wouldn't necessarily see the effects of mourning--it may be happening only in the consciousness."
No doubt, the tragedy is weighing heavily in Malaysia.
No one is blaming the country, nor is there any suggestion that the two tragedies are related. But the coincidence hangs like a shroud over what I had found to be a country full of life and flavors and rich Asian history, like the old Blue Mansion in George Town of Cheong Fatt Tze, the man called the "Last Mandarin and First Capitalist of China."
(© photo by Emil Guillermo)
I had many good memories of my visit, from my first taste of durian to my amok ride through old George Town on a rickshaw.
I try not to let MH17 have the last word.
When I close Katharine's email on my smartphone, only my screen saver remained.
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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Easy answer to Fox's "Chinaman" problem--Beckel begone; Why more than a half-hearted apology is needed
July 14, 2014 8:27 PM
On Fox News' "The Five," there's a move afoot to make it "The Four."
That's because the show's co-host and token liberal Bob Beckel used the racial slur "Chinaman" while ranting about Chinese hackers, whom Beckel says are the "single biggest threat to the national security of the United States."
Beckel: "We bring them over here and we teach a bunch of Chinamen, uh, Chinese people how to do computers, and they go back to China and they hack into us."
Did you catch the faux pas?
Beckel, citing a New York Times story, says the Chinese have hacked into the Office of Management and Budget, where they've targeted everyone with a top security clearance.
To top off the point, Beckel doesn't give China the finger, but the even more insulting bent arm salute.
You be the judge.
Today, Beckel responded to calls for his resignation by saying there are too many China apologists out there.
And he's definitely not one of those. But he did say,"If [you're offended], I do apologize. I do not apologize to the Chinese government for their habits, their murders, or anything else."
This from the former Mondale campaign manager, who probably made a better apology to Mondale for losing 49 of 50 states in the 1984 presidential race.
I initially was going to give Beckel a free pass on this, but why?
His slip is a revealing one--and sounds as if he harbors far worse in private about all sorts of ethnic people.
The guy is in the media. And on or off the air, he bears some sense of responsibility in how he expresses his opinions.
Provocative and thoughtful is good. Provocative and racist is not.
The word "Chinaman" is a slur, on the level of calling a Muslim terrorist a "towel-head."
But for some reason, Beck's internal self-censor was a tad loose for "Chinaman." To say "Chinese people" just wasn't good enough. He had to go racist for emphasis.
Maybe Beckel did it because he thinks we won't press him on this.
But we are, Bob. At the very least, for a more meaningful apology.
It wouldn't be so bad if there were a sense of balance on that show. That would be nice. But where are the people of color on "The Five?"
Kimberly Guilfoyle, half Puerto Rican, sort of counts.
But how about an African American? How about an Asian American?
That would help counter a bit of Beckel's hate-based, old fashioned, good-old-boy outrage.
Instead, with Beckel, the show is more of the same old Fox thing.
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On the Asian American beat, it seems like these kinds of media slights never end.
They just recycle.
Another slur, another slight, another misrepresentation.
Just this week, there was yet another casting issue in a theatrical production of The Mikado
in Seattle. Whites playing Asians. Yellowface
It's Miss Saigon all over again.
I've got my own answer for that kind of slight.
On Sunday in San Francisco, I'll be taking the stage doing an excerpt from my own solo performance
I have enough self-esteem to cast myself.
I've noticed more than a few Asian Americans gravitating to the solo performance space. It makes sense, as a way to tell our stories and be our own media images. Indian American, Vietnamese American, Japanese American, the number of performers I'm seeing is encouraging.
But with limited stages and small venues, it is the ethnic media version of theatre, and definitely on the fringe.
In that sense, it makes you appreciate the power of the traditional mass media--TV and radio--its mass reach and intimacy of communication.
I got a sense of how powerful that can be when I was reminded recently of how I led a slight diversity wave in 1975.
I was an Asian American DJ/announcer in Houston on a big 100,000 watt FM station. (If there was another Asian American on a white rock station within 1,500 miles of me playing records and doing the news, I didn't know about him or her).
I'm sure when I told people I was Filipino, there was likely a blank stare, followed by, "Guillermo? Isn't that a Mexican name?"
And then, of course, I used my pre-rap DJ name.
I went by Emil For Real.
Those were the days commercial music radio stations often skirted FCC rules by dumping the news on the graveyard shift, where I was there to compile and read it.
Ah, the graveyards. The place for the unwanted---in this case of commercial music radio, the news and minority DJs.
But in the '70s, beyond disco and what we now call classic rock, there was this other kind of sound coming out of New York. It was some strange sound that seemed too blunt for the daylight hours.
Enter The Ramones.
In Houston, 1975, my station was one of the last of the free-form commercial rock stations. But even there, the Ramones were considered too odd and risque.
But I could play it at 3 a.m. And so I did.
"Beat on the Brat (with a baseball bat)" was the first Ramones song played on Houston commercial radio.
It was the "Take me out to the ball game," of the punk generation.
This week, when the news broke that Tommy Ramone, the last living member and drummer of the band, had died, I heard from someone who had actually listened on the day I played the Ramones on the radio back in the '70s.
"I can definitely say it was like nothing I'd ever heard before," e-mailed listener Rick after he had tracked me down on the internet.
And then he wrote this: "I know you're light years away from those radio days, but as you can tell, some of your work from those days still lives on deep in the minds of some of us who tuned you in back then."
I was flattered of course. I was just the Asian American guy on the radio playing the records and reading the news.
But the note did make me realize there's a lasting power in these kinds of communications.
And that's ultimately why we have to speak out against Beckel. He's no Tommy Ramone. But the audience got Beckel's sound and message. And to them, if Fox's liberal old punk said it, so-called natural allies of Beckel must be OK with it.
Well, no, it's not OK.
Now Fox audience members need to hear from us to keep them from living under the influence of Beckel's hateful rant forever.
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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Instead of real immigration reform, we get a border crisis--made in the U.S.A.
July 9, 2014 2:26 PM
On the current immigration issue, President Obama is doing what a politician with no real direction can do: Throw money at the problem.
Asking Congress for $3.7 billion is actually a puny response in a world where $600 billion goes to defense spending.
But it still could end up being a fight anyway. Whether pennies or policy, no one wants to give up an inch--not when it comes to immigration.
When I say the "current immigration" issue, most of us would like to think that phrase might include something resembling the DREAM Act, or some kind of substantive reform on making the undocumented documented.
After all, that is what we've all been talking about for years.
Keep dreaming. Any reform is dead for now.
That's because to pols left and right, solving our immigration problem is like fighting forest fires. Without flames, the trees are just fine. But a hint of flames? It's crisis mode.
Right now, the flames along the Mexican border are represented by the blazing trail of undocumented children coming into this country--seeking safety.
So far, the Obama Administration response has been more of extreme enforcement mode (as if we need more of that). President Obama indicated his desire to send most of those apprehended back home. If he could only get them into those processing centers in all those welcoming communities (thanks Murrieta, California for turning a story of compassion into a national "not in my backyard' issue).
There are laws that would make repatriation easy--if the children were from Mexico or Canada.
But these kids are mostly from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Sending these children home without a hearing would require another policy change, and yet another congressional fight.
This drilling down to ethnicity may be the only positive diversity lesson here. Just as people are wrong to think all Asian Americans are Chinese, not every brown child who crosses the Mexican border is Mexican.
And this is where I call on a former colleague of mine, the journalist David Bacon.
At the turn of the century (around 2000), I was the first to produce a "Meet the Press" style show on ethnic and diversity issues. It ran in California on PBS stations. On immigration questions, I'd routinely turn to Bacon.
Bacon points out that the movement of families from these other countries is nothing new and has happened since the '70s, most notably from El Salvador.
You might even recall the 1983 movie, El Norte, based on Greogry Nava's journey from Guatamala.
Considering the numbers who left families behind, there had to be time when some would seek reunification with those who went ahead. That seems to be what's happening now, even though the mainstream media likes to talk almost exclusively of young people fleeing gang violence.
Bacon said while that is a factor, the mass movement of children is still mostly attributable to the failure of their homeland economies to sustain families.
"People are leaving because they can't survive where they are," writes Bacon in an article for In These Times
And, of course, the reason for the failure of these economies can be traced back to the North American and Central American Free Trade Agreements (NAFTA and CAFTA). The policies passed by Congress enabled U.S. corporations to send their products south. The trade agreements wiped out local farmers, but enabled the rise of right-wing governments that have prospered from the arrangement.
Bacon said the repressive governments have also coincided with the growth of gangs that were started by U.S. deportees who've been repatriated.
More deportations means more gangs. More gangs lead to more youth attempting to cross borders. Add that to the young people left behind looking for their parents, and no wonder the number of children apprehended at the Mexican border has gone from nearly 4,000 in 2011 to about 40,000 since October 2013.
And the cycle just repeats. And grows.
Americans shouldn't blame gang violence, repressive governments, or the ethnic families themselves.
Americans in Murietta, California and in Dallas, Texas need only point to their short-sighted representatives in government.
The problem of immigrant children at our borders began with bad decisions on immigration and trade policy--made in the U.S.A. It cries out for a real American response and humanitarian solution, if only there were a sense of compassion that could muster a little political will.
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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The slow death of freedom, democracy, and journalism
July 3, 2014 11:08 PM
How about some fireworks to start just to cheer us up?
After a week in which Hobby Lobby made reshaping democracy a new form of conservative arts and craft activity, and residents in a small California town blocked innocent refugee families seeking safety, I worry for America.
And on its birthday, yet.
As we go to our picnics and barbecues over the long holiday weekend, I wonder if we haven't tossed the Constitution itself on the grill.
It just seems that our view of a generous and expansive America has shrunk.
Instead, we fight to protect everything that we can grab and call our own. We've become far more selfish and self-interested. And if there were ever a notion of "the greater good," it seems to have been redefined by people who believe instead in a "greater God."
Theirs, not yours.
And isn't that why the founders left the mother country in the first place?
To build a nation that would be a sanctuary of freedom and liberty?
Of course it was. But tell that to Americans who have become so distrustful of their institutions. A recent Gallup Poll
showed that Americans have more confidence in the military, police, and organized religion than in any elected government officials. (Congress, by the way, is at the bottom of the list.)
Journalists? We were above Congress, but not by much.
Talk about crisis in confidence.
PRESS FREEDOMS ARE YOUR FREEDOMS TOO
As a journalist, I definitely know things have changed.
It's journalism conference season, and the first out of the box this year was held by the group known as IRE
(Investigative Reporters and Editors).
If you want to see how badly we've back-slided in terms of freedoms, particularly the First Amendment, just look at how reporters and their sources are treated today.
Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange? Whistleblowers and leakers are on the run. And for many, they are considered traitors, not heroes.
Meanwhile, James Risen
of the New York Times
is facing jail for his story on a bungled CIA operation in Iran, and, some believe, for being the first to break the story of the NSA's surveillance of Americans.
Lowell Bergman, the famed investigative reporter on whom the movie "The Insider" was based, delivered a keynote address before a conference of 1,600 journalists that was bold in its frankness.
"We have to talk about the illusion we have gone along with in the past six to seven years," Bergman said. That in some way the Bush/Gonzales years were bad years for journalism... when in fact Barack Obama and Eric Holder are not our friends."
It was the first vigorous ovation Bergman received that day.
The administration isn't a friend of journalists and the public's right to know, and neither is the Supreme Court, according to Bergman, who pointed out how different things were today.
Bergman said that fifty years ago in New York Times v. Sullivan
, the Supreme Court, with a Republican leading the way in a 9-0 decision, gave real backing to reporters.
"It meant you can report on a public figure without fear of being dragged into court and have to prove factually to the standards of the court that what you report is in fact true," said Bergman.
He also pointed out that Sullivan didn't involve a story, but an advertisement in the New York Times taken out by a civil rights organization.
"And we [journalists] profited from that," he said. "And I think it's important to remember, we don't have the civil rights movement [anymore]."
Surely, it's not the same as when the Civil Rights Act was signed into law 50 years ago this week.
Nor do we have an antiwar movement uncovering government secrets, such as Daniel Ellsberg, who copied the Pentagon Papers and was at the IRE conference.
Bergman believes we must do more to protect journalistic sources.
But his message to journalists was that we need to be much more supportive of each other--and most especially at this moment for James Risen.
"What James Risen has done is an act of civil disobedience," said Bergman. "His hand is more powerful if you say you're James Risen. If you see where he is, if you stand for him. Where are you on this matter?"
The crowd of journos leapt to its feet and applauded.
Later when I talked to Bergman, he humbly joked that it was an easy ploy for a standing ovation.
But it was false modesty. He didn't need it. His speech has stayed with me long after the convention and well into the holiday.
Especially when he said the only people who were the real allies of journalists were the pro bono lawyers.
As a journalist who writes for the AALDEF blog, that certainly rang true to me.
Bergman's speech was a reminder how necessary journalists are in maintaining the information we all need to be free. He mentioned the reporters who have died in America since the mid-'80s. They weren't reporters for big dailies like the Times
. They were ethnic reporters like Henry Liu
of Daly City, Calif.
I didn't know Liu. But I did know another reporter Bergman mentioned: Chauncey Bailey, an African American reporter for the Oakland Post, a black ethnic newspaper.
Bailey was investigating criminal activity by a group in Oakland that used a Muslim bakery as its front.
In August, 2007, Bailey
became the most recent reporter assassinated in America.
The conference featured a panel on the project that was started to complete the work of Bailey. In all, there were eight murders connected to the story; only three, including Chauncey's, have been solved.
Bob Butler, the president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said that the only reason Chauncey's case wasn't given more national coverage was purely due to racism. Black community, black reporter.
And yet, Chauncey had an important story to tell the public. And it cost him his life.
"If they could kill Chauncey," Butler said, "they could kill anybody."
I always considered Chauncey to be one of the good guys. IRE is made up of all types.
Some are the blowhard I-Team types from TV. But most are humble scribes interested in journalism in the public interest. Voices of the voiceless, right?
And sometimes that includes people of color.
As I left the hotel on my final day at the conference, I heard a voice say my name.
I turned. It was a Filipino immigrant, a man who had seen me on TV news in the Bay Area and in the ethnic press.
"Welcome to the hotel," the man said. He was in uniform. A hotel worker, like many of my relatives have been. "Thank you for being here. We hope you're enjoying your stay."
He thought he was serving me.
But really it's always been the other way around.
In the ethnic media, I was in service to him. We may be in the margins at times. But we're no less part of this great democracy.
July 4th is our reminder of that.
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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Remembering Vincent Chin: The Passion and Agony of a Community
June 23, 2014 7:18 AM
I don't know why I didn't do it this year. Maybe because it's too painful, and rounded-year anniversaries give us an easy excuse to let it go.
But I couldn't help noticing this year, as I looked at the calendar and remembered the dates. There's really no reason why we shouldn't call for a national period of reflection each and every year.
Asian Americans should always regard June 19 to June 23 as our special period to take the time to ask ourselves some basic questions.
Questions like: What does it mean to be an Asian American today?
What does it take to stand up for a sense of ourselves?
Our personal and public identity?
What does real equality, real justice mean today?
Have we reached that place?
Those are the things worth thinking about now and in the future.
The facts of the Chin case, of course, will always be kicked around. But that's really not the point of breaking down the agony of Vincent Chin, from the night of June 19th to the 23rd.
That was the period of perhaps the single most influential crime against an Asian American in the United States.
It was the night of Chin's bachelor party at the Fancy Pants strip club in Highland Park, a suburb of Detroit; the subsequent fight in a nearby McDonald's that resulted in Ronald Ebens beating Chin with a baseball bat; and then the long wait at the Henry Ford Hospital for Chin either to recover from his deep coma--or to die.
It all happened in 1982, 32 years ago.
Many of us are still scarred by the event and have used it positively to create meaning in our lives.
For some of us, say 40 years old and up, Vincent Chin remains like a line in the sand, a moment when we recognized that being an Asian American was to be born in a constant fight against forces in our society that would strip you of your civil rights.
It was also a reminder that the fight for our rights never ends.
But what does it mean for subsequent generations?
We know that even those who were around back then ask the question, "Vincent Who?"
What more for people under 40?
Are they swayed by the revisionist trivialization
that we saw earlier this year when a Detroit News
columnist contended that Chin's death had nothing to do with race?
I laughed at that because the writer didn't even talk to Chin's killer.
I wanted to talk to him to get a sense of closure.
Vincent Chin and I were both Asian Americans who grew up at the same time.
We were the same age. Even shared a hairstyle.
He was an immigrant though, and I was a native-born son of immigrants.
I was also a member of the Asian American Journalists Association and a young reporter working at the NBC affiliate in San Francisco, KRON-TV, at the time.
If anything, my reporter's perspective hindered my activism. I stayed super objective whenever discussing the story. Just the facts. My feelings had nothing to do with it. It didn't matter that the guy looked a lot like me.
It wasn't until I was an older reporter, even past my days at NPR, that I began to see Chin for what he was for many in the community. More than just a clarion call for justice, he symbolized the struggle of all Asian Americans.
And it wasn't until I began practicing more personal commentary and opinion journalism in both the ethnic media and the mainstream that I was able to understand that there was a lot more to Chin's death than a mere recitation of the facts was able to tell.
It's the reason why I pursued Ebens 30 years after
the murder, when others had put it off as old news.
I needed to hear from the murderer. For me.
I'm not an eye-for-an-eye guy. But I am for justice more than I am forgiveness.
I still think Ebens is going through a kind of rationalization process, using selective memory that allows him to live with himself.
I'm not his judge. But after talking to Ebens, I still feel that if Chin were not Asian or a person of color, I think Ebens wouldn't have felt the rage he did. Nor would he had extended the fight beyond the Fancy Pants into the street, and then later to the McDonald's. Ebens beating a white guy? He would have seen himself. Not some "other." He would have stopped. He didn't.
And to me that's where discussions of hate crimes become relevant.
There was enough hate present in my legal system.
But we're past that now. Whether Ebens says it was or wasn't about race is kind of irrelevant anyway. The facts are the same: Ebens killed an Asian American man. And got away with it. To this day, he continues to claim poverty to avoid the huge wrongful death judgment against him.
The system still works for Ebens. More than it does for any of us.
And that's why it's worth it to stop and think about this case. This year. Next year. Every year.
For all Asian Americans, past, present and future, Vincent Chin remains our gut-check.
As a community, we start on the 19th, and on the 23rd, unlike Vincent, we awake.
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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