Emil Guillermo: After Florence and Mangkhut--two global weather events--time to talk seriously about climate change?
September 16, 2018 7:35 PM

It's just been a few days since the world saw two major catastrophic weather events-- in Asia and America--develop and land simultaneously. 

But please don't utter the phrase, "We got off easy."

If you do, kindly continue to bury your head in the sand, but for fun and emphasis do switch out the sand with a big bucket of methane-producing cow dung.

Now do you see how methane traps the air and produces the kind of weather patterns we've seen that comes from climate change?

(This I understand works as a form of waterboarding for climate deniers.)

But do give yourself points for knowing the globe was undergoing two major weather events over the past weekend from the Carolinas to San Guillermo barangay in the Philippines.

Scene from San Guillermo Barangay in Laoag City, Philippines from cell phone of the elected barangay councilor.


As further proof that all hurricanes, like politics, are local, the coverage of Florence off the U.S. Carolina coast  was rather parochial and sensationalistic as the media tracked the storm from Monday through the weekend.  

While windy and ominous, Flo was soon said to be a mere 1,000-year rain event by Saturday, as if flooding and surges weren't significant enough. They are, of course, and despite the downgrade, early reports say Florence (whether you want to brand her a hurricane, tropical storm, or whatever) had claimed at least 14 lives.

Of course, that number is sure to rise.

That might be enough extreme weather for a September weekend if you were just paying attention to the America-centric media. 

For many, the anticipation of Flo took over the news. Even the new plea deal of convicted Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort (who won't wait for a Trump pardon, he'll spill the beans now) hardly got the coverage it deserved. And Brett Kavanaugh as an alleged aggressive high school masher? (Why didn't California Senator Feinstein speak up sooner? Will we talk about it now that the accuser has come forward? I was a DC talk show host when Anita Hill challenged Clarence Thomas and can see the uproar building. The KavMan really was a CaveMan? Accuser Christine Blasey Ford might out-hurricane Florence).

But for right now, Flo has trumped all Trumpy-related news. It even obscured the gestation of Super Typhoon Mangkhut. 

NEWS FROM THE SAN GUILLERMO PART OF THE PHILIPPINES
Mangkhut sneaked up on everyone not paying attention to the rest of the world.

Heading straight for Hong Kong via the Philippines and Central Luzon, Mangkhut, a/k/a Ompong in the Philippines, caught my Ilocano family's attention on Friday.  

From Laoag City in the northern Philippines, they posted the barangay official's videos on social media, and let relatives know they were all praying, but safe. 

Later, some relatives were out with the Barangay San Guillermo councilor trimming downed trees and fetching roof parts that had been blown off.

trees.png

No one in my family was hurt. But many of their neighbors are still wondering how they will take care of all the damage.

Early death toll figures for Mangkhut were relatively low, around 25, but that's a number still higher than Florence, and we're not done yet. 

Mangkhut was a storm that was said to be more powerful than Florence, and even Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.  You'll recall Haiyan (a/k/a Yolanda) devastated Leyte and the Central Philippines leaving more than 6,000 people dead.

But again, please don't say, "We got off easy."


DEATH TOLL POLITICS
Note, Haiyan's 6,000 is nearly double Puerto Rico's 2,975 total from last year's Hurricane Maria, an amount that is being disputed without evidence by President Trump. Maybe that's because Trump would rather count the individual bodies himself. Or make son-in-law Jared do it. 

Of course, Trump applies his colonial math, whereby 2,975 American citizens, from the U.S. territory, are at least divided in half, since they can't vote as second class citizens. 

That's the way Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello sees it. 

"We are treated as second class citizens," Rossello told CNN.   "We need to solve the century-old problem of colonialism in Puerto Rico."

You mean the unfinished business of the Spanish American War where the Philippines became a colony but broke away when the U.S. tired of Filipino men coming to the states? 

America spun what was essentially the Filipino Exclusion Act of 1934 as the law that also gave the Philippines independence. But they kept Puerto Rico as a territory and made its people citizens of the U.S. without voting rights and representation. That's more than a colonial hangover. Cuba was too big. The Philippines was too far. Puerto Rico was just right for nouvelle colonialism. 

But the death toll game is just a distraction. One death is too many. 

Still, Donald Trump, chief climate denier, doesn't care.


CALIFORNIA'S CLIMATE CHANGE SUMMIT 
What we're to make of all this is that hurricanes aren't all local after all. 

They're global, because what you do in one part of the world has an impact on the weather in other parts of the world.  A warming atmosphere will result in rain and flooding. Oceans warming will result in intense winds and hurricanes. That's the impact of our increased carbon footprint, which traps the greenhouse gases that warm the climate and wreak havoc on weather systems. 

How warm has it been lately? Just the fourth hottest year on record.

In San Francisco this past week, the climate change warriors got together for a summit to discuss best practices to make a difference. California is the world's fifth largest economy, with a Gross State Product at $2.747 trillion that is bigger than the United Kingdom's Gross Domestic Product.

California, the most Asian American state in the nation, has taken it upon itself to stay in line with the Paris agreement on climate change, even if the Trump-led U.S. has refused. 

The state just passed a law making its utility companies go 100 percent zero carbon by 2045. It also has a goal to have 5 million electric cars on the road by 2030. All this while Trump gleefully rolls back every climate change gain, most of them linked to Obama.

If you didn't hear about the summit, maybe it's because all the hurricane news from both ends of the world ate up all the news space.

Just remember, when you see TV news scenes from Florence or Mangkhut, that's your climate change update. We didn't get off so easy after all. 

And now it's time we start owning it while we still have a planet.

If you drive a gas car, or eat meat (which produces tons of methane in processing, which traps heat and creates warming), or are part of a state or institution that remains apathetic to climate change, you helped contribute to it all.

Listen to that video from the San Guillermo barangay in Laoag City, Philippines again. 

That wind, the rain, the chimes--it's a message for all of us.

*     *     *
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 his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments

Emil Guillermo: On anonymity, Kavanaugh, and exclusion
September 7, 2018 10:26 PM

Pardon me for being so ebullient when that anonymous New York Times op-ed writer heralded the Resistance Inside. 

Seems like it wasn't the cavalry to the rescue, after all. 

As President Obama said himself at a speech in Illinois on Friday, these times are "not normal." They're "extraordinary," and certainly represent a more "dangerous" time than ever for our democracy. 

We should understand that when the founders called for checks and balances, they did not mean adult supervision in the West Wing. 

But I had thought that along with the impending release of "Fear," the Bob Woodward book where Trump is called by insiders "unfit" to be president and leading a White House described as "Crazytown," the anonymous op-ed would lead to some kind of cleansing force--bipartisan momentum against Trump. 

In other words, we'd see people finally willing to put politics aside, and put our country and democracy first. 

The dream of high school civics! 

Reaching across the aisle as Americans was, after all, the bottom line of that op-ed.


FACEBOOK ENCOUNTER 
I even went into a Facebook chatroom the other day to engage with the Trumpiest Asian Americans----who happen to be in the Filipino community.

Given that the president is an unindicted co-conspirator, the subject of a criminal investigation, and exposed as chaotic and anti-democratic by Woodward and the anonymous writer, you'd think the Trumpy flips would want to flip.

Was I disappointed.

What I found is the Trumpys have drunk the Kool-Aid, and now they insist on taking it intravenously.

Anonymous has fueled the base. And they ape whatever Trump is saying. "Gutless." And now Trump wants the Justice Department to investigate---for what? The appropriate use of the First Amendment?

Sadly, I'm coming around to the idea that maybe the Resistance Inside was just as phony as Trump.

Mr. Anonymous seems to want it both ways--to be a Trumpy enabler a few feet away from power, as well as one of the adult caretakers of democracy held hostage by King Tantrum himself.

Where's the patriotism in any of that?

It's a hedge manager's style. (Let's see, any Goldman alums still lurking as senior officials?) Play both sides against the middle. You can't lose.

A real patriot would have come out and staged that 25th Amendment coup. That would have been history.

Instead, we have an anonymous op-ed leading a "revolution" to nowhere.

It surely hasn't led to silent Republicans speaking out with Democrats declaring a bipartisan love of country. No, they're still using Trump as their bullet-proof dummy to solidify their own power.

That FB chat room I went into this week was a revelation. It wasn't long before the exchange turned into the room's members personally attacking me.

So much for civil discourse in the age of Trump. All sides dig in, with no one persuasive enough to change a single mind. It's a fight to the death, and since SCOTUS is the last word in any argument in the land that counts, it made the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Brett Kavanaugh this week even more important.


KAVANAUGH ON NATIVE HAWAIIANS, CHINESE EXCLUSION 
If you watched any of the hearings, then you must realize they're not the most effective way to vet a Supreme Court justice.

kavanaugh hearing.jpg

What did we learn about Brett Kavanaugh in the hearings? His views on Roe v. Wade (abortion), on U.S. v. Nixon (executive power), on anything? Kavanaugh was even less forthright than Trump's previous nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

He wouldn't answer anything that was a potential issue that would come before the Court or a hypothetical. Which doesn't leave much. maybe, "Should the Nationals trade Bryce Harper?"

And yet in hundreds of thousands of documents, only a tenth of which was shared with the committee, there were a few things to be gleaned.

For Asian Americans, among the items that stood out were the documents Sen. Mazie Hirono herself released, revealing Kavanaugh's stance on Native Hawaiians.

In documents marked "committee confidential," maybe someone was trying to hide Kavanaugh's racist views toward all people of color?

It was an email reply Kavanaugh wrote in 2002, in which he was asked if Congress should treat Native Hawaiians as a Native American tribe.

Said Kavanaugh: "Any program targeting Native Hawaiians as a group is subject to strict scrutiny and of questionable validity under the Constitution."

Other writings revealed Kavanaugh's bias. I knew he was for a color-blind approach, but I didn't know he was fact-blind too. He argued Native Hawaiians weren't indigenous because they came from Polynesia. Of course, Hawaii is the northern tip of Polynesia.

Kavanaugh claimed in the same 1999 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, that Native Hawaiians didn't have their own government or system of laws or elected leaders. "They don't even live together (as in reservations) in Hawaii," Kavanaugh wrote.

But all of those assertions are historically inaccurate. And as Hirono pointed out, Native Hawaiians are entitled to the same rights and protections as other indigenous Americans in this country.

Hirono asked him point blank: "Do you think Rice v. Cayetano raises constitutional questions when Congress passes laws to benefit Native Hawaiians?

Kavanaugh gave a long answer capped with pablum. "I would want to hear the arguments on both sides. I would keep an open mind and appreciate your perspective on this question," he said.

But Hirono let him have it. "I think you have a problem here. Your view is that Hawaiians don't deserve protections as indigenous people under the Constitution and your argument raises a serious question on how you would vote on the constitutionality of programs benefitting Alaska natives. I think that my colleagues from Alaska should be deeply troubled by your views."

It was a not-so-veiled message to constituents of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, one of the two Republicans who must cross over and join a united Democratic bloc if Kavanaugh's nomination is to be stopped cold.

Just another of the issues gleaned from the fraction of documents that were released to the committee only this week. Hundreds of thousands weren't. And no delay was granted to find out what else Kavanaugh and his supporters were trying to hide.

More broadly for Asian Americans, the issue of the Chinese Exclusion Act came up. Sen. Kamala Harris pointed out that the Supreme Court never struck down the 1882 law that specifically barred Chinese immigrants because of their race.. Kavanaugh was asked if the case was correctly decided, but he refused to comment. Watch it. Do you trust him?

kamala kavanaugh.jpeg

Maybe if the judge remained anonymous,, he could write an op-ed for the New York Times telling us how he'd really feel when wearing a black robe.

Still there's only so much we can glean from past writing. Lots of judges have appeared one way in confirmation, then done a 180 when it comes to critical issues. Justice Roberts on voting rights comes to mind.

This time, if the 53-year old Kavanaugh gets the nod, we will have to live with the consequences for a very long time.

Imagine if a Trump self-pardon or other abuse of executive power came before a divided SCOTUS with Kavanaugh sitting on the high court. Kavanaugh wouldn't answer when asked by Sen. Harris at the hearings.

Just another one of those items to be filed under "dangerous times, Democracy 2018-20XX."

Our lesson: Don't rely on the Inside Resistance to shake things up and reverse the trend. It will, however, begin in earnest if voters pressure the Senate to put country over politics and stop the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.

*     *     *
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 his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments

Emil Guillermo: Journalism, No "Enemy of the People," Reveals Our Trump Democracy in Deep Trouble
September 5, 2018 10:20 PM

If you haven't seen the news yet, the nation's in more serious trouble than we all thought. And there's nothing fake about it.

People inside the White House have finally come to their senses. 

They are speaking forcefully and honestly about the president to the news media, bypassing Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kellyanne Conway, and even Fox.

And it's living up to the best definition of news I've ever heard.

That would be that news is information somebody wants suppressed, and that all the rest is advertising. Or public relations, buffed over truth. Or something in Trump orange.

And judging from Trump's reaction, this week the fourth estate is anything but the enemy of the people, but the one thing in our democracy that can be trusted. 

First, the Washington Post delivered with an advance of a critical book on the administration by legendary Watergate journalist Bob Woodward. In it, Trump insiders reveal a chaotic White House led by a man unfit to be president.

We already knew that?  Only impressionistically--Sanders and Conway were running interference. The Woodward book has tons of genuine interviews with Trump administration folk done on "deep background," which allow people who know the truth to speak freely in order to let the American people know just how bad things are. 

"Deep background" is an important journalistic tool because it gives these heretofore timid souls inside the Trump administration deniability, just the cover they need when asked later by The Donald if they ever talked to Woodward or the media.

Of course, they didn't. And that's how journalism is played in Washington. That was Tuesday, but then not to get outdone, the New York Times trumped the Post Wednesday afternoon with its own piece for the Thursday morning paper.

NYT op-ed.jpeg
One of the highest ranking Asian American editors in journalism, Jim Dao, the op-ed page editor of the Times, got a call from a senior official in the White House from an intermediary, according to CNN's Brian Stelter. The official wanted to do a tell-all op-ed, and Dao told him to submit it. 

It was powerful enough for the Times to grant the writer of the op-ed essay anonymity, again the rare use of the shield to enable the writer to speak the truth.


THE ONLY WAY TO GET THE TRUTH
But how else would we get information somebody would rather see suppressed? That somebody would be Trump, whose head must have exploded when he saw someone identified only as "part of the Resistance inside the Trump Administration" characterize the "dilemma" Trump faces. 

It's one, the writer says, Trump "does not fully grasp." Maybe due to the president's lack of intelligence and fitness to be president. 

Trump's dilemma is that "many senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations."

In other words, the stuff that really matters that doesn't fit in a tweet.

The writer characterizes the "resistance" as different as that of the left.

But I don't agree. 

There is common ground when the writer boldly writes, "We believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic."

This is how non-partisans speak when the country is in trouble. "That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he is out of office."

The writer doesn't mince words. They don't need to hear more Michael Cohen tapes. "The root of the problem is the president's amorality. Anyone who works with him him knows he is not moored to any discernable first principles that guide his decision making."

This is as damning as anything written to date. And maybe it's the cue for other Republicans to speak up as well. "Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives; free minds, free markets and free people," said the voice of the Resistance. "At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright."

The writer chides Trump for calling the press  "the enemy of the people." Then the writer delivers this blunt assessment: "President Trump's impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic."

This is worse than the Woodward book. It's short enough that Trump might have read it and wondered himself, "Why am I president? 

The writer acknowledges the economic pluses Trump and supporters blindly mention, like deregulation and taxes.

"But these successes have come despite--not because of--the president's leadership style, which is impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective."

The essay laments Trump's erratic nature, his rants, his "half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back."  

The writer admits that not all attempts to curb Trump are successful. But there's an assurance offered. "It may be cold comfort in this chaotic era, but America should know that there are adults in the room. We fully recognize what is happening. And we are trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't."

No wonder Trump has notably tweeted one word in his choicest response: "Treason."

Far from it. 

It would be a dereliction of duties and unpatriotic if the insiders didn't come forward and confirm that what we've long suspected is really happening inside the White House. 

And maybe the truth will do more than set us free; it may create the turning point that will bring us all together against Trump, the great divider, at the midterm ballot box.

Says the resistance writer in the Times: "The real difference will be made by everyday citizens rising above politics, reaching across the aisle and resolving to shed the labels in the favor of a single one: Americans."

I think most Asian Americans and other people of color can agree with a majority of Americans that Trump is unfit to be president. 

Now someone tell the base, this is real and not fake news.

*     *     *
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 his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments

Emil Guillermo: On death, racial slurs, and McCain; and one more memory of historian Dawn Mabalon
August 27, 2018 8:55 PM

When Richard Nixon died, I recalled writing his obit while working in Washington, DC. Here was the man who, until recently, may have been the worst president ever who considered himself above the law. But apparently, that's like high-rise living. There's always someone one floor above you.   

Still, when Nixon died, people hardly dwelled on Watergate and seemingly everyone found something good to say about RMN. The Environmental Protection Agency was started under his watch, hooray! What a nice Republican idea?

The idea of a deathbed conversion among the living is real when it comes to obits. With Nixon, it may have been a tad extreme.  But we can see it happening to a degree right now with the late Senator John McCain: war hero, principled Republican, and a man loose with the tongue when it came to Asians and Asian Americans.

JohnMcCain.jpg                                                                                                                                   (photo by Gunnery Sgt. Bill Lisbon)

Can you say "gook" without grimacing?

John McCain could.

Forgive and forget?  Does death give one a free pass? Were you feeling so deeply sympathetic that you were ready to declare "John McCain is the Republican I'd want to be!" 

Hold off. A little history is needed.

Some of us still remember in February of 2000, Sen. John McCain was called on the carpet for his use of a racist slur to describe his Vietnamese captors.

McCain called them "gooks." And when he could have apologized, he didn't.

In fact, he doubled down.

"I was referring to my prison guards," McCain explained to reporters while campaigning in 2000, "and I will continue to refer to them in language that might offend some people because of the beating and torture of my friends."

His defenders were his own political operatives, of course.

"If people understood the context, they wouldn't be upset," Mike Murphy, a senior adviser to the campaign, was reported to have said. 

But I understand the context. 

Here was a man who wants to be president of all the people. And instead of comforting Asian Americans who would vote for him, he  chooses to alienate them in the present with a slur from the past.  

And what would he think if he saw an Asian face he didn't know? What would his first thoughts be? "Gook"?  

"Gook" is an historically offensive term, beyond McCain's experience. It is the all- encompassing Pan Asian slur. One size fits all. It has been used to racialize and fan the hate in the inhumanity of war.

It was first used for the Filipinos during the Spanish American War. Does anyone remember that one? It spilled over to the Philippine Revolution and ended up with an estimated death toll in the Philippines at over a million civilians.

Since then, the name gook has applied to every Asian on the other side of an American gun. Chinese. Japanese. Vietnamese. Koreans. 

That's one hell of a hateful word. Makes the "N-word" seem tame. Essentially, it's a hall of shame-worthy slur. 

And when he had a chance to recant during a campaign push in 2000, McCain didn't.

It took him a few weeks, but as reported in the Washington Post, McCain did ultimately apologize a few weeks after the incident: 

"I will continue to condemn those who unfairly mistreated us," McCain said. "But out of respect to a great number of people whom I hold in very high regard, I will no longer use the term that has caused such discomfort. I deeply regret any pain I have caused."

He concluded, "I apologize and renounce all language that is bigoted and offensive."

Good enough? 

It doesn't quite undo the pain. And surely, it didn't alter the continued use in society of offensive ching-chong accents to diminish the status of Asians and Asian Americans.

Sure, I can have some respect and compassion for the death of another human being. Especially when he has seemed reasonable on a number of issues.

But even there, as a former colleague Norman Soloman has pointed out, McCain doesn't have a particularly great record.

Remember Saddam Hussein and the Iraq invasion? McCain was part of the demonization of Saddam.

Said McCain in 2002: "We can make the case that it is obvious that Saddam Hussein continues this buildup of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. But we are not the ones who are forcing this issue. The President of the United States in this resolution is not forcing the issue. It is Saddam Hussein who is forcing this issue."

McCain also said the war would be over in short time. Famous last words. As Solomon points out, McCain was just plain wrong. But what did we expect? His donors show the true heart of a corporate politician with the standard influencers bankrolling him: Merrill Lynch, JPMorganChase & Co, Citigroup, AT&T, Goldman Sachs.

Standing up to Trump, and having both Bush and Obama deliver his eulogy, may seem uniquely high-road bipartisan in these troubled times. 

But in the end, McCain, the great man, has always been a pure pol. He picked the ever  polarizing Sarah Palin in 2008 as his low road running mate to prove it. 

Oh, he later regretted that move. But it was just like when he had a chance to be inclusive toward Asian Americans and stop using a slur, he initially passed.

He was basically that kind of guy. 

He cared about his own political skin, before he cared about any of us.


HISTORY IS HARD TO LIVE DOWN
The ironies of history are all around us and at Dawn Mabalon's wake and funeral in Stockton last week, it was hard to ignore all of them. (See my previous story here.)

DawnMabalon.jpg

Dillon Delvo, with Mabalon, co-founded the Little Manila Foundation, a non-profit they started which successfully preserved the historical buildings in downtown Stockton that were once the center of Filipino American life in the U.S. 

At his eulogy for Mabalon this week, Delvo took note of Mabalon's vision. One of the biggest hurdles for the community, he said, has been overcoming a colonial mentality, the hangover from centuries of colonial rule. Delvo defined it as the "internalized attitudes of ethnic inferiority from the effects of colonization and a corresponding belief that the cultural values of the colonizer are inherently superior to one's own."

"Dawn was the most decolonized of all of us," Delvo said repeatedly as if a mantra. "She saw her community not just for what it was, but what it could be... Dawn was the most decolonized of all of us." 

It was a great line that struck a nerve among all who remember the Philippines as the U.S.'s first colony.

Yes, Dawn was among the most decolonized. But it was made even more ironic  when her services were held in a Roman Catholic church, a church that without question supported strong xenophobic, anti-Filipino U.S. efforts to repatriate Filipinos back to the Philippines in 1934.

The church was not a friend to the community, and Dawn in her groundbreaking "Little Manila is in the Heart: The Making of the Filipino/a American Community in Stockton, California," went into detail to show how racist and segregated the church was toward Stockton's Filipinos starting from the '30s, on. Add to that last week's damning grand jury report of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia's decades of sexual abuse, as well as reports that Pope Francis knew and participated in the coverup of the abuser, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick in Washington, D.C., and the thought that we were in a Catholic church to celebrate the life of an activist/historian, I'm sure, would have made even Dawn Mabalon walk out.

She would have liked it in a labor hall. But a Catholic church, a symbol of centuries of  Spanish colonialism? 

Our lesson for the day may be that even the most august institutions and individuals still need to be held accountable for all their sins.

They don't deserve a pass. 

From the Catholic Church to John McCain, it's in the history. 
 
*     *     *
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 his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments

Emil Guillermo: Crazy poor Asian on "Crazy Rich Asians"
August 20, 2018 6:41 PM

One of the biggest laughs I got on Friday was when I welcomed people to my one-man show, "Amok Monologues: All Pucked up-NPR, Harvard and more," and referred to it as "Crazy Poor Asian."

emilatmanilatown.jpg

Crazy Poor Asian!?

Unfortunately, many in the mostly Asian American crowd could relate. And that's what we should remember after a glorious weekend at the movies.

Don't get me wrong. 

We were all rooting for "Crazy Rich Asians" to make its mark in its long opening week. I even shunned any freebie screenings so I could give it the old-school box office boost.

Glad to contribute my hard-earned cash as a small fraction of the movie's box-office topping $32 million gross.

CRA has done something that few movies have done in recent memory. 

It proved that Asian Americans are commercially viable.  

Not that The Rock (American Samoan), or any number of Asian and Asian American stars, couldn't have done that (if only they had the opportunity--thinking of you, Ming Na Wen).

But this was one big "in-your-face" moment. 

We looked at the screen and saw ourselves.

And Hollywood execs realized there's no need to have any racist fear that audiences wouldn't be able to relate to Asian Americans as 30-foot icons on a silver screen.

CrazyRichAsians.jpg

We're human too.

We fall in love. Have insecurities. Fall out of love. Fall back in love. Get married! 

And CRA did it, as good Asian Americans might do, by using that simple good, old-fashioned principle in math: SUBSTITUTION.

That's all it took to show the suits what they've been missing all these years.

Take the tried and true rom-com formula and substitute Constance Chu for any white Jennifer Anniston/Drew Barrymore clone (they're at all the auditions); Stick in Henry Golding as the Asian stand-in for the Ryan Gosling/Channing Tatum stud. Add a Filipino (Nico Santos) in the tried and true gay fixer/planner role that has become the semi-official Gaysian seat at moviedom's table. And for more character and spice, throw in veteran scene stealer Ken Jeong as a global Asian, who scored a big laugh when he said as an aside, "I went to Cal State Fullerton." 
 
And, of course, for good measure, throw in the unforgettable Awkwafina. 

Add it all up and voila! 

We've achieved the goal of exposing the shallowness of Hollywood commercialism. We've matched it at its own game. 

The high bar was really a low bar that had been out of reach.

That's worth a bow? OK, now what? 

Let's hope it means we're going to see real Asian Americans cast in white roles.

Idris Elba as James Bond? Why not an Asian? From the Hong Kong bureau.

Are we going to see real Asian American stories? Cambodians? Vietnamese? Filipinos? They don't all have to have the feel of a Disney fairy tale.

Maybe, maybe not. But CRA's success may mean something else outside the movies that we didn't expect.

NOT TO RAIN ON THE PARADE...
So let's not get too soup-slurpy over all this just yet.

Yes, I loved seeing the fantasy come alive of the all-Asian cast up on the big screen.

But the film was nothing like the Wayne Wang films of the past. Wang's had some clunkers, such as directing Jennifer Lopez in "Maid in Manhattan," but his best--such as "Chan Is Missing" or "Eat A Bowl of Tea"--were authentic, tough, personal films compared to CRA's commercial glamour. Wang wasn't just "The Joy Luck Club," which incidentally was as Asian American as it gets. 

Let's realize that "Crazy Rich Asians" is fighting a different battle. It wants to be the homogenized Hollywood Asian, the ultimate revenge for Paul Muni playing a Chinese man in 1937 in Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth," and all those whites playing Asian parts in movies since then. 

For good measure, CRA is loaded with Asian eye-candy galore.

Maybe Constance Wu in a red dress. (Another good line. "Red's a lucky color, if you're an envelope."

There's something for everyone. The Asian guys all have their shirts off and acceptable two-packs. And did I mention, Constance Wu is always watchable. And if food is your drool, there's lots of dumpling pinching.

The film knows there's a problem with class differences among Asians, and touches on it briefly. Did you notice the servants in Nick's family home? Wu's character Rachel makes this like an Asian American fairy tale. 

But there's no condemnation of the rich. We all aspire, right? (A little bit?)  And besides, the shows the rich are human too. CRA makes weddings the ultimate in global mergers and acquisitions of the heart.

The film doesn't really take sides. It likes money. Wu's character, the econ professor in game theory raised by a single mom, marries the rich scion. And everyone is happy. (Come on, that's not really worthy of a spoiler alert?)

Fine for the movie, but when you walk out of the movie, you realize how it exposes that real class inequities that exists between all Asians and Asian Americans from top to bottom. 

In real life, the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity reported last year that more than a quarter of Asian Americans live in poverty in New York City.

The film also opens up the subtle issue of the modern Asian immigrant, FOB vs the Americanized or Native Born Americans.

I call it the FOB vs. the NBA.

It used to be that FOB, or "fresh off the boat," was a pejorative. But not when the FOB flies in from Asia in luxury first class.

CRA teaches us that now when we talk about Asian Americans being non-monolithic, we'd better think about both class and ethnicity. 

We haven't really dealt with either as a community. Some of us are still looking at the Civil Rights agenda that was born in 1965. But many of the new Asians don't even know what Martin Luther King, Jr. was fighting for.

As an example, all the talk about Asian Americans fighting Harvard for admission.

Most of the aggrieved are from rich Asian families who've immigrated within the last 10 to 20 years. 

They see their smarts as their privilege. They saw it work in Asia, where the highest score wins.

But it's more complicated in a less homogenous, more diverse America.

So cheer CRA all you want. Just beware how it feeds a sense of AP, Asian Privilege.

It's a modern, global thing. Asians straddling the Pacific. Consider it the 21st Century Model Minority idea with its shirt off and six pack abs. They're actually models. Or ingenues with blue- eyed contact lenses and skin whitener.

The good guys are the regular Asians, like Constance Wu's Rachel.

But she falls in love with Henry Golding's Nick, the Asian hybrid. 

Together, they create a new Asian American stereotype to deal with. Or maybe the type of Asian Hollywood wants. Stories that span the globe. Asian markets, baby.

And if Rachel and Nick have kids, that's the future.

"Crazy Rich Asians" marks the arrival of it all with one big screen weekend splash.

*     *     *
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 his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF's views or policies.


Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 0 comments