Maybe retirement in May was really David Letterman's Asian Pacific American Heritage Month tribute.
On Monday, the kick-off to the last week of the "Late Show," Sue Hum, Letterman costume designer, got her send-off in the "Top Ten Things I'll miss working at the Late Show."
Her epitaph now should read that she was No.6: "Working with Hollywood's Most Well-Known Inseams."
That surely eclipsed Tom Hanks that night.
And on the second to last night, if you wondered who would be featured in that prized slot between the Top Ten List and the big guest Bill Murray, it was none other than Letterman's go-to Asian regular guy, Rupert Jee of Hello Deli fame, a foil of Letterman's since 1994.
Rupert said life was "boring" before Letterman came into the neighborhood and the Ed Sullivan Theatre, and that he'd miss the show "big time."
And then Letterman played a montage of Rupert's greatest hits.
But it's this kind of thing that makes you love Letterman or leave him.
It would be easy to see the Rupert bits as offensive, especially since it's the Asian man doing stupid things while Letterman is telling him what to do via walkie talkie.
For your entertainment, we get a remote control Rupert doing dumb things, such as putting pepper on a restaurant patron's bread while acting as a waiter, and then serving her a glass of water with his finger in it.
Make that a thumb.
And then with rubber gloves.
If you think of it as an Asian guy playing the White Man's monkey, it's super-offensive and paternalistic. And I admit to feeling a bit of that as I saw Rupert on the show through the years.
But by the end of Tuesday's montage, I also admit to laughing. And when I saw Rupert and Dave shake hands after, I could tell there was a lot more love at work than hate.
Maybe even more of the prime virtues, silly and stupid, than anything else. Stunts that brothers would pull on each other. In the name of comedy. And besides, in exchange for all that, Rupert's website and deli sell Late Show T-shirts. Less perishable than cold cuts, and now collectors' items.
And now it's here.
The last Late Night has arrived.
And maybe I've been in denial understanding what big a deal this really is.
In our democracy, we don't even let presidents stay more than eight years.
We've let Letterman lead us to bed for 33.
In an America where pop culture is king, the passing of the Late Show with David Letterman is like losing a major piece of comic infrastructure.
Can you imagine Pittsburgh without its bridges?
OK, how about San Francisco?
Nor can I imagine a late night without a Letterman.
Dave was our bridge to silly. But I actually liked him better in Charlie Rose mode, when he'd get ex-presidents like Bill Clinton to loosen up and tell the truth.
But Letterman's a comic, and it was bedtime, so silly was still the priority. Some would say with his stupid pet tricks and stupid human tricks, he elevated the stupid by making it a virtue. That was his style, to find comedy in all the places you wouldn't. Like Rauschenberg's "found art," Letterman found the funny in places like his corner deli and the guy who ran it, who just happened to be Asian.
I wondered what Letterman might find in retirement, which led me to Jerry Seinfeld's segment on "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" from Dec. 2014.
It gives you a glimpse of what Dave might do without Sue Hum and Rupert. And the rest of us.
There's also a great Letterman show clip at 7:35 in the "Comedians in Cars..." show that for the purposes of this column gives us another Asian connection.
When you ask what the best witty rejoinder ever made by Letterman was in 33 years, the one that always seems to come up is when Chinese talk show host Yue-Sai Kan came on the show and bragged about all the strange food she'd eaten.
"Have you ever had the hump of a camel?" she asked.
And Letterman says, "I have never had the hump of a camel."
To which Kan says, "I didn't think so."
"But I must say when I was younger, I was pretty good," Letterman said, topping the guest with big laughs and applause.
I too was younger once. And maybe that's why I'm feeling this Letterman retirement news a bit more than, say, the end of "Parks and Rec."
I actually remember the first Letterman show. I had just bought my first Mac with 512K of memory!
I also remember the iced tea commercial on his show the other night, the one with the song "Tiny Bubbles" that was originally sung by an APA original named Don Ho.
Letterman's NBC days I knew a bit better, because I was a TV broadcaster then at the old KRON, the NBC affiliate in San Francisco, the second largest market on the West Coast.
As the arts/entertainment/culture guy/movie critic, I got to interview Letterman once via satellite when he had some sort of prime time special on the Peacock.
After one plug on the local news, he sent me a personal handwritten note, which was in vogue way before Jimmy Fallon started writing them.
It was a nice touch from Letterman, a former TV weather guy in Indianapolis, who chucked all that local greatness to follow his Worldwide Pants dream. He's lived it for 33 years--a bit more than a generation.
That was Dave, late night's funny boomer, who, with more than a week left in Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, figures it's time to say goodbye.
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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
The four As are those who make up what I call the "Affirmative Action Asian Americans."
The five As would be those I dub the "Anti-Affirmative Action Asian Americans."
If you haven't noticed either group, don't worry, you will. They're forming our community's Mason/Dixon line.
Well, you didn't expect Asian Pacific American Heritage Month to go off without a hitch, did you?
Instead of unity, we have this, as yet another gauntlet has been thrown in the fight against affirmative action, this time a double banger.
A coalition of Asian American groups, including the Washington, D.C. chapter of 80-20, have joined forces to file two administrative complaints---one with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and another with the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education in Boston.
Both complaints call for the government to conduct a thorough investigation of Harvard's admissions process and to stop what the group claims are the discriminatory practices in admissions, including "racial stereotypes, racial biases, racial quota [sic] and other illegal means."It's a separate battle from the one begun last November by Students for Fair Admissions, a subgroup of the Project for Fair Representation, and led by conservative activist Edward Blum. That suit alleges that Harvard and the University of North Carolina admitted substandard minority applicants because of their race in violation of recent Supreme Court directives favoring race neutral policies.
Blum, the organization's leader, represented Abigail Fisher in a case against the University of Texas that went before the Supreme Court in 2013. Fisher lost, to the glee of affirmative action supporters, but Blum hasn't given up the fight.
This new coalition behind the complaints filed this week are heavy weighted with the same groups of Asian Americans who successfully fought a proposed plan to restore affirmative action in California's public institutions.
And so we have the anti-affirmative action Asian Americans: the AAAAA.
On the other side are the Affirmative Action Asian Americans. The AAAA.
Don't go with what a Tiger Mom might say.
Four As are still better than five.
The four As include most of the traditional Asian American Pacific Islander groups (including AALDEF) that have long stood up for equal opportunity in higher education, including affirmative action.
You can see the pro-affirmative action groups' response here.
Supporters point out that the anti-affirmative action folks are simply wrong to equate affirmative action with quotas, which everyone acknowledges are illegal.
Indeed, affirmative action as it exists has done more to create the equity in education that both sides want to see at places like Harvard and others.
The problem arises when schools like Harvard are forced to make tough choices, meaning that some 4.0, high-scoring candidates are rejected.
The anti-affirmative action folks ask, "Where's the justice in that?"
But it's the wrong question.
The right question is where's the space? Where's the resources?
That some top-scoring Asian Americans don't get into Harvard doesn't necessarily make a system racist. Indeed, the damage is neutralized when the same 4.0 is able to get a great education at another top university.
But that message isn't getting across.
We're left with a growing bumper crop of the most ideal "victims" of affirmative action: Asian American Harvard rejects.
And they are ready to fight.
Their advocates include Yukong Zhao, 52, a high-tech worker who immigrated from China in 1992. He said that many who join his coalition are recent immigrants, well-educated tech workers who simply want the best education for their children, and don't understand how students with great grades can get rejected from top schools.
"It's not right," he said to me on the phone on Thursday.
In many ways, this battle could have been predicted by the current profile of the Asian American voter: 62 percent foreign-born vs. 38 percent U.S. born, and their perceptions about civil rights couldn't be more different.
When I asked Zhao if he thought the complaints filed against Harvard symbolize a split between foreign-born Asian Americans and those born here, he was pretty direct.
"No," Zhao said in an e-mail. "Most Asian American communities are united. Our children suffer from such discrimination and they fully support us."
But read the statement from the traditional civil rights groups in our community and it's clear.
There's a real gap when it comes to understanding affirmative action.
That makes it more than just a wedge issue. It's practically nuclear for Asian Americans, an atom splitter for a community that still needs all the unity it can muster to achieve any real progress.
Beware of the polarizing politics ahead.
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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. He graduated from Harvard.
How silly to ask during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
But really, do Asian American lives matter? Not just the super-achieving model minority cubs breastfed from Tiger Moms, but the struggling Asian American immigrants who are seldom heard, hardly seen or even recognized?
I wondered about that when President Obama was in New York for the young men's support program called "My Brother's Keeper," a positive event for the administration to address coincidentally the situation in Baltimore.
I didn't hear any specific mention of Asian Americans.
But as he spoke, I kept thinking of real Filipino immigrants like my cousin Stephen Guillermo.
In his remarks, the president talked about how words like "equality" and ideas like "liberty and justice for all" had to be made concrete in the lives of all our nation's children.
"And we won't get there," the president said, "as long as kids in Baltimore, or Ferguson, or New York, or Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta or the Pine Ridge reservation believe that somehow their lives are somehow worth less...We won't get there when there's communities where a young man is less likely to end up in college than jail...or dead."
That hit a nerve.
It was the rhetoric of inclusion, and somewhere between Baltimore and the Pine Ridge reservation, I know he probably meant to include the densely-mixed commercial and residential places that Asian American immigrants know, such as New York's Chinatown. Or San Francisco's immigrant hot spots beyond Chinatown, the Tenderloin and South of Market districts, where drugs and prostitution are a normal part of the urban landscape.
They are the places where new Asian immigrants live and struggle to get out of, if and when they can.
Stephen lived in San Francisco's South of Market for almost 20 years since his arrival as a young kid from the Philippines. His parents waited for their visas for twenty years before that. Essentially, Stephen and his siblings were born while "waiting in line."
In San Francisco, the single room apartment on Mission St. was good enough for the two parents, Stephen, and his two little siblings for a while. But as the kids grew, the parents' income and opportunities didn't. And when Stephen's father died of cancer, Stephen delayed college and worked two jobs to support his family and pay off his father's debts.
At his father's deathbed, I talked to Stephen and told him I would be there for him. But he said he had things taken care of. And he did.
Last year, after eight years at San Francisco State, at age 26, Stephen finally had the credits to graduate.
After a night celebrating, he went to his apartment building, but got off on the wrong floor. Since every floor is identical, he went down the hall and knocked at the door of the same apartment on the third floor--- not his family's apartment on the fifth floor.
It was a fatal mistake.
Stephen was shot and killed by a 67-year-old African immigrant, a retired security guard.
The man was arrested, and despite my family's protest at the Hall of Justice, the suspect was released three days later.
There is a legal theory called the Castle Doctrine that most DAs don't want to mess with. It's derived from the idea that your home is your castle, and that gives you the right to defend your home from intruders with lethal force.
It's a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy that is the basis of California's self-defense law. And it also gives the shooter the right to presume any intruder is there to cause harm.
But what if he's like my cousin, smaller than Manny Pacquiao, and no menace or threat, apparently let into the apartment by the shooter and then killed?
That's justice in America?
When the president spoke on Monday, it had already been a tough weekend.
The family had gathered in San Francisco to see the Pacquiao fight, wanting something to cheer about.
It was the eve of the one-year anniversary of Stephen's shooting death, and we were hoping for a happy event--a Pacquiao win!
In some ways, it was good that Pacquaio lost the fight; gloom was already in the room.
Though frankly, I scored it 7 rounds Pacquiao to 5 for Mayweather.
I kept thinking about a tax analogy. Your CPA will tell you tax avoidance is fair. Tax evasion is not. The difference is slight, but there is a difference.
Same with boxing. It's called a fight for a reason. You clash.
My score 115-113, Pacquiao the aggressor.
The three American judges scored it unanimously for Mayweather.
But when Pacquaio was interviewed afterwards, he thought he had won. Said Pacquiao on Mayweather: "He didn't do nothing."
I guess justice is just as elusive in boxing as it is in real life.
When the fight ended, it was gloomy enough for the news I shared with my cousins. After a full year, the DA had yet to complete his investigation.
The medical examiner's report was not done, and the police report was unavailable because the case is still considered open.
When I talked to the DA's office, I mentioned how in the state of Montana, prosecutors weren't afraid to go after a shooter who used a Castle Doctrine defense and actually got a conviction.
Surely, just as DA George Gascon saw fit to campaign last November for a recodification of some laws from felonies to misdemeanors, he'd want to fight for a change in how San Francisco uses the Castle Doctrine?
I was told we'd hear back about the medical examiner's report in a few weeks.
In the year since Stephen's death, my ears prick up over every act of gun violence. We have seen Ferguson, New York, now Baltimore. We have seen numerous examples of gun violence, from the Elliot Rodger rampage to the Seattle college shooting.
Every episode brings back a memory of the senseless death of my cousin.
And then there was the president talking about Baltimore on Monday.
He said he saw himself in the young men in the Brother's Keeper program and said the difference was that he "grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving. "At some critical points, I had some people who cared enough about me to give me a second chance or a third chance," said the president. "Or to give me a little guidance when I needed it. Or to open up a door that might otherwise have been closed. I was lucky."
I wish Stephen had been that lucky. That the door he faced had remained closed. And that his gunman had waited to give him a second chance.
A year later, Stephen would have been a year out of school and who knows where.
He might have drawn some comfort from hearing the president say, "I want you to know, you matter. You matter to us. You matter to each other. There's nothing, not a single thing that's more important to the future of America than whether or not that you and the young people of America can achieve their dreams."
Stephen Guillermo, Filipino immigrant, child of San Francisco's South of Market, needed to hear that while he still mattered.
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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
The world makes you something that you're not, but you know inside what you are, and that question burns in your heart: How will you become that? I may be somewhat unique in this, but I am not alone, not alone at all. So when I became a fashion model, I felt that I'd finally achieved the dream that I'd always wanted since I was a young child. My outside self finally matched my inner truth, my inner self. ...All of us are put in boxes by our family, by our religion, by our society, our moment in history, even our own bodies. Some people have the courage to break free, not to accept the limitations imposed by the color of their skin or by the beliefs of those that surround them. Those people are always the threat to the status quo, to what is considered acceptable.
In my case, for the last nine years, some of my neighbors, some of my friends, colleagues, even my agent, did not know about my history. I think, in mystery, this is called the reveal.
Here is mine.
I was assigned boy at birth based on the appearance of my genitalia. I remember when I was five years old in the Philippines walking around our house, I would always wear this t-shirt on my head. And my mom asked me, "How come you always wear that t-shirt on your head?" I said, "Mom, this is my hair. I'm a girl." I knew then how to self-identify.
Gender has always been considered a fact, immutable, but we now know it's actually more fluid, complex and mysterious. Because of my success, I never had the courage to share my story, not because I thought what I am is wrong, but because of how the world treats those of us who wish to break free. Every day, I am so grateful because I am a woman. I have a mom and dad and family who accepted me for who I am. Many are not so fortunate.
Geena is finally herself. But the unfortunate ones are those like Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude, whose family this week is seeking $40 million in damages from her killer in the Philippines last year.
The civil suit comes as the murder trial of U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton resumed in the Philippines today.
Laude was found dead after being drowned in a toilet bowl of a motel in Olongapo City. Pemberton is said to have met Laude in a bar before going to the motel.
It's a story that's far too typical in the trans community.
The survey polled some 6,436 trans people, whose racial background was 11 percent multi-racial, five percent Latino, five percent Black, five percent Asian, 1 percent Native American, and 76 percent White. (National estimates for the transgender community is 700,000).
And what are their lives like? From the executive summary:
Discrimination was pervasive throughout the entire sample, yet the combination of anti-transgender bias and persistent, structural racism was especially devastating. People of color in general fare worse than white participants across the board, with African American transgender respondents faring worse than all others in many areas examined.
Respondents lived in extreme poverty. Our sample was nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000/year compared to the general population.
A staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population,with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).
But stats are one thing.
It really hits home when you know someone and see how life happens to them.
Last week, I did a workshop performance of my solo show, "The Amok Monologues," where among other things, I talk about the laws that prevented Filipinos from marrying whites. I drew the comparison to the current bans on same-sex marriage.
Another performer that night was my friend Kenna Fisher.
Kenna was born Ken in New York, and is roughly the same age as Bruce Jenner.
Kenna's show is good. But her experience hit home one day when we grabbed some coffee after a rehearsal.
Like Jenner, Kenna has had the hormone treatment, but not yet the surgery. Like Jenner, she also has a preference for women.
Unlike Jenner, Kenna uses the female pronouns and dresses openly like a woman. She simply wants to be the hottest 60-something, 6-foot-4ish, platinum blonde you might encounter.
After coffee, we said our goodbyes on the street. And as we did, there were several passersby who couldn't take their eyes off us. Or rather, her. Me, they ignored.
It was not a good kind of stare.
And this was in Berkeley, Calif.
In the 1930s "Little Brown Brother" era in California, my Filipino father knew those kinds of looks--when he was with a white woman.
In the 1980s when I dated my wife, a white woman, we got the old stink-eye at times, especially on the East Coast. Now? Never. Interracial? No problem.
But what I saw coming from the gawkers as I stood next to my trans friend Kenna, that was modern hate in real time, like I'd never felt before.
For me, it put the "T" in the LGBTQ.
Their fight is our fight, if equality means anything in America.
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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
Serap Jangbu Sherpa, 46, was hanging on every bit of communication from the base camp in the Himalayas -by text, online, Facebook--when I called him on Saturday.
It was like he was hanging on the side of the mountain he loved.
Serap is a premier climber who has scaled Mt. Everest three times. But it's tough to be a sherpa. Now he makes his living as a mountaineering consultant at a Manhattan sports store.
When the news broke that a 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, Serap, the president of the U.S. Nepal Climbing Association, knew what that would mean.
There would be an avalanche resulting in injuries and lives lost, and maybe the loss of the climbing season itself.
"When I heard the news I was very shocked," he told me when I reached him at his home in Queens. "Oh my god. What's going on? Every year again and again. Very big shocking news."
He was hoping it wouldn't be like last April when an avalanche on the mountain killed 16 sherpa and ended the season.
By mid-morning on Saturday, the sad numbers continued to mount as the quake cut sharply through Nepal and could be felt into neighboring areas to the east and west.
Later, Nepalese officials confirmed to The New York Times that an avalanche slammed into a base camp, killing at least 10 climbers and injuring an untold number of others.
Nima Namgyal Sherpa, a tour guide also at the base camp, wrote on Facebook: "Many camps have been destroyed by the shake and wind from the avalanche," said Nima Sherpa, base camp manager for Asian Trekking. "All the doctors here are doing our best to treat and save lives."
Still, there was optimistic talk that the trekking could resume again.
Hard to believe, considering the earthquake's impact on the entire country.
And yet, for Nepal, the Himalayan expeditions are the lifeblood of the country. It is their industry, where visitors can pay as much as $100,000 each to scale Everest, with the government getting a huge percentage of that.
Nepal issues licenses for more than 1,000 trips a year. An earthquake at a key time in the climbing season only multiplies the devastation.
I asked Serap Jangbu Sherpa if the expeditions could just pick up and start again in spite of the quake.
"I don't think it's going to be closed," he said, but he added it would "take a little while" to create the support systems for climbs to resume.
"There's enough time to continue," Serap Sherpa said. "It's still April, and we have a month to go...[but] now everything is gone. I'm sure it's a big mess...You need enough food and supplies. Everything."
Serap Sherpa said he lost a team member during one climb he made, and he recommended they return home.
"I decided to cancel and come back next time," he said. But he said sherpas can't always tell clients "don't go up."
"Some people want to continue because they spend a lot of money," Serap Sherpa said. "So they want to keep climbing."
Still, that's hard to see happening after last year's tragic avalanche. In protest for better conditions, sherpas shut down the mountain until their compensation and working conditions improved.
But now an earthquake has the entire country scaling a different kind of Everest just to care for the dead and provide aid to the massive numbers of injured.
It's hard to imagine the country back to normal when life is difficult everywhere you look.
* * * Updated: Here's a video that was on YouTube and CNN of the avalanche hitting the base camp:
On Apr. 26, as of 3:30 pm ET, there have been 17 confirmed dead at Mt. Everest, and more than 2,500 confirmed dead in the the country of Nepal.
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Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.