Emil Guillermo: Officer Darren Wilson's words, and thoughts on Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and my cousin Stephen
November 25, 2014 11:31 AM

Asian Americans aren't immune to this feeling.

If you are person of color in our society and have experienced the loss of a family member or loved one to a gun death, as I have, then you know the feeling well.

funeral2.jpgIt's one of complete helplessness, like you and your family don't matter. Justice just doesn't seem within reach if you are forced to rely on a district attorney or the police to be your principal attorneys and investigators.

You want to trust they'll work hard on your behalf. That they are good unbiased public servants and that when you go to the store for justice, just as you go to any other store for the product it delivers, you hope the good people will do their jobs and take care of your order. Justice? You would think you'd be able to get that in America.

Are you rich, white, or famous? Nope?

OK, you wait. Take a number. Then the case goes cold.

New murders occur. The easy ones are dealt with. The tough ones die. And then you are the victim again. Of the process.

You're left with a public official's platitudes. Something like, "I wish it weren't this way," often accompanied by a phrase of resignation, such as "Nothing will bring back your loved one..."

It's the hollow words the DA and police pass out in lieu of justice when there just aren't enough "facts" to go forward, to prosecute the known killer of your loved one.

As I watched Ferguson prosecutor Robert McCulloch go through his long wind up about the police shooting of Michael Brown, first I wondered why they waited until night? To insure rioting and looting?

I also thought of the case of my cousin, Stephen Guillermo, an immigrant from the Philippines struggling to make his way in America with a smile.

He was unarmed when a retired security guard shot him dead on May 3 in his South of Market apartment building in San Francisco.

The circumstances were far different from Michael Brown. More like a Trayvon Martin "stand your ground" case.

But surely, the process and the end message were the same. A senseless death goes unprosecuted. Black youth don't count? Make that all people of color, Asian Americans included.

You want justice?

Sorry, justice is somehow harder for us.

We do get pain and are forced to live with that, until somehow the nothing that we get from the system sinks in and is forced to make sense.  

And then we must live with the hollow words, "Nothing can bring him back..."

I feel for Michael Brown and his family. I wish the process worked for people like us in this country. The disenfranchised by skin color, by language or accent, by pocketbook, by neighborhood. Maybe it will be different some day.

As we approach Thanksgiving, let's give thanks for what we've got. 

At my table, I'll save a spot for Michael. For Trayvon. For Stephen.

Stephen would have been 27 on Thanksgiving Day, November 27.

His case remains open. We are still waiting to see the official medical examiner's report. The family always has hope and a prayer.

But the signs in society are not so hopeful.

Officer Wilson's Grand Jury Testimony
For Thanksgiving, after the Tofurky and the vegan pumpkin pie, we should all take a look at the Ferguson grand jury testimony that prosecutor Robert McCulloch released on Monday night.
 
Instead of whatever we do for post-meal entertainment, maybe we should hold our families close and read Officer Darren Wilson's words aloud to get a sense of how justice works in America.
 
You can start anywhere. But I was taken by Wilson's "confession" to his police sergeant as he gets back to his squad car.
 
"I had to kill him," Wilson said. "He grabbed my gun. I shot him. I killed him."

Had to kill Michael Brown? After Brown ran away?
 
I wish the news hounds on Monday night--instead of flashing their lights on the crowd inducing the "knuckleheads" to do their thing--had simply read from the released grand jury transcripts.

You'd know all about Officer Darren Wilson, 28, in his own words.

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That he was a cop for five years and had worked only in black neighborhoods.
 
How he was no small guy. Six-foot-three, 210 pounds. (Compare that to Michael Brown, 18, six-foot-four, almost 300 pounds.)
 
The transcript says Wilson didn't care for tasers. Didn't carry one. But he had mace. He didn't like that much either. He wore contacts, and if mace ever got in his face, he was done, he said.
 
He did have a trusty Sig Sauer P229, .40 caliber, fully loaded.
 
But he had never used his weapon before. Ever. Until that day.
 
The transcript makes Wilson sound like an inexperienced greenhorn, not ready for prime time. At best, he was just a white man with a badge, who felt disrespected by two black men he saw walking down the middle of the street.  
 
Wilson seemed to have a special fancy for Brown, who responded to him with an obscenity.
 
It all went downhill from there.
 
When the protectors of the community are seen as the enemy, and the people of the community are seen by the protectors as the enemy, we've lost all chance for justice.
 
In fact, from the time Wilson said he saw Brown to the time he was dead, Wilson says it was maybe a minute or less.

That tells you how quickly justice is lost in America.
 
The transcript is like a modern urban tragedy. Wilson was in his squad car. He called Brown over. Wilson says he didn't see any weapons, but that Brown hit him on the head. And that's when the struggle started for Wilson's gun.
 
There were two clicks of the trigger. Nothing. Then the trigger was pulled and the gun went off.

"I think it startled him and me at the same time," said Wilson.
 
Wilson said Brown stepped back, and described him as looking "like a demon, that's how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up. At that point I just went like this, I tried to pull the trigger again; click; nothing happened."
 
Wilson said he saw Brown's hands up which made him shield his face.
 
Wilson said at that point Brown hit him. But Wilson also pulled his gun trigger. Nothing. Then a second click, and the gun went off.
 
Brown ran away and Wilson gets out of the car. He calls for help, but pursues anyway.
 
Wilson tells Brown to get on the ground. But Wilson said Brown had his right hand under his shirt and started running at him.
 
"I remember having tunnel vision on his right hand, that's all, I'm just focusing on that hand when I was shooting."
 
"Well, after the last shot my tunnel vision kind of opened up. I remember seeing the smoke from the gun and I kind of looked at him and he's still coming at me, he hadn't slowed down."
 
"At this point I started backpedalling again, I tell him get on the ground, get on the ground, he doesn't. I shoot another round of shots. Again, I don't recall how many it was or if I hit him every time. I know at least once because he flinched again."
 
"At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I'm shooting at him. And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn't even there, I wasn't even anything in his way."
 
Wilson feared he would be tackled.
 
"And when he gets 8-10 feet away, I look down, I remember looking at my sites and firing, all I see is his head and that's what I shot. I don't know how many, I know at least once because I saw the last one go into him. And then when it went into him, the demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone, it was gone, I mean, I knew he stopped, the threat was stopped."
 
This testimony raises many questions.
 
So Wilson had to kill Brown, who despite a hand under a shirt, never showed a weapon?
 
After the initial tussle in the car, when Brown ran away, Wilson had to pursue the unarmed man?
 
DA McCulloch knew what he was doing when he passed the buck to a grand jury. Instead of open proceedings, they were secret. And instead of lawyers for both sides, the DA's team presented the case.
 
The grand jury heard evidence, but it wasn't supposed to try the case.
 
It simply had to decide if there were enough facts to bring the case forward to charge Wilson with any of these four crimes: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.

It could have even charged him with an armed criminal action, if he were carrying a loaded firearm with the intent to commit a felony.

Mc Culloch implied the grand jury was diverse, but he knew it wasn't. No Asians, no Hispanics. This was typical 1950s St. Louis. Six white men, three white women, one black man and two black women.

The grand jury was set for polarization. It took nine votes to bring back an indictment for any charges against Officer Wilson.

But there was no indictment for anything. Not even a lesser charge.

Nothing.

And then the feeling sinks in.
 
What about justice?

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Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.


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Emil Guillermo: Executive action, immigration, and nostalgia for when government really did work
November 15, 2014 7:41 PM

Immigration reform? By executive action? The thing Asian Americans have talked about for nearly a year now?

Yes, yes, yes.

According to media reports, the plan would provide deportation relief for up to 5 million people. It would expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program for DREAMers, that could make many more people eligible by changing the cutoff date to 2010 and eliminating the age limit on individuals. And undocumented parents of children who are citizens or legal residents may be able to get work permits.

The proposal still wouldn't include the family unity items Asian Americans want, like a speedier process for bringing relatives to the U.S. But there could be new tech visas in the offing. And there's talk about eliminating the mandatory fingerprinting program under Secure Communities, or S-Comm, that led to massive deportations of hundreds of thousands of immigrants since 2009.

Of course, when the leaker of the "good news" is Fox News, one has a right to be suspicious. I don't think this was a ploy to make up for Megyn Kelly's "F" bomb when she introduced GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee.  (Hint: She didn't call him "Fike.")

But the leak did act as a battle cry to the Tea Party regulars to gear up for the "executive action is amnesty and amnesty is unconstitutional" fight.

When The New York Times finally got their leak on so they didn't have to quote Fox, we knew that the truth was somewhere in between here and Asia, where the President chose to recover from the midterm elections.

It does seem to be a good way to get away from it all, doesn't it?

Obama started his Asia trip with the release of Asian American Kenneth Bae from the North Koreans (which proves the pres has more game than Dennis Rodman). But maybe the immigration leak works out for the president as well. Nothing like talking about executive action on immigration when you're halfway around the world in Myanmar, far from your most outspoken opponents. (And a kind of shout out to Burmese American immigrants.)

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President Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi at joint press conference in Myanmar.


That didn't stop Tea Party House members from announcing there's a Dec.12 deadline to fund the government and they're looking to put a lump of coal in everyone's stocking. Already Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) (who beat Eric Cantor) are leading a charge to attach a rider blocking any immigration reform--or else.

The "or else"?

Shut down the government, of course.

If the message of the low-turnout midterms was that voters want the politicians to start working toward solutions, apparently some didn't get that memo.

Asian Americans, however, are solidly for executive action on immigration, according to the multilingual exit poll of over 4,100 Asian American voters that was conducted by AALDEF in collaboration with 65 national and local community groups in 11 states.

In response to the question "If Congress does not act on immigration reform, do you think President Obama should take his own executive actions on immigration?" 65% of Asian Americans polled said yes. 
 
So now we wait for the president to get back from Asia to formally announce details of the plan as soon as Friday.
 
It could be the showdown that will ultimately define the Obama legacy. And if it doesn't do that, it surely will provide us with another example of our country's political dysfunction.
 
It makes me nostalgic for the days when I worked for Congressman Norm Mineta, a moderate liberal Democrat, who'd call on his old friends, such as the late Congressman Henry Hyde, or the former Senator Alan Simpson.
 
Working both sides of the aisle toward a solution wasn't considered being a sellout.
 
And compromise wasn't considered a dirty word.
 
"People are so afraid of compromise they are unable to deliver any results whatsoever for the American people," said David Chiu, the President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the newly elected California Assemblyman for District 17.
 
Chiu, until the end of the month, was part of the Asian American power surge in local San Francisco Bay Area politics. He used to work in Washington for the late Senator Paul Simon, (D-IL), a Liberal with a Capital L. Chiu remembers how Simon would go beyond ideological and regional differences to work with congressional colleagues and get things done.
 
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David Chiu is not just nostalgic about politics. He rides his bike to work at San Francisco's City Hall.
(© 2014 Photo by Emil Guillermo)

"They would agree to disagree, but also find a way to agree to agree," Chiu said. "That's all being stymied now because we have two sides in their respective corners and they're not willing to move forward. There's no safe space for dialogue...to build consensus....We haven't seen that in Washington, DC, and it's doing an enormous disservice to our country."
 
Those of you who remember Paul Simon know he wasn't Garfunkel's duet mate.
 
He was a guy with glasses who often sported a bow-tie.

"He was the leftiest of senators," said Chiu. "But he worked regularly with Republicans to find points of commonality without giving up his principles and values to move the ball along."
 
Moving the ball forward. That's a far cry from shutting down the government over immigration. 

Washington could use a few more of those old-fashioned political folks who still believe in working toward real solutions for all of us in America.

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Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.



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Emil Guillermo: After the 2014 midterms, the invisible Asian American voter unveiled
November 7, 2014 11:58 AM

The national midterm narrative so far has been about how voters repudiated President Obama and his policies.

But this isn't the Asian American narrative.

McChao2.jpg
Neither is it Elaine Chao standing next to her husband, the presumptive new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

No, the Asian American narrative is one we know, but the one the white political mainstream is just coming to grips with.

Asian Americans bucked the trend.

The yellow vote was a lot more blue than red.

For example, here's one jarring finding in a three-state election eve poll targeting Asian Americans in multiple languages and ethnicities.

Referendum on Obama? Asian Americans gave the president a 58 percent approval rating.
slide 17-3.jpgYou didn't see this number in the mainstream media.

The prevailing narrative is more comforting--that the midterms were a reprieve for the white voter.

It ain't dead yet.

But it's close.

Then again, in midterm elections, the people who vote are typically more engaged in politics.

They are the older white voters who may have had a soft spot for FDR and the New Deal. Today, these older voters are more likely to revere Reagan and Bush and vote conservatively.

So if you want to explain why the electoral wash turned red, that's the reason.

Older voters showed up.

Most of the others, the young, the less well off, people of color? They tend to take midterms off. Or are just turned off.

It was interesting to see on the morning after how white pollsters still had to acknowledge the election was not a tsunami, but a warning sign of the bigger tsunami to come-- the inevitable electoral demographic shift.

"The biggest warning sign [on election day] was exactly what we've seen coming, which is the inexorable march of demographic change," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres at a National Journal function. "The electorate was two percent less white this year than it was in 2010, it will be two percent less white four years from now than it was [in this election]. We got a third of the Hispanic vote. We've got to do better with Hispanics, with Asians."

Ah, he said the magic word. "Asians." Almost like an afterthought. It won't be for long, not with Asian Americans the fastest growing electorate, which increased 128 percent from 1996 to 2008.

The invisible Asian American voter is about to be discovered. Because now, politicos finally have to reach out to Asian Americans if they ever want to elect another president.

And what pollsters like Ayres will find is the Democratic stereotype is true. Even in a midterm election awash in red, Asian Americans voted blue in a big way.

According to the election eve poll conducted by Asian American Decisions and the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund, Asian Americans favored Democratic candidates over Republicans, 66 percent to 34 percent, or nearly two-to-one.

The AALDEF exit poll, conducted in 11 states, found that 59% of Asian Americans were registered Democrats, 15% were not enrolled in any political party, and 26% were registered Republicans.

The key finding for me was in Virginia, where the Senate incumbent, Democrat Mark Warner, barely edged out Republican challenger Ed Gillespie by .5 percent of the vote.

According to the election eve poll, Warner garnered 68 percent of the Asian American vote to 29 percent for Gillespie.

These results mirrored the findings of the AALDEF exit poll, which found that the Asian American vote was 66 percent for Warner and 33% for Giillespie.

In the Virginia race, the Asian American influence is undeniable. Warner could not have won without the Asian American vote.

But you won't find this kind of data unless groups like AALDEF and the newly-formed Asian American Decisions continue to conduct multilingual polls focusing on Asian American voters. 

Right now, mainstream pollsters get information from large random samples. They might get some Asian voters, but only those who speak English. And if pollsters don't sample in populations where we live, the chances of getting enough Asians to matter is even smaller.

AALDEF went to 63 poll sites in 11 states and the District of Columbia and polled in 12 languages: Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Khmer, Arabic, Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Gujarati, and English. 

How do you say Gallup in Urdu? 

Pollsters need to purposefully oversample for Asians and do it in our languages. If they don't, they're going to miss out on the story that Asian American voters are saying loud and clear at the polls.

So all's well with Asian Americans for the Democratic Party? Not so fast. The election eve poll and the AALDEF poll both revealed that while Asian Americans like to vote Democratic, we don't always like to identify as Democrats. There's still that large group of Asian Americans who aren't enrolled in any party.

And one other thing the AALDEF exit polling and monitoring found: It's not easy being an Asian American voter.

In monitoring 146 poll sites in 11 states, AALDEF received over 340 complaints from Asian American voters, such as improper requests for voter ID, hostile poll workers, and lack of interpreters.

And that's just in the targeted districts with larger Asian American populations. One can only imagine the suppression of the Asian American vote in other places. 

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(© 2014 Photo by Emil Guillermo)

As the election news came in, I kept thinking of Nancy Pelosi a week before the midterms. She was intermittently joyous for the Giants when it rained at their World Series Parade. But I knew she had to be thinking about the downpour to come.

It poured, but it wasn't 1994 with the Gingrich "Contract with America."

Pelosi's not the House Speaker, and she lost allies in the Senate.

But Pelosi won her district by a landslide, thanks to the Asian American vote. Pelosi's known about the Asian American electoral narrative for some time.

For the rest of you, don't believe most of the mainstream exit polls--the ones that didn't talk to Asian Americans and still dub us as "insufficient" in number.

There are nearly two million registered Asian American voters in California alone, and over 4 million nationwide.

That's enough to do some real damage. As San Francisco's Congresswoman, Pelosi knows it.

Asian Americans aren't invisible. We're just in stealth mode.

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Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.


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Emil Guillermo: On the importance of the unimportance of baseball and the San Francisco Giants
October 31, 2014 8:04 AM

Pardon my October. I've been busy being American Filipino during Filipino American History Month. And in the moments that remain, I've been nervously watching the San Francisco Giants break and unbreak my heart, until they finally decided to win the World Series and give back my life.

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(Pablo Sandoval loves a parade, San Francisco, 10.31.14. © 2014 Photo by Emil Guillermo)


Of course, if you are saying, "Emil, I'm a (Fill-in-the-Blank) fan. I don't care about two lousy Wild Card teams in the World Series--it's like watching two Cinderellas battling for a plexiglass slipper."
 
Perhaps. Only it was even better than that, because it was real glass and the best fairy tale won. The Giants, a team that was practically brain dead in June, was lifted to life in October by Madison Bumgarner. 

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(© 2014 Photo by Emil Guillermo)


Not "gard-ner," "gar-ner." And he's no bum. He's the pitcher from North Carolina, infamous for giving his wife a cow for her birthday, but also plays for seven months of the year in the biggest and baddest of Asian American cities, San Francisco, the one with Asian American leaders such as mayor, president of its Board of Supervisors, and a State Senator accused of gun-running (OK, make the last one "former"). 

Madbum, as he's called, delivered a mythic performance--coming off a 117 pitch performance on Sunday (which I witnessed in person)---only to come back to throw another 68 pitches on Wednesday. That just isn't done. 185 pitches with two days rest?  Great enough to stymie the Kansas City Royals and give the San Francisco Giants their third World Championship in five years.

That in itself gave the whole post-season some perspective. If you're going to spend your time "involved" in baseball, it had better include a game that will be remembered for all time. And this Game 7, where Bumgarner comes out of the bullpen to save a 3-2 lead for the Giants and win the series. 4 games to 3, I just don't know if there will ever be a performance quite like that. Ever.

And yet. I know. There are more important things to get excited about. 

Like elections, Ebola. And Erin Andrews. (No, she's not important. But she did hand the mike to that rotund Chevy exec as the World Series trophy presentation announcer.)

Even after the Giants won, there was a strange violent reaction that spread in the city. It seemed a bit like "Clockwork Orange," with bonfires, two shootings, and forty arrests, mostly for public drunkenness. 
 
This picture was taken from the website Mission Local. 

2-bonfireofthegiants.PNGPeople had a lot of steam to let off.

It brought this response on a blog post from some ultra-realist: 

Don't people have more important things to get excited about, like things that are actually important? Why do these people get so whipped up about a bunch of overpaid athletes who have almost no affiliation with the city and are only here because they were offered the most money? It's such a weird one-way relationship: these pro athletes would leave SF in a second if given more money yet Giants fans act like they are family and get all emotional over the results of their games. Bizarre.

I bet he was always the last to get picked for a team in the school yard too.

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A friend of mine, the poet and housing activist Tony Robles, was honored this week by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for Filipino American Heritage Month. He's been fighting the speculation in the city's real estate market that has meant more evictions of poor people of color and the elderly. Recently, he helped a nearly-blind senior citizen being evicted from her home of nearly 30 years. On Facebook, he wrote: "And I'm supposed to get excited about the Giants?"

I don't condone speculation that has led to a housing crisis in San Francisco. Nor do I condone the violent reactions to the Giants' victory.

But there are actually good reasons why sports exist. They are the needed escape that balances our fear of Ebola, bad elections, and Erin Andrews.

(Speaking of elections, we interrupt this blog post to provide this public service announcement. I hope you did your part and prevented a bad election by actually voting. Did you know Asian Americans tend to register and not vote? That's like having a ticket to a Giants game and staying home. Me, I've already voted. By mail. My motto: vote early, and once.)

If we didn't have sports, we'd need to invent something else to offset the grim importance of everything that's not Madison Bumgarner.

It's called adding a bit of perspective.

Something happened during the Series to remind us of life and death.

During Game 5 in San Francisco's AT&T Park, I noticed a tweet about the death of Oscar Taveras, the gifted 22-year old outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals who died with his girlfriend in a car accident in the Dominican Republic.

Taveras was heralded as one of baseball's next superstars.

During the game, the players all heard the news for the first time through social media. 

Later, I was struck watching an interview with Giants catcher Buster Posey. He said Taveras' death should remind us that the games aren't really important at all. He said the news of Taveras' passing had brought things back down to earth.

And yet we play on, because if we don't, we can easily give in to the despair.

Another life and death moment came when the late Robin Williams was shown up on the big screen rooting on the Giants. 

At the same time on the field were his three kids. 

4 zackthrowsgcodywatch.jpgZak, Williams' eldest child from his first wife, threw the ceremonial first pitch, while Zelda and Cody, Williams' two American Filipino kids from his second wife Marcia Garces, watched. 

It was a celebration of Williams--another reminder of his greatness and how, as his kids threw the first pitch, life goes on.

That's what we choose, and we play on.

My own personal life-and-death moment came when the Giants won Game 7. My cousins Bryan and Albert posted pictures of themselves celebrating on Market Street in downtown San Francisco (not in the Mission district) on the Facebook page of our late cousin Stephen.

I don't know if Stephen has internet where he is, but his cousins just wanted to tell him the Giants won and that they missed him. A lot.

5-bryanalbertgiantsnight.PNGYou'll recall my cousin Stephen was shot and killed last May when he entered the wrong San Francisco apartment. The family has yet to see a police or coroner's report. While the case remains open, DA George Gascon has declined to file charges.

My family is left with the memories of Stephen, 26, who was buried in his Giants jersey.  In life, he had no hits, no runs, no errors. But when the team found out about his story, the Giants put up a tribute to him on the scoreboard, as if he had hit a home run.

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That's what baseball and a team like the Giants can mean to individuals in a community where baseball is like a public trust.

On Friday, two million of those individuals will be in San Francisco to share their joy for their heroes in a championship victory parade. 

My friend, the activist, said he won't be anywhere near the parade. 

Don't kid yourself. We all need it more than you think. Besides, black and orange are Halloween colors. Giants colors.

As life gets harder with all of its inequality and sadness, diversions--such as baseball--become more important and allow us to keep up the fight for the ones that really matter.

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Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.



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Emil Guillermo: No "Asian American Privilege" here--Baseball stars Travis Ishikawa and Kolten Wong steal the stage in America's national pastime
October 17, 2014 3:31 PM

I was too busy watching baseball this week to catch Bill O'Reilly on "The Daily Show," where he defended his belief in the Model Minority myth and how it's evolved into a sense of "Asian American Privilege."

Who needs that bunk when there was a very special Asian American event happening at the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park.

There has rarely been such a moment for those of us who identify as Asian American, even though it may have been unremarkable to others.

Travis Ishikawa? Kolten Wong? Heroes? What's the big deal, right?

Travis Ishikawa at bat tues.jpg

Travis Ishikawa hit .385 and drove in 7 runs vs. STL. (© 2014 Photo by Emil Guillermo)


Oh, I wish we were at that point in our nation's history. Post-racial, Asian American-style.

But truthfully, we aren't there yet. The idea of two Asian Americans as the critical stars in America's pastime, baseball, is really quite remarkable in the history of diversity in our country.

It happened just this past week when the St.Louis Cardinals played the San Francisco Giants for the National League Championship.

For a while, the hottest player on the ball field was a 5-foot-9-inch second baseman from Hilo, Hawaii, a star at Honolulu's Kamehameha School, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Was there anyone hotter in the game than a guy with the improbable baseball name of Kolten Wong?

For a few days, no.

KoltenWong.jpg

(© 2014 Photo by Emil Guillermo)


In a league where the best players of Asian descent are actually established pros from Japan or Korea, the native-born Asian American has rarely shined as brightly in baseball.  

The major exception, perhaps, has been the Giants' Tim Lincecum, who is part-Filipino. He has twice been the National League's best pitcher, twice thrown a no-hitter, and twice been a World Series champion.

That's quite the exception.

For most Asian Americans, Wong's experience is more normal. Deemed a can't miss star as a rookie last year, he was a goat in the 2013 World Series when he was picked-off in a critical Cardinal rally by Red Sox pitcher Koji Uehara.

That brought out the racist tweets, as documented last year by the website, Public Shaming.

Tweets went after both the native born and the "foreigner." It was all the same to the twitterverse.

uehara.jpg

And they went after the baseball acumen of Wong.

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Incidents straight out of the Jackie Robinson era, I'd say.

This year, Wong again struggled, spent most of his time in the minors, then was called up in the latter part of the season where he blossomed like a hibiscus.

Wong hit a home run to help his Cardinals beat the Dodgers and advance in the five- game division series.

Then in the National League Championship against the Giants, Wong hit another game ending home run in game 2 that tied up the series as it went back to San Francisco.

Wong continued to terrorize the Giants with his quick left-handed bat. After the first four games he was the Cardinals' Hawaiian Punch: two doubles, a triple, two homers, four RBIs. He was playing like the Cardinals' MVP.

But in Game 5 on Thursday, the Cardinals were still down 3 games to 1 and were threatened with elimination. In the 9th inning , with the score tied 3-3, Wong sparked a rally attempt to load the bases. But the team failed to get a go-ahead run home.

Better luck next year.

Giants' turn. In the bottom of the ninth, Pablo Sandoval, whose roundness has earned him the nickname "Panda" singled. Then Brandon Belt walked.

Next up, the 31-year-old Travis Ishikawa.

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Travis Ishikawa about to touch home on historic night. (© 2014 Photo by Emil Guillermo)

At 6-foot-3-inches, 220 pounds, Ishikawa is far from your typical Asian American. Born to a third generation Japanese American father and a mother of European descent, Ishikawa is half-Japanese American. But his background includes the worst of the Asian American experience. His paternal grandfather was interned during WWII in Colorado.

Ishikawa's big break came in 2002, when the Giants drafted him straight out of high school in Federal Way near Seattle. He was offered a reported $995,000 bonus to skip college and go pro.

But it wasn't easy money. In 12 years, he's been an example of how difficult it is to play pro baseball, with multiple trips from obscurity to the bigs and back.

For the Giants, Ishikawa's been both the hope and the nope.

At one time, billed as the first baseman of their future, he even played on the Giants' 2010 championship team, only to lose his batting touch and be released the following year.

Since then, Ishikawa has been on six different pro clubs and started this season with Pittsburgh. After being released, he knocked around, got no takers. He even considered quitting. 

"I've been 30 all year, and it gets to the point, you're in the minor leagues and not only are you in the minor leagues but you're struggling," he told reporters. "There's times it crosses your mind if God is continuing to put me through this trial, or it's him telling me to hang it up and do something else."

Ishikawa described how bad it got: "I was putting every effort I possibly could into the hitting and no matter what, I was 0-for 4 and didn't look like I could hit a ball off a tee if you put it there."

But Ishikawa didn't give up. He worked hard and was given a second chance in July by the Giants to be a role player.

Hero was not necessarily the role.

He was on the margins, not a star, but in the glow of others.

Still, injuries have a way of altering the course of events in sports, and due to a depleted roster, the Giants had no choice but to put Ishikawa in left field for the post-season.

Having only played a few games at the position, he was a risk. It was averted for the most part. But not on Thursday.

Ishikawa had made a few good catches in the series, but in the third inning he badly misread a fly ball that sailed over his head for a double. It made him look foolish. More importantly, the misplay gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. And if the Giants lost by that margin, Ishikawa would be the goat.

But he would get a chance to do something about that in the ninth inning. With the score at 3-3, it was a surprise even to see Ishikawa still playing. Ordinarily he'd be replaced late in the game by a better defensive player.

Not tonight.

Ishikawa3.jpg
Ishikawa rounds second after hitting home run, as Giants storm the field. (© 2014 Photo by Emil Guillermo)

With the two-balls and no strike count, Ishikawa said he figured a fastball would be coming. And he guessed right.

"It was just nice to hit that ball," he said.

From where I sat, Ishikawa hit the ball right in the sweet spot, on a line but with just enough loft to get over the high brick wall in right field.

He rounded the bases and could hear the loud crowd cheering him on. In one swing, Ishikawa delivered--a three-run homer that ended the game, gave the Giants a 6-3 victory, the National League Pennant, and a ticket to the World Series.

"I don't remember touching third or touching home," he said. "It's unbelievable."

Believe it.

The walk-off home run could immortalize Ishikawa, no longer the star in the margins, as the latter-day Bobby Thompson.

You'll recall Thompson hit that legendary game-winning home run that won the pennant for the New York Giants and sent them to the World Series in 1951.

Travis Ishikawa, a name to remember?

Surely, he's a baseball hero if you're a Giants fan.

But for all America, he's something more.

He's diversity's hero.

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Posted by:Emil Guillermo | 1 comments