On conformity, the Oscars, and a talk with "Jeopardy" hero Arthur Chu
February 28, 2014 8:09 PM
Arthur Chu won't be on "Jeopardy" this weekend. Like most of America, he'll be watching the Academy Awards.
Just don't ask him a hypothetical question like "Oscar Nominees for $2000."
I stumped him. Chu doesn't know. "'12 Years a Slave' nominated?" he asked.
The 30-year-old champ has an excuse. He's been too busy climbing to the third highest in regular game earnings in "Jeopardy" history, amassing $261,000 during a multi-week streak that's attracted one thing for sure--racism.
Chu is what I call a "Jeopardy" artist. He plays the game like Picasso approached a straight line. In other words, he doesn't. He's a bit of a cubist in that sense, but he's not the first to play the game's answer boxes upside down and out of order.
He's just the latest. And he's an Asian American--and that has inspired more than your typical flood of hate in our modern hoodless but not tweet-less society:
Joke? Semi-joke? These are real sentiments. Real people. And I'm not laughing. Modern racism bubbles up once again.
There's plenty of low in high-tech.
It's also what happens when you don't conform and don't act the way people expect you to in America, like Chu. You get a reaction.
And yet I'm glad Chu is doing what he's doing and going strong. He's certainly made "Jeopardy" more interesting.
So in that sense, I hope that watching the Oscar telecast will be as unconventional as watching Chu.
The Academy Awards show is live, after all, but rarely gets out of its canned state. And who can decide that? The winners, on the spot, of course. The ones who get to cradle Oscar and perhaps have the chance to use him for his rightful purpose.
As a megaphone.
If you know that the winner of an Oscar gets 30 seconds solo in front of, say, several hundreds of millions of people worldwide (not a billion, but a worthy total), you can understand why on Oscar night most people just chicken out and do a standard TY to agents, family, and collagen. I mean colleagues.
There's something about the default, the safety of the routine. It's the way things have always been done, which is the way the powers that be like it. But doesn't it seem strange at the event where we honor all these creative people for their artistic risks?
In the end, the black-tie and designer gown are just the straitjacket of conformity.
That's why the only interesting thing I wait for on Oscar night is whether someone truly grabs the moment, breaks the artifice, and tries to go beyond the routine.
Screw the teleprompter, the floor director screaming in your ear, and the orchestra playing you off way too early.
Just take a deep breath and say something the world really needs to hear.
It's the reason we remember Michael Moore in 2002. When accepting for Best Documentary, he brought up his fellow nominees and said:
We like non-fiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the times we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. [Boos, and cheers from the crowd]...We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war..for fictitious reasons....We are against this war, Mr. Bush...shame on you, Mr. Bush...shame on you...
Now those were Oscar-worthy lines, more difficult to deliver than anything in "American Hustle." And they were real. Not a fiction.
And then there was Sacheen Littlefeather in 1973.
Sacheen Littlefeather, a/k/a Maria Cruz, who in 1973 came on for Best Actor winner Marlon Brando and was his ideological stunt double, said:
I am representing Marlon Brando this evening, and he has asked me to tell you that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award, and the reason for this being the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry...excuse me.. [boos and claps]
Will someone speak out this time around on the slow progress of more than 40 years, and the lack of diversity that still exists?
Or will the Academy pre-empt any surprises by pulling a surprise of its own and honoring a film like "12 Years a Slave"?
I know all of Hollywood and its plastic surgeons love "Gravity." (I mean, where would they be without it?) But I really hope the Oscar goes to "12 Years a Slave."
The first black to win an Oscar was Hattie Mc Daniel, Mamie of "Gone with the Wind." (Best Supporting Actress, 1940)
For way too long, that benign image of slavery has sugarcoated history for many.
But "12 Years a Slave" is unabashedly honest. You can hear the "N" word in all its hateful, historical glory. You can see the fresh welts of slavery throb on screen.
If the movie wins, then I will forgive everyone for being on such good behavior on Oscar night.
Of course, there's always the hope someone will talk about something else real, like inequality. People surely will be be dressed for the occasion.
Some might question whether the Oscars are really the time and place to speak out.
You mean with several hundred million globally hanging on your every word?
Or is that the time you want to be invisible?
MORE WITH ARTHUR CHU AND THE JEOPARDY IN THE RACE CONVERSATION
It's harder for Arthur Chu to be invisible now. About ten million viewers watch "Jeopardy" every week in the U.S., and for at least two weeks (and maybe more), Chu is our proxy.
One of the faces of Asian America.
"That makes me feel a little weird," he told me by phone. "I don't think I'm exactly typical of Asian Americans. I might live up to certain stereotypes but I don't think of myself as representative of the community. But it's really cool to see the positive response that's come out of the Asian American community."
But the vicious, often racist, tweets about him from others?
"I was taken aback," he admitted. "Every single tweet was really harsh and there were a lot of them."
Yet more offensive in his mind were the responses from people who masked their racism. They were the ones who commented on how Chu didn't play the game right, or didn't respect the game's etiquette.
It was as if some were trying so hard to prove that the flood of negative reaction had nothing to do with Chu's Asian American-ness, or some stereotypical view of him, but just simply the game.
Chu even cites the example of another player, Ben Ingram, who last year won almost as much money and used the same out-of-order strategy to play the game. But Ingram was never branded like Chu as the villainous bad boy who was sucking the fun out of the game.
Ingram is white.
"I'm not going to say it's entirely a racial thing, but come on, there's a racial component to it," said Chu, who is almost as offended at the denial that race is an issue.
Chu believes it's the spillover of anti-Asian sentiment in other parts of society, as he says Asian Americans are still under-represented when it comes to being "Jeopardy" contestants.
It wasn't the matter of "here comes another top Asian 'Jeopardy' player" messing things up by playing the game upside down.
But it's clear--although it's changed a bit the longer he stays on--the audience didn't immediately relate to him.
"When I hear people say they don't like me because I seem so focused on only winning the game...and not a well-rounded, likeable individual, it's hard to not hear racial echoes in that," Chu said.
Like I said, he's not the first to play the game in that aggressive, lemmings marching to Final Jeopardy Way. He's just the latest, who happens to be non-white. An Asian American.
As Chu admitted, it's an old story.
But he's found a way to fight the legacy of racism as it comes up. Old style or new style, he's taking it head on, on his terms, while playing to win aggressively and within the rules.
He knows the pressure is on.
Even in a simple, fun, and trivial game, the sense of our rights and place in society can easily be put in jeopardy.
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Listen to more of my Arthur Chu interview in part 1, including how he says his playing style allows for race to "amplify" stereotypical reactions inside people that normally wouldn't be forthcoming.
And in Part 2, Chu talks about how he's faced racism in the past before "Jeopardy." He says he's always been aware that racial minorities are treated differently and talked about it with his father, a Taiwanese immigrant.
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Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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On remembering Executive Order 9066, the Japanese American internment, and seeing "House of Cards"
February 20, 2014 12:16 PM
By now, you should know that Asian Americans are the xenophobes' delight. And if I didn't have the "Day of Remembrance" to recall the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, my binge watching of "House of Cards" confirms it.
It's our natural condition to be seen as "foreigners."
And our natural condition to be excluded.
From the Chinese Exclusion Act in the 1880s, to the U.S. exploitation of the Philippines that resulted in the migration of "Little Brown Brother" to California in the 1920s and '30s, to the Japanese Americans in 1942, there is an undeniable pattern.
Americans will do nasty things to those of us of Asian descent.
And just when you think our fellow Americans are level-headed and secure in our notion of democracy, along comes 9/11. Then it was time for South Asians to become initiated into the "what it's really like to be an Asian/Asian American" club.
That's why it is important that we mark Feb. 19, 1942, the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, and the days that followed.
It doesn't sound like much, enabling the government to declare war zones as "exclusion zones." But with the war in the Pacific, the order cleared the way in the West for the roundup of over 110,000 of Japanese ancestry, of whom more than 60 percent were American citizens.
War hysteria? Americans went amok against Asians of Japanese descent.
You probably know Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps, some as young children.
Congressman Mike Honda
(CA-17) was just an infant.
Former Presidential Cabinet Secretary Norman Mineta was a Cub Scout. Before entering camp, the government confiscated his baseball bat.
There were also nearly 15,000 Germans (including Jewish refugees) and Italians who were caught in the hysteria. How's that for "negative diversity"?
Because of Executive Order 9066, signs like this were put up soon after in California:
The power of Executive Order 9066
belied its plain and boring legalese.
The human toll it took was devastating. The order enabled the government to strip people of liberty, property, and their livelihoods. They were taken from a normal life and placed like animals in racetrack stables, then relocated to desolate internment camps in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado. There were even camps as far east as Rohwer, Arkansas, where the young Japanese American George Takei was interned.
If anyone doubts the power of executive orders, and what can be done to impact lives, one need look no further than E.O. 9066.
Can you imagine if it were an order for positive change, say, for example, to make immigration laws more fair and family-friendly? A simple stroke of a pen just takes political will. And if some president says he'd rather have Congress change a law, and do it the hard way, the right way, he's just joshing you.
Look at E.O. 9066. Even after the internment, the law remained on the books until 1976, when its moral bankruptcy was evident.
I guess our government thought it was good to have around, "just in case" any of us got uppity again.
Of course, who needs E.O. 9066? No spoiler alert needed. We all know that after 9/11, there was no stopping the government from targeting and harassing large groups of innocent individuals.
So to this day, we remember E.O. 9066 and the days leading up to the roundup of Japanese Americans.
It won't happen on that scale again, right?
Can xenophobia be kept in check?
Not if we see images in pop culture where the Asian faces are always the "evil foreigners."
THE DIVERSITY IN "HOUSE OF CARDS"
While binge watching "House of Cards" over the weekend, I thought about one of this year's subplots involving a Chinese businessman character named Xander Feng.
No spoiler alert needed here. The diversity in the Netflix series is generally good.
Women, lesbians, bisexuals, gays, even nouveau androgynous computer hackers get a piece of the story line. Native Americans also get their share of face time for once, which is to be commended. Black characters and Latino characters are featured players and even get to have sex (though the Latina chief of staff is actually played by South Asian actor Sakina Jaffrey, daughter of Indian cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey).
I guess it's "seen one person of color, seen them all." It's just "acting," right?
Perhaps, but what about the show's main Asian character? Despite the record numbers of Asian Americans in the real presidential cabinet going back to the Clinton administration (Mineta served in both the Clinton and Bush administrations), I didn't see many Asian American faces on the show.
But I did see Feng, played ably by Terry Chen, an Asian Canadian. The sexual proclivities of the character I don't mind all that much, but they do come up in a somewhat gratuitous way. What I do mind is that once again, the Asian is the "bad guy."
I know this is the show where everyone is bad. They could've changed Feng's name to Fu. But only one guy in the cast gets to wear the cufflinks that say F.U.
Still, if you doubt there's a stereotypical chord being struck here, I saw one reviewer speak of Feng as potentially a Bond-like villain.
Hey, I know Bond-like villains, and Feng is no Odd Job.
But he is an Asian face, the foreigner to be feared. With our pop culture feeding messages like that, Asian Americans could be caught in the crossfire of cultural confusion again.
That's why continuing to remember E.O. 9066 is no small thing.
It was the executive order that enabled an exclusionist society to marginalize all foreigners and those who in some way do not look American enough.
That really shouldn't be an issue in a democracy, but when emotional decisions drive politics, Asian Americans know how easily a sense of logic and fair play get lost.
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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A little love for Shani Davis, Julie Chu, and J.R. Celski, Diversity's Champs at the Winter Olympics in Sochi
February 14, 2014 7:44 AM
I don't grouse anymore about the lack of diversity in the Winter Olympics and how it's still essentially a whiteout.
That's because despite the retirement of nine-team medalist Apolo Anton Ohno, there are still some truly great competitors like Shani Davis, and Asian Americans like J.R. Celski and Julie Chu, champions all.
This week, Davis, the first-ever African American individual medalist at the Winter Games, was trying to become an Olympic demi-god of sorts.
Had Davis won the 1,000 meters speed skating event Wednesday night in Sochi, he would have been the first man ever to win a third consecutive gold medal in a single Winter Olympics event.
That's not just a diversity moment--that's a flat-out "consistency of excellence" moment.
The three-peat of three-peats.
But it just didn't happen for the 31-year-old from Chicago.
In a race against the clock, Davis finished with a time of 1:09:12.
It was good enough for 8th.
Had he finished just .73 seconds faster, he would have tied for the gold.
Had he finshed another .01 faster to shave off .74 seconds, he would have reached the objective to become the first ever, undisputed, single event, consecutive male three-peat gold medalist.
For that, you could prepare to be just an eyeblink faster, no?
When I see performances like Davis', I can't help but dwell on that margin of defeat.
In about the time you could say "Emil Guillermo," Davis could have been an Olympic legacy.
But for that lousy three-fourths of a second, Davis comes home from Sochi an also-ran, not as the exalted.
Davis was hardly recognized in the U.S. before these games, although he's generally revered around the globe--especially in places like the Netherlands, where speed skating is next to godliness, and Shani is hipper and better known than Pharrell Williams.
But Williams is at least getting lucky. On race day, Davis was not.
After the medal race, Davis was quoted in the Wall Street Journal: "I didn't do the best I could possibly do; it wasn't good enough...As a human being, I have to learn from that."
As spectators and fans, maybe we need to learn from that too.
These star athletes aren't machines. They're human beings.
And when they act more human than we want them too, maybe that's our reminder to be less fanatical and more human too. It leads us to the moral of our story: if you always do the best you can do, you can always find some victory in defeat.
But that's so un-Tiger Mom of me, don't you think?
ASIAN AMERICAN OLYMPIANS CELSKI AND CHU
I thought about the Tiger Mom approach, especially when it came to the two Asian Americans with the best chances for gold: Filipino American J.R. Celski, 23, a two-time bronze medalist in short-track speed skating, and Julie Chu, 31, a veteran Olympian with two silvers and a bronze in women's hockey.
Celski skates on Saturday, Feb. 15 in the 1,000 meters short-track race. He skates again on Friday, Feb. 21, in the 500 meters, where he holds the world's record, and later that day, the 5,000 meters relay, where he is part of the U.S. team ranked No.1 in the world.
That's three chances for Olympic gold after a dismal showing last Monday, Feb. 10.
In the 1,500 meters, the same event he medaled in four years ago, Celski was in the lead with seven laps to go, but dropped back and let the eventual winner, Canada's Charles Hamelin, go to the front.
Short-track is a little like watching greyhounds race on ice. But pace makes the race, and Hamelin took advantage of the slow times to hold on until the end. Celski was close and gave it one last lunge at the finish line.
He placed fourth.
Celski was .562 away from Bronze, .569 from Silver.
Gold? Only if he were faster by .639 seconds.
Less than a second? An eternity.
Celski knows you shave off hundredths of a second only with years of hard work.
He actually left his home and his family near Seattle at age 14 to train seriously in California.
His Filipino mom, Sue Celski, talked about that decision in this video and sounded so un-Tiger Mom-ish:
J.R. Celski and his mom talk about how just before the 2010 Vancouver games, Celski suffered a bad fall that cut his leg, nearly severing an artery that could have been life- threatening.
His rehab from the injury shows that he knows how to fight back from adversity. Celski will need all his resolve to be seen as the legitimate short-track heir to Ohno. But from the video, you also see how much his family's support means to him.
Finally, there's Julie Chu, the veteran Olympian. Wearing No.13 on the ice, Chu is known as a power-play killer and is the typical Asian American firster. A go-getter. A Harvard grad. The all-time leading scorer in NCAA women's hockey history. First Asian American woman on the U.S. Olympic hockey team.
After two silvers and a bronze, a gold medal would be nice.
Chu will lead her team in the semi-final match against Canada on Monday, Feb. 17. If the U.S. can avenge a loss to Canada earlier this week in a prelude to the semis, it can try to win it all the following Thursday for the first time since 1998.
In this YouTube clip, Chu and her mom Miriam (who is half-Chinese and half-Puerto Rican from New York) talk about Julie's motivation and how the family's heritage applies:
OK, I know they're selling soap here. But there's some good old fashioned truth in those clips featuring the moms of Chu and Celski. Both seem like supportive, loving moms. Not the kind of stern taskmaster mom who typifies the current purveyor of Asian mom stereotypes, Amy Chua of Tiger Mom fame.
Chua's new sequel espouses the "Triple Package," a mix of traits that she says explains success and overachievement. The three traits summarized: A superiority complex, an insecurity about one's worth, and the ability to focus and not give up when things get tough.
That makes for one tough cookie in a Darwinian world. But when I first heard Chua's three, I wondered why omit some things on that list that are far more important? Why discount ideas such as compassion, kindness, and community? Even the super rich inevitably come back to that, if only for the tax break.
My other problem with Chua's book is that she inadvertently creates new racial stereotypes by misusing data in a latter-day socio-biological way. Now she's playing with fire, in the same way that some tried to say why blacks were better in sports. Here Chua tries to blunt those criticisms by showing her rainbow of success including Mormons, Jews, Chinese, Indians. But the successful blacks with the traits are Nigerians. And the successful Latinos are the Cubans? Sounds like it's straight from the RNC HR manual, meant for replication in the Fortune 500.
Not my view of the world.
Instead of Chua, you can get better examples of championship parenting from the moms of our Asian American stars, like Celski and Chu.
From the clips, I'd say you immediately notice something missing from the "triple package" idea, namely an Olympic-size dose of mom's love.
More than consolation, it's the real gold, especially if one comes hundredths of a second short of an Olympic dream.
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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State of Asian America: Updates on beating victim Randy Gener, SNL, "yellow voice," Bruno Mars, and more
February 4, 2014 5:04 PM
The start of the Lunar New Year is as good a time as any to consider the real State of Asian America. Judging from some recent events, it's not nearly as perfect as you Tiger Mom lovers out there might believe.
Oh sure, an Indian American, Satya Nadella, will become the new head of Microsoft.
But if you didn't notice from President Obama's State of the Union address last week, there was a lot more on class inequality than racial inequality, or anything else for that matter.
Perhaps it's the broad brush that covers us all, under the banner of that quickly outdated term, "the 99 percent."
That phrase must have too much truth in it, or the Orwellian rhetoricians wouldn't prefer the more general "income inequality."
What about "racial inequality?" That seems to have become a matter of "Don't ask, don't tell." The country has enough problems.
Even the president's usual comforting litany,in which he names every racial group and protected minority--you know, the list of "white, African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, gay, lesbian, transgendered, disabled, etc...." ---all that was missing from this year's SOTU address.
The president did mention our ancestral home by region ("Asia-Pacific") and specifically said the words "the Philippines" and "the typhoon" in a way that connected with Filipino Americans.
But then he delivered this replacement line to remind us that our concerns are not totally forgotten.
Said the President: "We believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation."
To that statement there was no joint applause or "standing-O."
So I guess all of us--left, right, and middle---can agree on something.
So why doesn't it all ring true to Randy Gener and his husband Steve Nisbet?
RANDY GENER UPDATE
Gener, 46, is scheduled to have his second brain surgery in two weeks on Wednesday.
An award-winning Filipino journalist and gay rights activist, Gener was beaten in New York City on Jan. 17 in a vicious attack initially investigated as a hate crime. But after an arrest last week of an African American suspect, Leighton Jennings of Queens, the charges were quickly downgraded.
Police took Jennings' story, reviewed surveillance video, and came to a conclusion. Commissioner Bill Bratton said near definitively: "It was not a bias crime." He prefers to call it "a tragic street altercation." Jennings was later arraigned on misdemeanor assault charges and released on his own recognizance.
Gener awaits his second brain surgery on 1 p.m. EST on February 5.
"He was unable to watch Bruno or the game," responded Nisbet in an e-mail to me.
Nisbet said Gener was resting comfortably before surgery. "He is talking, but much of it lacks coherence," Nisbet wrote.
That's critical because the NYPD hasn't yet heard Gener's side of the story. A surveillance video doesn't tell all. Maybe Gener can recall if the physical beating came with an epithet---an "F" word. Any one will do.
One that rhymes with "gag it."
Even "Filipino" would work to make a case for a hate crime.
But Gener is in no condition to say.
Nisbet continues to work with the Anti-Violence Project in New York and remains "baffled by the reduction in charges."
In lieu of justice, he stays focused on Gener's recovery and asks for prayers.
"I am asking for all those who prayed for Randy the first time to return to prayer wherever they are between the hours of 1 p.m and 5 p.m. on the 5th," Nisbet said. "It worked the first time, and I believe it will again."
Health will be needed if the Gener story is to become a more reassuring example of the relative value of Asian Americans in our society.
For now, in terms of racial equality, our status?
It sure feels less than equal.
"SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE"
You can't have a Gener story unless you have the continued perpetration and acceptance of stereotypes.
Enter "Saturday Night Live," again.
I've written about SNL before
and had hopes that the show would display greater sensitivity and diversity when it hired a new black cast member and black writers.
But I was wrong.
In last Saturday's opening monologue with Melissa McCarthy, we were subjected to this:
It's McCarthy upside down on a wire mocking Hong Kong style kung fu movies.
Now that's a funny sight. McCarthy's the flying warrior twerking in mid-air.
But why stop at funny when you can add a dash of taboo racism and really yuck it up?
First came the Asian-inspired music, just in case those of you playing along at home didn't get they were mocking Asians.
Even that could be excused as a minor slight, because we all know that whenever Asian Americans speak, we like to preface our comments by banging gongs to make sure people know we're in a room.
But the topper was Taran Klllam, a white actor and the husband of Cobie Smulders, a star of "How I Met your Mother," which recently engaged in a nasty use of "yellowface
On SNL, Killam, with one eye squinted and one eye raised, displayed a full-geometric facial slant.
But the offense came when he did "yellow voice" through his lips.
His guttural "yo-yo-dojo" accent placed him firmly in the land of intolerance.
Ah-so, SNL couldn't find an unemployed Asian actor/comedian to denigrate his own people?
I just saw veteran comic Henry Cho, the Korean American with a Southern accent who just married a white woman from Arab, Alabama, on the "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson."
Now Cho's funny.
But white folks doing an Asian voice? Killam's accented narration is cringe-worthy.
Accents remain the MSG of comedy. And we all know what the sign says in all our favorite Chinese restaurants.
We don't want it in our comedy either.
Detractors might ask, why be so sensitive? It's just a joke, right?
It wouldn't be so wrong if more Asians appeared on shows like SNL. We might be able to move the racial barometer and say some things are OK, because of other authentic portrayals in the media.
But until then, real Asians are mere cameos, and shows like SNL rely on racist caricatures.
The Twitterverse was quick to show disapproval, including the hashtag #saturdaynightlies.
The joke doctor might say "First do no harm." At least not to unintentional targets of your satire. And who are the targets of an accent joke but innocent immigrants?
For SNL, playing fire with race is apparently the way it prefers to get its edge. But SNL is also corporate comedy at its finest, which means they respect one thing--money-making star-power.
It's the diversity SNL acknowledges.
Bring us your Drakes, your Kerry Washingtons, your Jennifer Lopezes
And Bruno Mars.
If you saw the Super Bowl, you saw the anointing of Mars as an undeniable global pop super star.
It was only the biggest Super Bowl half-time show of all time: More than 115 million tuned in, according to Fox Broadcasting.
Mars is the face of diversity. With a Filipino mother and a father who is a Puerto Rican/Hungarian Jew from Brooklyn, Mars is the picture of the new America.
We have to hope these stars use their clout to change show biz attitudes, so that the jokes don't always come at the expense of people of color.
It's no small thing.
When we lose the little battles and become the butt of jokes, something like a Randy Gener story becomes commonplace.
All the little slights have an impact in the real world.
The public learns from somewhere that Asian Americans don't count. Popular culture is a great educating force. If the message is "we don't count," then we won't count.
To paraphrase the president's State of the Union, it's time to do away with attitudes toward Asian Americans and other minorities "that belong in a 'Mad Men' episode."
That's the kind of deep-rooted change that would make a difference to all Asian Americans.
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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Amid the Super Bowl hype, Randy Gener's story is more typical of the Asian American immigrant experience than you think
February 1, 2014 1:27 PM
I hope my Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) colleague Randy Gener is well enough to watch the Super Bowl.
This year, the Super Bowl will have an Asian American of Filipino descent headlining the halftime show---pop icon Bruno Mars. Mars, who dutifully thanked his Filipina mother when he recently won his second Grammy for best pop vocal album, is far from some kind of "diversity/affirmative action" halftime stunt. Bruno has the goods. He just topped Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake to be named Billboard's 2013 artist of the year. He's all that, and the chances of a wardrobe malfunction are nil.
There will also be a few Asian Americans on the field. It would be hard to miss the Denver Broncos Sione Fua, a 300 pound Tongan/AAPI on the D-line. And Seattle suits up Doug Baldwin, the ex-Stanford wide receiver, who is a quarter-Filipino American.
But all the Super Bowl hype has dwarfed another New York story that is historically more typical of the Filipino Asian American experience: the beating of Randy Gener, an openly gay Filipino immigrant.
Gener, 46, was found semi-conscious on a sidewalk in midtown Manhattan between 3 to 4 a.m. on January 17.
Police now say it wasn't a hate crime, but how can they be so sure?
A theatre writer, critic, and performer, Gener is a member of the arts community in New York, and it wasn't until it was noted in BroadwayWorld.com a week later (Jan. 24) that most people even heard of his situation. His beating was so severe it required brain surgery.
Indeed, the NYPD was investigating the incident as a possible hate crime until they arrested suspect Leighton Jennings, 24, earlier this week in Queens.
Jennings was seen on surveillance video confronting Gener at the time of the incident.
But Jennings' side of the story is much different from anyone's assumptions.
A criminal complaint states that Jennings had a female friend who was walking down Seventh Avenue (a fairly wide sidewalk as I recall). Gener and the woman somehow bumped into each other.
Here the bumping turned to thumping.
The complaint describes how all the players responded in this chain of events: The female friend threw her purse at Gener's head and missed. Gener reacted by kicking her in the chest. Then Jennings, who was in a car, came to his friend's aid, kicking Gener in the stomach right before punching him in the face. Gener's head hit the hard pavement, cracking his skull.
See any bias? Or do we really have enough to know?
The police think they have all the facts.
In news reports, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton says near definitively: "It was not a bias crime."
He prefers to call it "a tragic street altercation."
But at this point, how can anyone be so sure?
Remember, the police were looking initially for an "Hispanic" suspect, until they arrested Jennings, an African American male.
Maybe it's worth looking more closely at what can't be seen or heard on the surveillance tape.
Did someone, anyone, say politely, "Excuse me" or "Didn't mean it," accompanied with a polite smile?
Or had the tone become so heated because some words were exchanged?
Maybe that's what the police don't know.
And that's usually how you can tell whether there was bias.
By Jennings' story, he was simply defending a woman. And if he was, why didn't he feel strong enough about it to just call the police on Gener at that point? Why did he feel so impugned that he was willing to punch and run?
Gener? We're not sure. He's still recovering from brain surgery. But Gener's story isn't done until we find out what he can recall.
Was he defending himself? Would Gener strike a woman? Did he aggressively push the woman away as she came at him, and did that look like a punch?
And then there's what may have been said. Did someone use an epithet? The "F" word? (And I don't mean Filipino.)
By coincidence, Gener's beating comes 84 years after what is probably the most famous Filipino hate crime in U.S. history--the shooting death of Fermin Tobera, Jan. 22, 1930.
After Filipino immigrant workers in Watsonville, California rented a dance hall and hired white women to dance with, angry white vigilantes stormed a bunk house and shot Tobera in the chest.
Sexual transgressions do have a tendency to enrage, no matter what your sexual preferences.
Did we see that sort of thing in the Gener case with Jennings?
Was Gener, who was walking home after the opening of a Broadway play, seen as somehow different enough from Jennings' friends in Queens to inspire a more violent reaction than warranted?
Does an inadvertent bump in the sidewalk really merit the kind of beating that requires surgery and a year of rehab?
And were the prosecutors right to file misdemeanor, and not felony, assault charges against Jennings?
We still don't know if something more happened during that "tragic street altercation."
Not until more witnesses come forward. But for now, It sounds as if the police have come to the point of "good enough."
Two minorities fighting? Rubber stamp it "street altercation" and move on.
Hate crimes are harder to dissect and sometimes require more police time to root out what really happened.
For the sake of justice, let's hope the police keep working, and that the community keeps pushing for the truth.
We wait for Gener's recovery to hear his story. And we hope to hear from anyone else who saw or heard something along Seventh Avenue in the wee hours of January 17th.
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Updates at www.amok.com. Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.
Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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