Nelson Mandela taught us how to fight for racial justice--and how to win
December 5, 2013 10:04 PM
In 1977, I was too late for Vietnam. The war's end made my draft lottery number obsolete.
It was also too early to talk about the shortcomings of civil rights in America.
But there was one moral eyesore in the world all good people could agree on: It was right--and necessary---to rail out against South Africa's evil apartheid, the institutional racism of that country's white minority.
At my graduation--the one Bill Gates couldn't attend--I wore a white armband in protest and displayed it proudly as we marched to receive our diplomas.
We did have something to protest. "Divestiture" was the word of the day.
Who knew what that meant really? But it was fair to ask the question: What were Harvard and other major universities doing investing in South Africa? Why were we helping to further such a racist policy? Indeed, what were American corporations doing buying into a country that was so morally bankrupt?
That's what Nelson Mandela gave boomers of a certain age. For many of us, he gave us something to get riled up about. Apartheid? It was the first time as adults we had something so big and worthy to be conscientious about.
Mandela showed us the way.
Some of my generation got their corporate graduate degrees and honchoed some of the biggest leveraged buyouts in U.S. business history. But many of us did take Mandela's lessons to heart and tried to do some good in the world.
Those of us who continue to speak out against racial injustice can still learn a thing or two from Mandela's graceful, soft-spoken manner.
He wasn't--in the style of our times--what would be called "in your face." Yet, would anyone dare say Mandela lacked power, strength, passion, or conviction?
A boxer in his youth, Mandela knew when and how to fight. He also knew when to come together to reconcile.
Who else could spend 27 years in prison and not harbor the kind of resentment that could end a dream?
Even former South African president F.W. DeKlerk commented on that, hailing Mandela for his "remarkable lack of bitterness."
Who else could come out of prison and, in freedom, choose willingly to work with one's enemies toward a common goal of democracy?
To me, that was the political genius of Mandela. The man was no saint. But he knew that loving your enemies was perhaps even more powerful than hating them.
That's a lesson you would expect from a man of greatness, one who towers over all in life, and who in death shall live on as a great spirit, an inspiration to all who keep up the fight for freedom and justice for all.
Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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Fast food for lunch? Join a one-day strike to say "No Wai"
December 5, 2013 11:42 AM
I just came back from Asia, so I have Asia on the mind. What do you know--on Monday night football, there was the NY Giants' Justin Tuck doing the prayer-bow Thai move after sacking RGIII.
It was the wai, the Thai gesture of appreciation.
I know the move well. I saw Ronald McDonald doing the move in Patong Beach, Phuket.
Fast food is a multinational corporate phenomenon, to my dismay. I certainly didn't patronize Ronald abroad. Not even his new Thai bubble drink.
Street food and a fresh coconut was plenty fast enough for me.
In Thailand the average income is $4,000 a year. Fast-food pay may make sense there. But not in the U.S., where some individuals and families are trying to make it on $8.25 an hour--part-time.
I'll have more to say on income inequality in a later post.
But for now, there's a massive one-day boycott
scheduled for today to push for a more livable wage for workers here in the U.S.
The call is enough to lose your appetite for a day--at least.
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Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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Yelling "stop deportations," an undocumented Asian American stands up and Obama stands down
November 25, 2013 11:03 PM
I've played basketball at the Chinese Rec Center in San Francisco's Chinatown as a kid, but this was a one-on-one game no one would have expected.
An undocumented Asian student in America, Ju Hong, 24, a DREAM activist from San Francisco State, was one of those with an invite to the special presidential event.
He was among the hand picked and vetted diversity props selected to stand on the risers behind their guy, President Barack Obama, at what was hoped to be the speech to change the national conversation from health care back to immigration reform.
Hong was supposed to be merely ornamental, not a catalyst.
Obama, of course, was on one of his typical West Coast rejuvenation jaunts-Seattle for the tech wealth, SF for the immigrant wealth, LA for the Hollywood excessive wealth- a lot of fundraising with a little policy meat thrown into the mix.
But before LA, on the SF portion, the president encountered Hong in Chinatown.
The president was in a "roll up your sleeve" mood, talking about immigration, family and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, and then Hong decided it was no longer a time for polite political chatter.
For a guy who was essentially given the right to stand and be silently appreciative, Hong did a gutsy, some would might say naive, move. He wasn't just happy standing for ceremony. He could see the president's ears. He wanted to be heard.
So while others--older, maybe wiser--stood silently, Hong brought it on with a passion.
He spoke out, out of turn, loudly enough to be disruptive, just to make sure he wouldn't simply be used as a presidential prop.
While Obama's back was to the basket, Hong heard a silence that was as wide as an open door and walked through it.
"Mr. President, I need your help," Hong said. " Families are separated for Thanksgiving."
It was the unthinkable for a guy who was supposed to stand there in the president's shadow, look "immigrant-y," and above all, shut up.
But the undocumented South Korean Hong had sick family back home and couldn't visit them because of his status.
He wanted to let the president know how he was impacted by the interminably slow process. He urged the president from the riser: "Please use your executive order to stop deportations ...you have a power to stop deportations for all undocumented...so please, I need your help."
To his credit, the president handled it like he would have corrected an unruly constitutional law student he might have taught at Harvard.
First, Obama won back the crowd by taking control, simply by allowing Hong to be. He stopped any security effort to remove Hong and others who joined in the chant, "Stop deportations," from the event.
Obama stood down, and let Hong have his say.
And then Obama re-engaged. "If I could solve all the problems without passing laws in Congress, I would do so," Obama said. "But we are a nation of laws."
The president then indicated that what he was trying to do with his reforms was not the easy way, but the hard way, and the right way.
The crowd was back with the president. And Hong was satisfied having made his point so publicly,though he probably got someone on the Obama advance team fired.
Still, it was an example of what we need to see more of in our Asian American community.
We silence ourselves, and smile quietly. And then we wonder why we are taken for granted.
For lack of a better term, Hong went for his amok moment, as all of us should more often than not. When matters of public import are at stake, it is far better to stand up, speak out, and be heard.
Others might say there was a more strategic way. You mean like fainting behind the president during the healthcare.gov rollout speech? No, as Hong figured, what did he have to lose.
At some point there will be a time when you can no longer hold it in and be the dutiful Asian American.
At that point, remember Ju Hong.
He was no heckler. Not even a presidential heckler.
Hong was an outspoken Asian American activist with the president's ear. There is a difference.
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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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Katy Perry's fashion imperialism on the American Music Awards
November 25, 2013 11:31 AM
I just came back from Asia, where I felt like a white guy. And I am not.
I’m an Asian American of Filipino descent, but when I was over there, it was clear I was the foreigner. Most of the people were in Western business dress, so on one level there was a “We Are The World” sameness. But a line was drawn when I saw people on TV or in real life appearing in native dress. That was their life and style, not mine.
So you can imagine what I was thinking as I saw Katy Perry show off her Japanese fetish on the American Music Awards the other night.
Frankly, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
This wasn’t just innocent clothes horseplay.
It was one of those acts of ignorance that when played up in primetime stuns people into thinking it’s all right.
It’s not all right.
When I was in Asia last week, no matter how much I admired any bit of native garb I saw, I knew my place. It wasn’t my garb. When I went into a store in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I didn’t go overboard and buy an Islamic man’s songkok to wear as a souvenir back in the U.S.
It looked kind of cool. But I came to my senses quickly after trying it on.
It just didn’t fit. And it was one size fits all.
Ethnic clothing fetishes really aren’t very becoming in this day and age—unless it’s your culture and you’re showing some pride during heritage month. (Does anyone really ever do that?)
How would I look in a Native American headdress of feathers? Or a Sikh’s turban? Ridiculous—even on Halloween.
Unless you have a clear purpose or reason, there’s no reason for ethnic drag. Fashionista solidarity? Get real.
I’m not being PC. But as a professional ethnicist, I just have a sense of these things.
When it comes to racial appropriation, there’s a thin line between an honest cultural appreciation and racism.
When do you know you’ve crossed it? Something just feels wrong. Katy Perry wasn’t wearing a songkok to kick off Sunday’s American Music Awards on ABC. If she were, her people would have just said, “Uh, Katy, lose the hat.”
Instead, Perry wore a Japanese kimono (with a touch of Chinese qipao) and was in full cultural regalia, with back-up dancers holding parasols and fans, drummers, and rice paper screens. The whole segment was Asianed-up.
For what reason exactly, it’s unclear. Perry had just been to Japan and reportedly was so enthralled with the culture, she decided to appropriate it for her act.
There are better ways to show your appreciation. Like leaving it alone as you found it, without trying to ape or mimic it.
Why risk being offensive with a bit of cultural costume imperialism?
Katy Perry in schoolgirl drag singing of teenage love, or dressed as a star-spangled gal to sing “Firework” is one thing.
But the racial element adds another dimension to this dress up game.
Was it really anything but another form of blackface? Blackface has no place in modern showbiz. Perry doing her Asian thing in costumed yellowface isn’t much different and is just as offensive.
Unfortunately, these kinds of cultural games have been played for years in Hollywood, as if race were a function of hair and makeup. Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is perhaps the most famous example. Done for comic effect in the Truman Capote tale, it’s all based on stereotypes (buck teeth, glasses, and more) and passed off as real. Katy Perry on the AMAs was just one cultural stereotype after another, with none of it in the end adding up to a full-blooded 100 percent person.
And if you think Perry’s use of Japanese culture is so benign, Jon Funabiki, the executive director at the Center for the Study of Japan and Japanese Culture, has a few choice words for you.
On his Facebook page, he was pretty plain. “Katy Perry,” Funabiki wrote,”awful, awful, awful Asian stereotypes.”
When I read that, I knew I was in the right key, and Perry was not.
You can give Perry a pass by saying there was nothing malicious about her going Japanese. But that’s exactly when some of the worst transgressions occur—when people honestly believe they’ve done nothing wrong and then become adamant about the right to their own ignorance. It was odd seeing the mostly white crowd leap up to praise Perry with approving applause after her imperial performance. She had successfully appropriated an entire culture and gave it her own Perry pop spin. A standing ovation for that? At least she didn’t use makeup to slant her eyes.
Although maybe she’s a friend of Julie Chen and thinks all the Asians are going round-eye western? Would that make geisha-ed out Perry the image of the perfect Asian?
Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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Thoughts on Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the Philippines, and Veterans Day
November 12, 2013 12:07 PM
Called Yolanda in the Philippines, Haiyan internationally, by any name, the super typhoon has heaped on a sense of despair and helplessness.
Though we all knew it was coming from the warnings in both old and new media, there was still such an overwhelming sense that nothing could be done to help the country from its fate.
The very day the storm hit, a friend of mine in the San Francisco Bay Area, taken by news warnings, asked me if I still had relatives in the Philippines.
What could I tell her? Despite being born in America, in the broadest sense, as a full-blooded Filipino, I'm related to everyone there.
From a humanitarian sense, of course, we all are.
Over the weekend, as a U.S. based columnist for the Philippine Inquirer, I knew to turn to the paper's website for coverage direct from the hardest hit area of Leyte.
For me, more than the photographs and videos, reading the first individual accounts
of the super typhoon's wrath were simply more harrowing, indicating the monstrous power of the storm. Reporter DJ Yap's story described people in the throes of Yolanda, including one woman, Bernadette Tenegra, who tried to hold on to her daughter who was ravaged by wooden splinters from all the houses crushed by the storm.
"The Tenegra family had huddled together in their shanty at Barangay (village) 66-Paseo de Legazpi, believing it could weather the storm as it had always done in the past.
But as the water rose with astonishing speed, the house toppled over, sweeping away the occupants, including Tenegra's husband and her other daughter. They were able to scramble to safety, but the youngest Tenegra was spun around by the current along with the deadly debris.
"I crawled over to her, and I tried to pull her up. But she was too weak. It seemed she had already given up," the mother said.
"And then I just let go," she said, crying.
Mute shock was etched on the faces of survivors, many of whom were unfamiliar with storms as fierce as this one.
Richard Bilisario, an Air Force man, was carried by violent waves that demolished his unit's barracks at the military base overlooking the Leyte Gulf.
"At first, the wind was only coming from inland, so we didn't really mind it. Then suddenly we heard the howling from the sea," he recalled.
"When we opened the door to check, the water was already up to the knee. And as soon as the door was opened, the water just rushed in, and the 11 of us were thrown away," he said.
Four are still missing, including their commander, Bilisario said.
At downtown Tacloban, two men silently pushed a wooden cart carrying the bloated bodies of a woman, her teenage son and her baby on the flooded main avenue.
The men took their gruesome load through the streets, as kibitzers watched in morbid fascination.
The woman's name was Erlinda Mingig, 48, a fish vendor. She had been trapped in her one-story home with her two children, John Mark, 12, and 1-year-old Jenelyn, at Barangay 39-Calvaryhill.
"I told them to stay in the house because it was safer," said Mingig's husband, Rogelio, 48.
But the water was rising dangerously fast. When Erlinda tried to open the door to escape, it would not budge," the man said.
"We found her embracing the children in one arm and grabbing on to the ceiling with the other," he said.
So what do we do now?
The coincidence of Veterans Day and the world's awakening to the apocalyptic images of the super typhoon's hardest hit area, Leyte and its capital city of Tacloban, is eerie.
This is not the first time the region has seen such death and despair---and overcome it all.
It was on October 20, 1944, that General Douglas MacArthur made good on his "I will return" pledge after being forced out of the Philippines by the Japanese in World War II.
Standing on Leyte Beach, with Filipino president Sergio Osmena and Philippine General Carlos Romulo, MacArthur and the American military took back the Philippines and launched the Battle of Leyte, the biggest naval battle of WWII.
In the Leyte campaign that liberated the Philippines, the Japanese lost nearly 50,000. In victory, the U.S. suffered nearly 16,000 casualties.
Their lives enabled Philippine General Carlos Romulo to report back to Congress: "How I wish the world could have witnessed the ceremony on the capitol steps in Tacloban when...just two days after it was freed from enemy control, General MacArthur delievered Tacloban into the constitutional charge of President Osmena. In Osmena's simple words of acknowledgment, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was re-established on Philippine soil."
Romulo, who was also a great statesman and an award-winning journalist, continued:
"This is the story I have come back from the Philippines to tell you. It is of General MacArthur and the idea he has lived and fought for since he left Bataan...It is the story of that great Filipino underground army that fought in heart-breaking secrecy for two and a half years and their final triumph in sharing our victory at Leyte. And it is, moreover, each and all of these, American and Filipino feelings, different reasons and different earth, but all stirred by the same impulse that can be summed up in one word--Bataan.
"I saw Bataan again in Leyte. Filipinos and Americans there shared understanding of one another, having shared the same hunger for liberty, the same sacrifices and death and glories, and the same God. From this American Congress we obtained political equality. This is why it is impossible to encompass in communiques the way the American G.I. feels toward the Filipino who fought alongside his fellow American in the same fox hole in Bataan and later inside the barricade as his ally and friend; impossible to compress in print the way the Filipino feels towards G.I Joe...his comrade in arms and liberator. This is democracy as we saw it on Bataan. It is on Leyte, set like a torch between East and West."
Nearly 70 years later, the same passion that liberated the Philippines must once again be summoned by the U.S. and the world, to respond to this natural disaster.
Financial and military aid, including U.S.Osprey helicopters, have been sent to Tacloban.
And amid the tragedy and rubble, there was even news of a brand new baby born to Emily Sagalis, 21.
She named the little girl Bea Joy, in honor of Emily's mother Beatriz, swept away by Yolanda.
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You can also read Emil's op-ed on CNN.com, For Filipinos, despair and prayers
Posted by:Emil Guillermo
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