Tag Archives: Asian American

Emil Guillermo: When I first saw Bobby Jindal

I wrote this back in 2007  for my AsianWeek column when I first heard of Bobby Jindal.

Who would of thunk he was presidential timber?

My first impressions still hold true.

And now he wants to be the leader of the free world.


Uncle Bob Jindal: Man of No Color

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The politics of color is changing in America. For people of color, the best path to success may be to become a “person of no color.”

I caution people in evaluating the apparent success of Bobby Jindal.

Jindal, the first Indian American in U.S. history to be elected governor last Saturday — in Louisiana of all places — is what I call a “man without color.”Normally, you’d describe a person “without color” as white, but even white is a color. Jindal’s a guy who seems to aspire to being totally colorless (that’s not to say bloodless, though we are talking about a professional politician here).

In the past, this sort of character might have been labeled a chameleon, but even that’s not quite Jindal.

He doesn’t change skin tone. His skin is still as dark and constant given his immigrant Hindu parents from Punjab.

But the changes are they’re on the inside, which makes the constancy of his skin tone a tool of deception.

When you see a person of color, you expect someone with similar values, views, beliefs — someone in touch with the emerging new majority. With Jindal, you get someone who very deliberately and proudly downplays his race in order to seek his own individual path. That kind of independence under certain circumstances may be commendable. But only if you happen to agree with his ideas that range from free-market health care, intelligent design instead of evolution, anti-choice and a fenced-in America.

When did Newt Gingrich die and reincarnate?

Whites, of course, regard Jindal as their Asian American Republican Catholic with impeccable Ivy League and Rhodes Scholar credentials.

And boy, are they happy to see a little friendly pigment float into their universe.
But for those in the South Asian community, the joy for Jindal has been mixed. Where’s the breakthrough for Asian Americans when the celebrant hardly acknowledges his ethnicity or doesn’t represent us?

Vijay Prashad, a professor of South Asian history at Trinity College in Hartford, described how Jindal has been portrayed in the Indian American ethnic press.

“The fact that he’s of Indian ancestry is a subject of jubilation,” said Prashad in the New York Times. “But there’s a very shallow appreciation of who he really is. Once you scratch the surface, it’s really unpleasant.” In other words, can you praise him and still hold your nose at the same time?

We have seen this before. South Asians have already had Dinesh D’Souza. Filipinos have current Fox darling Michelle Malkin. But they’re mere right-wing commentators, not elected officials.

Jindal may be the political empowerment version of the Pogo line, “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.” It’s negative diversity — where the group is abandoned for individual glory.

When Jindal won, even the New York Times saw it fitting to remark how the first words from his mouth weren’t about his historic ethnic victory. It was about LSU’s defeat of Auburn earlier that day. It’s an old trick, a la “We’re all part of the same team. Just us honky-tonk footballers here!”

Is he bridge-building? Or is it an example of the sickening kind of denial that can easily be attributed to ambitious, Darwinian, “every person for himself,” success stories in our minority communities?

Perhaps it shows that immigration can be the “Great American Makeover.”

Yet we know a number of successful Asian Americans, politicians among them, who don’t forget their origins and are truly in step with the struggles of their mainstream community.

In an almost calculated way, Jindal has positioned himself away from racial politics that we know, and toward something else of his making. But how does someone get elected in Louisiana without a solid plan to address post-Katrina infrastructure and build-up?

I was almost willing to give Jindal a pass during his transition and be mildly impressed by his colorless approach. But then came the negative Los Angeles Times story on the rise of Chinese immigrants who give to Hillary Clinton. Nothing illegal.

But the implication was that this strange idea of immigrants being part of the process was somehow unhealthy if only Democrats benefit. The fact is color still matters in politics.

Maybe not to the new governor of Louisiana, whose real name, by the way, is Piyush Jindal.

He adopted the name Bobby because he liked The Brady Bunch. Now he’s created a unique modern character in Asian American political history: “Uncle Bob.”

Emil Guillermo: Rachel Dolezal resigns NAACP post–did she have to?

I was expecting more of a fight.

But it looks like Rachel Dolezal was being pressured on both sides for passing.

It’s not like we have a real hard and fast standard for identity.

Even in the Census, we live in a “you are what you say you are world,” with the ability to self-define.

You can call yourself anything. If that’s who you say you are, then it’s fine for the official count.

It’s not passing. It’s not lying. Just mark one box and live with it.

Given that set of ethics,  I’m surprised that Rachel Dolezal was unable to weather the storm created in the media and resigned this morning from her NAACP post in Spokane.

Even the NAACP said there was nothing in its  by-laws preventing her from holding a leadership position in the organization.

So what do we have here?

Likely some kind of internal politics, where some may feel the leadership of an NAACP chapter is an “African American” only position, and used the issue of her race to raise a critical point of ethics and integrity.  Enough to oust Dolezal.

Passing as black? Oh mon dieu!

It also riled up those on the outside who look on the NAACP in Spokane as “the enemy,” who made it a big “Gotcha!”

Still, anybody hurt by Dolezal’s transgressions?

From all accounts, she has been an effective activist and leader.

Now she’s gone.

If you were on the inside and hated Dolezal, you’re smiling.

And if you’re up there in the conservative part of western Washington, you’ve just touched up a real adversary by discrediting and needlessly putting the NAACP through the national media wringer.





Emil Guillermo: Asian American with the game winner! Bobby Wood? Hawaii-born, California-raised, now a hero for U.S. Men’s Soccer in first victory on German soil ever.

Asian American alert:Bobby Shou Wood, from Honolulu, who played youth soccer in Irvine, Calif., and now plays pro soccer in Germany, was the U.S. hero in yesterday’s U.S.Men’s team friendly versus Germany in Cologne. Bobby Wood. Yes. Asian American. Just look at his fade.


Click here to read more. 



Emil Guillermo: David Letterman had his own Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration this week.

Usually it’s some government office kind of event. But he honored his Asian American employees this week.

That’s what you get when you retire during heritage month.

See my tribute to Dave here.

See this clip of Asian American legend Connie Chung “singing” on Letterman in 1988.


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Emil Guillermo: Do Asian American lives really matter?

My cousin Stephen, an immigrant who had naturalized as an American, a proud Asian American of Filipino descent,  was shot and killed a year ago.


So far, the family has seen no medical examiner’s report.

No police report.

Maybe none of it ever happened?

Do Asian American lives matter?

The family has been waiting for justice.

But it seems like all we are doing is waiting for paperwork.



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Emil Guillermo: Remembering my cousin Stephen Guillermo, shot and killed in San Francisco in 2014.


Stephen Guillermo was shot and  killed by a retired security guard in San Francisco  on May 3, 2014.

It’s been a year now.

The family still hopes we matter in the eyes of the law.  But we are  still waiting for the DA to share with us records on his case.

Meanwhile, I wrote this piece for my amok column on the AALDEF blog earlier this year.

It’s about a  man in Montana who was prosecuted despite the Castle Doctrine defense,  which says you can protect your home if an intruder enters and shoot to kill.  The presumption is the intruder will do harm, so shoot.

But you can make a mistake.

The shooter in Stephen’s case did.

However, the law is so tough most  DAs in the country where the Castle Doctrine applies  don’t want to touch these cases.

Blemishes the record.

In San Francisco, they  still don’t want to touch Stephen’s case.

In the column I ask  SF DA George Gascon about challenging the Castle Doctrine in San Francisco in the same way he campaigned for Prop. 47.


Markus Kaarma and Stephen Guillermo
Markus Kaarma’s case is not about police, but about a private individual taking the law into his own hands and relying on Castle Doctrine laws to justify killing an unarmed person.
It was vigilante justice. And Kaarma was wrong.
You may have heard of Kaarma, 29, a Korean American from Montana. His case didn’t get a lot of play nationally last week, perhaps because he was convicted of deliberate homicide last December.
But his recent sentencing hearing was quite a shocker.
Kaarma thought the Castle Doctrine gave him the right to shoot to kill in order to protect his home. Instead, he was sentenced to 70 years in prison for murdering Diren Dede, a 17-year-old German exchange student.
“You didn’t protect your residence, you went hunting. And here you have a 12 gauge shotgun that’s loaded. Not to protect your family, but to go after somebody,” said Missoula District Judge Ed McLean on Feb. 12.
The sentence was a surprise. But so was the prosecutor’s initial decision to go forward and charge Kaarma in the first place. That’s been my experience with DAs when it comes to self-defense cases in which the Castle Doctrine is invoked.
It happened in the case of my cousin, Stephen Guillermo.SGsign2.jpg
I’ve written about Stephen numerous times. And from a victim’s point of view, there are some similarities in the Kaarma case.
Stephen went by mistake to the wrong apartment in his building. The apartment was not his but that of an African immigrant, a retired security guard. Witnesses said they heard no break-in. If so, the door may have been opened so that an unarmed Stephen walked into the apartment and was shot to death by the armed retired security guard.
In Montana, Kaarma left his garage door open, hoping his suspected teenage prankster burglars would come in. When they did, motion detectors alerted Kaarma, who then fired a shotgun four times killing an unarmed teenage intruder in the garage.
Many DAs feel just having a dead body in the house makes the Castle defense unbeatable.
But I’ve always argued that the shooter still must show that he acted reasonably in using deadly force.
Now that Kaarma’s Castle defense failed and his 70 year sentence issued, I’m beginning to feel this could be a breakthrough moment.
Not necessarily for my cousin Stephen’s case.
The San Francisco DA George Gascon had arrested Stephen’s killer, refused to prosecute, and let him go.
No, my hope is that Kaarma’s conviction and sentencing will set the example to rework the homicide laws so that DAs don’t see going up against the Castle defense as a defeat. Prosecutors want to have a winning record. Preferably a win in every case.
Last October, I asked DA Gascon what he needed in order to prosecute anything.
Of course, he said he had to have the facts and the legal analysis. But Gascon also added: “A prosecutor would be violating his ethical obligation if he didn’t believe he could prosecute successfully.”
In other words, it really is “Just win, baby.”
Or “just believe you can win,” a form of political will.
When I mentioned challenging the Castle doctrine, Gascon said individual cases weren’t the place to take ethical, moral, or courageous stands.
As a proper example of when to take a stand, he pointed to his advocacy of California’s Prop. 47, which has re-codified California law in order to lower the high incarceration rates of people with mental health and substance abuse problems. Why? Because, as Gascon said, “It doesn’t work.”
Well, Castle really doesn’t work either. Not if you want to prevent innocent people from being killed.
Gascon may have quivered before the Castle Doctrine in the past. But now maybe he’ll take a stand–not for my cousin’s individual case–but for future victims who could be murdered by vigilantes who want to use their guns whenever feel threatened in their home. Even if they’re wrong.

Emil Guillermo: The one book you need to read this Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? Ron Takaki’s “Strangers from a Different Shore.” Better yet gift it to someone…


Others don’t know our history. But even some Asian Americans don’t know our history.

Recently, I picked up two used copies of Ron Takaki’s “Strangers from a Different Shore,” and gave them to my kids.

I must have purchased at least a dozen copies of the book in my lifetime and given  them as gifts.

Hey, that’s a good idea. Almost better than a “Happy AAPI Heritage Month” card.

Give Takaki’s book.  If you’ve read it, re-read it.

It’s the basic story of all of us Asian Americans.

When Ron died, I wrote this:




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