In 2020, It’s VAX AMERICANA. But Will We All Be Together by July 4th?

Columnist Emil Guillermo getting his COVID-19 vaccine shot.

by Emil Guillermo

OK, patriots, are you committed to masking up?

Because according to President Joe Biden, it’s going to take more masking and physical distancing to beat this pandemic. Especially, if we want to celebrate Fourth of July with a bang.And don’t forget your shot.Not to brag, but I got the vaccine.

I’m not a food worker, an educator (not presently), or a health care worker. Just an unboomed Boomer waiting for my needle. And I finally got it, the Moderna, the one that sounds like it belongs on the shelf next to Gucci and Dolce Gabbana. Pfizer? They didn’t offer it and I’m Pfilipino. Johnson & Johnson? It’s more than a Band-Aid or a one-hit wonder. If you are offered any of the three, take it.

The best one is the one you can get. Any vaccine at this point will help you and everyone else. I wore two masks and blue light-blocking glasses. Am I overly cautious?

Just note, fearing the vaccine doesn’t make sense. Of course, I wouldn’t trust Trump, the anti-masker who secretly got vaccinated. But after his administration gave the virus a year’s head start, and more than 525,000 deaths, this new administration is trying to get it right. From the $1.9 trillion stimulus package to the vaccine.

And if you’re a Republican, what’s going on? Not one Republican crossed over to join the Democrats to pass the stimulus. What? Didn’t have any military spending? Or maybe the GOP has a death wish. Just remember this come election time: the Democrats came up with a plan to bail out and unify the country, and the most Trumpy Republicans like Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Jim Jordan declined to join in. Instead, they were advocating to end Britney Spears conservatorship. (A worthy cause, maybe, just not compared to helping the country recover from the pandemic.)

Why expect anything different? Trump Republicans have been blocking and exacerbating Covid efforts since February 2020. It’s made getting vaccines post-Trump more difficult than it has to be.

In California, so many doses were sitting on the shelf going bad as a mere fraction of eligible folks got vaccinated. I lucked out when a friend sent me to a website that signed me up in January. The state hadn’t developed a plan yet. When the state realized last week that certain zip codes were inequitably treated in the distribution (places like the Central Valley and parts of Los Angeles), the state finally contacted me for a first shot this week–after I had finished both doses. Waiting for the government would have delayed being fully vaccinated by at least a month.

The bureaucracy is worse than the treatment. Just don’t worry about the vaccine. It isn’t made up of the active virus. Plus, it’s based on a delivery system that addresses your RNA, not DNA. Genetically, you don’t have to worry. (Doctors out there know I have horribly simplified this, but that’s what you need to know.)

But here’s a warning from my experience. The second shot was different. I felt the needle. And within six hours, I had a fever of 101. Maybe I was sickened by the combination of late-night writing and binge-watching the sordid “Allen v. Farrow” on HBO. But by the morning, I was fine. My arm was sore. And my antibodies had gotten a gym workout. In two weeks, the buildup should result in my being fully vaccinated – a soon to be card-carrying member of Vax Americana.

Mind you, I don’t feel like Superman yet. And I’m still masking and distancing. But I feel confident dealing with COVID.

It’s the anti-Asian American racists I’m not sure about.

Asian Americans Are Hot!
People are noticing us, finally. For once, all my white friends are legitimately worried about my well-being. One in New York asked about me on a Zoom call, “Are you ok?” Another in Boston said he noticed how we’re always in the news. “You guys are hot!” he said.

But when I ask my friends who are Asian American history profs, they all say the same thing, essentially that we’ve been victimized by racist xenophobia for decades.

It’s just that recent incidents, on top of the thousands of self-reported cases to the Stop AAPI Hate website, were so sensational–the death of a Thai man in San Francisco, and the slashing of a Filipino New York City subway rider. They were hard to ignore, unlike the previous 2,900 or so.

To balance it all, we’ve had the Biden executive order to remind us that Asian Americans have rights, as if we needed that. But, I guess, yes, apparently America did. Then, Biden came out during his vaccine announcement and doubled-down on his denouncement of  the “vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who’ve been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.”

He went further than Trump ever did when he bluntly said, “It’s wrong. It’s un-American, and it must stop.”We needed that from the president. But will it work?

One thing I’m seeing is a more concerted effort in the mainstream to include us.

Vincent Chin

Recently, there was the front-page Arts story on Star Wars star Kelly Marie Tran’s triumph over online bullying. Another story on the appointment of Tim Wu, the Columbia Law professor, as a tech advisor to Biden on the National Economic Council. It’s important because of Wu’s advocacy for “net neutrality,” a phrase he coined that gave consumers equal access to internet content. More significant is his antitrust work and his advocacy for breaking up Big Tech, the purveyors of the next scourge, digital discrimination.

The big recent takeout, however, was the front page of the New York Times Sunday Review section on Asian American topic A: a faceless Asian American with the words, “We Need to Put a Name to This Violence.”

Like that will do it? Giving it a name? Shouldn’t racist xenophobia, which everyone should rail against, be enough?

The fact is we are faceless and invisible still because we are many faces. A Thai man dies. A Filipino man is slashed.

Does naming Vicha Ratanapakdee, the 84-year-old man, killed in San Francisco by a black suspect, do it? Does naming Noel Quintana, the Filipino man slashed move you to protest?

Does it have the power of saying the name George Floyd?

The problem is we cannot go alone in this battle. We need the handle of “Asian American” or AAPI, or APA, or some derivation. There are too many of us. Trump says, “China Virus” and perps attack a Thai man? A Filipino?

No, we are faceless because America has never gotten beyond seeing race as Black and White. Civil rights came in 1964? Asians didn’t arrive in numbers until post-1965, and honestly, post-1980.

Brown sneaks into the Black-White paradigm somewhere. But what about Brown Asians and Yellow Asians? And Asians who are mixed Black and White? it’s not one face, or one name. It’s all of us.

But if we need to summon up a name, if we need to put a name to this violence, then let that name be one we all know and come to for strength, purpose, and unity.It’s Vincent Chin. Still.

Like immigration, hate hits us in waves too. Chin’s death in 1982 galvanized the social justice movement of one generation. This new rise of Asian American hate in 2021 has ignited the call to action for not just today’s AAPIs, but for every previous generation that’s still alive and kicking. And hurting still.

The Times said we need a name? Everyone already knows one. And he didn’t get justice either.

Vincent Chin is still the hate crime that unifies all Asian Americans from Chinese to Filipino, from Honolulu to Bangor, Maine.

That’s a face that reminds us all of the anti-Asian American hate that exists in America.


EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator. He was on the Advertiser editorial board and a columnist for the Star Bulletin. A former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” he writes on race, politics, and culture.  See his vlog at www.amok.com  Twitter: @emilamok


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