My father’s arrival in America as a different Dreamer | Inquirer
Emil Amok!

My father’s arrival in America as a different Dreamer

/ 10:49 AM July 11, 2022

You had to be a gambler if you came to America just before the Great Depression. That was my father, Willie Guillermo.  I talk about the day we gambled together in a special story time at 5:30 pm Pacific today. It’s pay what you want at this link.

Gambler? My dad was a dreamer. Just slightly different from the Dreamers in the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. To them, my heart goes out after last week’s court hearing in Louisiana at the Fifth Circuit.

My father was undocumented, too. He didn’t need any. Documents, that is. Not in 1928. He was born in the Philippines as an American National. A colonized Filipino, who in the U.S. was considered a “ward of the state.” His passage cost just $60, a princely sum in those days. That bought him a ticket on a steamer from Manila arriving in San Francisco with his brother Joe on July 11th.

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That would be today. That’s why I’m doing the story time.

I’m thinking about my dad, one of the trailblazing Filipinos to come to the mainland in large numbers, because he’s part of an Asian American arrival history that’s too often ignored.

After the exclusion of Chinese to America, the Filipinos were the next large group of Asians to arrive in America–but with a difference. Filipinos, by colonization, belonged to the U.S. But that didn’t justify the discrimination they experienced in America.


Currently, there’s a move to get more high schools to teach our Asian American histories. It’s also happening at the highest levels of academia to make things right with the neglect of our history.

In the last two weeks, Harvard began hiring for its nascent Asian American studies program, powered in part by a $40 million infusion of Asian American wealth. Last week, it was announced that Erika Lee, the granddaughter of Chinese immigrants who grew up in the Bay Area and made her name as director of the U. of Minnesota’s Immigration History Research Center, would teach at Harvard. A former student of the late Ron Takaki, perhaps the most famous Asian American historian, Lee wrote the seminal work on Asian American studies for the next generation, “The Making of Asian America: A History” in 2016. The historian joins Taeku Lee, a former government professor at UC Berkeley, at Harvard.

Finally, the school is getting serious. I found info about the immigration of Filipinos to America in the 1920s deep in the stacks while I was a student there. It wasn’t taken seriously.


On the 94th anniversary of my father’s arrival, the path is opening up for more people to understand where Filipinos belong in the making of Asian America. And it’s happening as Harvard College itself becomes more and more Asian American.

Matriculation and the Harvard lawsuit

Diversity is happening in Cambridge, Mass. You can tell by last week’s latest matriculation number at Harvard. That’s the percentage of admits who said yes to admission. It’s around 83 percent in this September’s incoming class of 2026. That means a trickle told Harvard to shove it. But most said yes.

The news? The white members of the class are now at 42.5 percent, a sharp drop from the previous year’s 47.2 (Class of 2025).

It’s been around 47 percent since the Class of 2022, when it was 49.8, making this past graduating class the first that was minority white. The Class of 2021 was the last white majority class at 52.2 percent. So Harvard is less white, and a lot more Asian.

When I was there this summer, I saw a Filipino and it was like no big deal. In my day, you did triple takes and shared lumpia upon confirmation. Now, you’re part of the mix. And what a mix. This fall’s Class of 2026 is 27.6 Asian, up from the Class of 2025’s 25.3.

The trend means that the four-year undergraduate class this coming semester will be 25.75 percent, more than a quarter of the school.

Add Blacks at around 14 percent and Latinos around 12 percent, and Harvard will be a BIPOC majority.

Consider all that and question why it looks like a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court seems poised to end the way admissions works at Harvard.

Are there too many people of color? Is the admissions process too successful, producing a class that’s too diverse for Harvard’s past? Or is it just a smokescreen to get the white numbers back up?

My opinion of the suit against Harvard, brought by that faction of Asian American students/parents who have been misguided by anti-affirmative action legal activists, is that the lower court got it right when it sided with Harvard.

The Supreme Court should just affirm the First Circuit federal appeals court ruling. What I fear is if it doesn’t and the admissions process changes, either there’s a way to keep things more balanced, or the number of Asian Americans may get as high as UC Berkeley’s.

At Berkeley, the numbers are 41.4 percent Asian for the past incoming class of 2021. As an Asian American, that’s great, especially for the premier public university in the U.S. based in California, the most Asian American state in the country.

But would it be fair for a school based in the east drawing from all over the country like Harvard?

This fall, SCOTUS must not stop progress at Harvard and other schools with admissions policies that use race as one factor among many to create diverse campuses. It’s another thing to fear from a conservative high court hell bent on putting America in reverse.


Which brings us back to DACA and those Dreamers. Last week, the Fifth Circuit in Louisiana heard arguments on two key points. The judges wanted to know whether DACA was legal in the first place, and if all procedures were followed. And they wanted to hear why Texas and other mostly southern states felt the Dreamers posed an undue financial burden.

The panel of three judges was made up of one G.W. Bush appointee and two Trump appointees, including Judge James C. Ho, a 49-year-old judge born in Taipei but educated and raised in California. From reports, Ho seemed to be the most antagonistic.

He questioned the Biden administration’s argument that Texas did not have legal standing to bring suit over DACA.And then he noted that what DACA provides dreamers may go too far, giving protection from deportation, plus work permits and drivers licenses. Too far to give the necessities to be contributing, tax-paying members of American society?

Ho said the Supreme Court saw DACA critically, not just as a forbearance policy, but an “affirmative immigration rewrite.”

It’s an indication that whatever the Fifth Circuit’s decision is, the case will likely go to the Supreme Court. And we all know after Roe, the trend does not appear positive.

It leaves us with the specter of the high court at some point ending both “affirmative action” and what Ho called “affirmative immigration.”

It’s yet another item on the list of potential setbacks that will certainly create more chaos and division in America.

In the best case, we endure. In the worst case, it will be a new chapter that only confirms the historical patterns we’ve seen before in the making/unmaking of Asian America.

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

Also I’m doing a storytime show Monday, July 11 at 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT. Tickets: It’s pay what you want.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. He writes a column for the North American Bureau.

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