CHERIE M. Q. MORENO: Think deeply about Joseph Ileto
(First of 2 Parts)
IF you think you’re safe from hate crimes like the 11,000 various attacks documented to date by San
Francisco Bay Area-based coalition Stop AAPI Hate because you have a lucrative career, speak with no
foreign accent, and live in a fairly quiet neighborhood, think of Joseph Ileto.
If you were born after the year 1999 or if your family arrived here around then, chances are you believe
you’re free from violence wrought by people who detest those who look and sound different from
them. You may believe you are in a far better place than the one you or your elders left behind – like
many Filipinos who uprooted themselves to escape poverty or political persecution – until you learn
about Joseph Ileto.
You don’t know Joseph Ileto?
He was one of us, a Filipino American. Yes, was. Sad to say he is no longer with us.
Joseph Santos Ileto was a 39-year-old United States Postal Service worker, and so much more. He was
an aspiring engineer at Cal Poly in Pomona, Los Angeles County. More importantly, he was a son, a
brother and a new uncle, the surrogate father to a family who had lost their patriarch just months
earlier. An immigrant from the Philippines, he brimmed with hope for himself and his loved ones.
A single man, he was devoted to his filial duties, dedicated to his responsibilities in civil service and a
caring colleague who had agreed to cover a co-worker’s shift one fateful day. Who would have thought
that his virtues and identity would cost him his life?
The Southern California mail carrier was going about his daily chores close to noon one typically hot
summer day in Chatsworth, a suburb of the City of Los Angeles, when he was stopped in his tracks by
the driver of a car that pulled over with a question: Would Joseph mail his letter?
Barely had Ileto obliged when the stranger bared his true intention, whipped out a gun and shot Ileto.
Nine times. An unprovoked and deliberately fatal attack.
In seconds, a promising life was snuffed out on August 10, 1999.
For what? The color of his kin and his employer, the shooter disclosed when he turned himself in
immediately after the murder.
By killing Ileto the shooter accomplished what he had attempted but failed hours earlier when he fired
at the playground of the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, also in LA County. Five
people sustained serious injuries but luckily survived.
The vehicle used to hunt the killer’s next victim was carjacked from an Asian woman surely scarred
forever by the moment.
Authorities identified Ileto’s killer as Buford White, an avowed white supremacist who will be mentioned
this once only to thwart his perverted desire for notoriety among his ilk. He received two life sentences
without the possibility of parole, 110 years in prison, and payment of $690,292 in restitution. Almost
four years later, the California Fair Employment and Housing Commission (now the California Civil Rights
Department) ordered him to pay $150,000 in compensatory damages and $25,000 in civil penalties for
having violated Ileto’s civil rights and caused extreme emotional distress on his family, according to civil
rights leader Stewart Kwoh in a commemorative article published recently by Asian Americans
Advancing Justice Southern California or AJSOCAL. Previously known as Asian American Advancing
Justice LA, AJSOCAL is the largest nonprofit legal and civil rights organization for Asian Americans, Native
Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders Kwoh co-founded in 1983 as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center or
“This was the first time that the maximum penalty was awarded for a hate violence case under
California’s Ralph Civil Rights Act. The Commission’s decision to order the maximum penalty was based
on the coroner’s determination that Joseph experienced tremendous emotional and physical trauma in
the minutes before he died and because of the severe nature of the hate violence,” Kwoh captured the
outcome of the tragedy.
INSULT TO INJURY
Excruciating that losing their brother in such a cowardly heinous act was, the Ileto family’s suffering did
not end after Joseph was laid to rest.
Crimes motivated by race, gender and religion-related hatred had been reported around the time of the
Ileto murder, but crimes targeting Asian American and Pacific Islanders received little or no coverage in
Filipino American publications gave the tragedy front-page coverage as it had deserved, but the scarcity
of attention from the mainstream media heightened the invisibility of the Filipino population in US
society all over again.
The media were not the only ones guilty of egregious omission.
Days after Ileto’s death, Gov. Gray Davis signed three gun control bills. In his remarks at ceremonies
announcing the legislation, Davis paid tribute to members of the Jewish community in attendance as he
noted the attack on the Jewish Center. The Ileto family was seated on the front row but were among
scant AAPI in attendance. The governor referred to them only toward the end of his remarks.
“By the way, the Ileto family is here,” Joseph’s younger brother Ismael remembered Davis’s
afterthought “as people were starting to walk out,” Kwoh said in his article.
The name of Joseph Ileto, the only one who was killed in the Aug. 10 rampage, did not merit mention by
the governor, adding insult to injury upon the Iletos.
Joseph’s mother Lillian expressed humiliation and said she hoped there were no Filipinos around to
know Joseph was not recognized. Ismael bristled. “You shouldn’t be embarrassed, you should be
enraged,” Ismael responded to his mother. Equally offended, his wife Deena pressed: “Why are they
oblivious to us when we are sitting right in front of them?”
Davis, of course, would be recalled by voters in 2003.
The Iletos, on the other hand, awakened to an advocacy. They have been speaking at events to raise
awareness of gun violence and its effects on the entire family.
“In my experience I don’t think we’ve moved farther down the line,” Ismael minced no words at the
UCLA Luskin Center where he sat on a panel with experts discussing the history of American gun culture
and its lethal consequences on racial tension.
“We need more involved people to change laws. We can march and march but nothing will change until
we change the ones who effect the law,” he said in 2020.
“ It always boils down to — like this year, election year. I think whoever has relatives in other states,
that we can change the makeup of Congress when we only see the change in gun laws. Otherwise, it will
be the same thing over and over again. We will still have these mass shootings, and nothing will be done
about the mental health care and these effects that are part of the mass shootings we have in
the US, that's my feeling. I think we can do all the marches we want, the analysis we want, and like the
keynote speakers said, understanding how the Second Amendment came about, and changing the
views of how a Second Amendment should be, or should be practiced, is the only way we will change
The Iletos know full well the effects of hate-motivated crimes on a loved one. They’ve lost two
members of the family as a consequence of the murder of their “kuya” or older brother, Ismael shared
at the UCLA forum, where he was introduced as a co-founder of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
Grief overcame a sister to the point where she took her life, he disclosed, his grief palpable even as he
calmly spoke of an often unseen impact of hate crimes – its toll on the mental wellness of the family of
Kwoh’s story posted in August on the 23 rd anniversary of Joseph’s murder reiterates the sorrow, regret
and longing harbored by Joseph’s family and how they have been transformed by the tragedy.
“We never even got the chance to say goodbye,” Joseph’s younger brother told Kwoh. “I want to tell
him that we miss his company and I hope he can see that we’re doing our best to honor his name. I
want people to remember my brother Joseph not just as a hate crime victim, but for what his name
stands for: J.O.S.E.P.H.I.L.E.T.O. Join Our Struggle; Educate and Prevent Hate; Instill Love, Equality and
Tolerance for Others.”
Kwoh says the killing of Ileto and victims of hate crime “helped raise the nation’s consciousness
regarding hate violence,” leading to the proposal of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1999 intended to
increase “federal resources to address the problems of hate crimes.” But the proposed legislation
stalled after the first deadliest foreign terrorist attacks on US soil in New York and Pennsylvania, which
refueled race hatred, this time for people of same or similar origin as the assailants.
Philippine News Today was unable to reach Ismael Ileto or Kwoh at press time, but Kwoh in the recent
article says the Iletos continue to speak out against all forms of hatred and responsible gun control.
Kwoh highlights the Joseph Ileto Hate Crimes Prevention Fellowship established by the Asian Pacific
American Legal Center of Southern California as “a memorial for Joseph by advancing education and
advocacy around the issue of hate crimes and strengthening intercommunity networks as a means of
preventing hate crimes.” They have worked with the Filipino Civil Rights Advocates, known as FILCRA,
toward the same goal.
(To be concluded)
Think deeply about Joseph Ileto
JOSEPH ILETO suffered a tragic fate 23 years ago in Southern California just like Fermin Tobera 69 years earlier in Central California. The racist anti-immigrant that triggered the shooting deaths of the two Filipino Americans has escalated in the past two years with the hate crime wave against Asian American and Pacific Islanders.
But now there’s a concerted movement to fight back.
When vitriol-filled anti-Asian rhetoric and race-motivated attacks surged along with coronavirus fatalities in 2020, AAPIs, infamous for our fatalism and docility, mobilized, organized, spoke up and started collaborating with elected officials to develop legislation to address the issue and stop it.
Foremost among organizations born from strife to protect our community is the coalition Stop AAPI Hate. Formed on March 19, 2020, web-based Stop AAPI Hate unites the AAPI Equity Alliance, Chinese for Affirmative Action and the Asian American Studies Department of San Francisco State University.
Last May – Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – President Joe Biden signed the COVID Hate Crimes Act authored by New York Rep. Grace Meng and Hawaii US Sen. Mazie Hirono – both AAPI and Democrats.
Stop AAPI Hate hailed the legislation for opening up “community-centered solutions and provisions to mitigate anti-Asian rhetoric” but cautioned that it does not address the “root causes of systemic racism and oppression.”
“Because the Act centers criminal law enforcement agencies in its solutions, it will not address the overwhelming majority of incidents reported to our site which are not hate crimes, but serious hate incidents,” the coalition said in a statement.
Stop AAPI Hate issued the following recommendations for the federal government to fully support AAPIs and effectively prevent hate acts:
- Focus resources to local communities covering safety programs and in-language support for mental health, legal and immigration services;
- Vigorously fund community-based organization that often are first responders to hate incidences, thus forging a robust civil rights framework;
- Amplify stories through ethnic studies and education, and
- Fortify federal civil rights laws addressing discrimination in public accommodations particularly those frequented for common needs by target populations.
In December the coalition released its latest report with analysis of over 11,000 hate acts against AAPIs:
- Verbal harassment (63%) tops all incidences.
- Physical assault (16.2%) and intentional shunning of AAPIs (16.1%) ranked second and third most committed.
- Nearly half (48.7%) of all hate incidents happened in public spaces — in public streets (31.2%), public transit (8.4%), and public parks (8.0%).
- Hate incidents reported by women (61.8%) tops all reports.
- Reports included for the first time the report data from non-binary AAPI respondents. T hey experience more deliberate avoidance or shunning (21.4%), being coughed at or spat on (13.9%), denial of service (8.3%) and online harassment (12.1%) than AAPI women and men.
- Civil rights violations such workplace discrimination, refusal of service, being barred from transportation, and housing-related discrimination compose — 11.5% of total incidents.
- Of all groups, Filipinos (8.9%) were third most reporting hate encounters after Chinese Americans who experienced the most hate incidents (42.8%) followed by Koreans (16.1%). Filipinos were followed by Japanese (8.2%), and Vietnamese Americans (8.0%).
Elected officials got the message.
California Governor Gavin Newsom last year signed the API Equity Budget investing $166.5 million over 3 years in the state’s AAPI population. Funding will go to resources responding to AAPI hate and closing racial inequities besetting APIs for decades. Among the recipients is Oakland-based Filipino Advocates for Justice, which received $225,000 to respond to the escalated attacks with mental health and trauma healing. (Philippine News Today leads a coalition of FilAm media outlets awarded $100,000 to raise awareness of and how to respond to hate-motivated incidents.)
Geraldine Alcid, executive director of the 49-year-old nonprofit FAJ told Upside: “The impacts of the pandemic and increased incidents of anti-Asian violence have greatly affected the mental health of our community members. From our youth to our elders, there has been an unprecedented need for support to address stress, anxiety, depression and other feelings of uncertainty we are coping with and the trauma we are holding.”
Last month Newsom signed two bills sponsored by Stop AAPI Hate:
* SB1161, the Increasing Safety for Public Transit Riders Bill, creates a survey tool to study the impact of harassment on public transit riders – who are mostly from communities targeted by bigot, and
* AB2448 or the Expanding Civil Rights Protections at Businesses Bill will establish a program that motivates businesses to create safe and welcoming environments free from discrimination and harassment of customers.
It took elected AAPI state legislators to think up the innovative recourse to address AAPI hate: State Sen. David Min authored SB1161 and Assembly Member Phil Ting authored AB 2448.
ANTI-GUN VIOLENCE MOVE
In a directly unrelated but nevertheless consequential development, political and civic leaders of San Mateo County – where Filipinos and Chinese dominate populations of color – launched an initiative to remove guns from individuals banned from owning or possessing firearms.
The new San Mateo County Gun Violence Prevention Program received a pledge of $2 million for the next two years from the County Board of Supervisors. Funding comes from Measure K half-cent sales tax.
Implementation begins with the pilot program in the County seat of Redwood City and South San Francisco involving two strategies. The first eases processes for application and obtaining restraining orders under the purview of San Mateo County Superior Court. The second strategy removes firearms led by the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force overseen by the Office of the District Attorney in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, according to the County announcement.
Individuals barred from possessing firearms comprise “felons, convicted stalkers, individuals with active domestic violence, gun violence and other civil restraining orders against them,” and individuals on probation on the condition by a court order not to possess firearms. Not least forbidden from possessing firearms are individuals convicted of hate crimes.
“The new program will included expanded training for law enforcement to “improve communication and efficiencies among involved parties, and educate the public about applicable laws,” said the announcement.
Supervisors Don Horsley and Dave Pine joined DA Steve Wagstaffe in touting the program as critical in filling a gap that exists because the “criminal justice system does not have the resources to pursue specific cases.”
Collaboration truly is key and everyone must take part in protecting our community. But first each of us must empower ourselves by learning about our country’s history as well as our history in this country to recognize and honor the struggle our ancestors endured for us to live in freedom to enjoy civil rights today. Understanding the beginnings of this nation is the only way we can undo the effects of its sordid past to prevent it from recurring and hurting us.
To paraphrase Ismael Ileto, the man who lost a beloved brother and role model to a hatemonger, let’s use our ballot to fight back and reject those who employ racist rhetoric to trigger conflict, effect division and abet the use of gun violence to express disdain for people who came here from unfamiliar parts of the planet. Our power is in our ballot: Let’s use it to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.
(Cherie M. Querol Moreno is Executive Editor of Philippine News Today. In 2003, she founded ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment, an all-volunteer nonprofit providing community education to prevent abuse by promoting healthy relationships through shared resources from allies.)