Timepiece: Delivering a Message

From the personal archives of Korean America

Joseph Ileto used to carry around this bag while making his mail rounds in neighborhoods throughout the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. Today it sits in a room in his younger brother Ismael’s house in Chino Hills—and the only letters it carries are ones of sympathy that the Ileto family received after Joseph was killed in a hate crime attack 11 years ago. Although many may remember white supremacist Buford O. Furrow’s infamous shooting spree at the North Valley Jewish Community Center on August 10, 1999, when he wounded three children, a teenager and a grandmother, sadly, too many tend to forget that the only person he killed that day was Joseph Ileto. An hour after leaving the community center, Furrow confronted Ileto, who was delivering mail in Chatsworth, and shot him nine times. The killer would later tell authorities he gunned down the 39-year-old Filipino American, whom he mistook as Chinese, because he was nonwhite and worked for the government. Since the tragedy, Ismael and his family have traveled the country speaking out against hate crimes. As difficult as it is talking about such a painful loss, Ismael says what motivates him is the second injustice that followed his brother’s killing: Too many, including elected officials and the mainstream media, forgot the lone Asian American hate crime victim.

“One of the incidents that really galvanized my wife and I to go out and share our story was 17 days after my brother was gunned down, when [then] Gov. [Gray] Davis was signing five gun control bills. My family and I were invited to this event. During the press conference, several times, [officials] said that if these gun laws were in place, it would have prevented the shooting at the Jewish American community center, period. Nothing about my brother. Afterwards, my mom lowered her head and said, ‘I am so embarrassed. I hope there were no Filipinos that witnessed this.’ My wife and I said, ‘Mom, [the public officials] should be the ones who were remembering us. We’re the only ones who got killed!’ From that moment on, we decided to make sure that people know the facts, know what happened.”
—Ismael Ileto

Photograph by Eric Sueyoshi