CHICAGO (JGL) – Billy Dec may look European but by wearing a Barong Filipino (Filipino formal wear) and Buri (Philippine Palm) hat at his meet-and-greet event on May 31 following his appointment as Advisor to President Obama’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ commission, a Federal Interagency Working Group, spoke volumes that he only wants to help the underserved Asian American and Pacific Islanders (18.5-million).
“I have no political aspirations,” the former nightclub bouncer told this reporter and photojournalist, Marlon L. Pecson. “I only wanted to help the (Asian) communities. If that’s what the people want, I am very happy with the position right now that I can sit with you and President Obama.”
A 41-year-old attorney, Dec said he accepted the no-salary (but with travel allowances under the U.S. Department of Education), two-year term appointment as one of the 14 presidential advisors last April because he believes there are a lot more things to do on the initiatives that his commission aspires to accomplish – civil rights, economic growth, education, health, immigration, data disaggregation, language access, federal workforce diversity, technical assistance and capacity building – to improve the lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI’s).
“I did not expect this appointment but I wanted it. And I made my desires known about it years ago and excited about it that I can devote my help to Asian Americans.”
When asked how he was singled for the appointment, the Chicago, Illinois-born and raised CEO and Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, a hospitality and entertainment development company in Chicago since 2002, said maybe “because of the diversity where I live, my job, my passions for working and speaking in the Filipino American engagements, fund-raising; my first time when I had contact with the White House, traded contacts with the commission over the course of the decade; my contact with the social media, the community in China town but I am humbled by the appointment.”
The son of Philippine-born Celia Bumanlag, a former flight stewardess and native of Vigan, Ilocus Sur and late Bill Dec, a real estate businessman, Dec said among the initiatives closest to his heart is education among AAPI’s. There is an interesting amount of lack of English language proficiency among Asians and the challenge of school bullying, he said. He wants to address these issues before the public thru videos, radios, TV’s and the social media.
INSPIRES FIL AMS TO DREAM
“I am proud to be a Filipino American,” and by addressing such issues, he said, “I can show the way to young Fil Ams that everything (including the American Dream) is possible thru hard work, real active work and initiative to better those programs.
“And of course, I have passion for immigration,” Dec, who named his first and solely owned restaurant, “Solo,” while pursuing his law studies, said. “Part of my family is left behind in the Philippines. I have cousins half here and half there. Filipinos have the longest wait time over 15- or 20 years before they could get their (Green card) visas. The challenges of Filipino immigrants are important because it happened to me and they are happening. The amount of Fil Ams contribute to the economy is staggering (AAPI’s provide $19-B to AAPI-owned small businesses thru 27,000 loans.). They contribute to the success of the national economy and yet they have less access to Federal programs and other initiatives that support businesses as well.”
When asked about calls for President Obama to support the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for Filipinos, who could not be deported following the devastation of the super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), Dec, who helped raise more than $45,500 for the victims of Yolanda a week after Yolanda’s landfall in his Sunda restaurant on 110 West Illinois St. in downtown Chicago during a luncheon organized by then Philippine Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim, said he “will take the concern to those handling this TPS and help you in touch with one of the senior advisers to the White House, who can get in touch with you. In fact, he is here today and I will introduce him you.”
Right now, Dec is also busy getting the word out that some Visayan areas, particularly “Roxas City, where I have relatives, still need help, not just Tacloban City.” Dec just came from Tacloban and Roxas cities, where he had a first-hand look of the situations after Yolanda.
He encouraged Filipinos and the international communities and the Philippine government to extend their help to Yolanda victims by “first helping people on the ground, provide volunteer work like what Gawad Kalinga is doing and help rebuild the community.”
PHILIPPINE WESTERN (SOUTH CHINA) SEA ISSUE
On the civil rights issue, when asked if he could bring the matter of China’s aggressive bullying of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries in South China Sea (Philippine Western Sea) instead of peaceful settlement of the dispute thru international arbitration, Dec said although “I only have a very short time involved in the Commission, I would try my best to bring this matter up to the Commission and perhaps to the President.”
He encouraged Fil Ams and Asian Americans to get in touch with the Commission (www.whitehouse.gov/aapi) to bring their perspectives so the “President (Obama) will be empowered and aware and definitely continue to keep on pushing for their concerns and help them.”
At the meet-and-greet event at Sunda, an old friend and fellow Filipino American Rudy Pamintuan warmed up the packed restaurant crowd and introduced Dec, saying when he was also appointed as a White House advisor ten years ago, Billy was one of those in the audience and he was honored by Billy’s presence.
Billy told the crowd when he was appointed as Advisor, he said two things come up: “Your appointment sounds fantastic. What is it that you do? And you don’t even look Asian.”
He said, “I am an Asian American. My Mom came from the Philippines, too young with nothing and all alone but hard work. What shall I say? Born and raised in Chicago my father is a European, white, I help take care (of my fellows), lot of Filipino food 24/7; half Filipino, I look like my cousin; worked a lot at a place in Chinatown; father (Bill, a real estate developer, who had bi-polar disorder) and brother (Anthony, who also had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) passed away early; took of from Mom, (attended) Harvard (Business School), became an attorney but not working as attorney.
Started on TV, with Linda Yu (WLS-Channel 7), growing up meeting many people, live with them, opened restaurants with cousin as Executive Chef Jesse de Guzman; speaking of this place growing up in America may not be comfortable; dream came true, and was able to pursue my passion, traveling to Japan, Vietnam and Thailand (and other countries) bring customs and food to Chicago.”
In 2009, Dec won Midwest Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement for Entertainment Programs for Television (Broadcast/Advanced Media), graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law school in 2010 and passed the bar at the first try and became an awardee as Filipino American TV Asian American Hall of Fame Award by Via Times and Philippine Reports TV.
Dec, who entertained such A-listers at Rockit or Le Passage (his another nightclub), including Michael Jordan, Isaiah Thomas, Billy Corgan, Johnny Damon, Seth Myers, “Friends” star David Schwimmer, Mark Prior and Jude Law, is said to be in mold of Sherman Billingsley, “owner of the legendary Stork Club in 1920’s Manhattan, who sent mailers to homes of Hollywood movie stars, hoping they drop in the next time they came to town aboard the New York Central. Billingsley never allowed a journalist to pay for a drink – a practice that paid off when gossip columnist Walter Winchell plugged it as “New York’s New Yorkiest place on W. 58th” as business boomed,” according to Chicago Tribune’s Lucinda Hahn.
PHOTO 1: IN BARONG FILIPINO AND BURI (PALM LEAF) HAT – Attorney Billy Dec proudly wears his Barong Filipino (Filipino national formal wear) and a Buri (Philippine Palm leaf) hat. (JGLPhoto by Marlon L. Pecson)
PHOTO 2: WITH MEDIA – Attorney Billy Dec (center) poses with reporter Joseph G. Lariosa (left) and photojournalist Marlon L. Pecson(JGLPhoto)
PHOTO 3: WITH FILIPINO CONSUL – Attorney Billy Dec (extreme left) works the crowd who were on hand to meet-and-greet and hear him say few words on May 31 at his Sunda restaurant at 110 West Illinois St. at downtown Chicago, Illinois following his appointment as one of the 14 advisors to President Obama’s Initiative to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI’s). Photo shows Filipino American Julien Ann Baburka (center), Policy Advisor to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, and Philippine Vice Consul Alena Grace S. Borra. (JGLPhoto by Marlon L. Pecson)