CHICAGO – Billy Dec may look European but he is proud of his Filipino roots.
He wore a barong Tagalog (Filipino formal wear) and buri (Philippine palm) hat at his meet-and-greet event on May 31 following his appointment as adviser to President Obama’s White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ commission, a federal interagency working group.
His mother Celia Bumanlag, a former flight attendant, is a native of Vigan, Ilocos Sur. His father Bill, with European roots, was a real estate businessman.
“I have no political aspirations,” the former nightclub bouncer said, adding that he only wanted to help the underserved Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) communities of about 18.5 million.
The 41-year-old lawyer said he accepted the no-salary (but with travel allowances under the US Department of Education), two-year term as one of 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 AAPIs.
“I did not expect this appointment but I wanted it. And I made my desires known about it years ago and am excited that I can help Asian Americans.”
Asked about how he was chosen for the position, the founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, a hospitality and entertainment development company in Chicago since 2002, said “because of the diversity where I live, my job, my passions for working and speaking in Filipino-American engagements and fund-raisers.”
“I am humbled by the appointment,” he added.
Dec said among the initiatives closest to his heart is education among AAPIs. There is a lack of English language proficiency among Asians, and school bullying is also a challenge, he said. He wants to address these issues through videos, radios, TV and social media.
Inspires Fil-Ams to dream
“I am proud to be a Filipino American” and by addressing such issues, “I can show young Fil-Ams that everything (including the American Dream) is possible through hard work, real active work and initiative.”
“And of course, I also have a passion for immigration,” said Dec, who opened his first restaurant Solo while pursuing his law studies. “Part of my family is left behind in the Philippines. Filipinos have the longest wait time, over 15 or 20 years before they could get their visas. The challenges of Filipino immigrants are important... it happened to me and it is still happening. The amount Fil-Ams contribute to the economy is staggering. They contribute to the success of the national economy and yet they have less access to federal programs and other initiatives that support businesses.”
He said AAPIs provide $19 billion to AAPI-owned small businesses through 27,000 loans.
Dec helped raise more than $45,500 for the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda during a luncheon organized by then Philippine Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim in his Sunda restaurant in downtown Chicago.
Dec just returned from Tacloban and Roxas cities, where he had a first-hand look at the situations after Yolanda.
He is getting the word out that some Visayan areas, particularly “Roxas City, where I have relatives, still need help, not just Tacloban City.” He encouraged Filipinos and the international communities 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.”
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 to keep pushing for their concerns.”
In 2009, Dec won the Midwest Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement for Entertainment Programs for Television (Broadcast/Advanced Media). He was also awarded as Filipino American TV Asian American Hall of Fame Award by Via Times and Philippine Reports TV.
He graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law in 2010 and passed the bar on the first try, although he does not actively practice law.