John Eric Swing, a Filipino American community builder, dies at 48

John Leland, The New York Times

Posted at Aug 04 2020 12:48 PM

An undated photo provided by the nonprofit Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, or SIPA, shows the organization's executive director, John Eric Swing. One of the important community activists in Los Angeles, Swing contracted the novel coronavirus and died on June 28, 2020, in a hospital in Fountain Valley, California. He was 48. Search to Involve Pilipino Americans via The New York Times

(Those We've Lost)

When Food & Wine magazine declared last year that “Historic Filipinotown is LA’s Next Great Dining Neighborhood,” an unseen player in this rise was neither a chef nor a restaurateur.

John Eric Swing spent the last five years helping restaurants and other small businesses in the community through a nonprofit called Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, or SIPA. In April, he became the organization’s executive director.

“John basically got me started,” said Justin Foronda, a registered nurse who in 2017 decided he wanted to start a restaurant. “I didn’t know anything about finance or running a business. But I’m passionate about my neighborhood and passionate about food. He was a master connector. Any question you asked, the answer was always ‘Yes.’ ”

After Foronda opened HiFi Kitchen in February, he had at least one stream of steady customers: Swing’s weekly entrepreneurship class.

Swing got to enjoy the restaurant, and to see a protégé turn a dream into a working business, before the pandemic surged in Los Angeles. He contracted the coronavirus and died June 28 in a hospital in Fountain Valley, California. The immediate cause was pneumonia and an ischemic stroke, according to a statement from his family. He was 48.

An online memorial for Swing drew speakers including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and filmmaker Ava DuVernay.

“We’ve lost a community builder, at a time when we need community builders,” said City Council member Mitch O’Farrell. The council adjourned for a day in honor of Swing.

“He was such a bright presence, full of optimism. I wouldn’t even know what his face would look like not smiling,” O’Farrell said.

Swing was born in Los Angeles on May 2, 1972, the oldest of three children of Filipino immigrants. His father, Ellis D. Swing, is a political consultant and businessman; his mother, Aurora S. Swing, is a retired clinical laboratory scientist.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies from the University of California, Riverside, in 1995, and spent six years in the Marine Corps Reserves, serving as a personnel and administrative clerk, the family said.

After a stint as a probation corrections officer in Riverside County, he worked as an education and health consultant for programs in Costa Rica, Vietnam and the Philippines. Returning to Los Angeles, he worked at several Filipino American cultural and business organizations before joining SIPA.

Along with his parents, he is survived by his wife, Ellen Rodriguez-Swing, children Zachary, Joshua, Chloe and Mackenzie, stepchildren Sasha and Nicco, sister Karen Bromley and brother PJ Swing.

He died with plans unrealized, including a workshop to address anti-Black stereotypes among Filipinos. He also took part in community efforts, like a nearly $500,000 project, led by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, to build a gateway arch and columns marking the entrance to Historic Filipinotown, which crosses the neighborhoods of Echo Park and Silver Lake.

Next up was a plan to redevelop SIPA’s headquarters to include 64 units of affordable housing. Its small-business center will bear Swing’s name.

“He always said he believed he worked in the culture of changing lives,” said Jessica del Mundo, executive secretary of the board at SIPA. “That to him was what the nonprofit world meant. It wasn’t just about uplifting Filipinos.”

c.2020 The New York Times Company