On Global Filipinos: Lessons learned at a book signing in Chicago  

The author holds a book signing at the Rizal Center Chicago. She is shown here with community leaders  Jerry Clarito and Cynthia ‘Cindy’ Flores.

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

Since my memoir “Why Should Guys Have All the Fun? An Asian American Story of Love, Marriage, Motherhood and Running a Billion Dollar Empire”was launched in March, 2023 in time for the Women’s History Month, I have been receiving invitations to do book signing/interviews in various cities where FilAms are numerous and influential.

One of my recent tours was in Chicago where I have many FilAm friends and colleagues.

I was invited by two groups: One, the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago (FACGC) led by its chairman Jerry Clarito, held at the Rizal Community Center; and  two, by Mariano “Anong” Santos, publisher of Pinoy Magazine, who hosted our event at the Skokie Library.

It was during the launch at the Rizal Center that I learned the whole story of the five-year litigation brought by the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago (FACGC) headed by Jerry. 

They sued to recover the physical possession of the Rizal Center from the illegal usurpation of the center, in February 2017 by another FACGC faction  under now-deceased chairman, Alexander  Gonzales, and its self-appointed executive director Elaine and her  husband Ari Lehman.

It took five years of litigation.  Finally in August 19, 2022 exactly one year ago, the Circuit Court of Cook County Illinois Judge Clare J. Quish rendered the final decision.

Those five years — from January 12, 2017 to August 19, 2022 — were expensive. Both plaintiffs’ and defendants’ legal expenses totaled more than $100,000. Jerry and friends raised funds among the members of the board and sympathizers within and outside Chicago, while Elaine Lehman used the FACGC corporation funds “without authority”.

In the end, after five days of hearings, Judge Quish ruled that “Lehman was not validly appointed as executive director of the FACGC, all actions taken by Lehman and the Gonzales factions from January 17, 2017 to the present were invalid…(Jerry) Clarito faction is the true and legitimate Board of Directors of the FACGC.”

In addition, Judge Quish mandated a permanent injunction against Lehman from using FACGC funds for her personal use, and for her and her bogus Board of Directors to return $30,560 to FACGC’s funds. The judge also ordered Lehman to pay FACGC $75,420 for use of the Rizal Center as her residence in the past five years without paying rent.

When I arrived in April 2023 at the Rizal Center for my book event, I was welcomed by board members and volunteers in beautiful Filipiniana attire. The auditorium looked clean, bright and well decorated.

The Rizal Center In Chicago (top) celebrating its 50 years since it was established by the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago (FACGC), an organization founded in 1953, or 70 years ago.

Jerry told me that the directors and many community members donated and volunteered from the time they recovered possession of the center in September 2022 because it was in total disrepair.

Special mention to Cynthia ‘Cindy’ Flores who organized the book launch with the cooperation of the officers and board Members of the FACGC. She planned the entire event, issued invitations to guests, and solicited refreshments. Emcee Rose Tibayan and Rowena Luna surprised me with box of butterflies, Larry Leopoldo is the volunteer carpenter who, with other volunteers, restored and painted the Maharlika Hall.

My St. Theresa’s College  classmate Dr. Josefina Opeña Disterhoft and Dr. Isabel Juan (both PhD degree holders) manned the selling of the book that evening. Isabel was generous to invite me to stay in her lovely apartment in Chicago.

The next day, as organized by Pinoy Newspaper publisher Mariano “Anong” Santos, we went to the beautiful and modern Skokie Library. It was filled with FilAm residents in Skokie including a pastor who led the invocation and Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen  who gave the welcome remarks. Megascene publisher Yoly Tubalinal and her husband Bart Tubalinal, NaFFAA leader Jelly Carandang, Almira Astudillo Giles, PhD of UP Marine Research volunteered to drive us to other venues where many waited to buy my book.

In the evening of the second day, Cynthia   Flores of the Federation of the Philippine American Chambers of Commerce invited Dr. Isabel and me to a gala affair of the Chinese Mutual AID Association (CMMA), a nonprofit serving Asian Americans especially low-income immigrants. It is led by its FilAm Executive Director Dennis Mondero, Esq. 

During the program, successful FilAm lawyer, Aurora Abella-Austriaco, who was the overall  chairperson of the event, introduced me as the author of “Why Should Guys Have All the Fun?” to more than a thousand attendees.

As I left Chicago for my California book tour with my high school classmate Rocio Casimiro Nuyda as my efficient and eloquent impresario, I reflected on the lessons  learned at the Rizal Center.

FACGC was organized by pioneering Filipinos in Greater Chicago some 70 years ago. In 1974, FACGC bought the building from the Swedish American Singing Group and called it the Rizal Community Center.

One year ago, the legitimate FACGC Board recovered the building under the leadership of Jerry Clarito and the members of his board: Norberto “Bobby” Luna, Corazon Sopena, Rizalina “Sally” Velasco-Richmond, Mae Lant, Carmen Estacio, Malou Tabo, Willi Buhay, and Dennis Cruz. For more information about FACGC, please visit their website at https://www.rizalcenter.org.

The lesson learned in this litigation’s chapter among Filipinos in the diaspora: obey the rule of law, follow the Constitution and the By-Laws of the organization because violation of those governing documents will result in disorder, dysfunctional operations, broken friendships and most of all, expensive litigation.

As the Good Book says, “If at all possible, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

(C) The FilAm 2023

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