By: Elaine Lehman
2019 marks the 45th anniversary of the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago at Rizal Community Center. As we continue to welcome old and new community, I am heartened to see that we are moving in the proper spirit, much aligned with vision of the organization’s early leadership who acknowledged the changing constituency of the Filipino American community and sought to erase the “deterrent… of Unification.”
It is disturbingly ironic that a small group of individuals led by Jerry Clarito, a self-described activist, is attempting to take over the FACC and restrict membership. Arcadio “Jun” Joaquin, who represents this group in an ongoing lawsuit, told the judge he wanted to present “a legal issue…” his clients want to keep the FACC “membership open only to Filipinos”. The judge responded it was not a legal issue. She lectured him on the purpose of mediation and about the need to look forward and not dwell on the past.
Clarito and his group’s actions merit ethical appraisal. They are are using the same demagoguery and obfuscation tactics used to enforce racial segregation – to keep Asians including Filipinos, other immigrants out of this country, from jobs, from neighborhoods, from marrying – to keep others out of our FACC and Rizal Community Center. Carmen Estacio, an employee of the Illinois Secretary of State, and Jerry Clarito, a co-founder and former executive director of AFIRE, a nonprofit advocacy organization, should be cognizant that discrimination by tax-exempt organizations in a racial and national origin context will lead to the revocation of a charitable organization’s tax-exempt status because racial and national origin has been held to violate public policy.
In 1998, the FACC was recognized by the IRS with 501c3 status, which is grounded on charity law and exemption. The FACC is a public charity, public benefit organization, and public accommodation.
Contrary to Jerry Clarito and Mae Lant’s argument that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is subject to interpretation, discrimination is illegal if the discrimination is explicitly prohibited by law. When this occurs, the law creates a protected class. Examples of protected classes under federal law include the following: Race; National origin; Sex; Color; Religion; Disability; Age; Pregnancy; Familial status; Genetic information.
Freedom of association for a bonafide private social club, recognized by 501c7 status, is not absolute. The club is prohibited from having written provision that provides for discrimination against any person on the basis of race, color, or religion. The club is prohibited from holding itself out as providing goods and services to the general public.
Our Filipino American community can no longer afford to stand idly by: It is vitally important for us to become aware of the dangerous troubling trend of redneck racism and discrimination that has encroached our nation – and our community.
To live in the United States of America, to be American means facing these issues head on – whether we like it or not. Especially at a time when the country is struggling with racial injustice, our community cannot ignore that individuals claiming to be acting in the best interest of the community and the FACC, people like Jerry Clarito – once lauded as a representative of the Filipino American community of Illinois in the struggle for social justice” and for “engaging Filipino Americans to learn and act together in addressing the root causes of inequalities, racism” – use their bully pulpit and yellow FilAm publications like Philamessenger, Megascene, and Pinoy Magazine and tabloidists like Don Azarias, Joseph Lariosa, and Mariano Santos – to denigrate, divide, and disinform. To degrade the dignity of the Filipino and Filipino American.
Equal rights is not a zero sum proposition. The Filipino American community and its leadership have been at the forefront for the civil rights and equality here in the United States, taking the critically vital position that the rights for Filipinos and Filipino Americans cannot be achieved if we do not fight for and protect the rights of all.
Over the last several years disruption and splintering impacted community alliances and organizations, including the FACC. We Filipinos and Filipino Americans have too often taken a “circle the wagons” approach which violates the spirit and the intent of what our early FilAm leaders sought to exemplify in an earlier generation.
My conversations with numerous young people reveal a consistent frustration that the FilAm leadership seems out of step with our community’s evolving presence. These young people embrace their Filipino American identities because it endows them with the pride and responsibility to protect the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all, in serving our community.
I do hope that the Filipino American community will make every effort to inform Jerry Clarito and his group of their obligation to accept and protect not only the rights of Filipinos but of every individual -regardless of race and national origin – who is being targeted as the Other. We must recognize our shared responsibility and appeal to our highest faculties. Do not allow those with small minds and hearts to lower them.
We Filipinos and Filipino Americans are made more strong by what unites us with our broader community than what divides us and it is the obligation of our leadership to make that unifying idea resound as clear as we can – from here to the 7,107 islands of our affection. This is why I chose to do the work I am doing with the Filipino American Council of Greater Chicago: To honor our early leaders in helping our community move from the past forward in the proper spirit.