Pinoy Food for the Soul is a series on Filipino Kitchen where we interview people who love Filipino food and ask them to share a memory with us.
Billy Dec is the CEO and Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, a Chicago-based hospitality group that includes Sunda Restaurant, Rockit Bar & Grill, Underground, Bottlefork, Rockit Burger Bar and ¡AY CHIWOWA! Dec is an Emmy-award winning entertainment TV personality, an attorney and a weekly on-air contributor on ABC-TV’s “Windy City Live” and on 103.5 KISS FM radio. Most recently, Dec was appointed by President Obama to serve on his White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Dec invited us to review Sunda's Filipino American History Month menu and graciously agreed to an interview via email about his work for Filipino and Asian Americans, and his love for Filipino food.
Filipino Kitchen: Before coming to Sunda this week, the last time I had visited was to attend the fundraiser for the recovery for Typhoon Haiyan. I read your entry on the White House blog that you'd been back to the Philippines recently to Tacloban and areas close by. Are there any updates you can share on recovery since that June blog entry?
Billy Dec: I’ve had many speaking engagements where I’ve shared my stories of building houses with my own hands for the homeless with Gawad Kalinga and it’s been really exciting to see how many people have shown interest in doing so themselves and to actually hear how trips are being booked to visit and help in that area in the months to come! I fly to the Philippines again in January where I will be seeking updates from both USAID [US Agency for International Development] & GK, and am very excited to report back.
Filipino Kitchen: We Fil-Ams (no matter where our familial ties run exactly) were so devastated last November. So many wanted to help and many of us are still concerned, since, as you mentioned, millions of affected survivors still need help almost a year later. (For example there's this event next week.) What do you think are the best ways for us Fil-Ams to continue to help our Filipinos at home?
Billy Dec: Keep up the efforts to create and support events to raise money! If donating isn't a possibility, it could just mean volunteering in any capacity, spreading the word and just getting involved in some way. It keeps the community connected and our issues, initiatives and needs top of mind. It’s just important to keep the ongoing struggle of all in those Typhoon hit areas in people’s minds. Speaking of, here is a link to a fundraising effort I started a while ago, which is still live and capable of helping, so feel free to donate or share!
Filipino Kitchen: What are we doing locally to help get the word out about the DACA program [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] and help qualified young people apply? Are there any specific hurdles we need to address in Chicago that you found out about at your roundtable?
Billy Dec: First of all I think it’s great that people like you are taking the opportunity to create your own platforms like this to celebrate the community, bring all together, and assist where we can, so let me use it as well to share some of that information you are talking about.
As a Commissioner on the White House Initiative for Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), I am happy to announce we have been working closely with USCIS/DHS in order to ensure that more AAPIs [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] understand and can enroll in DACA, specifically high undocumented communities such as Filipinos, who are notably under-enrolled in the program. We’ve worked with USCIS to hold DACA information sessions in counties with high DACA eligible populations, including, Seattle, Houston, NYC, Los Angeles, and of course, Chicago. We have another slate of DACA outreach engagements in 2015 planned as well. USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] and WHIAAPI are working together to disseminate Tagalog materials so that older Filipinos can understand the program. We’re working with national and regional AAPI organizations [like Asian Americans Advancing Justice] to ensure their DACA materials are disseminated as well. See AAAJ [Asian Americans Advancing Justice] DACA videos.
Through the WHIAAPI E3 Ambassadors program, which enlists young AAPIs to engage on education, mental health, and DACA issues, we will work with dozens of young ambassadors to conduct youth-to-youth outreach on the DACA program – since it is well documented that young high school and college students respond better to engagement from their own peers on these issues.
In 2015, we hope to engage ethnic media with conference calls, social media events, and public service announcements about the President’s executive action and DACA.
Filipino Kitchen: It's clear that you love Filipino food by giving it such a wonderful stage as Sunda to be appreciated by Filipinos and your patrons of every background. We were wondering what your favorite memory of Filipino food is?
Billy Dec: It's ALWAYS roasting a pig at an aunt's home in the Philippines with my entire extended Filipino family. It’s all about tradition in the way in which it is so carefully cared for and prepared and all about family from near and far joining us when we visit. It means the world and it’s equally great, I must say, when I have gatherings at my own home in Chicago with a roast pig as well bringing family and friends over from near and far. It’s an amazing celebratory bonding opportunity that I love.