Atty. Jose Y. Lauchengco, Jr. is a man with a gentle disposition and a jovial smile.
His kind demeanor belies his formidable reputation, as an esteemed California criminal defense lawyer and as a fierce advocate for Filipino political empowerment.
Atty. Lauchengco remains humble, despite being a multi-awarded lawyer. He insists being addressed as “Joe,” instead of the more formal title,“Attorney Lauchengco.”
With a legal practice spanning over four decades, Atty. Lauchengco is also one of the pioneers of the Browns for Brown movement in California.
In the late 70’s, a time when Filipinos faced tremendous adversity across the professional field, Atty. Lauchengco banded together with some of the most renowned Filipino activists and advocates of the time, to fight for the rights of Filipino professionals.
During that era, he observed that there was no single Filipino holding a middle-ranking or higher position in the civil service sector in California (particularly in the City of Los Angeles) .
The same was the case for the county and state levels.
Among the fields like accountancy, engineering, medicine, and dentistry, Pinoys faced a professional advancement crisis because the regulatory boards governing these fields did not heed the needs of the Filipino professionals in that area.
At one point, Filipinos came close to actually making headway in this struggle. A prominent Filipino veterinarian, Dr. Ted Cornelia, was nominated to the field’s regulatory board.
However, the brilliant doctor did not get the appointment for the post, much to the dismay of Filipinos, especially Lauchengco.
“We gotta do something about it,” Lauchengco remembered telling his colleagues when Cornelia did not get the board posting.
In 1978, Atty. Lauchengco, together with a handful of Filipino-American leaders, joined Asian-American leaders in preparing for the re-election campaign for Gov. Jerry Brown’s second term.
In April 1978, a meeting was held in Century City, where Lauchengco and the Fil-Ams met with Japanese-Americans and Chinese-Americans and other Asian groups. In discussing sensitive issues, Lauchengco discovered that the other Asian communities tended to “pussyfoot” their approach on these topics. However, Lauchengco had a different idea.
“I wanted an aggressive approach to the governor [Brown], but my fellow Asians did not,” Lauchengco lamented.
Understandably, the culturally “polite and tender” Asians did not want to run the risk of rubbing the governor the wrong way.
Lauchengco also knew that the Japanese and the Chinese didn’t want to rock the boat, because they were already in comfortable mid-management and higher positions, unlike Filipinos.
Filipinos, however, did not falter.
Firm in their resolve, Lauchengco and the other esteemed activists like Filipino publisher Alex Esclamado and Dr. Carlos Manlapaz, along with a host of leaders, banded together to form Kagitingan ng Lahi (Integrity of the Race).
The group formed an intensely engaged political activism movement that sought to further the Filipino cause.
It was difficult to get the ball rolling, considering the firm line that divided the pro (South) and anti (North) Marcos factions of California.
In spite of these political leanings, the new organization managed to convince Filipinos to set aside their differences, in pursuit of a common goal for the community.
Upon the advice of Esclamado (an expert in the realm of publishing and public relations), the group re-branded itself to become Browns for Brown. Through astute political skill and a fervent desire to uplift the Filipino life in California, Browns for Brown successfully lobbied for the Filipino cause when Jerry Brown was eventually re-elected as governor.
Many appointments to key professional regulatory bodies were made by Gov. Brown in his second term – most of the appointees Filipino professionals themselves, if not staunch allies of the Fil-Am community.
The floodgates of professional advancement and opportunity, as well as political empowerment, swung open to Filipinos in California. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“We had to put our differences aside,” Lauchengco said, “What are the future generations going to do?”
Struggles of the present
Today, Lauchengco yearns to revive the Filipino political empowerment movement, partly because of the expectation that Brown will run for re-election as governor, and partly because he wants to pave the way for the next generation of Fil-Ams.
“We need to grow politically astute,” Lauchengco says of the Filipino community.
Although bickering and in-fighting are common in Fil-Am circles, the same also goes for other ethnic groups, Lauchengco pointed out.
Because of this, he insists that we should no longer use the petty issues with one another as excuses for our unproductive disunity.
The urgency of this need for unity is further highlighted by the fact that Filipinos (at 1.5 million) are now the most populous Asian American group in California, and the third largest minority group — after African Americans and Hispanics.
Lauchengco opined that the issues Filipinos tackle today, in terms of professional advancement and political empowerment, are no longer comparable to the problems they faced in the 70s.
He emphasized that there is a need for Filipinos to regain the same degree of access to the governor that the activists had in the 70s.
And with the governor’s expected bid for reelection, it is all the more important to rekindle the relationship of the Filipinos with the powerful Gov. Brown.
Lauchengco lauded Philippine Consul General Hellen Barber – De La Vega for her personal advocacy in forging unity between Filipino leaders in Southern California.
And with De La Vega, strongly advocating for the youth’s political and social empowerment, Lauchengco said that now is the perfect time to rekindle the fire of his advocacy.
“I’m pretty sure they’re out there somewhere,” Joe said, thinking about the young leaders that could bring the Filipinos to greater heights.
(LA Midweek June 26, 2013 MDWK pg.2)