WEST COVINA – FilAms were surprised when they heard from Abraham L. Lim, Esq. that Mayor Pro Tem James Toma of the city council here has requested to meet with Filipinos – both residents of the city and those who are doing business in West Covina.
“Perhaps, he wants our support for an election,” was a sentiment echoed by many.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Toma was the top vote getter when he was first elected to the West Covina City Council on Nov. 5, 2013. His term ends in four years.
Council member Toma is only the second Asian in the city council; the other is former West Covina mayor and council member Ben Wong, who left in 2005, after serving for more than a decade but was recently appointed to fill a vacancy.
“I’d like to meet with Filipinos,” clarified Toma, “to find out how I can assist them with whatever concerns they may have, and to inform them of our services.” He talked about how the city supports active and healthy lifestyle by offering a range of recreational activities and facilities. The council man has also invited his new friends to community focus groups that the city conducts to discuss goals.
“Our goal,” he added, “is to enhance the value of fitness and celebrate healthy living; improve existing condition of public open spaces and facilities to encourage use; and acquire, develop, and maintain quality of public open spaces and trails.”
Toma is a deputy attorney general in the Office of the Attorney General, California Dept. of Justice, where he works on consumer protection issues. He graduated from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in Ethics, Politics, and Economics (the first college graduate in his family, he says). He earned his law degree and his master’s degree in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley.
The young deputy has certainly endeared himself to his constituents as they learned more about him.
He and his wife Minerva have chosen to raise their two young children Cruz and Paz in West Covina, for the promise of safe neighborhoods and good schools. He attended public schools and did not plan to go to college until late in high school and despite his late start, his academic achievements led him to ultimately be accepted to Yale University. According to Toma, to make ends meet he “worked as a dishwasher, newspaper deliverer, custodian and dining hall worker.”
His parents, he said, taught him the importance of contributing to the community.
“I believe that working to improve the lives of others is the most important work that can be done,” he stated. He has worked with poor, immigrant families in Los Angeles Skid Row, volunteered as a Big Brother, and recruited students of color from urban high schools for his alma mater, among others. He has volunteered at food bank, toy drives, and raised money for Alzheimer’s research and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. He is a member of the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center, the Japanese American Bar Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, to name a few.
And, he holds a black belt in taekwondo and a brown belt in karate.
Among those who met with Toma, are members of the newly-established Filipino American Chamber of Commerce, Tri-County (Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside): Grace Ordiales-Vaughn, president; Merwynn Montenegro, vice president; Ricky Villacisneros and Ian Ejan, secretaries; Mila Castaneda, auditor; and new member Josephine Basilio, marketing director of Pasalubong.com. (Treasurer Naomi Concepcion was out of town.)
The recent dialogue with the West Covina official was organized by Abraham L. Lim, Esq., who specializes in US Immigration Law as well as cases in criminal defense, personal injury, family law and California franchise law. A Filipino-Chinese American, Lim is bi-lingual but conversational in Mandarin, Fukien and Spanish. He serves as the legal counsel for the newly-formed chamber of commerce.
Because of their experience organizing the Filipino American Chamber of Commerce- Greater Los Angeles, Noel Omega and his wife Mary Ann, both president emeritus of the FACC-GLA, were also invited and they have since become advisers of the new chamber of commerce.
Also in attendance are prospective chamber affiliates doing business in West Covina: Aldwin Jose and Charlotte Jose, president of the Divine Faith Homecare; and Yolly Trinidad, president of US operations of Pasalubong.com, who came with associates Brian So, COO; Cheryl Elumba, Finance/CFO; and Ej Ocampo, Business Development.
To help plan ‘purpose’ of the new chamber, husband and wife team of Noel and Maryann Omega moderated a ‘mandatory chamber retreat’ on June 27, at the office of businessman Larry Tiamzon at the West Covina Amar/Azusa hub of FilAm businesses. Attendees included members of FACC, Tri-County, Daniel Santos, Elen Yuhico and Wilma Orendain, among others.
The Omegas helped the new chamber formulate its mission and vision; commitment level, obligations and roles of officers and board directors. With the help of Atty. Lim, who attended with his wife Annie Cuevas-Lim, former DOT director in Los Angeles, a discussion has started to create Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation.
The Filipino American Chamber of Commerce, Tri County is looking forward to its installation of officers early next year.