Daily Archives: December 23, 2007

Galing Pinoy: FilAm Makes the Bad Guy Look Good

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Filipino American Dennis Calvero is Crooks and Castles (C&C), a clothing brand for the new generation of hip hop aficionados. His clothing line has been   growing in the urban art and fashion scene that recently, hip hop moguls Jay-Z, Kanye West and other rappers and celebrities have appeared in public wearing C&C.

Last December 14, Calvero, together with his partners, realized their dream when their clothing brand opened the first C&C flagship store on Melrose in Los Angeles.

“It feels like we’ve made it,” said Calvero about the opening. “It’s been a long road.”

For Calvero, it’s been nine years in the making. He’s suffered from a bankruptcy and a job change,. He had to travel around the world before regrouping and starting C&C.


What once was considered just underground wear for a niche consumer base, street-wear fashion is now a worldwide multi-billion dollar industry.

Growing up during the late 80s and early 90s, no community was immune to the gang lifestyle. The hip hop scene was still in the infant stage of development. The youth were beginning to transform their appearance from wearing tight to baggy jeans. This generation made it cool to look like a thug.

Calvero grew up in Cerritos, CA. He realized early the clothing transformation of his peers and became aware of the growing “street wear” segment. He started designing clothes for the urban market in 1997 and  created a clothing label dubbed Landscape. The label eventually failed to reach the mass numbers in the US.

“During that time, the street wear industry was young,” said Calvero. “There was no market for it here [US]. There was more of a market in Japan.”

“From [that experience] we learned how to do things on our own,” Calvero added.

After the business failed, Calvero moved to the New York/ New Jersey area to work for designer Marc Ecko and served as one of Ecko’s head clothing designers.

A blessing in disguise

Working for the billion-dollar company taught Calvero how to run a business more effectively. “That’s where I learned how to make a [clothing] brand,” said Calvero.

“I traveled to Asia and learned how to [negotiate] with vendors. I learned just how to be a business person.”

He also began to travel around the world extensively. He has traveled to Hong Kong, China, Paris, Philippines, Germany, Barcelona, and Japan, considered the Mecca for underground clothing labels.

“In Japan you can see how fashion and commerce drives the clothing industry,” he said.


After working for Ecko for a little over a year, Calvero left the company to continue to pursue his dreams of having his own label.

He gathered a group of his friends and started Crooks and Castles in 2002. The word “crooks” is a metaphor to how some people attain their goals, while “castles” is the goal itself.

Although the company has received some criticism about the name, Calvero simply shrugged off the criticism.

“We’re not promoting [crime],” he said. “We’re really business savvy. It’s just about the market. We’re very design oriented. It’s a name that we’ve stuck with and it’s our goal to brand it.”

“You could say that we started out of a garage [designing shirts],” said Soriano. “He [Calvero] was in New York designing clothes in his small apartment. I was out here [Los Angeles] trying to help him out,” said Emil Soriano, a designer for C&C.

The clothing brand began to pick up steam when consumers began to demand for hip hop street wear.

“There was this whole emergence in the street wear market,” said Soriano. “All these new start up street wear companies began to come up and achieve success.”

“This is the kind of clothes that people we grew up wanted to wear,” said Jon Palos, who works in marketing for C&C. “It’s a lifestyle brand developed from growing up in Los Angeles.”

Unexpected promotion

It also helped when Jay-Z and other celebrities began to sport the label in major events and award shows. Immediately, rumors began to fly that Jay-Z offered Calvero to buy the company in a multi-million dollar deal.

“All I can say about that is that they are just rumors,” he said. “No formal offer has been made.”

In the three years, C&C has seen tremendous growth. Just last year, Calvero went from making six-figures in profit in one year to  millions of dollars. He plans to expand his US operations to Las Vegas, NV. He also said he plans to open a store in the Philippines sometime next year. Crooks and Castles merchandise is being distributed worldwide.



Leave a comment

Filed under Feature, Galing Pinoy

Young Filipina Diva Wows Ellen Degeneres

by Maria Sunantha Quibilan and Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Filipina singing phenom, Charice Pempengco, left the studio audience of the Ellen DeGeneres Show breathless on Wednesday, December 19.

The 15-year-old’s rendition of And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from the Broadway musical Dreamgirls received an extended standing ovation. She also received another ovation toward the end of the show when she sang Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You.

The performance left DeGeneres impressed and in tears. At the end of Pempengco’s performance, the talk show host was speechless and hugged Pempengco.

The Ellen DeGeneres Show website describes Pempengco’s appearance as “one of the most incredible performances” DeGeneres has ever seen. Pempengco was moved to tears by the overwhelming response of the American audience.

Before Pempengco sang, DeGeneres told her audience that they were in for a treat.

“All right, I’m warning you again right now, I’m going to cry again today,” said DeGeneres. “She’s fifteen years old. We flew her in from the Philippines. She’s never been to the United States before. She doesn’t have a recording contract. She’s never done this before. You are going to be blown away. This is the most incredible gift of all the gifts that we’re giving [away] you’re going to witness something today and say ‘I was there the day she [Charice] sang on the show.’”

Her appearance on the show was Pempengco’s first performance on US Television.

After she performed, Pempengco admits she could not hold back the tears.

“I started crying because I saw all the people giving me [a] standing ovation,” she said to the Asian Journal after her performance. “I’m very proud because I realized [during the performance] I’m here performing in front of Ellen DeGeneres and all the people.”

Prior to her stage appearance, she admits that she was nervous.

“I was a little nervous,” she said. “Of course, I was excited too. It’s my first time performing in American in front of all the wonderful fans. It was a pleasure.”

Pempengco’s talent was first noticed when, at the age of 12, she won third place on the first season of Little Big Star, a singing contest aired on ABS-CBN in the Philippines and internationally on The Filipino Channel.

Besides the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Pempengco has been featured twice in the Daily Ten, a regular show on E! entertainment channel.

A native of Laguna, Philippines, Pempengco, arrived in Los Angeles on December 13. She got a special invitation from DeGeneres after featuring a YouTube video of the young Filipino diva on her daytime show on Nov. 28. The video showed Pempengco singing And I Am Telling You I am Not Going, amazing hosts and audience alike, on Star King, a South Korean TV variety show.

Pempengco credits her popularity to her exposure on the Internet. Her performance on ABS-CBN’s Little Big Star where she belts out Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You has been viewed more than 700,000 times on YouTube. She placed third in the competition.

The popular video sharing is also how DeGeneres found the young Filipino diva.

“We’ve found some good people on YouTube but wait until you see, we had to bring her over here from the Philippines,” said DeGeneres before introducing Pempengco.


It didn’t take long for people around the world to comment on Pempengco’s performance. There is already over 1,000 comments on Ellen’s blog, as of press time.

“One word Ellen…GOOOSEBUMPS!!!,” posted Cherry Ramirez.

“Someone told me that there could only be one Whitney Houston. I think there is another one…Charice Pempengco! I want to see her again on your show Ellen, Please! I’m begging you,” posted Norman of Florida.

Viewers at home also reacted.

Lenalour Limayo, 30, didn’t know who Pempengco was before a friend sent her a clip of her YouTube performances.

“I started crying,” she said. “It was really emotional to see [Pempengco’s] reaction. She was so happy about the feedback she received from the US audience.”

Attorney Michael Gurfinkel, who paved the way for Pempengco and her mother to travel to the US, said that the comments are an outpouring of Filipino pride.

“This girl is truly amazing,” he said.

Backstage tears

Millie Gurfinkel said that the people backstage could not hold their emotions when they heard Pempengco sing.

“I’m just very happy for her,” said Racquel Pempengco, Charice’s mother.Pempengco’s mother Racquel, who arrived from the Philippines last week, also could not hold back the tears. This is Racquel’s first ever plane ride. The first time she has left the country. She had never had a passport until now.

“I thought I would never get this chance,” said Racquel. “They helped me realize my dream of seeing my daughter perform in front of the American audience.”

As for what’s next for her young daughter, Racquel said she doesn’t know.

“I told her to always remain humble to always have a foot on the ground while she reaches for the stars,” said Racquel.

Pempengco again wants to thank her fans for their support.

“I really appreciate all the support of my fans and in America,” she said. “I really appreciate everything. Pray for me. I love you all.”


Leave a comment

Filed under Feature

The Filipino Veterans Equity Act

by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — The Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007 has gone through its shares of ups and downs this year.

If passed, an estimated 7,000  Filipino American veterans living in the US and 12,000 Filipino veterans in the Philippines, who both fought during WWII, would restore US Veterans status and be eligible for Veterans Affairs (VA) disability pension benefits.

As the year ends, what had started as promising for many Filipino veterans and their supporters now looks bleak.

“It has been a disappointment,” admitted Dr. Jenny Batongmalaque, the Executive Director of the Filipino Veterans Foundation. “Our main goal is to get that recognition for our veterans so they can finally receive their benefits.”

“Many have died without their benefits,” she added. “However, the door is not fully closed yet.”


Early in the year, things looked favorable when Democrats became a majority in the US House of Representatives and Senate.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI) re-filed the bill as S. 57, “The Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007,” when Congress opened Jan. 4. Rep. Bob Filner followed suit soon after holding a full committee hearing at the US House of Representatives House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs in February.

The bill picked up steam as the months went by when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) expressed her support for the bill. Both Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL) also lent their hand in support of the bill.

Led by Filner and Akaka, the two respective Chairmen’s of their Veterans Committee have taken the bill further in the US Congress than it ever has before.

The bill passed the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee last June and  the House Veterans committee the following month. It had been the first time in 14 years since its introduction in Congress that the Filipino Veterans Equity legislation moved forward.

However, since the FilVet Equity Act passed the two Veterans committees last June and July, the opposition blocked the bill. Republicans repeatedly argued against the bill, citing the overall cost estimating it at nearly $2 billion. Critics also did not favor paying Filipino veterans still residing in the Philippines due to the different standards cost of living between the two countries.

It has been a stalemate since.

Akaka has since added the Filipino Veteran Equity Act as part of the much larger bill S. 1315, the “Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act.” Meanwhile, Filner is waiting for Akaka to pass the bill in the Senate before he presents it in the House.

The Veterans Act in 2008

Sen. Akaka, his representative and Filipino leaders across the nation weighed in on the state of the bill as it heads into the New Year.

Sen. Akaka’s Spokesperson Jesse Broder Van Dyke said Akaka wanted to make sure that the Filipino community knows that the bills remain alive.

“The next Congress does not begin until January 2009.  So it is just as possible for the bill [S. 1315] to pass in January, as it is this month.  Of course, Senator Akaka wants to get it done as soon as possible,” he said.

“Unfortunately, Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) and others on the Republican side have been actively blocking its consideration on the Senate floor,” added Broder Van Dyke.

During his floor presentation last Dec. 12, Akaka called for the passage of this legislation.

“S. 1315 includes benefits for a broad constituency of service members and veterans, particularly those who are service-disabled,” he said. “This bill would also improve benefits for Filipino veterans, virtually all of whom are now in their 80s and 90s.”

“Those who oppose the pension provision in S. 1315 argue that the pension provided is too high,” he added. “However, pension benefits are designed to allow wartime veterans and their survivors to live in dignity – above the poverty level.  I am satisfied that the levels of pension designated in this bill – would allow these veterans to live with such dignity, while giving them the recognition they deserve.”

The Executive Director of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans (ACFV) Eric Lachica said that Filipino and Congressional leaders supporting the bill have achieved a lot this past year.

“We have progressed but we still have not won the war,” he said. “I believe we might have a greater opportunity [to pass the FilVet Equity bill] next year because of the Presidential election and many of the Senators will also be up for election.”

Lachica said that grassroots campaigning is a must next year.

“Because they [the Senators] are up for election, we need to appeal to our leaders and the community to have face to face meetings with their elected officials,” he said.

Veteran and a Member of ACFV Franco Arcebal said that the crux of the issue remains the payment of Filipino WWII veterans residing in the Philippines.

“[Sen.] Craig changed his position last week on the payment of the Filipino soldiers in the Philippines. A few months ago he was willing to give them a $100 a month. Now, he wants to give them nothing,” said Arcebal.

“We’re not entirely broken hearted,” he added. “There is still another Congressional session next year and the Democrats are still running the show. But we do want bi-partisan support of this bill.”

Lachica added that time is running out for these Filipino veterans. He expects a 10 percent mortality rate every year that the bill is not passed.

Lachica and Arcebal predict that talks will heat up sometime in February or March. Batongmalaque hopes it passes in time for the April 9 anniversary of Bataan.

Akaka still remained mum on the timeline when this bill would be passed. He did, however, want to wish the Filipino veterans and supporters a happy holiday.

“Mabuhay and Aloha to my brothers in arms from the Philippines and to all those who support these heroes,” he wrote in an e-mail to the Asian Journal.

“Thank you again for your service to our country.  We are fighting to provide you with the recognition you earned and deserve, and I will not rest until the Filipino Veterans Equity Act becomes law.  Maligayang Pasko! Or as we say in Hawaii, Mele Kalikimaka.  I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your families,” the email said.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

‘Subway to the Sea’ Project is on Track Again – Villaraigosa

by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa  announced  on Thursday that the project to extend the Metrorail Red Line from Wilshire Boulevard at Western all the way to the City of Santa Monica is back on track again after the United States Congress lifted the prohibition against federal involvement in the construction of the so-called “Subway to the Sea.”

Then provision was authored by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and was included in the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, December 19.

“Twenty-one years ago, Washington derailed the hopes for a Westside subway. Today, we’re back on track,” the mayor declared at a press conference held at the Union Station on December 20. “After more than two decades of waiting and planning, it’s now time to take definitive action to ease traffic congestion on the Westside and improve the quality of the life for commuters throughout Los Angeles County.”

“A ‘Subway to the Sea’ would be the safest, quietest, fastest, most reliable and most environmentally-friendly way to reduce traffic congestion where we need it most,” Villaraigosa added. “Let’s celebrate a small step from Washington DC, but a big step for Los Angeles communities.”

The mayor said that connecting downtown LA with the Westside would be a boon to hundreds of thousands of people who commute to job centers in Century City, West Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has estimated that 80,000 cars travel the Wilshire corridor on a daily basis. Extending the Metrorail subway Red Line from Western Avenue in the mid-Wilshire area all the way to Santa Monica will have the highest ridership of any project in the country.

Although the ban has been lifted by Washington, the bill did not include a funding component. Proponents are now looking for creative ways to pay for the project which Villaraigosa estimated would cost in the vicinity of $4.9 billion and would begin construction in 2011.

“I think it’s time for Los Angeles to face the fact that, when we actually build this subway, government will not be able to fund it,” said Council Member Jack Weiss.

“If we want to build this subway, we are going to need a public-private partnership, a partnership between government and private financial interests to build this subway,” Weiss added. “If you want to see a subway in your lifetime, it’s time for Los Angeles to be innovative and creative, like Denver (Colorado) and Houston (Texas), and begin a public-private financing venture to make this subway happen.”

“My plan is to be alive when the subway finally happens,” quipped Congressman Bill Rosendahl of Congressional District 11. “I will have my coffee, read my newspaper and ride the subway to my home in downtown LA,” Rosendahl said.

“This is my proudest moment as an elected official,” said Council Member Tom LeBonge. “In 1973, when Tom Bradley first ran as Mayor, he promised us a subway transit system in 18 months. It took 18 years to get that subway going.”

“Look, if this was so easy, somebody would have done this a long time ago. It took 18 years for Tom Bradley to have the subway going, and yet we all know him as the father of the subway,” added Villaraigosa.

In 1985, a consensus over safety concerns led Congress to impose limited restrictions on tunneling, according to Congressman Waxman. “I’m glad that new technological developments have led to a new consensus that tunneling can be done safely,” Waxman said in a statement.

Since taking office, Villaraigosa has led the effort to extend the subway from its current terminus at Wilshire/Western to the Pacific Ocean. Working with Congressman Waxman and Senators Barbara Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the mayor pushed Congress to lift the ban on federal support for the project. The MTA has ranked this proposal as one of the best transit projects in LA County.

Los Angeles ranks first in the country in travel delay with the average driver losing 72 hours annually sitting in traffic. That’s a total of 491 million hours annually. Traffic gridlock also costs the Greater Los Angeles economy to the tune of $9.3 billion per year.


Leave a comment

Filed under News