by Emil Guillermo
As Joe Biden announces his run for a second term for the presidency, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Filipino American more important to him than Loida Nicolas Lewis.
Not if, as the saying goes, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”
Lewis–the Filipina who married the African American business leader Reginald Lewis, the late deal maker behind Beatrice, the International brands juggernaut–is a mother, grandmother, and a multi-millionaire.
That’s the combination that has helped Lewis make Asian American Filipinos a louder blip on the national political radar. She was behind the push for Biden in our community in 2020, and before that Hillary Clinton, and before that Barrack Obama.
Ask her how she feels about Biden today, and she’ll let you know by how she refuses to call his predecessor, the prior president, by his given name. You know, the guy whose legal name rhymes with “rump.”
Lewis is not officially in campaign mode yet for Biden. She is, however, on a campaign to sell her winning new book, “Why Should Guys Have All The Fun?”If you want to know how Loida Lewis got to where she is, you’ll find the secret sauce in her book.
I couldn’t be at her recent San Francisco book launch, but then again, I shouldn’t be greedy.
I saw Loida twice in New York City, once when she came to see my show, and another at the east coast launch when I got her book and she introduced me to her co-writer Blair S. Walker, as “one of our great comedians.”
That’s one of her basic tips. Be flattering and supportive of others.
I was flattered that I had made her laugh enough in my show to say that. “Comedian, par excellence,” she wrote on my signed copy of her book.
But I know I’ve also made her think in my day as a writer, journalist, columnist, broadcaster, narrowcaster, raconteur and raccoon lover.
I’ve since thought about our exchange in that New York bookstore, and I’ve come to the conclusion that we can be many things, all at once.
And Lewis, as her book proves, is so many things.
To me, Lewis is no less than the Filipino community’s Anti-Imelda Marcos. And I don’t know how many shoes Loida owns.
It’s just good to have someone like her on our side. An actual fighter. With means. And a sense of real grace.
For whatever the former Philippine first lady stands for, in heels or flats, the glorification and the positive spin of the martial law era, you know Loida Lewis is the opposite. For the good.
For as long as I’ve known her, Lewis has been a dual force for the Filipinos in the Philippines as well as for Filipinos in America.
She’s an American, after all. Born in the Philippines, but actively trying to lift up the political well-being of Filipinos in the U.S.
Loida was one of the founders of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, an organization that dared to harness the power of a community that was too much like the mother country—a long archipelago of groups at odds with each other.
Along with the group’s co-founders, among them the esteemed late newspaperman and rabble-rouser Alex Esclamado, Loida helped lead the charge on U.S. Filipino issues like Filipino veterans’ equity pay. She also spearheaded the drive for dual U.S./Filipino citizenship.
That in turn led to her playing a role in presidential politics here and there. As I said, Loida refuses to mention the name of that other former president, she simply calls 45. The indicted one. The lying one. The man behind the downfall of Fox News, Channel $787.5 million, the Lies R’ Us Network.
You definitely know Loida by her politics. She is a woman of the people, a people person, of the kind that belies her status among the wealthy.
You’d like her even if she were poor. But she is definitely more effective wealthy.
And that is the power of Loida Lewis. She is the heart of capitalism. But still a capitalist. How do you deal with the contradictions therein and still be true to what’s good?
It’s one of the messages of Loida’s book. You deal with the contradictions as they come up in life.
Example: How does a young woman from the Philippines meet one ambitious African American, Reginald Lewis from Baltimore, and fall in love despite her Filipinoness, her Catholicism, and her conservative family values?
Start with that tricky pre-marital sex question.
As Loida shared with an audience in New York, if it happens naturally, it’s good because “Anything natural comes from God.”
It may sound like a rationalization, but don’t pass judgment. It’s an insight into how a successful woman maneuvers through the contradictory forces in life.
When in doubt, Loida chose love.“Use your head, but follow your heart,” she likes to say.
It was how the couple worked together as they defied the obstacles that were in the way for an African American man married to a Filipina struggling to make it in the corporate world.
And then Reginald Lewis made it big. He was one of the first non-whites to break through the capitalist curtain to play the cutthroat game of leveraged buyouts in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
It’s really a simple business move. Borrow capital to buy a mature company. Then, by cutting costs to the bone, you can both service the debt and grow more equity, thereby enabling you to ultimately sell all or part of the company at a profit.
That’s why Reginald Lewis asked in his book, “Why Should White Guys Have All The Fun?” He was able to get beyond the black/white paradigm of corporate America by playing the “internationalist.”
And his Filipina wife Loida was instrumental in that quest.
At the time of his death at age 50 to brain cancer, Reginald Lewis was worth $400 million.
And then it was Loida’s cue to step in, take over, and ask: “Why should guys have all the fun?” A trained lawyer, but without formal training business training, Loida followed her husband’s path and carved out her own as she brought the company, Beatrice, to even greater heights.
That’s the corporate story of Loida Lewis, with life lessons to boot. She put some of them into practice recently simply by being an audience member for my recent show, “Emil Amok: Lost NPR Host…”
It was not in a fancy Broadway theater. It was off-off-Broadway and under, a basement theater in New York City’s East Village. And there was Loida, laughing.
Not only did she see the show, but she was also part of a very impromptu “after-show party,” in the side room of a corner bar. Loida was there with her friends, and some of my friends, one a writer, the other an Oscar-nominated music composer, their families, and some of my family.
We were all sharing a meal, conversation, and light beverages in what the late foodie Anthony Bourdain might have called an ichi-go ichi-e “once in a lifetime, never again,” moment.
It was just Loida being in support of me, another American Filipino storytelling voice. Her presence was such a gracious gesture. That’s the kind of person she is, and a key lesson in her book—to always show love and support for others.
Except, of course, for 45.
EMIL GUILLERMO is a journalist and commentator. A former host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” he was an editorial board member of the Advertiser and a columnist at the Star-Bulletin.
by Emil Guillermo