Chicago’s new Consul General, Leo Herrera-Lim shares his Impressions, ideas and challenges

By Mariano A. Santos
PINOY Editor/Publisher

Ambassador Leo Herrera-Lim, 47, sat down with PINOY staffers on May 17 to share his thoughts about his new post in Chicago. Ambassador Lim is born in Zamboanga City and is married to Fidelis Carino. They have two children, Leonardo Ignitius and Frances Leanne.  His previous assignments include the United Kingdom, Ireland and Washington DC.

PINOY: In your few weeks here, what are your impressions of the Chicago Filipino community?

ConGen  Lim: It is my first time in Chicago and I was posted in Washington from 1991-98, but  I never had the opportunity to visit Chicago. That’s a big mistake. Chicago is a nice city- very clean, one of the best cities, very welcoming, beautiful architecture. The Filipinos are well established.  I’ve seen how proud they are of their heritage- there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment.  They can’t be pushed around.
They are strong in their faith. We have accomplished physicians, accountants. Compared to other cities-Filipinos here have a strong entrepreneurial drive. Not only with the remittance, cargo forwarding for balikbayans, Filipino restaurants here are in the mainstream businesses like  the home health care which they pretty much dominate the sector- that’s quite a feat!

2) What are your goals for the Filipino American community?

I want greater awareness and respect for the Filipinos in Chicago and the whole Midwest.  If there’s awareness, there’s a greater respect for our people –and for Filipinos to make a positive contribution to society. Filipinos value faith and education. I’ve been going around asking the same questions that you’re asking me. We should have organizations sharing commonalities. Our tent is big, we can include a lot of people in our efforts.

3) What changes are you planning to implement in the local consulate office?

Change will not be dramatic, so it’s more of a reorientation. In the offices that I’ve been a part of, we were customer-orientated, we try to estimate directly  customer expectations. The expectations of our kababayans is that, 80 percent  of them want to be attended to;  attended to with a smile; that we can deliver the information with no gaps. When they close their documents, they don’t have to come back because not everybody lives in Chicago. Some of the people I’ve talked to drove all the way from Kansas and Ohio and it will be a big letdown if they come here and we cannot service them. We should be able to adjust so we will not make them come back. We should exercise flexibility and at the same time, we will continue to recommend to Manila what would make life easier for the people we serve. I’m asking my staff to make our service predictable and encourage interaction with our clients to ask them if we’ve satisfied their expectations.

4) The local Dept. of Trade and Industry director initiated a move asking Fil-Ams to help in filing a trade bill in US Congress to create jobs in the textile sector back home. Do you have specific plans to see this materialized?

We’re starting to brainstorm on what activities we can undertake. The media is a good platform for the dissemination of information. The community media that Pinoys read reframes the opinion of the people.  You have a bigger reach than the consulate. We’ve invited you to be our partners in the process. At the same time, we’re actively looking for members of our community who are active in political mainstream. Those who work for or contributed to campaigns should be in the forefront of writing letters to their respective senators and congressman. Make the senators read the letters – we need to get their attention- once we’re there- the consulate can amplify the presentation. The Consulate needs a lead up –constituents should campaign to open the doors leading to those who can make this a reality in Washington.

5) The ambassador tour initiated by the Dept. of Tourism is not happening this year. Was there an evaluation made and did it help promote tourism back home?

Ambassador tour– I haven’t been involved yet in that. There’s some value to those who are promoting the country and are traveling as a group. To some members of the community-that’s the good part. I’m looking for how much impact it will make.  What is quantifiable? That is what I haven’t seen. What percent does it add to tourism? If it adds only 1-2 percent, it’s not going to help in the long term. If it generates 20-30 percent, then that’s a good program. I’m looking for a measurement of success. I’ll take your suggestion, and I should like to see an evaluation of the program.

6) It’s common knowledge that overseas workers help substantially  in the economy. Under the new administration, do you see any changes in the protection of overseas workers? There’s a concern that their needs are not being fully met.

The programs or projects for overseas workers are build upon previous years and programs. I think what would be a bit of differentiation would be help and assistance for overseas workers. They face different challenges-there is a bit of anxiety on our people on the Arizona immigration policies. The target community might not be us, but since we’re not all white, we might be captured because of stereotyping or intolerance.  For instance, our last names are of Spanish origin.
In bilateral meetings, it should be in the talking point of the Philippine President that we express concern for any policy that would tend to either stereotype or put down any immigrant group in the US, particularly Filipinos who are contributors to US society.

7) The Third wave of Filipino Immigrants in the US who came in the 1960’s and 70’s are now retiring. This is a lucrative market in terms of housing, use of their savings, and their need for medical tourism.  Is there any particular project that the Philippines would do to capture this market?

Well before I left I was talking with people who are into this industry of retirement, health and wellness. We talked about how even though it’s a mass appeal, it should be tailor-made toward the individual. Just like what Amazon does for you. We should have it tailor-made for you. If you’re from Batangas, as expected, if you retire there, where you will spend your money should be of good value such as health care, peaceful environment, and electricity.  The other retirees in Visayas want a wired society- there should be mass appeal but it should be tailored to your needs and wants. Know what you want and expect.

8) Remittances sent to the RP, are mostly used to buy consumer goods. Do you have ideas that would use remittances for investments to help job creation?

Well the figures say $18 billion and 41-42% of which comes from the US. When the remitters suggest, we should listen. We’ll make a strong case on that one.  I talked to some investors married to Filipinos. They’re investing on a wind power plant that is good for a small city. You’ll need around $50 million. Not all remittance goes to consumption. There are concrete houses and schools. The remittance means investments for the people.  It generates local employment.  Informal surveys show that most investments go towards education of their children, grandchildren and siblings. They help buy school supplies such as sandals and uniforms.

9) You are meeting the Knights of Rizal in a few minutes. What challenges would you give them so they can live up to the ideals of our National Hero and that will benefit our homeland?

They ask me how we can make Rizal relevant. Some brainstorming should help.  I would look for groups who would want to work on this area even if there’s no money and as long as the persons are willing. First, do we find the idea good? Private sectors have a million ideas before they come up with a good idea. Usually, the craziest idea becomes the best product, so we can start with that one. We can have brainstorming of activities that promote the understanding and relevancy of Rizal. •

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