In the final ceremony for Search to Involve Pilipino Americans’ Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month webinar series in May, community leader John Eric Swing smiled proudly in his polo shirt emblazoned with the nonprofit’s logo.
“SIPA’s doors are always open,” he said of the organization. “We’re here to be a bridge and be impactful in many ways, and how we make that impactful is in everyone’s collaboration with each other.”
Swing was a leader in Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown and had worked with multiple community organizations serving the Filipino American community. He had been the executive director of SIPA, which is dedicated to Filipino American empowerment, for only two months when he died June 28 of complications from COVID-19. He was 48.
Swing was appointed after a yearlong nationwide search. He was excited to work on the redevelopment of SIPA’s headquarters, which looked to include a small-business center, community space and a cultural center. The project was years in the making, and Swing had hoped to see it through.
He had been a staff member at SIPA since 2015 and formed close relationships with coworkers. Eddy M. Gana Jr., who serves as SIPA’s mental health counselor, remembered him for his work ethic and selflessness.
When they were still in the office before the pandemic forced them to work from home, Swing would always be the first to offer to close up for the night.
“If there’s ever anything [you need], you can give me a call, anytime,” Swing once told his colleague.
“So how about 2 or 3 a.m.?” Gana joked. Swing assured him he would answer the call. Every meeting after that, Swing would pretend to hold a phone to his ear and say, “You can still call me anytime. I’m waiting!”
“I never got to give him a call that late,” Gana said.
Before Swing’s term even began, SIPA had to move operations online because of the pandemic, but he still found ways to help community members. The organization got a boost when California state Sen. Ling Ling Chang (R-Diamond Bar) obtained funding for delivering food to seniors and underserved families in Historic Filipinotown. The state Senate later honored SIPA and Swing’s leadership with a certificate of recognition as “Unsung Heroes of Southern California.”
The organization also hosted two webinar series, “Wellness Wednesdays” and “Filipino Fridays,” during the month of May. SIPA continued community programming through Zoom meetings during the pandemic, and in early June, Swing shared in a board meeting that he was planning a session on anti-racism in the Filipino community to assist Black people.
On June 16, Swing told the president of the nonprofit’s board of directors that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be taking a few weeks off to focus on recovery. But within a week, his condition worsened and he was admitted to Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center.
The son of Filipino immigrants, Swing spent his college years learning more about his Filipino American identity. As an ethnic-studies student at UC Riverside, Swing co-founded the Asian American fraternity Psi Chi Omega and volunteered in community service organizations.
He was proud of his heritage and loved Filipino pop music, or OPM. “We teased him a bit because he had some favorite songs that were in Tagalog that are older songs our parents would listen to,” said Jessica del Mundo, secretary of SIPA’s board of directors.
After graduating, Swing served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves for six years. He received the National Defense Service Medal and a Good Conduct Medal and earned a Rifle Expert Marksman badge. He worked as a senior probation corrections officer for the Riverside County Probation Department before pursuing community service and social work full time.
As part of the leadership team that chose him for the role, Del Mundo said she was struck by his commitment to serving all communities and people in need.
“It wasn’t so much about helping people with Filipino cultural programming, it was the culture of changing lives, no matter what ethnicity or background,” Del Mundo said.
“John’s story is so much more about a life of service and accepting all people, and helping all people,” Del Mundo said. “He always went above and beyond in providing resources and making an investment in the community.”
Swing is survived by his parents, Ellis and Aurora; his wife, Maria Elena Rodriguez-Swing; children Zachary, Joshua, Chloe and Mackenzie; stepchildren Sasha and Nicco; sister Karen Bromley; and brother P.J. Swing.