8:28 PM

Her Unlikely American Triumph

Posted by Prosy Delacruz


“It takes a heroic act of special attention to break free of this old programming so that you can feel what you really feel. Ultimately, your need to be present with the truth in yourself opens up the space for love. The same act of being present to your feelings will eventually amplify the love and spiritual connection you experience, if that is your practice, patiently and diligently.” Gay and Kathleen Hendricks

This is the story of Cheryl Deptowicz-Diaz and her unlikely triumph against Georges Marciano, Guess? founder, who used his millions in pursuit of civil wrongs against Elizabeth Tagle, a Filipino-American. Tagle was one of five plaintiffs, unfairly accused of conspiracy, stealing artworks, wine, assets and embezzling money, first valued at $60 million then inflated to $413 million which prompted spurious criminal investigations since 2006.

Ms. Diaz became the advocate for Ms. Tagle and her client’s voice. The jury considered the evidence, heard Ms. Diaz’ arguments, and returned a historic judgment of $69 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages -- a combined total of $370 million for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress for all five plaintiffs, each represented by their respective lawyers.

The landmark victory was achieved by an immigrant, transplanted as a child from the Philippine slums to the inner-city schools of Los Angeles.

Her American great grandma once disowned her, and declared her hatred, “I don’t want those brown monkeys here,” isolating her father from her. Her maternal grandma considered him dead, reacting to the racially-imposed divide.

It took the next generation to right this wrong. With the help of an investigator hired by her paternal grandpa, her family was located in the poor slums of Tayuman, living near the railroad, without access to running water.

Cheryl recalls her family resumed communication with her grandfather, and after being petitioned by her step-grandmother, they moved forward with hope. Her mother prepared them to immigrate physically, but not emotionally to be integrated as a family.

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Cheryl was 8 years old. Washing her uniforms with her lola, she enjoyed the swish and swash of water, the soap suds, and her lola’s stories.

One day, she was told by her mom to say goodbye to her lola. She did, not knowing she was bound for America, she thought she was going to Pampanga. All she remembered was how unusual it was to get tight hugs and lots of tears from her lola and her friends. She felt aggravated that she could not have suka, patis, at toyo, condiments she normally had with her meals, and while on the plane, she was told to be quiet.

School felt strange. Her classmates called her chink. She was the other and she felt displaced at York Elementary School. All these made her feel more emotionally unsafe in America.

Eager to belong and to excel, she became the team captain for the swim and volleyball teams at Belmont High. She competed as one of Echo Park Community Center’s swim team and then, was challenged to do more.

First challenge

Her coach scheduled her practice with an excellent swimmer, emphasizing that Cheryl should learn from her. But, instead of motivating her to take on this opportunity, Cheryl became overwhelmed and decided to drop out instead.

However, Cheryl learned a valuable life’s lesson: fear must be acknowledged, but not acted upon, and she became her best ally. She promised to act, even if afraid.

She chose to travel back to the Philippines to trace her roots and understand the source of her emotional disconnections. She connected with her mom’s side of the family: her uncles who lived in cardboard boxes, and his opposite, the wealthy side of her father’s family who lived in gated subdivisions.

She could not make sense of the family’s external economic divide, wealthy from poor, nor their internal racial divide, Americans from Filipinos.

Her confusion led to a poem, Child Transplanted, April 1998, excerpted here.

I can go on forever because I remember so much

I remember just about everything

The home we left

The keepsakes we couldn’t bring

The alley in which we played

The meals we sold from our store to the university students across the way

The floor Papa always wanted washed.

The wooden stairs I’d shine with a bunot (coconut shell)

The baker we bought pandesal (bread roll) from everyday for breakfast and merienda (afternoon snack)

The traffic

The stuffy churches and the long sermons

The food

The palengke (open air market)

The trips to Pampanga where my childhood lives

The classes in Tagalog, English, and Chinese

The jeepney rides

Beng-Beng the loyal dog we left behind

And on and on and on

More challenges

As the first college graduate in her family, everyone sought her help. She decided to broaden her skills. She graduated from Southwestern Law School, and got her California license to practice.

Elizabeth Tagle became her first client, her mother’s friend. Embracing the challenge of representing her adequately, she taught herself quickly the rudiments of doing a solo practice. She came to court well-prepared, showed up for her client’s deposition, gave her best efforts during jury trial, and the rest is history -- a landmark victory on defamation.

Even as Cheryl primes herself to face more challenges, she stays humble. “I am here, because of all those who came before me, aware that my mother and father sacrificed to integrate us as a family, including working at a gas station and a fast food place.”

In the courtroom, Georges Marciano did not recognize Elizabeth Tagle but, he haunted her with his lies. “They stole $413 million from me…I am doing this for my city, my country, my government, my people for justice,” he said.

Atty. Diaz felt that he instilled terror in Elizabeth's bones, giving her sleepless nights, gripping her with unforgiving shame and making her look over her shoulders constantly.

She is aware that as a young lawyer, with older white males as her counterparts, she must be more than well-prepared, especially since Georges Marciano makes ‘a playground of America’s court system.’

Let’s hope Georges Marciano honors the lower court’s judgment, and that Elizabeth Tagle and the four other plaintiffs get their settlements soon, as their full measure of justice. Although, Georges Marciano can also delay justice by appealing the lower court’s decision at the court of appeals. As to Cheryl, her early track record foretells future victories.

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