Note: for current news, see the Commonwealth Cafe Blog.
Cafes and restaurants were common meeting places for Filipino editors and writers in the U.S. during the Depression era. They often gathered in Chinatown and Manilatown cafés to write, offer feedback and criticism, read and share news, chat, argue, and commiserate over coffee and meals. In “Look at All These Women,” Carlos Bulosan mentions the crowded Commonwealth Café on Temple St., one of many that he frequented. But “Commonwealth” held another meaning for Filipinos then, aside from the Western term for the “common good.” It also referred to the liminal and unequal status of the Philippines as a “Commonwealth” of the United States after its colonization and during the “waiting period” for independence from 1935 to 1946.
This website contains editorials, feature essays (often on topics of labor and representation of Filipinos in the media), literary reviews, and poetry written by Filipinos in the western United States during the early 1900s through the early 1940s. They were featured in newspapers or magazines published and edited by Filipinos. While the focus here is on early literary output and issues, these works also give us a fragmented view of the political and social concerns of Filipino “nationals” in the U.S. during this period.
The materials posted here are bound to raise some questions, for example:
What is the relationship between reportage and literature?
What role did early 20th century ethnic newspapers and journals play in stimulating and supporting literary production among minority writers?
How did gender figure in determining whose writing appeared, and in what context and form, in the periodicals?
One incident (among others) helped me to understand what could be lost if these materials are not valued and archived correctly. After a two-week wait, the librarian of a collection in a major university brought me the newspapers I had requested, and apologized for the condition they were in. She had found the papers carelessly rubber-banded, rolled-up, and stuck in the back corner of a shelf – that’s why it took so long to locate them. As I attempted to copy the old, fragile pages, they crumbled onto the glass of the copier.
My intent is to generate some interest in the recovery of early sources of U.S. Filipino* literary production, to make the materials more accessible (to independent researchers as well as to academics), and to provide references to source materials and their locations for further study by others. But, while all of the periodicals listed in the bibliography on this website were mentioned in other periodicals, not all of them have been located, or studied.
I encountered these early writings in manuscript and microfilm collections while working on my Ph.D. research; in the process I realized that my focus has been on a very small section of what is likely a large, but scattered oeuvre of early U.S. Filipino writing. Locating (a time-consuming task in itself) and studying these periodicals would require the efforts of more than one person.
Given the propensity for Filipinos to work collectively to publish their own journals during the early 20th century, cities where Filipinos gathered were common areas of early literary community and production; collections in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Washington D.C., New York, and other areas may yield even more periodical texts and in-depth studies, helping to establish the presence of Filipino literary production in the U.S. during the early 20th century.
— Jean Vengua, September, 2010.
*In several article headings in the early periodicals, the writers refer to themselves as “U.S. Filipinos.”
The contents of this website are presented for educational and informative purposes only, and are not for profit. If you claim copyright to any of these materials, please inform the editor, and the material will be removed immediately. My thanks to Alex Fabros of the Filipino American Experience Research Project for permission to use the Union Restaurant photograph in the header. Masthead images for The Three Stars and The Filipino Students' Magazine are from the microfilm collection at UC Berkeley.