“A Tribute to My Father” by Dominador Siababa

Filipino student organizations and journals in the U.S. have a history of supporting Filipino American causes, writers, and artists. Journals like The Filipino Student (UC Berkeley, 1905), Liwanag (1975), Maganda (UC Berkeley, 1989), and Pinoy Know Yourself (UC Santa Cruz, 1973), were groundbreaking. Dom Siababa writes about the founding of CFFC, its publication Pinoy Know Yourself, and his poem, “A Tribute to My Father”:

Dom Siababa and his father, Getulio Lucrecio Siababa. Photo: Dom Siababa Collection

 

A Tribute to My Father

 

Background

I grew up in Salinas and like many public-school-educated kids during that era, the history of Filipino Americans was unheard of. I was fortunate enough to be recruited to UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) through the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) because the EOP director focused on minorities from three valleys–Santa Clara, San Joaquin and Salinas–and I met the academic and income criteria. I had selected Merrill College because of their focus on the Third World. Merrill’s core course during Fall Qtr., and a self-directed student course during Winter Quarter based on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, along with my participation in the Asian American Student Association (AASA), opened my eyes to the racism and oppression that my family, and particularly my father, had been subjected to.

During my junior year I participated with other Filipino American students in founding the first Filipino American student organization at UCSC–The Caucus for Filipino Consciousness (CFFC). My sophomore year, Ben Menor, a junior transfer from Foothill College, enrolled at UCSC as a community studies major. From the Bay Area, Ben was more politically astute and politically connected than other Filipino American students on campus. He was also more advanced in his understanding of Filipino American history and what it meant to be a Filipino American. For instance, Ben had already established relationships with the Filipino Youth Association (FYA) of Seattle, Inc. The FYA was one of the premier Filipino youth social service agencies in the country and was the sponsor of the Filipino American Far West Conventions.

The Caucus for Filipino Consciousness was formed as a result of the majority of Filipino American students on campus feeling the need to better understand Filipino American history in order to understand who they were and what it meant to be a Filipino American. When I enrolled at UCSC in 1971, there were 20 students of Filipino ancestry on campus. I was one of five entering freshman. Our group of 20 students represented 4/1000 of the total student population of 5,000 students. Although there was an Asian American organization on campus, AASA (Asian American Student Association), by my junior year, Filipinos felt that their voice was lost within AASA, which was predominantly Chinese and Japanese ethnically, and middle- to upper-middle class. Through Ben’s efforts we were able to better understand ourselves and to define what it meant to be a Filipino American.

The CFFC arose partly because of a lack of representation of Filipino American history at UCSC; but moreso because of the lack of Filipino American focus within AASA and the feeling that AASA, which was primarily a middle to upper middle class organization, was using Filipino Americans to statistically show that Asians were disadvantaged economically.

Cover of Pinoy Know Yourself. Photo: Dom Siababa Collection.

It was through Ben Menor’s leadership and organizing abilities that the Caucus for Filipino Consciousness (CFFC) was formed and our anthology, Pinoy Know Yourself: An Introduction to the Filipino American Experience, was planned, written, and produced. The Caucus worked with Merrill’s Third World Teaching Resource Center to produce the anthology.

One evening, as I was taking a shower, the words to this poem came to me. I felt as if I was channeling some unseen force and felt compelled to write my thoughts down. My poem, “A Tribute to my Father,” along with a synopsis of my senior thesis, “The Salinas Lettuce Strike of 1934 and 1936” were included in this anthology. The FANHS (Filipino American National Historical Society) Virginia Beach chapter used my poem as a basis for a short production I believe they called “Dead Man Walking.” They used this production as an educational piece and a means to introduce dialogue regarding the Filipino American experience to their community. It was a very proud moment for me to see a few of their youth perform this production at the 2000 FANHS Conference in Virginia Beach. They also provided me with the opportunity to speak about my poem and how it came about.

When I wrote this poem I was angry. Angry at being victimized. Angry that something had been withheld or taken away from us. When I spoke in 2000 that anger had softened to pride–pride in how my father carried himself despite society’s efforts to dehumanize him. Pride in that, despite what he had experienced, he had risen above the situation and had been able to provide for us so that we were able to experience a better life than him, and that all four of us attended and completed either junior college or a 4-year college or university. The following is the poem that I wrote my Freshman year in college (Fall Qtr 1971 to Spring Qtr 1972):

 
A Tribute to My Father
 
He lies there so quiet, so still, so cold,
and in his face and hands one can read his life now past.
You came here because you
thought you could partake of the Amerikan dream.
Foolish old man, what did it get you?
A job in the fields, yes, it was something familiar.
The only difference was that instead of
eating dirt on your own land, someone paid you to eat theirs.
Then the war came.
Good little Pilipino boy.
You fought for the white Amerikans,
the same people who had called you subhuman,
a monkey, a fishhead, a flip.
You fought for the same people who had
been oppressing your mother and
father, and their mother and father.
And what did it get you?
A dance ticket with some white girl, a pat on the back,
a job in the fields.
Then you tried to raise a family.
You were proud, but pride
didn’t put clothes on their backs, a roof over their heads,
or food in their stomachs.
So you swallowed your pride and fit the stereotype.
Quite, passive, hard working, subservient.
And what did it get you?
A change from the fields to a kitchen.
Is that what’s known as progress?
Instead of being burnt by the sun, you were burnt 
by hot water.
Instead of being cut by dirty plants, you were cut 
by dirty knives.
Your face was furrowed by perspiration and tears of
anger, frustration, pride, and pain.
You worked hard and long so that we could survive.
How ungrateful we have been.
You were so proud of me, your only son.
I saw it in your eyes,
those same eyes that will never see again.
I saw it in the smile on your lips,
those same lips which will never smile again.
I felt it in your handshake,
those same hands which will never move again.
So now you lie there,
so quiet, so still, so cold.
What did it get you?
 
by Dominador Siababa
Caucus for Filipino Consciousness
Dominador Siababa is a native Californian and second generation Filipino-American who was born and raised in the Salinas Valley. He graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz and worked for Filipino Youth Activities in Seattle for a few years before returning to California to work in the Bay Area where he has held various management roles with the utility and high tech industries. He now resides in Salinas and volunteers for a number of organizations.

 

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