“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.

 

Dr. Jose Rizal Display at the Library of Congress

In 2012, Awee Abayari (for Public Affairs) interviewed Reme Grefalda, Librarian/Curator of the APIA collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. They discuss the Library’s collection of the works of Dr. Jose Rizal (click on the link) and Reme reveals the details of books, folios, and other less well known documents about the Philippine hero and martyr.

Dr. Jose Rizal

Where Exactly Did Filipinos First Land in California?

Using paleogeographic maps, Abraham Ignacio, Jr. examines whether or not ‘Filipinos’ (called “Indios Luzones” in the log of Captain Pedro de Unamuno), actually disembarked at Morro Bay, as many believe. Other possibilities for the first arrival of Filipinos in North America might be San Luis Obispo Bay, or even Santa Cruz. (I grew up in Santa Cruz, so of course I’d love it if the site of the landing was in Monterey Bay or nearby.) Check out Ignacio’s article, “Where Exactly Did Filpinos First Land in California?” in Positively Filipino.

Filipino American History Month

Author and poet Barbara Jane Reyes wants to know if you are aware of Filipinas writing in our communities in the U.S. In a series of posts, she gives an overview and recommends some books you should consider reading. To those who feel some of these works may not be “literary,” she responds: “. . . if you want to know what Pinays in the early and mid-20th century were doing, and what was the quality of their lives, you would miss so much if you neglected these diaries, autobiographies, and memoirs. Not everyone gets to go or wants to go to MFA and PhD programs to polish their shit just for you to accept.” Check it out: “It’s Filipino American History Month. Do you know who the women are, writing in our community?”

 

 

Filipinos in Louisiana: 1763 or Later?

the-libertad-cargo-boat-built-by-the-manila-men

Check out Abraham Ignacio’s essay, “Revisiting Early Filipino presence in Louisiana: Examining the Sources” in the “History of Filipinos in the U.S.” page (see the sidebar to the right). Ignacio debunks the widely accepted claim that Filipinos arrived in Louisiana in 1763, after having jumped a Spanish cargo ship in New Orleans.

Open Letter from the Rafu Shimpo newspaper

Ethnic newspapers in the U.S. have always had to struggle to survive. I have to admire any ethnic periodical that can stay afloat for 100 years or more. That’s amazing! Rafu Shimpo is a Los Angeles Japanese daily newspaper published in the U.S. since 1903. After 113 years of serving their community, they are reaching a crisis point and are calling upon supporters to subscribe. Read this open letter from publisher and president, Michael Komai.

Rafu-staff-Circa-1920s

Filipina/o literary groups in the early 20th century U.S.

I’ll be giving a talk on pre-WWII Filipino newspapers published in central CA at the 2016 John Steinbeck Festival in the National Steinbeck Center, on May 6, in Salinas. Among other things, I’m thinking about the “Juan Steinbeck Poetry Society” formed by a group of Filipina/o writers associated with the Philippines Mail newspaper in the 1930s. Not to let Steinbeck steal all the fire, I’m also thinking of the other literary and discussion groups mentioned (usually briefly) in Filipino newspapers, and Filipina/o and AsianAm writing groups of the past (thinking of BAPAW in the SF Bay Area, which I joined in the 1980s) and groups and workshops flourishing nowadays. Collectively, what did these groups do to promote literary and writerly aspirations before the internet? Read this passage in an article by Elizabeth McHenry, “Forgotten Readers: African-American Literary Societies and the American Scene” (pub. in Print Culture in a Diverse America, ed. James P. Danky & Wayne A. Wiegand):

“But what of those African Americans who, as early as 1830, chose to write and read in groups in the hope that these activities might help to enlighten others? What of those individuals who used their literary reading to promote discussion and inspire their own writing? We are hardly aware that such a group existed—in part because, in the words of Bayard Rustin, a ‘sentimental notion of black solidarity’ has perpetuated the fiction that, especially before emancipation, black culture consisted of an illiterate mass undistinguished by differences of experience, privilege, or class. Only persistent scholarship has exposed the ‘significant and illuminating distinctions in background, prestige, attitudes, behavior, power, and culture’ that have always composed African-American communities'”(151).

While the article addresses an issue about the perception of African Americans, one can similarly apply it to Filipino writers, their reading/writing groups, and periodicals in the early 20th century. So, where’s the research? I’d like to see “persistent scholarship” directed to the study of Filpina/o American periodicals–whether formally associated with academia or not–for the love of it, because we see ourselves as part of a commons, and because we care.

Philippine Star

Just posting this for my notes: reference to a newspaper I didn’t know about: The Philippine Star, from Los Angeles, edited (1930s-50s) by Frank Perez, who also wrote for the Philippines Mail (Salinas) in the 1960s-70s. Frank Perez was pointed out to me by Thomas Esmeralda, who teaches at San Jose State U., and I found Perez’s articles in the print copies of the Mail donated to ACE by the daughter of Delfin Cruz, Jenny Cruz Rosa.

Perez’s lengthy, retrospective articles in the Philippines Mail of the late 1960s-70s documented what he saw as troubling changes in the activism and political environment of Filipinos in the Salinas Valley when Filipino urban professionals began migrating into the area. I observed that this change was strongly reflected in the content of the articles in the Mail during that period, in articles that focused increasingly on Philippine issues, and especially in the advertising, which was virtually taken over by full page airline and travel agency ads. The Philippine Star and Frank Perez were mentioned by Dillon Delvo and Ron Perez in an article in online magazine, The FilAm L.A.: Descendants document contributions of ‘manongs’ to the history of Filipino America, Aug. 15, 2014.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and “The Deed of the Six Manila Men”

Deed of the Manila Men

While browsing through various online archives, I occasionally come upon evidence of how Filipinos figured into 19th century Western print culture, usually in the form of the mysterious “Manilla Men.” They are mentioned in novels and essays by Melville, William Dean Howells, and Mark Twain; and Nathaniel Hawthorne briefly mentions sharing a picnic lunch with two Manila Men in a diary entry from 1868. As the Philippine American war heated up, American newspapers employed various writers–such as Lafcadio Hearn–to tell their tales about Filipinos and what they perceived as Filipino culture. This morning, while looking for references to Filipino newspapers in the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America site, I stumbled across a “true” story about a mutiny by Arthur Conan Doyle in — of all places — the Omaha Daily Bee, March 29, 1899: a short story entitled “The Deed of the Six Manila Men.” It was also published in the San Francisco Call, same month and year, with the title “Mutiny of the Flowery Land.” As usual, for those times, the characterization of the Manila Men is pretty unflattering and racist, and also underlines the idea that they were considered untrustworthy:

“The Manila Men appeared to submit to discipline, but there were lowering brows and sidelong glances that warned their officers not to trust them too far. Grumbles came from the forecastle as to the food and water–and the grumbling was perhaps not altogether unreasonable.”

The whole story can be read in one of the two links above, and you can read a Times news report (1864) about it here. A much more detailed and lengthy report of the execution was also published in The Age (Melbourne, Australia), April 15, 1864.

 

 

 

 

 

Reading List

Adding a reading list (see under “Pages”) in the sidebar. It’s a work in progress, and new categories will be added. At this time I’m interested in finding/adding books that provide information on the material production: printing presses, spirit duplicators, and other modes of production used by ethnic presses and publishers; business/community relations and advertising; subscription drives; and the economics of producing ethnic (and especially Filipina/o American and Asian American) periodicals, pamphlets, and ephemera in the early to mid- 20th century.