A Newsletter

I’ve maintained an arts and culture newsletter, Eulipion Outpost on Substack for 82 issues, publishing them weekly. With this experience behind me–and knowing now that weekly newsletter writing is enjoyable and keeps me productive–I’ve decided to start a newsletter offshoot of this website (with the same name), Commonwealthcafe, on Substack.

I intend to use the newsletter to share excerpts from various FilAm as well as other (mostly AAPI) historic (late 19th through 20th c.) newspapers and related print culture. But I also want to explore the relationship between these earlier “historical” examples and the state of ethnic print culture today. 

Subscription, for now, is free; I’m not currently sure how often I’ll publish, but I suspect that in the beginning, it will be bi-weekly (?). And I don’t expect the issues to be very long. Likely, each one will contain an historical newspaper or pamphlet excerpt, and a list of interesting historical print culture article links.

The Commonwealth Cafe website will remain up, and perhaps will undergo a few changes.

I hope you’ll subscribe to receive issues in your email!

Commonwealth Cafe flyer showing a cartoon of a kicking carabao

First issue of the Commonwealth Cafe newsletter.

Nobel Prize Winner: Maria Ressa

Journalist Maria Ressa 2021
Maria Ressa, 2021 (Photo: Rappler
CC BY-SA 4.0)

I can’t let the year pass without mentioning that Philippine journalist Maria Ressa won the Nobel Prize, and gave a powerful acceptance speech.

It’s not by accident that she mentions CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Pres. Rodrigo Duterte in the same breath. Exponential technology’s role in the rise of fascism around the world was her special focus (and also of Nobel prize winner, Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta). And some of her statements remind me of her talk for the Center for Humane Technology, where she was interviewed by Tristan Harris in “Your Undivided Attention” (podcast), 2019 and 2020. I think the CHT has been very much influenced by Ressa. Their projects and messages are converging. See also Frank Langfitt’s article, “Nobel Peace laureates blast tech giants and warn against rising authoritarianism.”

Filipino Newspaper Presentation

I haven’t posted here for awhile, since January 2020. So much has happened since the pandemic began. I’m posting now to let you know I will be giving a talk at the Salinas Valley Ethnic Studies Conference on Saturday, Sept. 18, 11:00 a.m. – 12:15 pm, at the Hartnell College Alisal Campus (1752 E Alisal St., Salinas, Ca 93905).

My talk will focus on Filipino newspapers published in Salinas Chinatown during the1920s-30s: the Philippine Independent, and the Philippines Mail. Also presenting with me will be members of Asian Cultural Experience (ACE) of Salinas Chinatown. They include Jason Agpaoa presenting on Filipino waves of immigration, Richard Villegas on the 1st and 2nd Filipino Army Regiment, and Alex Fabros on Filipinos in Salinas Valley. Thanks to Jason Agpaoa for arranging this talk and supporting Filipinx and AAPI contributions to Ethnic Studies.

Delfin Cruz (top left), editor of Philippines Mail, mid-1930s to 1983, with friends and family who helped put together the newspaper and distribute it.

Comrade Carlos Bulosan

Carlos Bulosan

In these days running up to the 2020 elections, with public focus turning to socialist Bernie Sanders and social-democrat members of Congress, it’s perhaps not surprising that memories of FDR’s “New Deal” are circulating once again, and socialism or social democracy is being picked apart, criticized or re-examined. In writer Carlos Bulosan’s heyday, socialism and communism were seen as unwanted “foreign” elements infiltrating the country. It might be a good time to remember Carlos Bulosan‘s socialist (or communist) left-leaning tendencies, how he was perceived by the government and FBI, and how that played out in his life and death.

Rick Baldoz writes, “

“[Bulosan] had long been active in left-wing circles in the United States and saw his career as a cultural worker as inextricably intertwined with his commitment to radical politics. Whether penning articles for left-wing newspapers or writing a semi-autobiographical novel about the socio-economic hardships faced by Filipino immigrants in the United States, Bulosan gave voice to the disenfranchised. He believed that his cultural labor could contribute directly to the struggle for a more just world, declaring to a colleague that, “every word is a weapon for freedom.”

Read his in-depth article, in The Asia-Pacific Journal, in full: “Comrade Carlos Bulosan: U.S. State Surveillance And the Cold War Suppression of Filipino Radicals.” 

Maria Ressa

When I think of all the newspapers published by Filipinos in the U.S. before WWII, writers and editors like Luis Agudo, Helen Rillera, D. L. Marcuelo, Carlos and Aurelio Bulosan, Pablo Manlapit, and many more whose aim was to do a good job of communicating the news, while struggling to keep their newspapers going, and often speaking up to challenge mainstream thought, I realize how important it is to support today’s journalists and publishers, especially those who do it with courage, like Maria Ressa. She is now in jail, and denied bail for daring to speak the truth. https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/13/opinions/maria-ressa-arrest-press-freedom-steven-butler/index.html

The Philippines and San Francisco

Image from masthead of the satirical journal Lipag Kalabaw, Vol.1 No. 1, 1907

Listen to a reading of Mark Twain and a talk by Filipino American historians and writers Abraham Ignacio, Chris Carlsson, and Oscar Penaranda on the connections between San Francisco and the Philippine-American war — in this 2006 recording, “Philippines and San Francisco, Part 1” , by the Shaping San Francisco Talks. Part 2 is here with MC Canlas and Teresita Bautista. This is available free and open-source in the Internet Archive, where you can open an account and upload media for public use. Here is the text introduction:

From the barely remembered American-Philippine War of 1899-1904 that killed a half million Filipinos, to the Central Valley-driven immigration of Filipino men in the 1910s and 1920s, and from the rise to the ultimate demise of Manilatown, San Francisco has been a vital crossroads for Filipinos, and Filipinos in turn have left important marks in the city. Join the authors of The Forbidden Book and other Filipino-American scholars and activists. Speakers: Chris Carlsson, Abraham Ignacio, Oscar Penaranda.
Locator info:

The “Modern Maria Clara in America”: 1964

Excerpt from “Search for Modern Maria Clara” application (1964)

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that Filipinas in the pre-WWII U.S. often helped to support the existence of Filipino newspapers in this country by participating in subscription drives, and running in beauty contests to help raise subscriptions for the newspapers. For decades, the image of Maria Clara, the eurocentric ideal of the chaste, subservient, feminine, not to mention long-suffering Filipina, has been held up as a role-model for pinays. Filipinas who migrated  to the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s found themselves held up to scrutiny against this image, as Helen Rillera has written in “The Filipina in Filipino Society” (Aug. 1934). They found their dreams of independence in this country harder to realize than they expected.

Helen Rillera, writer for the Philippines Mail, 1930s.

Helen Rillera. Photo from the Cacdac family collection.

In 1964, the Philippine News (based in San Francisco) and the Philippine-based Manila Chronicle co-sponsored a contest declared as a “SEARCH for the MODERN MARIA CLARA IN AMERICA.” In this way, the Maria Clara ideal continued to be upheld, even as immigration policies toward Filipinos relaxed (see 1965 Immigration Act), and a new wave of Filipinos in the professions began to enter the U.S. (For more on Maria Clara see also Denise Cruz, “Transpacific Femininities”).

In the application materials, “beauty” and “personality” comprised 60% of the basis of selection, while both “stage presence” and “talent” were worth 20% each. The grand prize was a free, two-week vacation to the Philippines, and the winner would be crowned the “MODERN MARIA CLARA IN AMERICA” in a spectacle on live television in Manila, and receive “appropriate plaques and trophies.” I found the application forms in some of my mother’s old papers (I suspect she hoped to enter me into the contest).

Philippine-mestiza women dressed in “traditional” Maria Clara gowns, late 19th c. Photo from Wikipedia.

The contest was announced during an era when tourism to the Philippines, aimed partly at Filipino U.S. immigrants, was increasingly touted in full-page ads in U.S. Filipino newspapers. While I have no materials on hand stating explicitly  how the candidates for the Modern Maria Clara in America would benefit the Philippine News/Manila Chronicle, my guess is that the contest would help to increase Philippine tourism, and to forge, through the Maria Clara narrative, a growing transnational readership for both newspapers.

As a former teenage (barely — I was 13) Filipina queen contest winner (for the Dimas-Alang lodge) in the 1960s, I ran headlong into prescriptives for modern Filipina womanhood that came straight out of the Maria Clara playbook. I had little awareness of their origins, or even how they were affecting my life. I only knew they were sometimes constricting, infuriating, and polarizing (creating a sniping competitiveness among the other young contestants, their parents, and organizations); nevertheless, the contest, culminating in a coronation at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, also injected a bit of hard-won* “glamour” and excitement into my otherwise mundane life as a teen.

Over the decades, some Filipinas went against the grain of the Maria Clara role, and were not well-recognized or appreciated until recently. Nowadays, I’m grateful to see that many pinays — scientists, activists, artists, writers, musicians (for example, Ruby Ibarra) — are working hard, often successfully, to change the narrative; but it’s a complex issue, and there’s more work to be done.


*I’m serious about “hard-won.” Winning the contest required participating in countless “social-box” dances at lodge-sponsored Filipino community events, as well as countless trips to Filipino labor-camps up and down the central California coast, selling tickets to Filipino dances and other events, and taking the time (while chaperoned by my mom and aunties) to schmooze with and charm my mostly male lodge-member constituents. Schmoozing, by the way, did not involve cocktails and jazz; it meant sitting down to meals of fried fish (sometimes fresh-caught from the surf near Davenport) or adobo, lumpia, and rice, cooked by laborers at the camp for their guests.




On Asian American Timelines and What They Leave Out

L: Philip Vera Cruz. R: Larry Itliong.

This morning, Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, a scholar of Filipina/o American history and American Studies, posted a “rant” regarding the timeline posted on the website “A Different Asian American Timeline”: https://aatimeline.com/intro. The site does not identify its originators; thus it appears generic and authoritative (as timelines often do). Her complaint is the latest among many that have emerged from Filipina/o American communities in response to omissions or misrepresentations of their history from various parts of the Asian American narrative over the years:

I appreciate and am grateful for the hard work that many folks, including friends and colleagues, put into this project. However, it ONCE AGAIN erases the Filipina/o American narrative in the Delano Grape Strike and the formation of the UFW. HOW COULD AN ASIAN AMERICAN HISTORY TIMELINE NOT EVEN NAME LARRY ITLIONG AND PHILIP VERA CRUZ IN THE ENTRY ON THE UFW?!?!?! [ok, sorry to shout. But come on. It’s 2018. There’s no excuse for shoddy research, especially when a website proclaims itself to be a brand new historical resource for the community.]

It reads like this: “Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta found the United Farm Workers association in Delano, California, which would become the largest and most important farm worker union in the nation. Under their leadership, the UFW joins a strike started by Filipino grape pickers in Delano.”

This is historically WRONG. It completely mischaracterizes the Filipina/o American labor movement as well as the history of Mexican American labor. At the very least, it should read like this: “The mostly Filipino grape workers of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, led by Larry Itliong, launch the Delano Grape Strike in 1965. Itliong asks the National Farm Workers Association, led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, to join the strike. In 1966, the two unions merge and become the United Farm Workers, with Chavez as director and Itliong as assistant director. Filipina/o American labor leaders Philip Vera Cruz and Pete Velasco also served on the board of the UFW.” I left a comment with the correction but it is awaiting approval. AGAIN, Filipinas/os get shafted in larger Asian American historical narratives. It almost would have been better to not even have been included in the timeline than to have perpetuated this myth that the UFW was founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and only them, and that Filipinos were some random folks who happened to start a grape strike.

Shortly afterward, the site revised (deleted) the original text, inserting Mabalon’s text. To which she responded: From what I’ve heard, the site corrected the entry. It’s not 100% correct, but I’ll grade the correction a B+. The AWOC was founded in Stockton in 1959 with a lot of different people including Larry Itliong, Dillon Delvo’s dad Rudy Delvo, and Dolores Huerta, and it was the Delano local of AWOC that included Pete Velasco and Philip Vera Cruz. Thanks everyone for standing up for our histories! 

You can read the Facebook thread here: https://www.facebook.com/dawn.mabalon/posts/10157480754798378?comment_id=10157482219653378&reply_comment_id=10157482308003378&notif_id=1525895355571699&notif_t=feed_comment_reply&ref=notif

UPDATE: From what I've heard, the site corrected the entry. It's not 100% correct, but I'll grade the correction a B+….

Posted by Dawn Bohulano Mabalon on Tuesday, May 8, 2018

“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



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