The essays included in this section show how Filipinos in the U.S. were thinking about various issues–such as Philippine Independence, relationships, community, imperialism, labor, and civil rights–during the first half of the 20th century. Some of the language may be partisan and hyperbolic, reflecting the strong feelings and opinions expressed in Filipino writing during this period.
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Editors of the Filipino Students' Magazine respond in the following editorial to the Filipino community in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. General Frederick Funston was in charge of bringing order to the City and restoring communications infrastructure. Funston was made Brigadier General for his leadership in capturing General Emilio Aguinaldo during the Philippine-American War.
"Filipinos in San Francisco"
The earthquake and fire of San Francisco did not spare our countrymen living in that great city of the Pacific Coast. Their properties and homes were turned to ashes, their business paralyzed, and hunger, with all its terrific attributes, became very familiar to them; they were forgotten, despised and segregated from the people who were especially selected to receive help. As though their misery was not similar to that of others, although their race and color was different. Misfortune generally makes men brothers, but the San Francisco disaster afforded some exceptions to the rule, as is evidenced by letters received by us and other friends of the Filipinos. Immediately after the catastrophe, the Filipinos in Berkeley gathered together, and steps were at once taken to help our needy countrymen, as is shown by a letter of our manager to our chief editor, which appears elsewhere in this issue. Still, misfortune follows misfortune, and our brothers in San Francisco will continue miserable and helpless for some time longer. They can scarcely find any occupation to lift them from their financial prostration. Their future appears dark and gloomy.
It is said that the government sent succor to everybody, no matter what their nationality or color; but the officers seem to have obeyed with hearts and minds full of prejudice and partiality.
The Philippine press tells us that committees were organized (e.g. Philippine Feminine Association), theaters exhibited performances (e.g. Grand Opera House), clubs gave horse races and other sports (e.g. Manila Jockey Club), to collect funds for the relief of San Francisco sufferers. This work was efficaciously aided by the press of Manila and provinces. Yet our people are perhaps unaware that their countrymen in San Francisco are the ones who suffered most, and are still suffering at this time.
Let these words find echo in the breasts of generous Americans and Filipinos, in the United States as well as in the Philippines, and then the Filipinos in San Francisco shall suffer no longer from famine and misery.1
"The Filipina in Filipino Society"
by Helen Rillera [Angelica (Helen) Floresca Marquez]
Note: Helen Rillera was a student in John Sweet junior high school in San Francisco when she wrote this opinion piece for the Philippines Mail in Salinas. At the time, there was a great disproportion of Filipinos to Filipinas in the U.S. Filipinos were heavily engaged in labor organizing, and had encountered violent reactions from the white population. They were being called upon to sacrifice their time, energy, and possibly even their lives to the cause. Helen Rillera’s opinion is valuable because there are few writings by Filipinas available from this period, and very little had been published about their experiences in the U.S. during the 1930s. She wished to air "constructive criticism" while supporting the struggle of her Filipino comrades.
This is a “straight from the heart” expression of my ideas, experiences, and observations, which, I do sincerely hope would help to soften my countrymen’s hearts towards all Filipino girls in Filipino society.
Here, in this distant country, when a Pinay is as young as 12 or 13, she makes her debut in Filipino community. (There [are] very few exceptions). She is immediately swarmed with admirers. An innocent, unknown child, who should be out in the streets playing with youngsters of her own age, is shoved into a world of glamour and sophistication. She learns to enjoy it, as no matter how modest a girl may be, there is always that natural something in her heart that craves for flattery and attention. These, she is given aplenty, and in a short time, her name is on the lips of many Filipinos from city to city. The popularity and beauty contests all help to herald her name more and more to her people.
She sacrifices her youth, which is the most beautiful period in one’s life, to accomplish the duty that is every Filipino girl’s; that is, to contribute the feminine roles, which even today Filipino society lacks. And the Filipino girl is always proud to do it—always generous in giving herself to her people, that they may learn to esteem the fellowship and companionship of girls of their own blood and from their own country.
For a very short time, she is a queen of many hearts, loved, appreciated, and respected. And then—
It has hurt me to discover it; it hurts me now as I write it, but it is a true fact, sad as it may be. Many Filipinos have abused the efforts of their Filipino sisters. They have not helped to make things any easier for them; in fact they have been too selfishly interested in their own pleasure to give thought to the poor girls’ sentiments and sacrifices.
One occasion where the Filipino’s inconsiderateness is outwardly visible is at the dance hall. Here, where there are about 200 men, all eager to have chances to dance, there are only about 10 or 15 young ladies. Is it not the girl’s problems to decide which of the many men she would dance with? Is it not only natural that she takes first those with whom she is well acquainted? Should she not be given the one privilege to dance with whom she pleases? Ah, how often have open warfare has occurred at dance parties—all because several men would dance with one girl at one time. What does the poor girl do but choose one of them; and those who are disappointed lose their tempers, and openly insult or try to injure either the girl or the rivals. Weapons have, too often, threatened many a life—sometimes actually done injury.
Another hurt that the Filipina is likely to suffer is unjust talk. From the minute she becomes known in the community, her every step is measured and judged—her faults are exaggerated, her good points mocked. No matter how sweet she may be, no matter what good aims and thoughts she entertains in her mind, there is always something wrong, or so it seems to those who always find something to criticize. Constructive criticism is a beneficial thing, but it should never be used to the extent that it hurts.
Some girls fought as they [illegible] have been too weak to overcome these things and have lived to be abused and mistreated. It is these girls, who, believing the whole world is wrong, have also followed the wrong path, and have made their lives miserable.
This is a very disagreeable subject that I am touching upon—one which I fear and disdain as much as you, dear reader, but one which is an absolute truth and a problem which needs to be solved, for the sake of the Filipino girl’s well-being.
I am a Filipina, and every bit of me is proud of the fact. I am eager to do what I can, that those with whom I come in contact may be always happy to be my friends. I am not a star in society; however, I like it and I am sociable. Although I don’t indulge myself too heavily in it, and although I have known it only for a limited time, I have observed enough, I feel, to enable me to write this article. I, too, was taken away from baby dresses to evening gowns—playgrounds to dances—playmates to admirers. But I am a Filipina, and I want to make my Filipino brothers know me and understand me for what I am. I am anxious to do what I can so that a mutual understanding and no hard feelings may exist between them and myself. And I believe that is every Filipino girl’s thought. She means well; but if her good meanings are not considered, she, too, becomes rebellious.
This is an appeal to you, Filipino brothers. Your Filipino sisters want you to treat them as your real sisters—be protective instead of injurious—be considerate instead of fault-finding. They want to be your comrades. They want to be able to speak of you with their heads held high. Would you give them reason to? They want to be respected and appreciated and defended in society, and that depends upon you. They’ll sacrifice much, and suffer much for your cause; and all they ask is your going hand-in-hand with them; understanding, sympathizing, protecting. 2
"Ambition in the Filipina"
by Helen Rillera
Helen Rillera's daughter, Lala Lacuna, reported to me that her mother experienced many difficulties in her youth in the U.S., especially as a single working mother in the U.S. The previous essay hints at some of her hardships. However, this essay published in 1935 suggests that Rillera–then attending Commerce High School in San Francisco–still felt optimistic and adventurous about the opportunities available for Filipinas. The essay also gives some sense of her growing sense of a distinction between the lives of Filipinas in the Philippines, and of those growing up in the U.S. Given the few numbers of Filipino women in California at the time, it was easy for a Filipina to feel isolated. Still very young herself, Rillera's article seeks to inspire confidence in the "girls" and to remind them that their ambitions are worthwhile.
Yes, girls, it is a thrill, a fascinating and an interesting one, I mean, being here in this beautiful country, amidst adventure and animation. It is not at all an [exaggeration] to say we are lucky.
While we are here, we are having an opportunity to live, which our own sisters back home never had and may never have. what lovely times they boast of there, but I'm sure there are not many that could really excel our own experiences here. It seems that everything is to our advantage, except the fact that they are at home, where it is home, where their appreciation of 'Filipinas' is not from mere heresay, but from actually knowing it. If you have ever known and loved the Philippines, you will realize the significance of this point.
In the Islands today, we hear of youth rising to fame in the respective worlds of drama, art, literature, and music. We know the interest for the Fine Arts has kindled quickly and now burns with fervor. We are informed of talents, ambitions, and finally success of our girls there. And we are proud [are] we not, that the products of our native land are a credit to its worth and pride? But shouldn’t we [be] proud, shouldn’t we be inspired to do our own [limited] bit, even if we are far from home? I have already mentioned we have advantages and opportunities here, and surely we would not admit that we have less intelligence or less talent than they.
In California alone, we know of many lovely girls, not without promise of brilliant futures. All over the United States, I feel that there is intellectual power in our Filipino girls. Yet, very few, if any at all, ever come out; very few are developed and used.
Girls, ambition is lacking. This precious lamp of ambition is cold and dead. It is up to us to light it, and keep it ever a burning lantern to guide us in our paths.
Our general attitude is, we don't care. We're having a good time, and after a while, we'd settle down, and then live happily ever after. This is really a good course any girl can follow; but those of you who have extraordinary gifts should do more than this. God has endowed you with powers that your nation and your world may benefit. Therefore, don't be selfish of them.
Then, there are those of us who have no self-confidence. It is not nice to be egotistical, but one should be able to trust, know, and believe in himself. Often, rare ability is hidden under an inferiority complex. We are ourselves, as we only can judge and as we alone can mould our lives to our desires.
Some girls who were plucky enough to want to get ahead have been unfortunate in [one] way or another. Yet, their aims and good intentions should not be forgotten–they must [keep] on, to inspire those who are less fortunate than they to carry on.
There are so few of us here. Can't we be representatives of our real worth and our desire to add to the glories of our beloved Filipinas?3
“Filipino Exclusion—Putting the Cart Before the Horse” (excerpt)
This editorial was featured in the June 1929 issue of The Three Stars (Stockton, CA), edited by Luis Agudo and D.L. Marcuelo, who were both political progressives and leaders in the Filipino labor movement in California during the Great Depression. U.S. Filipino writers often used irony as a rhetorical strategy in editorials and op-eds.
The State Legislature of California adopted a resolution urging the United States Congress to exclude the Filipinos from this country. The Native Sons of California followed suit, so with the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the coming Nevada-California convention at San Diego are considering to adopt the same resolution.
From the point of view of these august representatives, the Filipinos are a threatening menace and “undesirable residents”—they may be right in their way of thinking though we differ.
We are now, however, much concerned as to the hypothesis of the sweeping indictment. Assuming this is true, in the first place, the Filipinos are not responsible for their being here. Their being here is the effect of some great cause which is directly responsible. We find that cause later. In passing, let it be understood clearly and explicitly that there is no argument here counter to the proposition of exclusion. We are not adverse to it. In fact, it is doing us a great deal of good, for then the Filipinos will be forced to stay home and develop their rich resources.
Indeed, we pay a great tribute to the people of this great COMMONWEALTH not only for their straightforward integrity for self-assertion and frankness—not only for the constant and courageous vigil over the rights and honor and future security of their people—but we pay a great tribute because this great issue, much as it [has been] seemingly unpleasant to the Brown [brothers] of yesteryears, only serves as a precursor to a more wholesome understanding and mutual respect to the rights of the two nations, thus creating an avenue to a closer and lasting friendship.
But the very thing of which we are more deeply concerned of is to find the very cause or the forces which brought the Filipinos to this country, for to treat the effect would be easy after finding the cause. Treating the effect alone will not help the situation.
The presence of the Filipinos in this country is the inevitable outcome of the by-product of the American sovereignty and its attendant political and cultural intercourse in the Philippines, which gave the Filipinos the right to come to this country in matters of reciprocity. American government is therefore the cause of the whole matter, of which she is directly responsible. Any attempt to remove the effect without removing the cause is both impractical and unscientific. To remove or exclude the Filipinos from this country without removing the American sovereignty from the Philippines is tantamount to downright imperialism and a radical departure from the sense of proportion. Indeed, it is a “contumely” to the high sense of fair play and justice—vaunted basic principles upon which the government stands. For America to seriously consider the proposition of driving the Filipinos out of this country will be analogous to the embarrassing position of the proverbial “cart before the horse.” May we ask the Native Sons of California, the Nevada-California Veterans of the Foreign Wars, and the State Legislature to apply the “Golden Rule” by adopting a resolution urging the Congress of the United States to give back to the Native Sons of the Philippines their freedom? If this could be done, then we’re only more than willing to pack our blankets and go home. 4
1 Filipino Students' Magazine, July, 1906.
2 Helen Rillera, "The Filipina in Filipino Society," The Philippines Mail, Aug. 13, 1934.
3 Helen Rillera, "Ambition in the Filipina," The Philippines Mail, Feb. 4, 1935. Thanks to Rillera's daughter, Lala Lacuna for a copy of this essay.
4"Filipino Exclusion – Putting the Cart Before the Horse" (editorial), The Three Stars, June, 1929.