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.
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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.




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?


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.

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.