Daily Archives: July 31, 2008

SIPA: Pinoys United in LA

by Gayle Gatchalian/AJPress
Amid the bustle of Historic Filipinotown stands a quiet guardian of the Filipino-American’s best interests—SIPA, or Search to Involve Pilipino Americans. This 36-year-old organization has taken the mission of service to heart, unselfishly providing for the diverse, multi-ethnic youth and families residing in the area as well as Filipino Americans all over Los Angeles County.

Generations upon generations of Filipino migrants have made Historic Filipinotown the place to start their new lives. However, hope and a promise of a better tomorrow is tempered by hardships like poverty, inadequate housing, insufficient childcare and substandard schools. There was an urgent need to provide a space where helping his fellow countrymen is but a footstep away. So in 1972, SIPA was born.

The name SIPA was actually taken from a two-day conference held in Camp Oak Grove, San Bernardino nearly forty years ago. The conference sought to incite conversation about the issues that face the substantial Filipino-American community in the United States. “A diverse cross section of groups and individuals founded SIPA,” shared current SIPA Executive Director, Joel Jacinto. In addition, the Filipino Christian Church was instrumental to the birth of SIPA, as well as “Uncle” Roy Morales, Al Mendoza, activists, scholars, university professors, parents and the youth themselves.

A passionate determination to advocate health, welfare, and political and cultural empowerment in the community fuel the spirited staff of SIPA. Mr. Jacinto has been with SIPA for 17 years. “To me and the people that work here, it’s not a job. It’s stewardship.” They all share a sense of “contributing to the greater good of the Filipino-American community” which Mr. Jacinto admits is a “tremendous responsibility”. Nevertheless, it comes with a “tremendous fulfillment and satisfaction” that keeps him and the crew coming to work every day.

And with their every day comes a step forward in achieving superb quality of life for the Filipino. “We try to work with the youth and families in a holistic manner, because we realize that family is a great part of the young person’s life” noted Mr. Jacinto, alluding to the strong family ties characteristic of the Filipino. A continuous stream of health and human services, community economic development and arts/cultural programs steadily work to achieve their noble objectives. Their efforts are aided by strong community relationships and partnerships with established Asian American and Filipino groups in the area, governmental and corporate sponsorships.

Their goal is clear: “to provide innovative programs that will inspire and empower youth to make smart choices, bring families together, and ultimately, revitalize the community.” SIPA promotes education, leadership and cultural and financial self-reliance in order to make an active, vibrant community with empowered individuals as its members.

The health and human services aspect of SIPA focus on the personal well-being of the Filipino-American. They have counseling for individuals, families and groups, case management, community education and after-school enrichment activities for the children. All these services contribute to a realizing a capable self within each and every person, enabling them to take charge of the good future they aspire to.

The Economic Development services address the more practical needs of the struggling Filipino-American. “We’ve ventured more into the types of services that deal with economic self-sufficiency,” revealed Mr. Jacinto. SIPA’s projects include affordable family housing projects and small business development programs. It is their belief that one of the best ways to help families is to teach them to do the best they can with their resources. But of course, they also try to provide a platform upon which these families can make their new beginning. As of last count, three housing projects have provided 138 units of affordable housing.

One of their most impressive, on-going successes is the Temple Gateway Youth & Community Center. SIPA converted the 5,000 square foot area it owned and built a structure that now houses a multi-purpose auditorium featuring an indoor theater; two youth activity rooms; two multi-use athletic courts for basketball, volleyball and other sports; a weight-training room; and more.

Currently, SIPA is undergoing one of the biggest projects they have ever undertaken. In alliance with several government agencies and corporate business interests, SIPA is building a “mixed use-mixed income” project on an old dairy site. 20,000 square feet of abandoned space will become a vibrant destination site for Filipinos. This project combines community and retail in one area, with housing atop commercial. The City of Los Angeles is espousing this type of construction and city council president Eric Garcetti has thrown his full support behind this project. It was also through Mr. Garcetti that Historic Filipinotown was officially designated in 2002 and has been a “consistent enabler to the Filipino community”, says Mr. Jacinto.

Something is always brewing in SIPA. From March to June of 2008, SIPA offered KELP or Kultural Enrichment and Language Program, an intensive program for children in the first to third grade. Teaching Filipino language, arts and culture was the central theme of this program, one that followed the curriculum standards adopted by the California State Board of Education. But its purpose was multilateral- aside form obtaining a “deeper awareness and understanding of cultural heritage” and “strengthening one’s own identity as Fiipino Americans”, this program was designed to stimulate the child’s curiosity in learning about the world around him or her. Exposure to a culture that is different from what they face everyday, the KELP effect is enlivening a desire in the children to go beyond what is immediate and accessible. Mr. Jacinto described this program as “transformative”, because children can engage and be participants in the Filipino culture.

Sessions @ SIPA is another one of the timely and needs-sensitive programs offered by this organization. Synthetic music production and song experimentation enjoys a sure rise in popularity through the prevalence of hip-hop, rap and dance music. Tapping into this widespread youth interest demonstrates SIPA’s vigilance of what concerns the young today, and their uncanny ability to capitalize on it. Every Monday, from 6 to 8PM, instructors are available to teach scratching, mixing and making beats to all those interested.

And if one’s interest lies along the lines of computers and the World Wide Web, the Community Arts and Technology Center can step up to answer the call. The Center boasts free internet access and use of word processing and media arts software to the savvy and classes, workshops and even one-on-one tutorials to the novice.  It opens its doors every Monday to Friday, from 10AM to 2PM.

After the music and the websurfing, what else can we expect from SIPA? Well, in line with the Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month comes the Music LA program. It is an 8-week course that introduces the bamboo instrument Angklung. Participants will learn how to play this piece of percussion while learning about Pilipino music through the ages and all throughout the archipelago.

Why such a focus on the youth? “As the generations go, we will be forced to answer the question what, if any Filipino culture will be retained at all,” said Mr. Jacinto. Many of the KELP attendees spoke little to no Tagalog and had very little exposure to Filipino culture. SIPA is here to champion cultural preservation and empowerment for all.


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Antonio Miranda Rodriquez: A Historical Mystery

by Cynthia de Castro/AJPress
Did he or didn’t he? Was he or wasn’t he? The name of Antonio Miranda Rodriguez has become controversial among LA historians because it raises a lot of questions. Some historians claim that he is one of the founders of the city of Los Angeles. If so, why isn’t his name found in the plaque honoring the 11 founders of the City of Los Angeles at the El Pueblo Historical Monument, nor in the marker that was put up by the Los Angeles Historical Commission? Another mystery that is of great interest to Filipinos is Antonio Rodriguez’ ancestry. Many say he is Filipino; one historian said he is a “Chino” (Although Miranda and Rodriguez don’t actually sound Chinese); others say he is of Spanish descent.
“When you google “founders of Los Angeles”, the first site you’ll see is from afgen.com which says “ On September 4, 1781, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles was founded by 44 pobladores from New Spain, now called Mexico. The heads of the eleven founding families were Antonio Clemente Villavicencio, a Spaniard; Antonio Mesa, a Negro; Jose Fernando Lara, a Spaniard, Jose Vanegas, an Indian; Pablo Rodriquez, an Indian; Manuel Camero, a Mulatto; Jose Antonio Navarro, a Mestizo; Jose Moreno, a Mulatto; Basillio Rosas, an Indian; Alejandro Rosas, an Indian; and Luis Quintero, a Negro.”

No mention of Rodriguez. But if you go to http://www.laalmanac.com/history/hi03c.htm, the site of the Los Angeles Almanac, you will find, at the bottom of the list of the 11 LA founders and their families, this very interesting paragraph.

“A twelfth settler, Antonio Miranda Rodriguez, a 50-year-old Filipino, and his 11 year-old daughter were also slated to settle in the new pueblo. They set out with the rest of the pobladores in early 1781 en route to their new home. While in Baja California, however, they were among those who fell ill to smallpox and remained there for an extended time to recuperate. When they finally arrived in Alta California (the present-day State of California), it was discovered that Miranda Rodriguez was a skilled gunsmith. He was subsequently reassigned to the Santa Barbara Presidio in 1782 to be an armorer.”

This story about a Filipino being among the original founders from Mexico is also mentioned by other historians. Among the sources where we can find that Antonio Miranda Rodriguez was indeed of Filipino ancestry and made it to found Los Angeles after a brief delay from smallpox are the following:

William Mason, curator, History Division, Los Angeles County Museum

Americans of Filipino Descent – FAQs  by Eloisa Gomez Borah. Reference Librarian, UCLA

Los Angeles Almanac laalmanac.com, edited by Gary Thornton

Cultural Diversity in the United States, by Larry Naylor

Eric Garcetti’s  Our Pacific Destiny

Author Eloisa Gomez Borah wrote a chronology of Filipinos in America Pre-1898 to talk about that time when Filipinos first came to America. She mentioned that Filipinos, often referred to as Luzon Indians or Manila Men then, were on sailing ships on the world’s seas and oceans from the earliest of times, even before the Manila Galleon Trade years of 1565-1815.  Borah gave the following examples of Filipinos who went to America prior to 1898,when the Philippines was still under Spain.

– Indios Luzones landing in Morro Bay, California in 1587

– Filipinos shipwrecked near San Francisco Bay in 1595

– a village of Manila Men on the ourskirts of New Orleans, Louisiana in 1763

– Filipinos with Fr. Junipero Serra at the founding of the mission at Monterey in 1779

– Antonio Miranda Rodriquez among those chosen to settle in Los Angeles in 1781

Another source confirming Rodriguez’ Filipino ancestry and significant part in the founding of Los Angeles is Eric Garcetti’s Our Pacific Destiny, where he wrote,

“Our city’s links with Asia are deep and old-as old as the city itself. Our region’s first residents were Asian immigrants, most likely from Siberia. In 1781, a Spanish subject of Filipino heritage, Antonio Miranda Rodriguez, joined 43 other pobladores to trek to the area that became El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora, la Reina de los Angeles.”

In the book, From the Mountains to the Sea by John Steven McGroarty, copyright 1921,Volume I, page 30, we also find this listing of the founders of LA: “Josede Lara, Spaniard, 50 years of age, wife Indian, 3 children; Jose Antonio Navarro, mestizo, 42 years, wife mulattress, 3 children; Basilio Rosas, Indian, 68 years, wife mulattress, 6 children; Antonio Mesa, negro, 38 years, wife a mulattress, 2 children; Antonio (Felix) Vilavicencio,Spaniard, 30 years, wife Indian; Jose Vanegas, Indian, 28 years, wife Indian, 1 child; Alejandro Rosas, Indian, 19 years, wife coyote (Indian); Pablo Rodriguez, Indian, 25 years, wife Indian, 1 child; Mamuel Camero, mulatto, 30 years, wife mulatress; Luis Quintero, negro, 55 years, wife mulattress, 5 children; Jose Moreno, mulatto, 22 years, wife mulattress; Antonio Miranda, chino, 50 years, 1 child.” McGroarty wrote this about Miranda- “ historians dispute among themselves as to whether Antonio Miranda, who was listed as a ‘chino’ was a Chinaman.”

William Mason, curator of the History Division, Los Angeles County Museum, also did a research on this topic and wrote the following: 1781- Antonio Miranda Rodriguez, 50-year old, born in Sonora, Mexico, a descendant of a “Manila Man,” and his daughter, Juana Maria, age 11, were among the founding settlers of the city of Los Angeles, California. He later became the ironsmith of the Santa Barbara Mission in California where he lived until his death. He is buried in the Santa Barbara Mission church.

Based on the above sources, there is really the huge probability that one of the founders of Los Angeles is a true-blooded Pinoy. Already, there have been some people who cited the need to give Antonio Miranda Rodriguez his long-overdue place in official history. But proof may not be that easy to get, unless Mexico has centuries-old archives that can attest to Rodriguez being a part of the original group which set out for Los Angeles.


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The Enclave of our Roots

by Joseph Pimentel/AJPress
FilAm Jonathan Lorenzo, an administrator for the Filipino-American Library (FAL), gets tremendous satisfaction from the faces of those he educates about Historic Filipinotown. Three times a year, Lorenzo shuttles and acts as a tour guide to eager people wanting to know more about the 2.1-square-mile area designated as Historic Filipinotown.
“There’s the most popular site which is the 100-foot mural on Beverly and Union that depicts about 4,000 years of Filipino and FilAm history including pictures of Jose Rizal, the EDSA Revolution and labor leaders like Philip Vera Cruz; Remy’s on Temple [art gallery], and the [World War II] Filipino Veterans’ Memorial.”

“All the Filipinos who go on the tour usually say ‘I never knew all these Filipino places were in Historic Filipinotown,’” he added. “And the non Filipinos say to me that they never knew [that] there is such a rich Filipino history in Los Angeles. It makes me feel good. It makes me want to do more of these tours.”

For the past two years, Lorenzo and the FAL have been trying there best to gather more Filipinos and FilAms to learn about their very own geographic and cultural district.

Despite the Filipino murals and landmarks, the number one question Lorenzo always hears  is what’s so Filipino about Historic Filipinotown?

Since its designation in 2002, Historic Filipinotown which comprises the 101 Hollywood Freeway to the North, Hoover St. to the West, Glendale Blvd. to the East, and Beverly Blvd. to the South; has received a lot of criticisms for not having a large Filipino population base. With a dominant Hispanic population in the area, Filipinos seem to be non-existent in an area named after them, only making up about 10 percent of the areas population.

But in reality, there are a lot of things Filipino about Historic Filipinotown, according to Lorenzo.

It’s the reason why FAL offers the free bus tours.

“We want to educate everybody about our rich history here,” said Lorenzo.

Early Beginnings

The Historic Filipinotown area has had a rich history dating from the early 1940’s when the first ever Filipino-American service organization was created and later built. The Filipino American Community of Los Angeles also known as FACLA, has been serving the community since the early migrants decided to make Los Angeles their home away from home.

It was created by a dedicated group of settled Filipinos wanting to help their kababayans.

“That was their hub,” said Susan Dilkes, the executive director of Filipino American Service Group Inc. (FASGI). “The Filipinos who were here already had a spirit to help the new Filipino immigrants. These Filipino immigrants were mostly young, fresh, hardworking and very ambitious. They would come to this area and FACLA would help them get adjusted.”

FACLA was a safe haven for these immigrants. During a time with severe prejudice and lack of cultural assimilation, these Filipino immigrants would rely on each other for help.

“The discrimination was very clear,” said Dilkes. “They had to work together.”

In fact, the original Filipinotown “Little Manila” where Filipinos first settled (many of them farmers) was in the Downtown Los Angeles areas of Bunker Hill and Little Tokyo before they were forced out and moved west due to city bureaucracy to what is now the Historic Filipinotown area.

Most of the early Filipino immigrants that lived in Historic Filipinotown worked in low wage jobs as bus boys or servers in restaurants.

In the 1960’s to the 1980’s more Filipinos continued to migrate to the US due to the 1965 US Immigration Act and the need for workers, said Lorenzo.

As the area continued to flourish with more Filipinos, Filipino businesses, schools and service groups were created. Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA) was founded in 1972 to serve the FilAm youth. The late Valente G. Ramos and his wife Cecile founded Burlington Nursery School and Kindergarten in 1974. The Filipino Christian Church moved to its location in Historic Filipinotown from Downtown. FASGI was founded in 1981.

Many of those organizations today are still prominent and set up headquarters in Historic Filipinotown.

There was a point that the area was 60 or 70 percent Filipino, says Jocelyn Geaga-Rosenthal.

“There are books written about the area,” said Geaga-Rosenthal, owner of Remy’s on Temple Gallery. “Our very own Filipino Author Carlos Bulosan used to frequent places here in Historic Filipinotown.”

“But that changed overtime,” she added. “The influx of new immigrants and the upward mobility of Filipinos, many moved out into other areas of Los Angeles.”

The core organizations remained. And according to Geaga-Rosenthal, that’s when the idea of a Historic Filipinotown designation for the area began.

Historic Filipinotown

Her memory is a little bit hazy but Dilkes of FASGI remembers when Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti proposed the idea of designating an area of Los Angeles Historic Filipinotown.

“I remember we had a FilVote forum for the city council,” she remembers. “He said he was going to support Historic Filipinotown [if] he wins [his council seat].”

Garcetti kept his word. When he won in early 2000, his deputy organized the leaders of the Filipino community at FASGI. Garcetti created a study and found the need for a Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles.

On August 22, 2002, Garcetti flanked by leaders of the Filipino community lifted the first ever Historic Filipinotown sign.

“There’s Little Tokyo, Thai Town, Chinatown, the Asian map was not complete in the area,” said Dilkes who was part of that ceremony in 2002. “The missing piece was Historic Filipinotown. We got our designation but it was way overdue.”

Geaga-Rosenthal was also part of that ceremony. She remembers it quite well. She was one of the first speakers to thank the members of the Los Angeles City Council for their unanimous motion of support.

“It was exciting and rewarding,” she said. “It was also nostalgic for me. My mom was very active in this area until her death in 1997. She would have been very joyful had she been around. This is a realization of her dreams and many others. It was truly a remarkable moment and moving experience for me.”

Geaga-Rosenthall added that it’s important to give the large Filipino population in Los Angeles an area they can call their own.

“The proclamation of this area is an acknowledgement of our history,” she said. “There are still more work to be done but the area is a living cultural monument [of] our contributions of this great land.”


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The Asian Journal meets Giuliani in Makati

MAKATI – Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani keynoted the first Leadership Conference Series last July 23 at the Rizal Ballroom of the Makati Shangri-La. It was the first in a set of lectures aimed at allowing Philippine leaders from the business, government and non-government sectors to learn from the experiences and expertise of global leaders. The event was presented by the JC Binay Foundation of Makati, with the Philippine Star and De La Salle University as co-presentors. The major sponsors were GLOBE Telecom, San Miguel Corporation, the Lopez Group Foundation and Metrobank.

The Asian Journal, which has a weekly New York/New Jersey edition attended the “strictly by invitation only” press conference with Mayor Giuliani together with a few selected members of the media, including AJ publisher Roger Lagmay Oriel, who was a personal guest of Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay.  Mr. Oriel talked briefly with Mr. Giuliani after the press conference regarding the forthcoming Republican Party convention in August.  The Asian Journal was the only Filipino-American newspaper invited to the exclusive press conference where Mr. Giuliani said, “Ronald Reagan is my hero.”

Distinguished for his handling of the post-World Trade Center attacks, Giuliani delivered a talk on Leadership in Times of Crisis.  For his efforts during and after the 9-11 attacks, he was named “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine in 2001, knighted by the Queen of England, dubbed “Rudy the Rock” by French President Jacquest Chirac and presented with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Freedom Award by former first lady Nancy Reagan.

Mayor Giuliani was also credited with cutting the murder rate in New York City by 66% and the overall crime index dipped by 56%, making New York City—once considered the crime capital of the country—the safest among the largest cities in America, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  New York City’s law enforcement strategy has become a model for other cities around the world.

He also implemented the largest and most successful welfare-to-work initiative in the country, turning welfare offices into Job Centers and reducing welfare rolls by 640,000—nearly 60%.

Aside from Mayor Giuliani’ lecture, the forum was highlighted as well by a roundtable discussion from the key Philippine leaders of government, business and foreign service. Discussants were Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, British Ambassador Peter Beckingham, Ms. Loida Nicolas-Lewis, Chief Executive Officer of TLC Beatrice, Mr. Miguel Belmonte, Philippine Star publisher, Bro. Armin Luistro, De La Salle-Manila president and general manager of James Lafferty, Procter & Gamble Philippines.

Also delivering addresses were Mr. Oscar Lopez, chairman and CEO of First Philippines Holdings Inc., and Benpres Holdings Inc.; Butch Jimenez, senior VP of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.; and Ces Drilon, broadcast journalist of ABS-CBN.

Former President Joseph Estrada also attended the event.

The event was also mounted in partnership with ANC, Business Mirror, Business World, Manila Bulletin, Manila Broadcasting Company and Philippine Daily Inquirer.


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