Tag Archives: Historic Filipinotown

The Untold Story of ‘Singgalot’

by Gayle Gatchalian/AJPress
Little has been made of the extraordinary story behind Filipinos in America. With Historic Filipinotown’s annual festival, a celebration of the rich culture of one of America’s largest migrant communities fast approaching, the Smithsonian Institution’s Singgalot: The Ties that Bind arrives in Los Angeles to tell the tale that has, until now remained unspoken, yet not forgotten.
Singgalot traces the remarkable history of the Philippine-US relationship over hundreds of years. From trade missions from Manila to Acapulco in the 16th century to the 1965 Immigration Act, this 30 panel exhibit narrates how the Filipino came to be American through rare photographs and well-researched text. Significant turning points highlighted in this long relationship include the Spanish cessation of the Philippines in the Spanish-American War, migration of workers to West Coast farms, Hawaiian plantations and Alaskan canneries and of course, the bravery of the Filipinos in signing up for the World War II effort.

Dr. Dean Alegado of the University of Hawaii’s Department of Ethnic Studies and Dr. Franklin Odo, director of the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Program created this historical exhibit. Members of the Filipino American Heritage Network (FAHN) attended its initial 2006 exhibition in the University of Hawaii. This group was attending festivities related to the centennial celebration of the Fil-Am migration and after seeing the exhibit, dreamed of one day bringing it to Los Angeles. Singgalot was displayed in the Smithsonian in 2006 then in the Bishop Museum in Hawaii. Finally, it came time to begin its three year national tour.

Prosy dela Cruz and Carol Kimbrough were among the members of FAHN who saw the exhibit in Hawaii. They contacted Jocelyn Geaga-Rosenthal, owner of Remy’s on Temple Art Gallery and pitched the Singgalot exhibit. Rosenthal agreed and headed the planning committee that coordinated with the Smithsonian to ensure the arrival of Singgalot to Los Angeles. “The Smithsonian has very strict standards,” says Rosenthal of the application procedure. “There were a lot of hurdles and hoops we had to jump through, but the reward is, it’s here.”

The timing could not have been better. The exhibit officially opens on August 2nd, just as the Historic Filipinotown (HF) festival kicks off. “It’s a real synergy of different events,” Rosenthal describes and proudly professes her excitement at her gallery’s participation in the event. By and large, Singgalot at Remy’s on Temple was financed by charitable contributions from members of the community. While Singgalot has a national corporate sponsor, Farmer’s Insurance, local communities have to put in a significant investment in order to bring the exhibit to their town.

“It’s an astonishing exhibition and I hope that the Filipino communities will take advantage of it,” continues Rosenthal. “The Smithosnian put the resources to curate and develop this magnificent education tool and it would be a tragedy if communities didn’t take the opportunity to take this exhibit out there.”

Singgalot will be in Remy’s on Temple, its first public exhibitor, from August 2nd to October 26th. On August 1st there will be a private viewing for those interested in making a donation. Several luminaries of the community have been invited, including Carson council man Elito Santrina. Dr. Alegado has since moved to the Philippines, hence will be unable to attend, but co-creator of the exhibit Dr. Franklin Odo will also be present to speak to the party.

The Filipino American Library will be conducting tours of the gallery and the exhibit during the HF festival. Remy’s on Temply expects a minimum of 150 visitors on opening day alone. About 100 additional tickets will be available to festival-goers, as the gallery is only three blocks away from the festival grounds.

Ms. Rosenthal stressed the importance of this exhibit to Filipino-Americans. “It’s important to know your roots,” she held. Despite the ease of integration most Filipinos experience when migrating, the generations that come after “have a hunger to know about their history, one they can impart to their children as well.”  She hopes that this exhibit will be a “first step in one day having a museum dedicated to Filipino-Americans”, just as the Japanese, Latinos and the like currently have.

The Singgalot planning committee hopes to involve schools in the area as part of the exhibit’s program. By teaching the curriculum available through the Smithsonian, teachers and students can work to have a more meaningful experience of the exhibit.

Remy’s on Temple Art Gallery is a community arts gallery in Historic Filipinotown. It was named after Rosenthal’s mother, Remy who passed in 1997 yet left her a legacy of community involvement. Rosenthal has been active in the Filipino American Community of Los Angeles (FACLA) for several years and opened the gallery in 2005 as a way to host a focal point for young people to gather.

The exhibit will be open to the public on August 2nd from 6pm to 8pm. Those who wish to attend the private viewing can RSVP attendance to Jocelyn  Geaga-Rosenthal or curator Jonathan Yap at 213-484-2884 or 213-453-3418, for $100. Those who wish more information or to view the public opening can RSVP at the same number, as only 50 people per hour can be accommodated by the site.


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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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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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