I was delivered in a farm house three miles north of Guadalupe, California, called Oso Flaco. (Skinny bear) Most of the families could not afford to go to a hospital, the country was in state of depression. Being the third child of Apiong and Margaret Cabatuan was maybe not the best time to come into this world of hardship. I was born with congenitaltosis, my right eye drooped, it was lacking muscle in the eyelid.
My father came from Hawaii in the early 20’s via the cargo hold in a ship to San Francisco, California. His attempt to work as a busboy in San Francisco proved to be disappointing. a few months later he moved to Stockton , California, from there he learned very quickly that working with his kababayans ( town mates) was much more enjoyable. Just being able to speak his dialect (Visayan) and eat his cultural food, made him feel closer to home. For a number of years he was a migrant farm worker and an Alaskero. Alaska Fish Cannery worker. Although he hated the way they treated the Filipinos' he understood he could not survive without a job. Wards Cove Cannery fed the men fish and rice three times a day with coffee, while the whites were fed bacon/ham, fresh baked bread and eggs for breakfast. At lunchtime pork and beans or fried pork chops and gravy with hot rolls and fruit drinks or milk. Their dinner was either steaks with gravy or roast chicken with all the fixings. Their clothing and boots had to last a season, where the whites just had to show a hole in their boots or torn clothing, it was quickly replaced. The housing for Filipinos was inadequate and the whites had comfortable accommodations. In 1928 he married my mom Margaret. Eventually they had a child every two years and ended up with six children, five girls and the youngest a boy.
Laws were developed to disenfranchise Filipinos. Filipinos could not vote, buy property, racially intermarry, own a business. The unwritten law, do not reside in predominately white areas of any community, do not congregate in city public areas, refrain from going into residential white areas and sit only in designated areas in movie houses or sports venues. (And by the way.) Any one who married a Filipino who is not Filipino could lose their American citizenship.
My parents were devout Catholics for many years. My Mothers maiden name was Lopez., Grandpa Lopez was a stern disciplinarian and physically cruel. He always introduced himself as Spanish- Filipino. My mother believed that method of raising children was normal. For at least eight years of my life I developed a certain food allergy. I was examined by various doctors and was ordered not to eat certain food.
I always had a rash on my elbows, behind my knees and on the back of my neck. Although my Mom was a devout Catholic, she was stricken with arthritis at the age of 27 and started taking prescribed medication. When she found it did not cure her, she went to various faith healers for assistance. At first, I thought it strange that she would have me accompany her to each of these ventures. I could not comprehend why I also had to undergo a separate healing.. At about the sixth visit to another healer, I heard Mom whisper to the healer, please fix her eye first then her diseased skin problem. I felt devastated, that was the time I realized why Mom made me wear bonnets to special occasions and always let me play outside whenever we had out of town visitors. The rest of the kids could stay indoors, or I could sit in the pool hall.
My Grandfather had a pool hall because his name was Lopez and they thought he was Spanish. With the influx of Mexicans during the Mission days, Mexicans were later racially categorized as white by the United States. When Filipinos migrated to this country after the Spanish American War they were considered American “Nationals” but never given any rights. The Philippine Islands were awarded their freedom after the Second World War because they were allies, which gave Filipinos’ in America immigrant status. Filipinos’ who served in that war were given Citizenship as Americans and promised all the benefits as veterans of the U.S.Army Many have passed on, have never received their full benefits, the struggle still exists for the few that are alive today.( Back to my story.) My Grandfather passed that pool hall to my Father when he decided to move to Salinas. I was three years old at that time, we moved from the ranch to the big city of Guadalupe. Everyone was happy, we actually had running hot water, a bathtub and a real home. (Big deal!) Behind the pool hall under a hotel owned by the Testinos’. They had a son named Alexand a daughter Lena.
Lena made her own cosmetics. I was always fascinated by her makeup which made her skin really white. Lena was a good friend for many years. Five years later we owned a pool hall card room, restaurant combination building.(Which also included a back door to the gambling house.) I learned early on how the real world was cruel, corrupt, and how everyone lived in glass houses, people lived on gossip, went to church to be forgiven for their sins and returned home to sin again. I learned that if you are not fair skinned, not tall and have a facial defect you will not be looked upon as intelligent or worthy of respect. (I have all the scars to prove it.) I learned many thing by observing everyone around me.
I was hostile for a few years, anger was my defense. When I reached the high point of my misery, it came to me, after crying my eyeballs out, I made a major decision to make a good life for myself. I realized no one can make me happy. I felt isolation too long,, enough! I will make decisions for my self , no one else.
I found peace by helping others, doing things that gave me a feeling of accomplishment, leaving my family to live with my Grandma Seferina. A battered little old Filipino lady who raised 8 children faithfully, serving obediently a man that never appreciated her loyalty, a woman who never complained. I would tell her many of my thoughts. Grandma always said, do what is right, what you are happy with, don’t be like me. Always think before you do anything because if you don’t, your mind and heart will hurt. In a way I envied her strength and at the same time felt so badly that she was always quiet and never asked for help from her children. When she passed away, I was glad she was free. Throughout the years I keep some thoughts in the forefront of my brain to keep me going, never be afraid, go with your guts, always try to be innovative, improvise if I need to, always consider a new challenge.
As one of the charter members in the development of the Community Action Council (CAC) of Sonoma County in the latter part of the 1960’s, I firmly believed any thing I do will be a great experience. A couple of years later after all the research and evaluations were completed, we started the Sonoma County People for Economic Opportunity (SCPEO). It was a success. After that period of time serving as the Treasurer I decided to move on and organized the Filipino Community of Sonoma County, which included the Filipino Senior Citizens of Sonoma County and the Pilipino Youth Alliance (PYA) which consisted of Mestizos’ (mixed races.) Native American, Mexican, Black, White, Chinese and Italian. Their age, two (2) years old to college age. The Seniors learned to prioritize their needs, participated in making their proposal and presented it to the foundations and funding source. The Youth rehabilitated the Senior dwellings at no cost to the residents. For example, whenever the Elders had a meeting ,they would cook, the youth helped serving and always cleaned up. They had the first Baranguay Festival and many special events, where everyone celebrated together. As the first ethnic minority group directly funded by the United way of Sonoma County, our acquisition of a service center was developed. All of the work redesigning the internal structure, including a full kitchen, was accomplished by the effort of our Filipino Senior Citizens. The first Center was located in Santa Rosa. They are now located in Fulton, California, north of Santa Rosa.
The youth (PYA) are now the founders of the Filipino American National Historical of Society Sonoma. County. Their project is documenting the Pioneer Filipino History Video which they hope to complete by September of 2008. The video will contain personal interviews, transcribed interviews and photographs.
My lifetime experience has taken me on a path that has been challenging and rewarding. From that period of time, I participated in many projects worthwhile and successful. The very few that discouraged me, actually helped me become more aware of individuals who are willing to betray their own people. But, then again, that’s across the board amongst all races.
As a Filipino American born, I do not look to the history of the Mother country of my parents, I know the history and respect it, although a portion of the truth has been omitted. My history is of the Pioneer Filipinos and every child born of that generation. It is time, you know who you are, I urge you to tell your story and tell it like it is and was.
I believe that working in conjunction with as many different races, whether it is with children or adults it is important to understand the cultures and traditions in order to have a better understanding of who we are as a people. I firmly believe we have a long way to go, before we can all work together, with respect of one another.
(Thank you California Central Coast FANHS. This is an excerpt from my book, I hope to someday to finish.)