| Thursday, March 02, 2006
| NATIVE SON
|(1906 - 2006)
First Centennial of
the Filipino Diaspora.
San Franciso in the 1930s and 1940s hosted a vibrant Filipino community of mostly bachelors seeking escape from hursh work in the farmlands.
San Franciso, being a port city on the West Coast of America, was one of the first ports of entry for Filipinos immigrating from the Philippines. Beginnin in 1906, Filipino laborers soon realized they had a wealth of cheap labor, so around 1920 they recruited more Filipinos -- for the agricultural fields of California. Unlike the Hawaii "Sakadas", (sugar cane plantation harvesters) however, only single males were recruited. They were not allowed to bring their families. Thus began the bachelor society of Manong (older brother) in San Francisco,
When the Manongs reported in the farms, they quickly found out that earning a living in America would not be as easy as they were led to belive. They worked ten hours shifts and were paid ten cents an hour. Many were chanrge for board and keep and such necessaities as work clothes, boots and gloves. Their living conditions were deplorable. Racial prejudice was rampant. Many ran away from the horrible conditions in the farm and sought refuge and work in San Francisco. Many settled in the Sout of Market are where other Filipinos lived, or rented rooms in transient hotels located on the fringes of Chinatown, whcih would become San Francisco's Manilatown.
The International Hotel, the Palm Hotel and the Columbus Hotel were some of the places that accepted Filipinos.
They came to America seeking the American dream, hoping they could later send for their families or return to the Philippines as rich men. The were not prepared for the poor mworking and living conditions that lasted through the Great Depression (1930s) until the onset of World War II.
Kearny Street in San Francisco was where many of the "Bachelors" lived. There were retautants where they could eat their familiar foods, speak their own languages, be in familiar surroundings (many of their town mates were there also), and feel safe from society's bigotry.
There was Tino's Barbershop on Kearny and the pool halls where one could find out where work was available or locate their own town mates. There was much camaraderie among the Filipinos on Kearny Street durng World War II. When they had "Black-outs", the air raid sirens sounded and all the lights had to be turned off. When the "all Clear" sirens blow, the lights were turned on. The people would spill out onto the street to dance and sing. "When the lights go on again -- all over the world".
My father had a business at 826 Kearny Street between Pacific and Washington Streets. It was just downstairs from the International Hotel and next door to Tino's Barberhsop. Across the street was the Golden Gate Restaurant and Pool Hall. The Hall of Justice (police department) was just up the street at the corner of Kearney and Washington. Gold Street had a series of bars, nightclubs and stripclubs. Cheap transient hotels in the area had three or four Filipino bachelors to a room.
My fathers' busness was called the New Luneta Cafe. There was a three chair barbershop in front, just behind that was a pool hall, and at the back of the pool hall was a sort of lunch counter where my mother cooked and served Filipino food. I did'nt find out until after my father gave up his share of the business to his partners that downstairs, under the barbershop and pool, was his main business --the gambling hall. This was not unusual for that area because at the time (1920s to 1960s) illegal gambling joints proliferated throughout Chinatown, Kearny st., International Settlement and North Beach. What was unique about my fathers establishment was his clientele.
The political leaders of San Franciso, the chief of police and district attorney, many of the top businessmen and restaurant owners, the movers and the shakers of San Franciso, all patronized his gambling operation. At the time , this was good because my father used his influence with his clientele to help runaway Filipino farm workers get work. He and his friends were running what was essentially an "underground railroad" for runaway Filipino farm workers. During the 1940s through the 1960s, most of the major hotels and retaurants in San Francisco had Filipino cooks, dishwashers, bartenders, pantrymen and busboys. My father would say, "This is my nephew, he needs a job". While they waited for work, my parents often took them in and let them stay in our home. I don't remember their names, I simply called them "Uncle" At the time, around 1939, we had moved from the South Market to the Western Addition (Fillmore District), which is now Japantown.
When World War II broke out, many of these bachelors joined the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment. They had no permanent homes so many used our house as their home address. They left their belongings with us, ususally just one suitcase. After the war, they came back and picked up their belongings.There were a few who didn't return, and my parents had to locate their relatives in the Philipines and send them their belongings.
The Filipino District became the hub of the Filipino community in San Francisco. The first Filipino Community Inc. center was located on Greary streer between Laguna and Octavia streets. They sponsored the Filipino Children's Club in 1932, the Teen Club in 1940 and the Filipino Youth League (FYL) basketball team in 1945. During the World War II, the Filipino community also organized bus trips to Fort Ord, California to entertain the Filipino troops who were training there.
Growing up in San Francisco was a unique experience. The vibrant Filipino bachelor society formed the foundation of the community that later grew with families and organizations. Filipinos experienced discrimination, but they also flourished with the help of community and political leaders, many of whom also came from immigrants backgrounds. I am proud to be a witness to this history, as one of the few San Franciso native sons still alive.
(Source: FILIPINASMAG/ by: Fred Basconcillo(retired as the president of Shop Ironworkers Ynion AFL-CIO and is a member of FANHS San Francisco)
|posted by infraternam meam @ 1:41 AM