Finding Los Angeles' Historic Filipinotown


Growing up in Los Angeles' Historic Filipinotown (HiFi), I often wondered what there was to do around my neighborhood. As a youth, Historic Filipinotown felt empty and lifeless. I felt no personal connection to this place. I also grew up feeling like there was nothing "Filipino" about HiFi. Therefore, to get my fix of cultural experiences, I turned to other neighboring ethnic communities such as Chinatown, Little Tokyo and Olvera Street. As a result, I struggled with my Filipino identity because I believed that the sentiments I had towards Historic Filipinotown was a reflection of my culture. I felt like no one cared about HiFi, therefore I felt Filipinos were invisible and unimportant. Little did I know, that HiFi had a rich history that could contribute to understanding my own identity. Taking Ethnic Studies courses at San Francisco State University helped to me realized the value and importance of ethnic communities like my own. Having been away from home for almost five years now has driven my passion to return to my community make things better from when I first left.

Based on my personal experiences, I claim that the issues I faced growing up still exist among current Filipina/o American youth now. Moreover, I argue that even today, many Filipina/o American youth in HiFi struggle with their identity because they do not know their historical roots in the Unites States, which causes them to lack a sense of belonging. Youth of Historic Filipinotown are lacking educational discourse on the history and significance of their hometown (de Leon 2004, Morales 1974). As a college educated HiFi native, I want to ensure that future generations of HiFi youth do not ever feel the same shame and hatred I did.

The purpose of this study is to discover the relation between Filipina/o American youth identity and Historic Filipinotown. Scholars such as Lakandiwa de Leon and Maria P.P. Root have written articles that assert that there are also connections between the two, proving that Filipina/o American youth search for different mediums to find their identity as a result of not having learned their own histories. I am interested to learn why Historic Filipinotown is important. Additionally, I want to learn how Filipina/o American youth in HiFi identity themselves what issues HiFi youth are facing. Scholars have published works about Los Angeles Filipina/o American youth disparities with identity. However, there is limited research on the relationship between Filipina/o American youth identity and Historic Filipinotown.

An interdisciplinary approach is needed to research this topic because we examine how the understanding of history affects one's identity. This research is important to understanding how Ethnic Studies can serve as a catalyst to bridge the youth's sense of belonging to HiFi. Therefore, exploring an Ethnic Studies perspective is vital because it is an avenue that validates the experiences of Filipina/o American youth. Additionally, without exploring the historical perspective of Filipina/os in Los Angeles, we cannot understand when, why and how Filipina/os are present in Los Angeles in the first place. Moreover, in order to understand the truly identity of the youth it is imperative to explore Ethnic Studies because it explains why the youth identify the ways they do and their unique experiences.

Through this study, I plan to partner with a HiFi organization called Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA). This organization currently has access to the youth who reside in HiFi already. However, they could use a stronger emphasis on Ethnic Studies. Instead, they focus heavily on the arts. I do not plan to eliminate the programs they already offer, but I do feel like they are missing an Ethnic Studies component, which can easily be fused into the arts they already teach. By accomplishing this, it is my hope that Filipina/o American youth will have a better understand and appreciation for their cultural identity because they recognize their place in American society. Through this educational curriculum, the youth will be able to identify the contributions Filipina/os have made to this country, thus giving them a reason to feel like they belong and to be proud. The questions that guide this research are: how can learning about Historic Filipinotown through Ethnic Studies and "community" education support the growth of Filipina/o American youth identity?

In the following section, I will review literature that supports this research project. The goal is that the reviewed literature will provide a framework that guides my understanding of Filipina/o American youth identity in Historic Filipinotown.


Literature Review

The literature reviewed in this section provides a framework for understanding the relationship between Filipina/o youth identity and the significance Historic Filipinotown. By examining literature about youth identity, the lived experiences of these youth are contextualized to understand what issues shape the formation of the youth's identity. By examining literature on history, we will examine the push and pull factors that result in Filipina/os settling in Los Angeles. In addition, it will explore how and why Historic Filipinotown was formed. Finally, I have reviewed literature concerning Ethnic Studies and how incorporating this type of curriculum has impacted youth Filipina/o American youth and how it also contributes in shaping their identity. The literature is divided into three sections: 1) Identity, 2) History, 3) Impact of Ethnic Studies and Youth.

We cannot even begin to explore Filipina/o American identity without delving into colonialism because it provides a basis of why Filipina/os struggle with understanding who they are. Filipina/o American youth identity is studied by Lacandiwa de Leon (2004). She explores the way which Filipina/o American youth suffer from "colonial mentality." This can be defined as, "an attempt to conceal the native or indigenous, a manifestation of acute inferiority complex" (de Leon 1995:A10). American colonialism has had a severe impact in the ways Filipina/os identify themselves because it has brain- washed them into internalizing American ideals and values, thus devaluing their own culture. Colonial mentality has transferred from the Philippines to America and now there are generations of Filipina/os who are growing up to be ashamed of their culture (de Leon 2004). As a result, "parents often teach their children to feel proud of being "Americanized," and to try their best to assimilate as though by birthright, blending into the landscape with little effort or recalcitrance (de Leon 2004: 193, Gamalinda, 1998:3). Gamalinda (1998) also asserts that, "Consequently, many Filipino youth often find themselves in a position where they feel 'neither here nor there, perambulating between a culture that alienates them and a culture they know nothing about, or ashamed of'" (p 4). As a result, Filipina/o American youth have learned to see themselves in a negative light. Revilla (1997) asserts, "I argue that the part of the 'identity crisis' of youth in the Filipino American Community (and here I mean "community" in the broadest sense) is reconciling issues of self-love and self- respect as Filipinos. The other major category of issues concerns being accepted and included as Filipinos by the larger Filipino American community" (p. 96).

Because of this disconnect Filipina/o American youth have seeked for a sense of belonging through different mediums such as hip hop and gangs. De Leon (1995) asserts, "they knew they didn't fit into the white culture, so they rejected it and embraced hip hop because hip hop was already embraced by gang culture… Filipino youth, not knowing anything about their own history or themselves, took to something they could identify with more. So they embraced the whole Black, Chicano, underground hip hop culture" (p. 196).


This portion of the research explores when, why and how early Filipinos immigrated to the U.S. and how they made their way to Los Angeles. In order to understand the formation of Los Angeles' Historic Filipinotown, it is imperative to explore the dates of arrival of Filipina/os to America, the number of years the Filipina/o presence has existed in the U.S.  and the reasons why Filipina/os settled specifically in Los Angeles. Filipina/os were the first Asian American group to arrive to the United States, which dates back to October 18, 1587 when Filipinos "jumped ship," off of Spanish Galleons that landed in Morro Bay, California (Tintiangco-Cubales 2009). In 1763, Filipina/os created shrimping villages on the bayous near New Orleans, Lousiana (Tintiangco-Cubales 2009). By 1788, Filipina/os also began settling and building communities is Alaska were they found work in salmon canneries (Tintiangco-Cubales 2009). These were the starting points of Filipina/o communities in America. However, larger populations of Filipina/os did not start arriving until the early 1900s. Due to the political climate of that era and anti Asian immigration laws, Filipina/os were allowed to enter U.S. territory because the Philippines was at the time a colony of America. Therefore, American laws determined the influx of Filipina/os that entered, thus causing them to arrive in multiple waves.

The first wave of Filipinos into the United States starts as early as the 1920s, importing farm laborers to both Hawaii and California. These young Filipino bachelors were referred to as "manongs," which translates to "early pioneers," or "old timers." They came to America in search of a better life, but most importantly for work. Working in America afforded them the opportunity to escape their impoverished realities in the Philippines and allowed them to send remittances to their families who were still struggling (Koerner 2007). However, not all early Filipinos worked on the fields.

Others migrated to urban cities like Los Angeles and worked in such service-oriented jobs as houseboys, porters and janitors. A small group of these Filipinos was also known as "fountain pen- boys," self- supporting students who attended Southern California colleges while also working in service positions (Koerner 2007).

The Filipina/o population has grown significantly over the years. In 1920, the U.S. Census reported that there was a population of 5,603 Filipino Americans living in the United States ( Koerner 2007). As of the 2000 U.S. Census there were 260,158 people of Filipino ancestry living in the Los Angeles County (Koerner 2007). The population growth of Filipinos over the years is both alarming and overwhelming.

Recapping the population growth of Filipinos in Los Angeles: in 1940,             there were 7,000; in 1960 the minimum count was 12,122; in 1972, the growth was up to 33, 459; then by the 90's a dramatic increase to over 500,000. The rapid increase is because of "push-pull" forces of immigration; the recruitment of Filipino personnel into the Armed Forces who… choose to settle in and around Los Angeles… and the high birth rate in the Filipino house-hold (Morales 1974).

"Push- pull forces" are factors that cause immigrants to leave their country of origin and enter into a new one (Tintiangco-Cubales 2007). An example of a push factor can be poverty and war and a pull factor can be a growing work force (Tintiangco-Cubales 2009). As a result, people have no choice but to leave their homes and create new one's in order to survive.

With such large numbers of Filipinos situated in Los Angeles, a spatial place to belong and to call their own was vital. The attitude was that since the Chinese have one, we should have one (Cheng 2009). So, Filipinos created their rendition of an "ethnic community." An "ethnic community,"  can be defined as a place where race and culture intersect to create a sense of belonging, possibilities and cohesiveness (Tintiangco-Cubales 2009). However, it was difficult to find one central location because Filipinos were widely spread throughout the greater Los Angeles areas such as El Monte, to Santa Monica, from San Fernando to Long Beach and from Rolling Hills to Orange (Morales 1974).

At one time the area around Temple and Figueroa in Los Angeles used to             be the central meeting place of old-timers… but due to the Bunker Hill redevelopment,      there was a shift to the west, around Belmont, Alvarado, Third Street and Temple (Morales 1974).

In the 1920s, the Filipinos gathered in run-down areas of downtown Los Angeles known as "Bunker Hill," and dubbed it "Little Manila." They gathered in barbershops, pool halls, gambling halls, taxi dance halls and restaurants. Then, towards the 1940s, reconstruction and redevelopment forced them out of that area; this is an re-occurring theme with the Filipino American community throughout American history and will be further discussed in the latter part of this research. Consequently, the Filipinos had to find a new place to congregate and made their way west toward the Beverly- Temple Corridors. Filipinos worked long and hard to establish a place they can call their own. Finally, on August 2002, the Temple- Beverly corridors was officially recognized as "Historic Filipinotown," by mayor James Khan and other city officials (Montoya 2009). There was a huge recognition ceremony at Los Angeles' city hall were they presented the entire community with streets signs that would stationed at various parts of

HiFi, including freeway entrance and exits off the 101 Highway. The Historical perspective provides much insight of the dates and formation of Historical Filipinotown. However, what is lacking is that noone is teaching is taking the initiative to teach it it. The late Roy Morales was instrumental in offering Ethnic Studies- based workshops to youth of HiFi, but since his passing no one has taken up the responsibility.

Impact of Ethnic Studies & Youth

In order to relate the Ethnic Studies to the possible impact on Filipina/o American youth, it is imperative to trace back the roots of where Ethnic Studies first originated. In the 1960, during times of war and severe racism students at San Francisco State College organized to establish the longest led Student Strike to fight for a college of Ethnic Studies.

The most important demand was the first TWLF demand that " a School of Ethnic       Studies for all of the ethnic groups involved in the Third World Liberation Front             be set with the students in each particular ethnic organization having the authority             and control of the hiring and retention of any faculty member, director, or               administrator, as well as the curriculum in a specific area of study. At that time, a             "school" was separate academic administrative unit within the larger San Francisco State College. What the demand sought was the establishment and enabling of an academic unit with a substantial degree of control and autonomy over its internal processes (Collier and Gonzales 2009).

Through persistence and determination of the students, San Francisco State gave birth to the first and only college of Ethnic Studies in the nation. Additionally, the Third World Liberation Front really paved the way for colleges across the country to offer courses, lectures and in some cases even establish departments with their respective campuses. There is something about Ethnic Studies that allows students to feel connected to their education and their world. Therefore, it is imperative that Ethnic Studies continues to become institutionalize at all grade levels so youth of all ages benefit.

Ethnic Studies has proven to work for students amongst all ages. A community organization, rooted from San Francisco State University's Asian American Studies Program called Pin@y Educational Partnerships (PEP) teaches urban youth about Ethnic Studies all year long.

PEP is a service learning community- based research program that aims to create             educational partnerships, projects, and pipelines that work toward social justice.             Through community service projects and youth campaigns, PEP aims to provide             opportunities for college, high school, middle school and elementary school             students to teach and learn from each other about the experiences of Filipina/os,             while also addressing and organizing around community issues. Through PEP             "Critical FACTS" (Filipina/o American Curriculum Training Space), PEP provides   training in critical pedagogy and critical Filipina/o American studies. Through educational research, PEP studies the psychosocial ecology and experiences of Filipna/o American studies. Through all of the projects, PEP mission is to promote learning, teaching and research as a practice of freedom (Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales 2009).

As an Ethnic Studies course, students not only learn about their histories and identities, but also take what they have learned and apply it to strategies they can use to improve their communities. I believe that if Historic Filipinotown were to offer a program like PEP, more youth would be inclined to learn about their history, culture and identities.

Angelica Posadas, one of the very first PEP students graduated from Balboa High School and attended San Francisco State University and became a PEP teacher while simultaneously pursuing her degree. She shares her experience stating,

During the years I spent in PEP…I couldn't believe I was surrounded by so many            people who wanted to have classes like PEP in their high schools….I felt at home            with them because I understood why it was fundamental for us to fight, because             we have all struggled with our identity and the desire to be included in what was             being taught in our schools. Without classes like PEP, many of us would never             have moved towards learning about our history and culture (Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales 2009).

I definitely believe that Historic Filipinotown has the exact same potential to influence youth like Angelica Posadas to understand her value and worth through Ethnic Studies courses. Filipina/o American youth in Seattle also offer similar programs, which benefit their younger populations.

Filipino Youth Activities (FYA) in Seattle, which began in the 1950's, taught             children to be proud of their Filipino background by teaching them about       Philippine and Filipino American history and culture and making it relevant to their lives. FYA's drill team, for example, merges indigenous Filipino music and costumes with the American drill team tradition (Revilla p.97).

The Ethnic Studies perspective shows that students can learn to love their cultural identities and that it can evolve into a life changing phenomenon that serves justice not only to oneself, but to an entire community as well.


Research Design
In this section I discuss the methodologies I will use to for this research. Personal narratives are a fundamental part of my data gathering. The majority of this research project is a direct reflection of the experiences, thoughts, feelings, sentiments and emotions of Filipina/o American youth who have lived or currently live in Historic Filipinotown. I have utilized both surveys and questionnaires in order to capture both quantitative and qualitative information to support my case. Because I will incorporating feedback from youth who are potentially under the age of eighteen, I will have to undergo the IRB process.



This survey will involve twenty Filipina/o American youth- ten Pinoys and ten Pinays. The surveys will be conducted as a "pre" and "post" survey, which means that it will be administered before they have actually participated in the curriculum that I plan to creat, but also after having gone through it after one complete year. This will allow us to measure the effectiveness of the Ethnic Studies component. The following questions will be surveyed:


1.)   Do/Did you like living in Historic Filipinotown: yes no unsure

2.)   Do you think Historic Filipinotown is important: yes no unsure

3.)   Are you proud of your Filipina/o American identity: yes no unsure

4.)   Are you knowledgeable of your Filipina/o American History: yes no unsure

5.)   Does knowing or not knowing about the significance of Historic Filipinotown affects your identity: yes no unsure

6.)   Where do you learned about Historic Filipinotown:  Friends Family Afterschool Programming, Community organizations, media, school/class, none

7.)   Do you want to learn more about Historic Filipinotown: yes no unsure

8.)   If I knew more about Historic Filipinotown, I would be more actively involved in your community: yes no unsure

9.)   Can you can name at least 3 resources that Historic Filipinotown has to offer: Yes no unsure

10.) Do you feel you have the ability to change Historic Filipinotown to better serve your needs and your community: yes no unsure


Focus Groups

This questionnaire will involve eight Filipina/o American youth- ten pinoys and ten pinays. This will allow us to engage in deep dialogue about their experiences in HiFi. Ultiamtely, this will gage whether or not the youth feel there is a need/want to implement an Ethnic Studies component to their program. The following questions will be asked:


1.)   Describe your experiences growing up in Historic Filipinotown.

2.)   What is the significance of Historic Filipinotown? Why is it important?

3.)   Has growing up in Historic Filipinotown affected your identity? Why or why not?

4.)   How important is it to learn the history of HiFi?

5.)   How could Historic Filipinotown be a better community for you?

6.)   What would encourage you to be more active in your community?



This research was a means to answer the following questions: What is Filipina/o American identity? How are Filipina/o American youth struggling with their identity? What is the relationship between Filipina/o American identity and Historic Filipinotown? And how can learning about historic Filipinotown through ethnic studies and "community" education support the growth of Filipina/o American youth identity?

Based on my findings though my literature review, I have concrete evidence that Filipina/o American youth are indeed grappling to search for where they fit in American society. Their colonial histories have caused them to internalize a sense of shame and hatred for their Filipino culture. As a result many of them have turned to search other cultures to find a sense of belonging and some have even turned to gangs. I noticed that almost all of the scholars I cited within this research said that Filipina/o American youth do not know their history, have been forced to forget in order to assimilate into American culture, and/or feel that being Filipina/o is negative and this is exactly why I feel it is critical that Historic Filipinotown have an ethnic studies curriculum so that students no longer feel lost.

My findings also prove that an Ethnic Studies curriculum does work in shaping the identities of Filipina/o American youth, just like it did for the youth of San Francisco. Because of the impact Ethnic Studies has had on their youth, they have a deeper understanding of who they are and where they come from, but what is even more amazing is that they are more actively involved in making their community a better place. I am positive that when Historic Filipinotown starts to implement this, the same results will occur.

I have discovered that an organization called Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA) is located in the heart of Historic Filipinotown and has access to a large pool of Filipina/o American youth who reside within the community. They run programs specializing in arts. In the past they used to have an ethnic studies component which, was facilitated by community organizer Roy Morales, but since recent his passing they have not been able to revive the program.


My goal is to continue in the legacy of "Uncle Roy," to ensure that Filipina/o American youth receive the education they need and deserve. The curriculum I plan to recreate will involve the youth learning about immigration history so that they have a better understanding of why and how Filipinos settled in Los Angeles. In addition, we will explore when and how Historic Filipinotown was formed. This can be learned in two parts: one in the classroom and the other on a tour which will allow the youth the see the important landmarks in and around HiFi. I would also like to incorporate Leny Stroble's "Coming Full Circle," to teach the youth a little about Filipina/o psyche and behavior. This will allow the student to have a deeper understanding of why we have been condition to think of our identities in certain ways, specifically favoring the American identity as opposed to our Filipino identity. I also plan on incorporating Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," to teach how people of color have been dehumanized and to start their process of "healing," so that they can begin to feel fully human again.

There are endless possibilities for Historic Filipinotown and I am motivated by this research to return home to serve the youth. Only then will can we determine if this will be effective in not only reshaping the identities of Filipina/o American youth, but also rebuilding Historic Filipinotown to so that it continues to be a long lasting legacy.



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