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Kevin Raquidan, Spring 2016, Spring 2016 Section 1

San Diego’s elder Filipino-Americans share their experiences

San Diego’s Filipino population has gone from small and scattered pockets around the county to a large and bustling community 145,000 strong.

Just as this generation passes on its knowledge and achievements to the next, the old-timers of San Diego’s Filipino community will pass on their history and heritage to younger Filipinos.

Whether it’s in the culture or the history of Fil-Am activism around the county, it’s important that old-timer Filipinos have plenty to pass on, according to Rey Monzon, director of San Diego State University’s Student Affairs Research and Assessment department.

“It reminds me of something (from) Jose Rizal,” he says. “I think it was something that you can’t go forward unless you know where you’ve been.”

The early Fil-Am community

San Diego’s Filipino-American community was definitely a more social one, where it was the norm for many Fil-Ams’ parents to be involved in some sort of community organization, Monzon says.

These community organizations, he adds, were created to help the Filipino immigrants of that time to network and connect with others from the same province and hometown, such as the Bataan and Cavite associations.

“My family was heavily involved in the community at that time,” Monzon says. “It was really dominated by first-generations.”


Anamaria Cabato speaks at a FAVA Hall open house about her experiences growing up with the building, April 9, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Raquidan)

Indeed, it was common for many of San Diego’s Fil-Ams growing up in the 1960s and ‘70s to attend events and gatherings held by the organizations that their parents or relatives were involved in.

And with so many Filipino community associations representing the different towns and provinces, dances and beauty pageants were held nearly every week in the same two venues.

For Anamaria Cabato, the PASACAT Philippine Performing Arts Company’s executive director, these clubs’ social events were the place to meet and play with other Fil-Am children.


“It was fun (growing up in the community),” she says. “Because my parents would go to these meetings – they were involved in these associations. So we got to meet other Filipino kids, and we would meet them at the FAVA (Filipino American Veterans Association) Hall.

“They had fun dinner-dances. All the Filipinos could fit in the FAVA Hall or the El Cortez Hotel. That was so popular in the ’60s and ‘70s.”

And FAVA Hall hosted a significant amount of events for San Diego’s Filipino community.

Growing up Filipino back then

Being raised as a first-generation Filipino-American back then had its ups and downs – where in general, Fil-Am youths didn’t need to worry as much about their futures, as their parents decided for them for the most part, according to Cabato.

She adds that in general, Filipino families are very hierarchical, with the parents on top and children following their wishes.

To her, these values led to a culture shock in college when she suddenly found herself on her own, away from her parents.

“Excelling was easy in high school, but when you go to a four-year institution, you’re no longer spoon-fed,” Cabato says. “You sort of have to do things on your own. And being raised (as a Filipino), your parents do everything for you.

“So you don’t know anything about the worldly stuff and how to take care of your personal problems like talking to the professor, because the stigma was if you go talk to your teacher, you’re not understanding and you have a problem, and something’s wrong with you.”

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Cabato discusses the difficulties she faced as she made the jump to college. For many Filipinos, simply approaching professors with problems is a challenge in and of itself. (Photo by Kevin Raquidan)

Nevertheless, many Filipino-Americans were already well-established in the community, and went through completely different upbringings.

Whereas parents like Cabato’s had a lot more say in their children’s life decisions, other Filipino parents like Rey Monzon’s and former SDSU Educational Opportunity Program counselor Sal Flor were more lenient with their children.

On the one hand, Monzon’s upbringing wasn’t exactly typical for Filipino families.

“My dad immigrated here in San Diego through the Navy,” he says. “That’s a very typical scenario (for Filipinos here). But my mom was actually born and raised here, and she’s half-Filipino and half-Mexican. So we had a different dynamic in our house unlike most first-generation family homes.”

This dynamic, Monzon adds, allowed for him and his siblings to have more open discussions with his parents – something that’s not normally done in typical Filipino families.

“We had a lot of freedom to do things,” he says. “We were out here doing this and that. But that wasn’t typical, especially in high school.”

And for Sal Flor, the son of a Filipino veteran of World War II, today’s Filipino notion of having the parents decide for the children was unheard of.

He says the reason was that there was already a generational gap between his parents, so in turn, he grew up immersed in all sorts of fields.

“My dad was 18 years older than my mother,” Flor says. “When you have that type of background you see a lot. Our parents were into bringing us out, so we all took judo lessons when were little kids.

“We all took piano lessons. We all played Little League, and two of us were paper boys. The world of work was always kind of pushed on us. We all worked through our lives.”

Embracing your roots

Still, despite her facing difficulty in making the jump between high school and college, Cabato found herself immersed in her roots as a Filipina, thanks to her parents’ heavily exposing her to their culture.

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Gemma Cabato, Anamaria’s daughter, teaches a Filipino cultural dance to the girls of PASACAT, March 30, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Raquidan)

“My mom always used to play Filipino records like Juan Silos Jr. and His Rondallas, and the Bayanihan National Philippine Dance Company,” she says, smiling. “My parents wanted to make sure that we were exposed to the culture, so they asked us to participate in the Filipino Women’s Club and learn cultural dances.

“We even performed at the House of the Philippines (in Balboa Park), one of the oldest Filipino organizations in San Diego.”

Even to this day, and thanks to her parents’ encouraging her to join, Cabato still serves as the executive director of the PASACAT Philippine Performing Arts Company, performing at all sorts of events around the community.

To her, being able to perform Filipino cultural dances around the community is an important act in and of itself, as it allows her to bring the culture to the spotlight.

“My generation, we’re definitely activists,” Cabato says. “I’m an activist in a different way … in preserving the culture, and making that as the positive contribution for our community, to help people connect to their culture, and for our audiences to enjoy and embrace our culture.”

This generation definitely has plenty of outlets to contribute to the community, she adds.


About Kevin Raquidan

Kevin Raquidan is a graduating journalism senior at San Diego State University. Good luck out there.


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