Celebrating the brilliance of Filipinos in Carson

Filipino Club members sell Thank God I’m Filipino shirts during the city’s celebration of Filipino American History Month. Photos by TFLA

Filipino Club members sell Thank God I’m Filipino shirts during the city’s celebration of Filipino American History Month. Photos by TFLA

By Cecile Caguingin Ochoa

Carson, an emerging industrial hub 13 miles south of downtown Los Angeles is noted to attract a vibrant celebration of Filipino American history every year in October. It is reputed to be the fourth city in the U.S. with the highest percent of Filipino population of approximately 20,000 out of its total 92,000 residents.

Student and community leaders in Los Angeles gathered October 26 at the Carson Public Library to commemorate the city’s many “firsts” in terms of celebrating FilAm history. The city elected the first Philippine-born mayor Pete Fajardo in 1997 and the first U.S.-born “Pinay” Lorelei Olaes in its city council from 1993 – 1995.

Current City Mayor Jim Dear and the rest of the City Council officially proclaimed October as Filipino American History Month starting 2009.

Carson native and Historical Committee member Florante Ibanez said the earliest documented Filipino presence in the continental United States was on October 18, 1587, when the first “Luzones Indios” set foot in Morro Bay, Calif. on board the Manila-built galleon ship Nuestra Senora de Esperanza. Florante and wife Rose, who are both recognized influential leaders in Los Angeles County, have co-authored a widely circulated book called “Filipinos in Carson and the South Bay.”

“ Filipinos settled in Carson as early as 1920s as farm workers, U.S. military recruits, business owners, medical professionals and other laborers filling the economic needs of the Los Angeles region,” the couple’s book stated.

“My father came to Honolulu as a domestic worker in 1925; and joined the navy on December 7 sailing to California on Pearl Harbor Day, aboard the USS Shangrila. Florante is library manager of Loyola Law School and teaches the “Filipino American Experience” at the same university.

At the Carson History Month celebration the couple brought in local community heroes in politics, entertainment, education and business to serve as living testimonials of their historic contribution to nation building.

Lorelei Olaes, gave inspiring messages to students who attended the celebration. Now an elementary teacher, the UCLA graduate said that serving in a political office has it rewards but serving as a Filipino American model to young people brings more empowerment. Another school counselor Ron Buenaventura delighted the audience with his hip-hop style “Pinoy” poetry.

Carson voters continue to vote Filipinos in their local government since Pete Fajardo’s historic victory as Carson mayor. Elito M. Santarina continues as a councilman from 2003 to present.

The guest speakers of the History Month represented the indelible marks of expatriates’ victory in their fields of endeavors.

The son of well-known labor leader Larry Itliong, Johnny motivated his audience recalling that he witnessed “Filipino Americans leading the Great Delano grape strike of 1965 which resulted in the formation of the United Farm Workers.” He was 10 at that time and even then was a farm hand. He said he is impressed by the impact of community activism on the passing of AB 123 into law October 1.

Sponsored by Assembly member Rob Bonta, AB 123 mandates the revision of education curriculum of California from K- 12 to reflect the significant contributions of Filipino American workers, like his father Larry, in improving the conditions of farm labor in America.

The younger Itliong announced that the celebration of October as a significant part of FilAm history converges with a number of action plans not only in Carson but in many places to tell the history of Filipinos in the “farm workers’ movement, truthfully and accurately.”

Johnny said an organization, “Destination Delano,” is now reaching out to teachers and students to attend a workshop on November 9 at the Dwinelle Hall at UC Berkeley to learn about the history of the Agrarian Workers (AWOC) led by Larry Itliong, Pete Velasco, Phillip Vera Cruz and others and the 1965 Grape Strike.

“There are other projects such as establishing a historical marker in Delano; creating a group to impact and build a curriculum around this farm worker history,” Johnny said.

Representing the entertainment brilliance of Filipinos, Carson oldtimer Junior Maligmat, band member of The Rocky Fellers, a pop/rock band in the 1960s, (Scepter Records) came to relate his group’s success during the ‘60s era. The group was composed of four Filipino brothers: Tony, Junior, Eddie, and Albert Maligmat, and their father, Doroteo “Moro” Maligmat. They had a hit single called “Killer Joe,” written by Bert Russell and Bob Elgin in 1963. The song was inspired by famed dance instructor and “King of the Discotheque,” Killer Joe Piro. The young band has many similarities to the Jackson 5.

Rose Ibanez, who is a Carson Community Civic Engagement Board member, underlined the importance of calling the annual celebration in October as “History Month, instead of Heritage.”

“Through the years we have made a series of progressive strides as citizens in our local
communities and produced local heroes. The Filipino farm workers led reforms in the ‘50s and
‘60s, Filipino students of the 1970s organized to gain college admissions, established ethnic
studies, joined our counterparts overseas against Martial Law; while Filipino businesses struggled and thrived in Carson, San Pedro, Wilmington, Long Beach and surrounding areas. These historic developments marked our presence and should be celebrated,” said Rose.

Next year’s celebration in Carson will highlight the achievements of Uncle Roy Morales and educator Auntie Helen Brown and will involve the vibrant local press, she added.

This story also appeared in the Inquirer.net, a content partner of The FilAm Los Angeles.

Rose Ibanez, co-author of ‘Filipinos in Carson,’ introduces Carson residents  (from left): Council member Lorelei Olaes, Jun Maligmat and members of the Rocky Fellers band

Rose Ibanez, co-author of ‘Filipinos in Carson,’ introduces Carson residents (from left): Council member Lorelei Olaes, Jun Maligmat and members of the Rocky Fellers band

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