Filipino History: Surviving a Depression and a World War

Nancy Ordona Koslosky August 15, 1976 0

Here is the third and final article on Filipino Immigration History taken from the Washington State Oral/Aural History Program. The Examiner would like to thank Nancy Ordona Koslosky for coordinating the articles.

For parts I and II, please see June and July, 1979 issues of the Examiner.

During the Depression years, Filipinos had to settle for any kind of employment they could get. Discrimination made it hard enough to find jobs, which paid livable wages.

Often, living conditions were communal; the early families shared food and residence with single Filipino males. Brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and friends shared the same residence.

Fred C. Floresca said the Depression was “terrible.” “Our Filipino town-mates,” he said, “those without jobs came and lived with us in our apartment. They came in the evening, had their meals.

Slept on Floor

“The boys have their own bed rolls-they slept on the floors and, in the morning, left and came back again in the evening.

“I bought groceries for them and took care of them until they were able to get jobs.”

Salvador Del Fierro says he was fortunate enough to have a job during the Depression. Other he knew, however, were not so lucky. He said he had a dozen Filipino friends living in his residence.

“Well, you can’t turn them down,” Del Fierro said. “They are your friends and they were up against it.”

$100 a Month

Mrs. Maria A. Beltran said she was earning $100 a month during the Depression. She would come home from the market with plenty of food.

“We had much to each,” she said. “We always cook more because you didn’t know who was coming, you know, Filipinos who didn’t have any.”

Those who were single pooled resources for food and shelter, traveling the roads looking for employment. For those who stayed in the city, there were the soup lines. There was fishing in the Sound. Outlying farms provided vegetables; slaughterhouses gave away discarded portions of pork and beef.

Eddie Acena recalls trips to the Frye Slaughterhouse. The slaughterhouse did not sell the legs, head or liver of slaughtered pigs, so they were given to him. He went down to the waterfront and got salmon heads. “You got to the farms where Filipinos work,” Acena said, “and get lots of vegetables, all kinds, celery, lettuce, spinach and everything.”

Discrimination Present

Discrimination, though was never far away. It was present in the jobs, on the streets, in schools and even in church.

Angel Quintero said, “During the Depression, the American people were against us. They hate all Filipinos around here in Seattle.

“If they see you on the street,” Quintero continued, “they say ‘Monkey,” and they even spit in your face, or else walk by holding their noses. We get mad but we can do nothing especially if they are all in a group.”

Mariano Angeles said Filipinos were not allowed to assemble in the church. “They send us to the basement where Filipinos met to have devotional meetings,” he said.

To the Balcony

“Even going to the movies, they segregated you. You cannot go to the main hall. You go to the balcony. You go to restaurants, they don’t serve you.”

John Castillo said that when he was attending St. Martin’s College a fellow student asked him where he was from. He replied, “Manila, Philippines, one of the greatest countries in the Orient. Next to China and Japan, there’s no comparison. It is a democratic country, the show-window of democracy in the East, as far as the United States is concerned.”
The other students just laughed at him, Castillo said. “The first thing that came to their minds is that Filipinos were nothing but headhunters—they were savages. I was very much surprised to hear that.”

From the Tribe?

“They said, ‘Did you come from one of those tribes? I said, ‘Yeah, so you better watch out.’ One of the best ways to scare them to death. They keep away from me, I’m telling you.”

With the arrival of the Second World War, many Filipinos found a new kind of acceptance from the American government. Many who entered the military became citizens.

Many fought because they could not find jobs in this country. Some also believe they were fighting for their country—the Philippines.

“Before the war,” said Mariano Angels, “the U.S. government didn’t give us (Filipinos) the privilege of citizenship except to those who are in the military service.”

Angeles enlisted for military service, because his country, the Philippines, was involved in the war. When he was in the army, people tried to force him to become an American citizen.

Resented It

“I resented it,” Angeles said. “I refuse to become an American citizen. I say, ‘Why now that they would like to us to become Americans? Why that privilege now? Why do they give it only to the soldier and not to all?’

“They mean to say that my future is to die; and that is the time they give me the privilege to become an American. I said, ‘Hell, no!”

Angeles said he eventually did become a citizen before his discharge because he wanted his family to come to this country.

Emiliano A. Francisco was drafted by the Army. During the training period, he and others forgot about being afraid. “You are there to fight and save your country,” he said. “We were all determined—those of us in the First and Second Filipino Regiment.

“Sign Right Here”

“I got my citizenship in the army, in the field. The judge came down there and said, ‘Okay boys, Sign right here.’ You were then American citizens.”

John Mendoza could have gotten a deferment because he was attending a university, but he decided to go into the army because his friends were going. His training was in Camp Cook and Camp San Luis Obispo, California. After his training, he became an American citizen.

Fred Floresca was married, with two children; therefore, the only way he could enter the military was to volunteer. He was holding a job essential to the war effort, he said, so the draft board did not think of making him volunteer for the service.

Salvador Del Fierro said the government was building naval bases in Alaska, but Filipinos were not allowed to work on projects such as these because they were not citizens.

Filipinos Dying

“I wrote articles in the papers telling our side of it,” he said. “I said, ‘Filipinos are dying by the thousands in the Philippines. Filipinos have volunteered to go to war. Do you mean to tell me that is not good enough to fight for Uncle Sam, to give their life? And here we are not allowed to earn a decent living? How would you feel if you were in the Filipino shoes?

“I wired Quezon, the exiled governor from the Philippines in Washington, D.C. The next day a wire arrived stating that Filipinos were allowed to work on all federal public and private jobs in the United States.”

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