An exhibit that documents Filipino migration to the Central Coast from 1920 through 1970 — featuring stories of love, marriage and family — is now available online and as a local traveling display.
Cal Poly and the nonprofit Cal Humanities collaborated to create “Filipino Love Stories” exploring the life stories of Filipino-Americans who faced prohibitions on marriage outside their race until the late 1940s, and other challenges, as they immersed themselves in a new Californian culture.
The physical exhibit will be displayed locally over the next few weeks, including at the Filipino Cultural Center at 885 13th St. in Grover Beach from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, and at Cal Poly’s CultureFest set for Oct. 18 from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dexter Lawn on campus.
The project consists of clips of interviews with the wives and children of early migrants, as most of the men have died or no longer live locally. Original love letters, photographs and historical information are included.
The exhibit was coordinated by Cal Poly ethnic studies professor Grace Yeh, who, two years ago, began collecting materials related to local Filipino-American history. Students in her classes also gathered information and collected keepsakes for historic preservation.
Yeh said that she’d previously read Carlos Bulosan’s “America Is in the Heart,” which referenced Filipino life on the Central Coast.
“When I came to Cal Poly, I expected there to be a lot of information here already on Filipino life,” Yeh said. “What I found is that there was very, very little. I began to start collecting documents and photographs and interviews — and some of my students did as well — that could preserve this history.”
Some of the fascinating stories include Rosalie Marquez’s discovery of her parents’ love letters. The Santa Maria native’s father was Filipino and her mother was of Mexican descent. Since interracial marriage was forbidden at the time, they eloped in Yuma, Ariz. Still, for years after, members of her mother’s family didn’t accept the marriage, considering it improper for a Mexican-American woman to marry a Filipino man.
“I never thought that this story would get told and displayed the way it is now,” Marquez said. “My father didn’t express himself verbally in the same way that he could in writing. His love letters to my mother were very passionate.”
An early wave of Filipino immigrants came to the U.S. when the country was under American control between 1898 and 1946.
Because other Asians were barred from entering the country, many Filipinos filled a farm labor need. Young, single men who could easily pick up and move tended to make up the migratory labor force.
“These workers often were single because they could work in the pea fields in Pismo Beach and then easily leave to work elsewhere because they didn’t have families,” Yeh said.
With few Filipina women around, and laws in place that prohibited them from marrying outside their race, family life was a challenge.
But elopements out of state took place, and after World War II some of the aging immigrants traveled to the Philippines to find young brides, stories which are reflected in the exhibit.
The story of Lily Aradanas tells of how she came from the Philippines to Lompoc to marry her longtime penpal, Pedro Aradanas, who saw a photo of her and pursued her as his wife overseas.
After arranging to meet and then marry, Pedro went to the Philippines to try to bring her back to the U.S., but because of difficulties in obtaining a Visa, she remained behind and they were separated for nearly five years.
Lily Aradanas attended the University of the Philippines, taught elementary school there, and eventually united with her husband in Lompoc. She went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Cal Poly, earning the latter in 1988 at the age of 64.
The “Filipino Love Stories” exhibit was part of a larger, multicultural exhibit called “Objects of Affection” presented at Cal Poly’s Kennedy Library last spring.
Catherine Trujillo, the library’s exhibits curator, recalled that when Yeh gave a presentation about the “love stories” exhibit, a man in the audience was overcome by emotion.
“He was so touched, it brought him to tears,” Trujillo said. “These stories hadn’t been told like this before in a public setting, and it hit home for him.” To see the exhibit online, go to reco.calpoly.edu/exhibits/show/filipino-love-stories.