Our Story

The history of the Filipino-American Association cannot be told without briefly acknowledging the background of the Filipinos in our area.

In the 1920's several thousand young men were recruited to come to this country to fill a much needed labor force. Due to the lack of Filipino women in this country, many of these young men fell in love with and married local young women thus beginning a multi-cultural group of Filipino Americans. As the married men started to begin families a large number settled in Contra Costa County and neighboring communities. Some of these men remained bachelors their whole lives. Many others returned to their homeland and renewed their relationships with families, and many returned with their wives and children from home to settle in America. This group of men was called the Manongs (older brothers).

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A wave of new Filipino population composed mostly of military personnel came to the United States through Camp Stoneman in Pittsburg by way of being recruited into the U.S. Army toward the end of World War II. Most of these Filipinos had families intact and a burgeoning new Filipino population in the Contra Costa Area had begun.

Although many of the this new group of Filipinos had the notion that now in America they must now act like the Americans, they nonetheless brought with them the food, music, traditions and culture of the Philippines and that pride in their homeland and heritage that would forever be in their hearts. Just as the saying goes, "you can take the Filipino out of the Philippines but you cannot take the Philippines out of the Filipino", it seemed that the time had come to reunite the Manongs with their Kababayans (town mates).

It has been a long-standing saying that whenever two or more Filipinos get together, a new club is born. Filipinos laugh and joke about this because often that is just exactly what happens. However, upon reviewing the history of the Filipino-American Association, it might have happened that same way but for one exception. In 1953, one man, named Rudy Willas, had the desire and a dream to bring the Manongs and the new Filipino families together without regard to anything except that we are all Filipinos. To quote Ms. Soledad Dumlao one of the attendees of the organizational caucuses, "We will not have regionalism here", meaning, whether you come from Luzon, the Visayas or even Mindanao we are all one people and all are welcome to participate.

After discussing his dream of forming an organization of all Filipinos in the county with some of his closest friends and knowing how we love to socialize he seized the opportunity and invited every Filipino he knew to a party. During this party, many common concerns and issues that the new and long-time resident families encountered were revealed and discussed. Those concerns ranged from the lack of social activities and housing discrimination to unfair legal statutes affecting the civil rights of Filipino-Americans.

It quickly became evident that if Filipinos in Pittsburg were to progress and be allowed to become productive citizens of this great country we could best serve each other by organizing into a strong cohesive and organized group.

For more than ten months, caucus after caucus ensued through the efforts of Rudy Willas, Mr. & Mrs. Eulogio Albano, Luis Gonzales, and many other interested persons, the foundation for this organization had begun to be laid until October 1954 when the final caucus established the five ideals of this Association.

The five ideals were: to establish our rightful place in the community; to increase opportunities for our children;
 to foster friendly relations with other organizations and groups of individuals within the area to organize and participate in social, cultural and recreational life of the community; to perpetuate the many laudable customs of the Filipino people; and to foster a pride and understanding of the historical background of the Philippines and be ambassadors of goodwill for our motherland.

Perhaps one of the most difficult tasks remaining after deciding to move forward and form the new organization was what to name it. Names that were suggested were Likas ng Bayan, Bahay Kubo, and Bayanihan. The other name suggested was Filipino-American Association, because we are now Filipinos in America.

The Filipino-American Association of Pittsburg was unanimously approved!

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The motto adopted was Our strength is in our loyalty. Our colors were green and gold, and finally, the long-term goal was to one day have our own building where meetings can be held and welcome friends and families to celebrate activities.

Mr. Rudy Willas was elected as the first President who would lead the organization to fruition, and on March 19, 1955 the organization was introduced into society with a large Dinner and Dance Installation of Officers and its 47 members in attendance. Attorney Sam Conte acted as installing officer. Notable members of Pittsburg's City officials who attended the event included Mayor Vince Davi, City Treasurer Frank Billeci, Chief of Police Sal Jimno and Chamber of Commerce Manager Fred Warren and Maxine Gonong of the Philippine Consulate was the guest speaker.

During his inaugural address Mr. Rudy Willas said:

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In all the tasks, we shall have need of the greatest unity among ourselves. In taking part in our government, in seeking equal opportunity law, in undertaking the necessary economic, political and social readjustments, the accomplishment of which is our basic task in our Association, we shall demand the utmost support from our peoples. In no other period of our history than the present, do we have more urgent need for our cooperation and union. Only in pervading patriotism among our people can be the basis of any successful solution of our problems. As any success we may attain will be that of our entire people, so the effort we exert for its attainment must also be that of all our people, and making it to stand by the motto: "Our strength is in our loyalty".

This administration sponsored fundraising activities to finance the activities and participation in city affairs like the Columbus Day Parade Celebration with a float constructed and made possible with voluntary contributions of Filipinos in Pittsburg and neighboring communities. The float depicted the Philippine Saga and won the 2nd Place trophy. The Filipino-American Association participated in this event for three years. Benefit events were held with graduating sons and daughters of members were honored for their achievements at different levels from high school to college.

In 1959 the Filipino-American Association awarded the first Scholarship Award to Roger Tumbaga. This became an annual award and an annual event Scholarship Event was and is still organized to raise funds for the Scholarship Awards.

So it was, that during the late 1950's, the Filipino-American Association of Pittsburg had been born, attained almost immediate recognition, gained prominence within the local community and each succeeding president and his/her administration for the last fifty plus years has left an indelible imprint on the fabric of our community.

The next decade was a period of much growth and excitement for the Association. The Association presidents were Cecil Valenzuela, Eulogio Albano, Melchor Diokno, Dan K. Basco, and Pat Ubarro. These men and their administrations of the Filipino-American Association paved a path for the success of the organization in virtually every aspect of community life.

The Filipino population continued to grow and along with it, the Association and the activities grew in response to the needs of the community. At this time the baby boom is very apparent in the community and the babies born during wartime are coming of age.

The Filipino students in the local public school began to make a major and positive impact in the schools due to their intellectual acumen, their well disciplined nature, and respectful character. A great many Filipinos graduated with scholastic achievements and membership in the California Scholarship Federation despite having had to overcome language barriers during their elementary school years.

Adult members became active participants in the political arena. Elected officials began to recognize the value of the Filipino population as a voting block and pursued their support in their election campaigns. Winners of close elections had credited the Filipino Community for their support. The long lasting relationships were established with Senators, Congressmen as well as local politicos. The Filipino voters were and are still sought out and respected.

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The culture of the Philippines was introduced to the local non-Filipino community through events such as the Scholarship Dinner, Oriental Night, and numerous social events & fund raising activities. In April 1967 the Association celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of Bataan as a commemoration of those Americans and Filipinos who had survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines. This event brought home to the local community the true friendship that the Americans and Filipinos had forged through adversity. This friendship continues to the present and the commemorative event has continued to be held annually without interruption. It is interesting to note that in the late 1990's the Association had seriously considered downsizing or even eliminating the event as interest from the community had begun to wane. As word spread of this possibility, there was a strong public outcry not to give it up. Needless to say, the newspaper articles about the event and editorials renewed public interest in the event and once again the event became a mainstay of the annual Filipino events. It proved to be a common thread that binds the Filipinos of our community.

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In 1969, the Filipiniana Dance Troupe was organized under the auspices of the Fil-American Association under the Direction of Mr. Bernardo Pedere, a local Pittsburg elementary school teacher and former dancer from one of the National Philippine Dance Companies. Through his efforts, a true cultural exchange began as he started to weave the stories of Philippine life styles into the intricate movements and music in the dance programs he produced. During the last 35 years the Filipiniana Dance Troupe has trained more than 200 dancers, has attracted the participation of other expatriated professional dancers and is currently training dancers as young as six years old. The dance program not only teaches dances it provides an educational forum on Philippine culture to all members of the dance company, who in most cases today are American born and have never visited the Philippines. Although the dance company is now a separate organization it maintains a close affiliation with the Fil-American Association and continues to dance at many of the Fil-American functions.

Meanwhile, the children of the original members of the Fil-American Association began entering the work force. They had gone to achieve higher educational levels and found their voices. Many have contributed greatly to the recognition of the Filipinos in today's society as they became involved far beyond the local social and political arenas.

The presidencies and administrations of Apollo Eclips, Orlando Dolojan, Jess H. Reyes, and Freddie Cariño led the Association through the 1970s, a period of realization and achievement of one of the greatest dreams of the Association. It was also a period of the many trials and tribulations that the organization would overcome.

The previous twenty years had proven to be extremely lucrative for the Association in terms of fund raising. The club had substantially increased its cash position. The Association had outgrown its ability to meet in private homes and garages and began meeting at public locations such as the Hacienda Restaurant and the Girl Scout House in City Park. So it was that in 1974 the vision to own a permanent place to hold meetings and gatherings was revisited. Plans were drawn, discussed, analyzed proposed and approved to identify and secure a permanent home for the Association.

This became the primary focus during the administration of President Orlando Dolojan. The Secretary, Rose Mary Tumbaga was given the task of searching for available properties for sale and identified 1210 Solari Street which was being offered for sale through open bidding. Thus with programs already in place to raise funds and money in the bank, they negotiated with Sooky Maldonado and Bruno Belloti at the Bank of America to provide additional loan funds in order to complete the financing requirements for the acquisition of the Solari Street property. Five upstanding members of the organization, namely, Mr., & Mrs. Ripalda, Gusimat, Basco, Pagobo, and Mrs. Fely Diokno agreed to guarantee the bank loan. Fortunately, due to existing fund raising plans and the innovation and the introduction of new sources of revenue generating programs, the bank loan was paid off one year earlier than expected to the great relief of the guarantors. The Association, however, will be forever grateful to these folks who put themselves on the line for the sake of the Association.

The new home of the Filipino-American Association proved to be a great asset for the organization and met all the expectations of the members. It was named the Filipino-American Cultural Center. But owning such a wonderful home also meant that demands on the financial resources of the organization would never again be minimal and a steady income stream would be needed.

Members managed to turn a simple event like Christmas Caroling into one of the major methods for raising the funds needed to pay the annual insurance and property taxes. Weekly bingo at the Filipino-American Cultural building were sufficient to pay the loan off and put a few extra dollars in the coffers for reserve and maintenance. In Addition, the strict legal requirements that a portions of the bingo funds be used for charitable purposes, a good number of charitable grants were made to service organizations such as Loaves and Fishes, Many Hands, United Council of Spanish-Speaking Organizations community projects, as well as programs for the mentally-impaired to name a few. Distribution of these shared proceeds was done on a semi-annual basis.

Pittsburg was not spared the effects of an unpopular war. The college age students do not nor can they ignore such crucial events that challenge their own rights to determine their own destinies. The Vietnam War was brought to an end but not before claiming a few of our sons either through death, physical/mental injury or drugs dependency.

Racial tensions begin to erode the peaceful coexistence of the youth in Pittsburg. Gangs begin to be formed by nearly every ethnic minority including the Filipino students.

Through all these trials and tribulations the Filipino-American Association members are able to continue to press forward. Members find comfort and consolation in the company of their friendships and relationship since the Association was formed.

Civics was not lost on the Filipinos either. Joe DeTorres is the first Fil-American member to be elected to the Pittsburg City Council. More active participation on local commissions and non-profit boards from the Filipino community is gaining momentum.

The ascent of women to the Presidency and leadership of the Association occurred during the 1980s. Candida Ripalda became the first female president of the organization.

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She was followed by Emilio Bomagat, Joseph De Torres, and Nino Jaromay. Each of these presidents and their administrations were successful in all fund-raising efforts and in 1983 the much larger and former Pacific Bell Building located at 345 Central Avenue was offered to the Association. A fair price and financing terms were negotiated with the owner and the deal was signed, sealed and the building delivered to the ownership of the members.

 The Solari Street property was sold to the Christian Renewal Ministries and the Filipino-American members participated fully in the acquisition of this second building by either lending or donating to the Association any where from $500 to $10,000 each in order to retire the debt on the building within a two year period. The Filipino Catholic Society was a major donor of almost $6,000.

Once again the Association had moved toward independence from debt and today is still the only organization of this type to own its own building.

The 1990's were truly the decade of the woman for the Association. Presidents Ile Reyes and Evangeline Santos served for most of the ten years until Arturo Cabrera was elected President in 1998.

The creative fundraising efforts of these presidents insured that the Association would continue to flourish. 

To this day, the Filipino-American Cultural Center has become one of the most sought after buildings for large parties in the community. Groups of all types and individuals have utilized the facilities for every type of event from small community meetings to large wedding receptions.

President Arturo Cabrera, a dynamic leader, Grace Mercado spiritually motivating, Nora Gavino standing tall always prepared to represent the Association whenever called upon and vowed to continue the legacy that was handed down to them.

The Filipino-American Cultural Center is undergoing steady upgrading. Renovations of the building ensures that the rental income continues to provide additional funds for general Maintenance. The facility is in use for private parties in addition to Association events throughout the year.

The Bataan Day event continues even though each year fewer Bataan Death March survivors are present. One day this will be the mark of the end of an era in the history of the Association. But as long as one man or woman of that period survives, the Association is committed to honor not only the survivors but also those who laid down their lives so that others might enjoy freedom and a democratic way of life.

The Year 2000 Census identified Filipinos as the second largest Asian population group in the Nation behind the Chinese. In Pittsburg it is the third largest minority group and growing. The first members of the Fil-American Association paved the way for succeeding generations to become accepted within the community. Their children, grandchildren and even some great grandchildren have proven their worth through hard work, an uncompromising work ethic and willingness to serve. Today there is hardly a community forum, task force, or commission established without seeking the participation of a Filipino-American Association representative.

The success and longevity of the Filipino-American Association would not have been possible without the cooperation, trust, dedication, Ioyalty, hard work, generosity, and unselfish dedication of the entire membership.

For over five decades the Filipino and American cultures have been woven into a tapestry of our lives together as a closely-knit family. The Filipino-American Association of Pittsburg is a proud organization that has grown and flourished over the years.

Many lessons have been learned along the way and many still lie ahead, but the standards have been set. The succeeding generations of members must meet the unknown challenges of the future just as surely and confidently as the dawn of each new day arrives.

Mabuhay at pagpalain tayo ng Diyos. Long Life and God Bless Us All!




© Filipino-American Association of Pittsburg 2018