Filipinotown Story Vignettes

This is a thank you for the stories you sent us (about Filipinos or not) who live or lived or had a connection to the Filipino areas of downtown Los Angeles from the early 1900s to 2012.


  . . . from the Storytellers of “Filipinotown, USA -

Collected Stories and Neighborhood Maps, Los Angeles”

FIRST, the feeling.

This is an excerpt from a letter written to Bonnivier from one of the storytellers:

      “I'm glad I've connected with this creative writing project. I'm glad I can pay tribute to my father and people who helped shape my childhood experiences in this neighborhood space we all shared and share. . . . As I mentioned in an earlier speech, when I attended the reception following the funeral service of Ed Ramolete's mom, I saw many childhood friends, and a rush of joy entered into my heart. It was a feeling I hadn't felt in a long time.

      “So our journey back into the old neighborhood has brought me reminiscences which is a form of meeting. I have been meeting up with my father and uncles and been taken to a place in my heart that apparently has always resided there. As I grieve the recent loss of some of my contemporaries and family friends, I reminisce about the love, joy and affirmation they brought me.”

                                                                                              from Gerald Gubatan

NEXT, the writing workshop warm up exercise, focusing on sound and sight while listening to Mozart and glancing at a candle flame:

  1. (1)“To add to a sense of being distinctly different than the other candles and flames in the room, I gently rock the table to give the flame a chance to wiggle its hips, but as the liquid wax below the flame begins to puddle, it seems my flame wiggles less and wobbles stiffly....Maybe my unique really not trying to be different, but conforming with the other[s] the room.  Or is it possible that [Mozart’s music] ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,’ has put my flame to sleep.”

                                                                                             from Greg Englis

  1. (2) “Echo Park, near the tot lot.  Bicycles with saffron yellow stripes floating almost silently ahead.  Then whistling past with riders singing to music heard through white plugs in their ears.  Teeter totters rising up and down.   Empty swings rattling chains, their leather seats slapping.”

                                                                                               from Gregory Villanueva

THIRD, excerpts from first drafts of Stories for the Collection:

  1. (1)     “The Fremont apartment was a three-story red brick building with twenty-six units located

in the area where the Harbor Freeway Exit 6 is located. . . .The tenants [were of] various nationalities;  Syrian, Chinese, German, Italian, Indian and Filipinos would gather on holidays

and special occasions. . . .They became our extended family, and it was a unique and wonderful environment to grow up in. . . .Sammy Pascua and Sam Miguel were great cooks and would always bring many of their special dishes which we all loved.  On one occasion they even barbecued a pig.  They also loved to gamble, and so did my Dad.

          “One day my mother and aunt went shopping and asked our friend and tenant, Sammy Pascua to watch me. . . .That afternoon I decided to crawl out on the three story ledge outside

our window. . . .”

from a story by Paul Lee

(2) Alice is the daughter of Eulalio Cabot Aguinaldo Cablayan (1899-1995) who was one of the first               wave of Manongs recruited to work as laborers in Hawaii and Central California.  He lived in Stockton for some time before he relocated and settled in Historic Filipinotown.

    “It was the weekend before the Winter Solstice of 2010.  I was attending a solstice ceremony at the Goddess Temple of Orange County to hear one of my spiritual mentors perform “Ave Maria” in 

honor of the Divine Feminine in her aspect as the Blessed Virgin Mary. As she sang the deep, rich notes of Ave Maria, I was taken back to a time in my childhood when I first heard this song and experienced the Divine Mother.  

        “It was at a small church called Saint Columban in a section of Los Angeles in what is now known as Historic Filipinotown.  Predominantly a Filipino congregation, the body of this church (as in 

many Catholic churches) had deep reverence for the Mother Aspect of the Godhead by honoring the Virgin Mary.  Each year, a festival was held in May to crown the Virgin Mary as the Queen of Heaven and a contest was held to raise funds for the church and for the festival.  I could still smell the scents of white, long, burning candles amongst the sweet and subtle fragrances of carnation, lily and gladiola bouquets.  

        “This day was particularly special, because it was my coronation day as May Queen 1972 and I was going to have the honor of crowning the Blessed Virgin Mother as Queen of Heaven.

I didn’t know then that I would feel that presence in me again....”

                                                                                                 from a story by Alice Cablayan

3) In the late 1930’s/early 40’s Ponce Cazem worked first for  Cesar Romero and then for John Payne; both men were Hollywood stars. 

             “After [my father, Ponce Cazem,] was a houseboy and chauffeur, he moved into the estate located at Hermosa Beach and the second house in Redondo Beach.  This was his lucky star, for Mr. Payne was a wonderful human being and treated him with dignity....

            “On his days off, [my father] would hang out with other Filipinos that were chauffeurs and houseboys within the entertainment community.  The group would visit [downtown L.A.’s] dance halls and parties and would flirt with the local females.  [My father also met many] 

daughters of. . .celebrities.  Dressed up with the latest zoot suit and borrowing the fancy vehicle

of his employer, it was a sight to see and, apparently, the young ladies loved it.

            “As the proverb goes, ‘All good things must pass,’ and the life of Reilly would come to a sober close when the minor, Gloria DeHaven. . .began a friendship with my father. . . .”

                                                                                          from a story by Mark Cazem 

  1. (4) This is a poem that grew out of our writing workshop on January 15, 2011, and came from the heart and hand of Carol Ojeda Kimbrough who “chose to leave [the terror of Marcos’ Philippines} and live.”  The place of the poem is Los Angeles, and the year is 1975.

“There is no such thing as a silent night

In my neighborhood

The rhythmic sound of helicopters hovering

Hypnotic if not for the screaming sirens of squad cars below

Night time turns to day all too soon

As the glare of heavenly

Searchlights scattered, diffused

Covers a wide radius

Steps from predators chasing prey

Which one is which doesn’t matter

I’ve learned to tune them out

And make my own silence

Exhaustion does that

Weary bodies can’t hear

Or see

Or care

My son cries

Like he does every night

Because he’s hungry

Or wet

Or colicky

Or maybe he misses

My grandmother’s singing

As she gently rocks him

And soothes him

And loves him

Even if he is a bastard

That’s what they called children

Whose parents didn’t take the time

To get the holy father’s blessing

Even if they did love each other

Their children would be damned

And called names

So my Lola croons to her little bastard

And tells him:  “It’s okay...everyone’s

A bastard in some way or another.”

But the biggest bastard of all

Was the one who pushed me to leave

And move to a foreign land

Where my tongue had to do somersaults

Just so people can understand

The words coming out of my mouth

Oh I could have stayed

And suffered the same fate as my son’s father

Whose body was never found

But not before they tortured him

And mocked him

And burned him

They thought they could silence him

So I chose to leave, and live

and speak for them

the dead, the maimed, the broken

For Liliosa, Amelia and Oma

For Lando, Joseph, and Ruben

Though the road on which they traveled

Ended far too quickly

My journey continues


I chose to leave,

and live

  and live.”

Read aloud/performed on February 19, 2011, by Carol Ojeda Kimbrough with other writers at the Morono Kiang Gallery, Bradbury Building, downtown Los Angeles.

ULTIMATE:  The book:   

      “Filipinotown, USA - 

        Collected Short Stories and Neighborhood Maps,  Los Angeles.”    

    These stories are being written by and about events, neighborhoods, and men and women of all ages who are mostly from Filipino descent, but certainly not all.  The storytellers have either attended the writing workshops launched on November 6 , 2010, or they have phoned or emailed us :   (Carlene (, Gerald (, or Greg (

                                                                             Krispy Kake Kone Kompany.

     The stories reach back to the first wave of Manongs in California (1906) to the present day Derby Dolls who roller skate atop grounds once covered by the 

   Music on this website from “Soul Sounds” by Little BrownBrother

          Supported by Philippine Expressions Bookshop, Public Matters Group/UCLA,  

                                       SIPA (Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, 

                                       and PWC (Pilipino Workers Center).