FILIPINOTOWN: VOICES FROM LOS ANGELES is an anthology that came together, magically (no grants or donations, except of time and talent), over a period of five years. It’s made up of documents, creative narratives, photographs, and artwork––40 chapters contributed to by a community of people and edited by three “children” (1940s and 1970s) of Historic Filipinotown who have been irresistibly drawn back into the neighborhood.

Over a period of five years, we researched the history of Filipinos in Los Angeles, held writing workshops, and formed a readers’ theater which we named in honor of Eliseo A. Silva’s iconic (and recently endangered) mural of Filipino-

American history.

The threat to the 150-foot mural and the presence of our UP AGAINST THE WALL READERS THEATER brought new awareness and new energy to the community. When the book came out in January 2014, it added even more excitement to the atmosphere.

People are drawn to the book, and one of the reasons for this is its cover: It folds out to reveal nearly the entire length of Silva’s wondrous mural. Another reason that people are drawn to it is that there’s a great variety of voices and experiences revealed in its pages, covering over 100 years of history, from 1900 to the present. We have well known writers such as William Saroyan, John Fante, and Carlos Bulosan (who were Temple Street friends). We also have people who had never published before, some who had never written creatively before such as our oldest contributor, Henrietta Zarovsky, 95, who lived on Bunker Hill in the 1930s; and our youngest contributor, Samantha Morales, who was 17 when she wrote her story wich took place in Echo Park around 2008. All of the stories are written by (or about) a great mixture of people: Filipino, Mexican, African-American, Jewish, Italian, Irish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Armenian.

It’s all here. In the book. Magic.


Despite the fact that there are other enclaves of Filipinos living outside this district, it was declared Historic Filipinotown since it was one of the few areas where Filipinos first settled during the early part of the 20th century. Many Filipino-American families began purchasing homes and establishing businesses in the area beginning from the 1940s, shifting away from the downtown area now known as the Little Tokyo area in the 1920s and the Bunker Hill area later.

In recent times, Historic Filipinotown reflects the polyglot nature of Los Angeles. While the district still has a sizable Filipino population, they are the minority, overshadowed by a sizable Mexican and Central American population. Nevertheless, the area still has one of the highest concentrations of Filipino Americans in Southern California and still remains the cultural heart of Filipinos throughout Los Angeles. Of the 400,000 Filipinos that reside in Los Angeles, an estimated 10,000 are within Historic Filipinotown.



by Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier

Early in 2018, it was announced that 400 luxury apartments were being built on Temple Street, between Bonnie Brae and Westlake Avenue.

From birth to her early teenage years, Carlene had lived at three different places all on or near Temple Street in Los Angeles. The last place was on the corner of Temple and Westlake, in the heart of Filipinotown.

In August of 2018, as she was driving up Temple Street, she saw something that made her slow to a stop and then pull over and take another look. There it was: Six or seven stories of wood framing for the luxury apartments.

Carlene was hit by a wave of nostalgia and a deep feeling of loss. She got out of her car and walked around around the city block of what had once been a place full of energy and conflict and worry and joy and alcohol and ideas from the Jehovah Witnesses and the Daily Worker. She said goodby to them all, but especially to the people she loved:

On the corner of Temple and Bonnie Brae was the grocery store of a very kind-hearted Chinese man who everyone in the neighborhood owed money. Just next to him, on Temple Street, were the mischievous Mexican girls who would throw Krispy Kake Kones out of the factory’s back window to the children playing in the alley. Then came the Valle Family of nine boys and, finally, a girl. Mr. and Mrs. Merriweather, a chauffeur and a maid in Beverly Hills, shared the duplex right on the corner of Temple and Westlake with Marciana Cesaria Sobrino Bonniver and her two daughters, Geraldine and Carlene. Across the alley from them, going south on Westlake, lived Angie, practicing the oldest profession, often in silhouette. Then Donald Norman who became the first “colored” student to be voted in to the Student Council of Belmont High School (as Secretary-Treasurer). Then the Yamaguchi family that hardly ever came out of their apartment (for fear of being discovered and sent to a camp?). Lastly, there was Mama Coffee who went to church every day, spoke French, and served tea to anyone who came by. She had a daughter who passed for white. Her name was Agnes, and she married Baltazar, a Bontoc from the Philippines who, they said, was a headhunter.

Try to match that in the suburbs!


SIPA (Search to Involve Pilipino Americans)

Introduction – from the Philippines to Los Angeles

Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier, editor, and Ed Ramolete
Gerald G. Gubatan, co-editor, and Benny Guzman


Los Angeles Review of Books FILIPINOTOWN: Voices from Los Angeles – 2016 carrying-neighborhood-back-back/#


Photos by Paul Lee

Music on Intro video –“Soul Sounds”

Little Brown Brothers



Gregory Ingles and Gregory Villanueva, co-editor.


What was it?                 

What is it?

Something in the heart?

Something in the kitchen.                         

An accent a carefulness,

  a gentleness bewildered,

  criminals, communists,

  doctors and nurses,

  farm workers,

  a family, very close

       welcoming but you enter the family,

       become part of it,         

      do not speak out. Harmony.

Stick together but don’t necessarily marry your own kind.

Go ahead. Fall in love, but think of your future.

Stay close. Stay together.

Why? Safety.                                                             




Marciana Cesaria Sobrino Bonnivier                 

Wiry.  Strong.

Not five feet tall.  Not a hundred pounds.

Walking with a bounce,

white powder and rouge on her face.  Red,

dead red, lipstick.  Hair in barrettes

to keep it back and away from the machines which

had, on occasion, caught a woman’s hair

and dragged her into serious trouble

before they could stop it.

Danger everywhere.

Here no family.  So unions. Be a member.

Give to them and be protected.

Unions they say are communist.

She was Catholic. So now what?


Where’s the safety? In the Church? In the Union?

Not in the arms of a man.

Not even in the tears spilled over coffee

with the Mexican or Colored girls in the neighborhood

or at the Dimasalang meetings south of Echo Park.

Filipinotown. Where was it? Where is it?                                           

In compadres whatever color, whatever church, whatever union.

In each other learning America, finding a place in the scheme of things.

                                Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier

                                               November 15, 2010 (revised July 8, 2012)

This brush stroke prose was created by Greg Villanueva and sent as an email to Gerald G. Gubatan and Carlene Bonnivier on May 13, 2010. He lived on Beaudry near Temple Street from the time he was born in 1940 until he finished third grade at Our Lady of Loretto Grammar School and moved to East L.A. He went to Cathedral High, and graduated from University of California, Berkeley.Greg was the first Filipino-American to be inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects.

In MY 1940s World, where I never saw a Filipino woman, the future “Filipino Town” Impact Area ran from Main Street taxi dance halls, pool halls and barber shops . . . through murky and creaking Bunker Hill apartments . . . celebrating quietly but GRANDLY with clinking coins in Macintosh suits at the corner Carioca Cafe on Figueroa . . . then along

that very special spine Temple Street which bound us all together . . . past secluded upstairs rooms in houses of “ill repute” and fragrant live poultry and fruit markets, five-and-dime stores . . . the dark, sticky and sweet-smelling Granada Theater with two films and countless Mighty Mouse cartoons for 25 cents . . . a few empty lots with huge, fat

untended palm trees covered with blue bell flower vines, which everywhere smothered fences, sheds, garages,whole houses and two story apartment buildings. There, at Colton and Beaudry, was Holy Rosary Catholic Church and open-air Martins Market (before they disappeared or were relocated across the street by the new five-level interchange and the freeway). During fiestas these streets were filled with multicolored kids and families along with mariachi music, toss games, all kinds of food and confetti filled eggs. At night we sat on front porches listening to the radio and watching hypnotized as the neon lights rose up and exploded atop the Richfield Tower. In the morning we were awakened from all directions with countless roosters crowing incessantly. There was Filipino Alley with integrated couples and a few kids along Boylston (which now lies under or looks over the controversial new Belmont High School/Academy/Park. Now, an unbelievable view of the city!) . . . past active oil wells which punched through so many dirt filled back yards. . . down the backside western slope of Court Street to Glendale Boulevard . . . highlighted by the trolleys and that underwater diving /smog suit icon at Temple and Glendale. I don’t remember ANY grass in ANY yards! I do remember those ubiquitous green and red painted gourds . . . and squatting Filipinos trying to grow bitter melon in gravel. In that day some Flips were dashing in white/maroon tennis sweaters and white pants coming in elegant polished cars from the country clubs near Santa Barbara as bartenders,chauffeurs, waiters and houseboys. They gathered like peacocks at the Echo Park tennis courts behind that beautiful Library! And there was Echo Park Lake . . . ECHO PARK LAKE!

––Gregory Villanueva

Today Gerald G. Gubatan is an Urban Planner who works for the very same agency responsible for the displacement of Filipinos from Bunker Hill after World War II—the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles, except, instead of bulldozing whole communities to build skyscrapers, his work is about building communities in need of revitalization.

Recently I attended a reception following the funeral service for the mother of an old friend. There I reunited with many childhood friends, and suddenly a rush of joy entered into my heart. It was a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time. A reawakening.

This creative project, Filipinotown: Voices from Los Angeles, is also a reawakening, taking me back into the old neighborhood through sharing our stories and reminiscences.

All of this is a form of meeting.

I’ve been meeting up with my father and uncles, and I’ve been taken to a place in my heart that apparently has always resided there.

Severo Doria Gubatan returns

to the house on Edgeware Road

after World War II.

––Gerald G. Gubatan