Exhibit shares stories of Filipino immigrants
By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Zenaida Serrano
Sugar cane and pineapple workers, donning wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts, tend Hawai'i fields in the 1900s.
A "No Filipinos Allowed" sign fronts a Stockton, Calif., hotel in the 1930s.
President Bill Clinton looks on as Navy Capt. Eleanor C. Mariano is promoted in 2000 to rear admiral, the highest military rank occupied by a Filipino-American woman.
These images are among nearly 100 photos that, although black and white, reveal a colorful history of the Filipino-American experience in the United States.
"Singgalot (Ties That Bind) — Filipinos in America, From Colonial Subjects to Citizens" is an exhibit that commemorates the 100th anniversary of Filipino immigration to the United States. The exhibit, a project directed by Dean Alegado of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, opens Thursday at the Smithsonian Institution. The four-month display will be followed by an exhibit in September at the Bishop Museum.
"Although (the project) was inspired by the centennial here in Hawai'i ... what we wanted to do is to give a national perspective of the Filipino-American experience," Alegado said.
The purpose of the exhibit is twofold, said Franklin Odo, director of the Asian Pacific American Program at the Smithsonian Institution.
"First, to provide a major forum ... for the American public to appreciate the rich history and legacy of Filipino-Americans," Odo said from Washington, D.C., "and second, to send a message from the Smithsonian Institution, representing the nation, to Fil-Am communities that their struggles and achievements are very much appreciated."
"Singgalot" is made up of 30 4-by-8-foot panels featuring photos and narratives exploring issues such as challenges Filipino-Americans faced with civil rights and citizenship, as well as contributions they made in the agribusiness, military and healthcare fields.
'FABRIC OF OUR COUNTRY'
"I think the main goal is to show Filipinos that they have a history ... an American history," said exhibit designer Marissa Rowell, 28, a graphic designer and 2006 UH graduate.
Rowell, whose maiden name is Gacula, is a first-generation Filipino-American born and reared on the Big Island. Her father came to Hawai'i in the 1960s to work for the Hamakua sugar plantation company; her mother came as a student.
Working on the project "opened my eyes," Rowell said. "... It was very emotional because I've never heard of some of the stories before."
Stories such as the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair exhibit on hundreds of indigenous Filipinos who were "treated like animals," Rowell said, or the Pulitzer Prize-winning Filipino-Americans, including Cheryl Diaz Meyer, a Dallas photojournalist who received the honor in 2004 for her coverage of the war in Iraq.
The exhibit "shows that America is not just 'white' and 'black,' " Rowell said. "It's a lot of different cultures."
The two-year "Singgalot" project began with Alegado traveling the country — from the Big Island and Alaska to Chicago and Virginia Beach, Va. — and gathering nearly 2,000 photographs and scores of stories.
So the biggest challenge was having to whittle down the pictures, yet choosing photos that would reflect the broad history of Filipino-Americans, said Alegado, an associate professor and chairman of the UH ethnic studies department. More than 100 were incorporated.
Alegado "did a great job of researching and developing the exhibit theme and doing the (narrative)," said project adviser Tom Klobe, director of the UH Art Gallery. "Marissa came up with a smashing design and Fleet Street (Integrated Branding, a Honolulu graphics manufacturing plant) produced it with the greatest care. It was the perfect team."
Klobe is proud of the exhibit and how it turned out.
"It is a great tribute to a group of people who have contributed much to the fabric of our country and our culture, but who are little recognized," he said.
'THEIR STORY IS MY STORY'
Clarence Silva, president of Fleet Street, the company that printed and fabricated the exhibit panels, said "Singgalot" offers something for everyone, not just Filipinos.
"I'm attracted to it personally because I'm third-generation Portuguese," Silva said. "Somehow their story is my story."
After the exhibit's run at the Smithsonian, it will go on display at the Bishop Museum. This will be followed by a three-year national tour, to cities including San Francisco, Las Vegas, Seattle, New York and Atlanta.
When the exhibit travels to different cities, organizers hope to work with local chapters of the Filipino American National Historical Society to create community exhibits to run with "Singgalot."
"So what is missing in this broad canvas, they can fill in, because there's no way we can do all that," Alegado said.
"Singgalot" may also make its way to the Philippines, Alegado said. "I hope people, when they walk away from the exhibit, that they have a better understanding of the history of Filipino migration," Rowell said. "Just to know that there are other stories out there, that there is another American story."
Reach Zenaida Serrano at email@example.com.