Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Keeping the Flame

For Fil-Am writer Carina Montoya, writing two historical books about Filipino immigrants in California was an attempt in knowing more about her father who died when she was seven

Her recently launched book, Los Angeles’s Historic Filipinotown, released by Arcadia Publishing, traces the history of one of California’s largest Filipino enclaves. Historic Filipinotown was where many Pinoy immigrants settled and put up businesses during the turn of the twentieth century.

“Getting to know my father through my books has enlightened me about so many things about the Filipino community. It lit a flame within me to preserve this history that I am very much a part of,” says Carina, a full-blooded Pinoy who was born and raised in the Hollywood area.

Carina’s father, Tommy, a native of General Trias, Cavite, served with the US Navy and settled in Los Angeles, where he found work in Hollywood as a waiter at the Don the Beachcomer, a Polynesian resto-bar that catered to the Hollywood film industry crowd.

Like many other Pinoys who pursued the American dream, Carina’s father had a hard time when he first arrived in the US.

“My father did not have any relatives in America. His friends became his family—they lived in groups, sharing food and money when times were bad,” Carina relates. He met and later married Carina’s mother Rose in San Francisco when she was visiting a brother who worked in the Alaskan fish canneries.

Later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Tommy became paralyzed from the neck down and had to be put in an iron lung at the Rancho Los Amigos in Downey, California. Rose was forced to find work to support an ill husband and two young children, Carina and her brother Eric.

“My mother took English and business classes, which resulted in her finding a job at Occidental life Insurance Company in downtown LA,” Carina relates. While she was not earning much, Rose managed to bring food to the table, pay rent, send her kids to private schools, and even afford music lessons.

When Carina’s father died, the family moved back to the Philippines, where they often traveled to see relatives in Ilocos Sur.

“There was no electricity, no indoor plumbing, and water was drawn from the well,” Carina recalls of this Philippine visit. “But the country was beautiful, and I will always remember the beautiful clear blue-green water and the fruit trees.” After a year in the Philippines, Rose decided to bring her kids back to the US as they often fell sick.


While researching for Filipinos in Hollywood, an earlier book, Carina realized that discrimination in fact existed, and Pinoy immigrants like her parents were victims of it.

“My brother and I never felt the effects discrimination and interracial marriage. Language barriers and identity confusion were never issues. We viewed ourselves as American and had no socialization problems,” Carina explains.

Now having come to terms with her Pinoy roots, Carina is working on several projects that, she hopes, “will keep Filipino history alive to pass on to future generations.”

Carina is happy to share that her kids are intent on understanding and preserving their Pinoy roots.

“My children’s cookbooks [with renowned artist/muralist Eliseo Art Silva as illustrator] are also an attempt to preserve our culture, identity, and heritage by passing on this information to future generations.  The cookbooks incorporate Filipino history and food, such as where adobo came from and its Spanish influence, and how it is made,” Carina relates.

Another of Carina’s projects is the Los Angeles Filipino Museum, which is housed in an original Victorian house purchased in the thirties by one of the city’s oldest Pinoy families. Located at the heart of Historic Filipinotown, the museum will display photographs dating back to the twenties when Filipino immigrants first settled in LA. The exhibit will also include prints of the first Filipino organizations founded in LA, among them the Filipino Federation of America, Philippine Women’s Club, Santa Maria Ilocos Sur Association, Pangasinan Association, and the Cebu Brotherhood.

With all of Carina’s efforts in preserving the Pinoy culture for the children of the diaspora, Tommy Montoya must be very proud.

Carina Montoya’s books Filipinos in Hollywood and Los Angeles’s Historic Filipinotown can be purchased at all Internet book stores, Barnes & Noble, Filipino American Library and at her Website.

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