“Little Manila” Community Center vandalized
by Jon Malek
On October 9, the Little Manila Community Center in Stockton, California, was vandalized in what was likely a hate crime during Filipino American History Month. According to members of the community centre and police in Stockton, windows were damaged, donated photos on display were torn down, and offensive graffiti littered the windows.
NBC News reported that students who participate in the centre’s education programs were the first to discover the scene the next morning. Students were reportedly “distraught” and confused about why someone would vandalize a building that represents their community identity. Police reported that the centre was the only victim of vandalism and that no other storefronts in the area were damaged. While police investigated the event as vandalism, the racial undertones of graffiti messages led Filipinos in Stockton to call it a hate crime. The damage was not immediately cleaned up by the centre, which felt it would be a poignant reminder of the community’ struggles with racism in the past. A statement from the group’s Facebook page reads:
“As we celebrate Filipino American History Month this October, we know that discrimination against Filipino Americans is nothing new. The street our Little Manila Center is on is Main St. in downtown Stockton, which was the dividing line for people of color in this city in the 1920s and 1930s. People of color were not welcomed north of Main St. and signs saying ‘Positively no Filipinos allowed’ were displayed openly. It was illegal for Filipino men to marry White women in California.” The statement went on to say, “Little Manila Foundation and our Little Manila Center will continue to be a space for understanding and love, bringing together diverse communities. This incident only strengthens our resolve and reaffirms the work that we are already doing.”
Messages on Twitter echoed the same spirit. User @WTFitzMariaTho tweeted “I’m broken but this doesn’t stop what Little Manila does, it just motivates our programs to continue our movement stronger.” User @celiiry expressed much of the frustration felt by community members and supporters: “This is just proof that discrimination, oppression, and colonization will continue to exist. How can you do us justice if we can’t even be”.
Celin Corpuz, a student in the Little Manila After School Program and the Ethnic Studies Program, “Us” History, stated that the centre received many donations from “different Filipino-American organizations particularly from colleges,” including the University of California at Davis’ Filipino American organization.
According to the Little Manila website (www.littlemanila.org), the organization “advocates for the historic preservation of the Little Manila Historic Site in Stockton, California and provides education and leadership to revitalize our Filipina/o American community.” The organization aims to preserve Stockton’s Little Manila and Filipino heritage through education, arts and cultural programs, environmental advocacy, and political advocacy for the overall well being of the Stockton community.
Stockton has long been a site of Filipino Americans. From the 1920s to the 1960s, it had one of the largest populations of Filipinos living outside of the Philippines. Carlos Bulosan, who wrote America is in the Heart, spent a lot of time in the community. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Associate Professor of History at San Francisco State University and co-founder of the Little Manila Community Center, documented the history of Stockton in the recent book, Little Manila is in the Heart. Little Manila was an area in Stockton where the Filipino population was centred, and it has dealt with a number of threats to its existence due to development, such as the construction of a freeway through the community in the 1960s.
The event, which has disturbing racial undertones, is a reminder that Filipinos in the United States continue to face racism and discrimination, as they do around the world. In Canada, the federal government worked hard to prevent Filipino immigration – simply because Filipinos are from Asia – until they needed they labour in the 1950s and 1960s.
The event did bring out the best of the community, however, revealing the support and allies that the Filipino community in Stockton has. I am sure that Winnipeg can count itself as one such ally.
Mabalon, Dawn Bohulano. Little Manila is in the heart: The making of the Filipina/o American community in Stockton, California. Duke University Press, 2013.
Jon Malek is a PhD candidate in History at Western University, and lectures in History at the University of Manitoba.