The Little Manila Center in Stockton, California was vandalized on Monday, October 9, as the Filipino-American community joins others throughout the United States in celebrating Fil-Am History Month.
“We do not know why someone would deface our windows and rip the historic photographs of our community from the Little Manila Center entrance,” reads a statement issued by the Little Manila Center Board.
Brian Batugo, a teacher and arts director at the center, was running a bit late to dance practice when he received a Facebook message by one of the student’s parents, notifying him of the vandalism. Shortly after, a student sent him a photo.
“One of my students had tears in her eyes,” Batugo told the Asian Journal, detailing that he found his students — many of whom were also taking an ethnic studies class at the center — shocked and upset.
Rather than going straight into rehearsal, Batugo allowed his students to reflect and document the event on social media. Batugo himself did a live video showing the damage to those on his social media networks.
Stockton’s Mayor Michael Tubbs picked up on the social media outcries and called the incident “unacceptable” in a tweet. He then called the city’s police chief out to the scene.
As of Wednesday, police have classified the incident as an act of vandalism and not a hate crime.
According to Dillon Delvo, executive director and co-founder of the Little Manila Foundation, no other businesses on the street were vandalized.
Words like “brainwashed” and “bigot”, along with seemingly misspelled words like “whittie” and “prop”, were marked on one of the center’s front windows.
The vandal, who a witness described as possibly homeless, also ripped down donated banners portraying historic Filipino American stories.
The door’s decals that once read “Little Manila Center” also had letters taken off.
“Things like this make me so mad. Destroyed our donated pictures and messed up our windows, and called us “bigots” this is a hate crime,” read a tweet by Twitter user @celiiry.
Delvo told the Asian Journal that a recent quote for the damage was $1,200 — more than they had originally thought. Donations are being accepted on the foundation’s website.
Fil-Am History Month context
The incident came as the center was busy preparing for activities and projects for Fil-Am History Month, an annual celebration of Fil-Ams’ history and experiences in the U.S. observed every October.
One of the center’s projects is a series of short documentaries commemorating first-generation manongs (older male relatives) who passed away at the Daguhoy Lodge in Stockton. The project looks to tap into the manongs’ experiences at the time, through what was left behind in their trunks.
“As we celebrate Filipino-American History Month this October, we know that discrimination against Filipino Americans is nothing new,” reads the statement on the incident.
For much of the 1920s to 1930s, Filipinos in the United States were accused of taking jobs, being criminals, and fraternizing with white women, thus being subject to many mob attacks and raids.
The areas of Watsonville, California — just two hours away from Stockton, for example — became a hotspot of friction where mobs ultimately led to the death of a Filipino worker named Fermin Tobera.
In response to the anti-Filipino aggressions happening throughout the West Coast, Philippine officials organized a “national day of humiliation” in Manila — thousands were said to have gathered in the capital’s Luneta Park to commemorate Tobera.
On September 28, 2011, the state of California officially apologized to Filipino Americans through an Assembly resolution (ACR-74) authored by Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo.
“Filipino Americans have a long and documented history of suffering discrimination, prejudice, and animosity in the State of California,” read one line of the resolution. “Filipino Americans endured past transgressions and wrongs committed against them through the implementation of state policies and the passage of certain laws,” read another.
The city of Stockton itself, once had the largest population of Filipinos outside of the Philippines between the 1920s to 1960s, according to the Little Manila Center.
Main Street, on which the center is located, was once the city’s dividing line for people of color in the 1930s. Filipinos were consequently not allowed to go north of the street, and signs saying “Positively no Filipinos allowed” were openly displayed, according to the center.
The weekend just before the incident, students took photos with a replicated sign at a community event in remembrance of the street’s history. The sign now hangs over the center’s ripped banners for the same reason.
“Yeah, this is a real tragedy, but we need to see how we can turn this tragedy into a prospect,” said Delvo who chooses to use the incident as a learning tool, and hopes that those who see it learn a bit about the early experience of Filipino Americans in California.
“We’re just adding to this history of what was happening in the past — we can’t just wash it off,” he added.
And it’s not just the histories and aggressions against Filipino Americans Delvo wants to shed light on.
“Ripping down some signs is kind of like we got the lesser evil side,” he said referring to the overall racial climate that has been affecting other ethnic groups.
“If anything, this incident serves as a reminder for all Filipinos and all Asian Americans that we should be in solidarity with the oppressed,” said Delvo. “We are not excluded from that.”
As for the young students that first discovered the damage, they are not letting it get in the way of their Fil-Am History Month performances — their next one is slated for Saturday, October 14.
“The show must go on,” said Batugo who encouraged his students to channel their positive energy into their art.