‘Filipinos of South Bay’ exhibit celebrates heritage and culture of community
Anamaria Cabato is co-chair of the “Filipinos of South Bay” exhibition committee, which is unveiling its exhibition of local stories, photos and other memorabilia highlighting the history of Filipinos in the South Bay during Filipino American History Month in October
October is Filipino American History Month, and in the South Bay, the Filipino community has spent nearly four years planning an exhibition to showcase their rich culture, history, traditions and some of the countless stories.
“’The Filipinos of South Bay’ exhibit tells the journey of Filipinos from the Philippines to the South Bay. It will provide Philippine history, the geography and waves of migration. It will feature stories of Filipinos in the military, education, business and government as well as themes of Philippine organizations and pageants, from faith to fiestas, and building community through dance and music,” said Anamaria Cabato, co-chair of the exhibit’s planning committee.
“The purpose of the exhibit is to share the history of the Philippines and how Filipino immigrants came to this country. It will share the importance of community in bringing connections and contributions that helped us find a place where we belong.”
The exhibit opens with a reception at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Civic Center Library in Chula Vista, where it will be on display through the end of 2023. This partnership with the library, the Friends of the Chula Vista Heritage Museum, PASACAT, the Filipino American National Historical Society’s San Diego chapter, and the Council of Philippine American Organizations began with talks in 2018 that were stalled by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but picked up again with virtual meetings and community listening sessions to gather stories, photos, memorabilia and other items to include in the display.
Cabato, 67, lives in Paradise Hills and has two daughters and one granddaughter. She’s been a prominent and active figure in the local Filipino community for decades, currently serving as executive director of PASACAT, the local Philippine performing arts company where she’s been involved since its inception in 1970, to community awards and recognition for her service in the arts. She took some time to talk about this exhibit and the contributions and legacy of Filipinos in the South Bay.
Q: As part of the planning for this exhibition, you’ve received a lot of contributions from the community in the form of newspaper articles, photos and other documentation tracing the history of the local Filipino community. What are a couple of the elements and/or stories in the exhibit that really stand out for you?
A: A major story is the education piece of our exhibit. When multicultural and multilingual classes became part of the California education system, Filipino teachers served as inspiration for a new generation of Filipinos to move toward careers in education as teachers, counselors and professors. These teachers in the Sweetwater Union High School District helped shape the Filipino identity of hundreds of students over time. Another story uncovered a personal connection. Family Loompya Corporation was a local business making and distributing frozen lumpia. They started in Paradise Hills and eventually moved their shop and operations to National City. My sister was a regional director of the Navy Exchange and helped bring Family Loompya to the Navy Exchange. This connection expanded their market globally.
Q: Your website for the exhibit mentions sharing these stories through the lenses of “kapwa” and “the Bayanihan spirit.” Can you help us understand what this means?
A: “Kapwa” is the essence that you and I are one with God, one with nature, and one with all species. Thus, we have a shared responsibility in the care for each other and our world. “Bayanihan” is the community spirit of helping one another and the notion that it takes a village to raise up our community and the people in the community. When you view the world through these two lenses, your role and responsibilities change when you embrace these values.
What I love about Paradise Hills ...
Its diversity and seeing many familiar faces, that you can be yourself, and having access to a smorgasbord of food from different countries.
Q: When you think of these ideas of community, altruism and shared identity (found in “kapwa” and “Bayanihan”), how have you seen and experienced them in ways that may not be typical outside of the Filipino community?
A: I think, by nature, we all have a sense of “kapwa,” But the world taints our view, and it becomes blurred. When I was national president of the Filipino employee group at AT&T, I’d just met the other presidents at an employee conference. Less than a month later, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines in 2013. I was bombarded with emails and calls from all the presidents asking how they could help. This is “kapwa.” I was overwhelmed with emotion by their quick call to action, and their concern and willingness to help financially.
Q: What are some ways that you would describe your own Filipino American experience in the South Bay?
A: I was raised in a multicultural environment while growing up here. I loved the diversity of our schools in National City and my parish, St. Rita. We celebrated many Filipino traditions in the community and at church, so who wouldn’t be happy as a child at all of these fun-filled gatherings? I enjoyed everything Filipino. One time, I was at Seafood City and shopping for groceries after just returning from a visit to the Philippines. I saw customers wearing their “tsinelas” (slippers), T-shirts and pajama pants. Then, from the overhead speakers, an elderly Filipino worker in his endearing accent made an announcement that, “Number 34, your fish is ready.” It brought a smile to my face and I felt transported to the Philippine markets. It felt like home.
Q: Why is it important to you that Filipino stories and experiences be highlighted in this way, in “Filipinos of South Bay”?
A: It’s important to know our personal history and the stories of our ancestors, otherwise their stories fade and are forever lost. [A loose interpretation of a quote credited to famed Filipino political leader and author Jose Rizal] says, “No history, no self. Know history, know self.” To know your history and to know self, shows how you are rooted in this world; but then, what will you do with this knowledge?
Q: What do you hope people within the Filipino community get from seeing this exhibition?
A: What I hope the Filipino community sees is the value of taking an active role in the community and organizations; the importance of knowing our culture and its traditions and sharing it with new generations; and the importance of sharing your own family history with your families. Perhaps October is the month families can gather and share their own Filipino American experience and how that came to be in this country.
Q: And what do you hope people from outside of the community learn from this exhibition?
A: That Filipinos are no different than anyone else because we all want what’s best for ourselves and loved ones. We all want a place where we are accepted for who we are and a place where we belong. The Philippine organizations provided that space and shaped our identity as Filipino Americans.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: In 1982, when I wanted to move on with personal life and away from PASACAT, one of my mentors said, “There’s no such thing as having no time. If you really want it, you will make the time.”
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I worked for former U.S. Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin for six years. I learned about clipping articles on events and constituents, and he would send a letter to congratulate them along with the article. I started clipping news articles on significant Filipino events and my own organizations. I have a library of Filipino history in San Diego.
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: My ideal weekend would be spending time with family, especially my granddaughter; eating some delicious barbecue or “kare-kare,” which is an oxtail and beef stew in a peanut butter sauce; telling stories; and, of course, going to Mass on Sunday with four generations of my family.
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