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Coming to Chicago in the Roaring 20's

First, Iíd like to introduce myself -- Estrella Ravelo Alamar -- and to know me is to know my family. So Iíll trace our history in the States from the time my Dad, Florentino, came to the United States in 1922. The chronology of events in our American experience gives some indication of the general social and cultural environment that existed.

When I began this study of assimilation of the Filipinos in America I was caught up with deep interest at the information I discovered about our country and immigrants -- first generation European, Spanish and Asians assimilated.

After sharing some information about my family I will present a brief overview of dates and information that shaped the assimilation of immigrants into an American culture. Two theories that were proved to be ineffective, "Americanization" and the "Melting Pot" did pave the way to a more realistic theory, "Cultural Pluralism," of "Unity in Diversity."

First, to begin with my family. My Dadís life began the year the Philippines was ceded to the United States in 1898. He was born March 4. The Philippines was acquired with Cuba and Puerto Rico for $20 million when the papers were sign December 10 in Paris, France.

A close friend and provincemate, who came to the United States in 1919, wrote Tino of his wonderful time in the "land of opportunity" and convinced him it was worth the chance to come to America and settle in Chicago leaving behind his life as a poor boy who made it to become an educational supervisor, he embarked on a venture to America to seek the "milk and honey" he heard so much about. The American educational administrators he worked with in the school system of his hometown were also instrumental in helping him with his decision to leave the Philippines.

My Dad used to relate many stories of how he traveled many miles by barefoot through the mountains to compete in the seasonal athletic provincial meets in the northern Luzon provinces, I have treasured the medals he won. They serve as a reminder of my humble roots and family heritage. Iím sure when he set foot on new shores, cultural chock set in but like all Filipinos he was a hardy man with determination and strong characteristics. That Ilocano blood runs deep.

It was an adventure for him to make it to Chicago. He, along with a provincemate, took job with the railroad company that built tracks along the northern route through Montana and other states.

He felt at home easily in Chicago for there was a close-knit group of Filipinos, and many of them were from his hometown. he did not waste any time to start school at the Jr. College than studied law until his fourth year at De Paul University. He used to show me his textbooks and relate how he excelled at debate, etc. When I would ask him why he quit he would say that getting a job in the law profession would require connections and clout--the opportunities were not open to minorities.

At the same time, Civil Service employment in the U.S. Post Office was available. Many Filipinos took tests required at the application process, passed them and were hired. This area of employment provided many Filipinos with the security and decent means of living that kept them going for years until retirement. I got to know the street names of Chicago very well because I would listen to him as he studied for the periodic tests he had to take.

My Dad was a frugal man who saved enough to visit the Philippines. He courted and married Ambrosia Galutera and brought her to America. I never heard them call it a honeymoon but after marrying January 5, 1935, they prepared and left the Philippines on January 22.

The quota system was in effect. Ambrosia was No. 17 out of a limit of 50 Filipinos allowed to come to the States. The culture shock for my Momís first year was the experience of having to do her own housework. Imagine being pregnant and scrubbing floors, cleaning, etc. when you are used to having houseboys back home. The fist baby was stillborn. Her friends were white women who lived in the same building and were married to Filipinos. She kept her real feeling s of loneliness and frustration to herself.

She was a teacher back home. To be a teacher here you had to be an American Citizen--Filipinos were nationals then. But then she also had an accent and this was another barrier perhaps. She turned to dressmaking and went to the best dressmaking and design school. She would visit Marshall Fieldís to look at the latest fashions for children and make all the outfits for her four daughters. We dressed alike and were always admired for the way looked in her fine workmanship.

Mom and Dad were quite active within the Filipino community. Dad was the perpetual sports director and a leader with the Filipino American National Council. My Mom was there to support my Dad in his community role by cooking for and attending the social functions that were so common every year in and year out.

During our growing up years, the late Ď30ís into the 1940ís, my sisters and I did our share of participating in dancing and playing the piano n cultural programs at school, at civic events and within the Filipino community.

Our family life was happy and harmonious. I know my parents, especially my Mom longed to have her own home to raise her four active girls. But minorities were not allowed to buy property then. The law changed around 1949 and we had our first home. The deed contained a covenant that we could not sell to Negroes. The two races recognized then were white or Negro. We were accepted under the white classification.

Imagine having daughters with strong personalities of their own growing up in the 1950ís. I was always oriental looking and felt self-conscious about it all my life. My sisters were accepted by their friends more easily because not only were they more gregarious in nature but they were able to pass for Mexican when they needed to feel like they had to pass for something else.

As far as our social life during our teen years--I remember I cold not go to an 8th grade graduation party because my parents said I was too young yet to be permitted to go to a boy and girl party.

The Filipino social standards of my parents and the American standards began to clash when I became obvious that growing up American made us culturally different than our parents when we reached our teenage years; not so much for me as for my sisters. For I was the oldest, strongly conditioned by the traditional culture. While my sistersí peer groups were very American. I went to college. My sisters got married at age 17, 19 and 20. After all, Elizabeth Taylor and Shirley Temple, among others, set the trend toward young marriage. We were typical American--we spoke English, played baseball, ate hamburgers and enjoyed the 4th of July holiday enthusiastically.

The Filipino values inculcated into all of us sisters have kept us strong to meet the challenges and the prejudice we each personally encounter. As we reflect back through our lives we realize that the Filipino values instilled in us have made us better Americans.

The third and fourth generation members of our family, in varying degrees, are exposed to their Filipino-ness, even though they are products of mixed marriages. Their Auntie Estrella makes sure of that!

Estrella Ravelo Alamar