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Filipino American Faith in ActionImmigration, Religion, and Civic Engagement$

Joaquin Jay Gonzalez

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780814731963

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814731963.001.0001

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Calling in San Francisco

(p.1) 1 Introduction
Filipino American Faith in Action

Joaquin Jay Gonzalez III

NYU Press

Abstract and Keywords

This introductory chapter sets out the book's purpose, which is to tell the story of the civic engagement of Filipino migrants through religion by showing how the Filipino migrant faithful Filipinize elements of the cultural, political, and economic arenas within the San Francisco Bay Area cities and towns in which they have settled. The book provides a contrarian case to the prevailing assumption that religion and spirituality are diminishing in the rich developed countries of the world and flourishing only in poor developing countries. The empirical evidence gathered during the research for this book suggests that religion and spirituality in rich developed countries, like the United States, are being boosted by new migrant faithful from poor developing countries, like the Philippines. The remainder of the chapter discusses why the Filipino migrant religious experience is important to America; where religion is situated in the life of a Filipino migrant; and how Filipinization should be understood in San Francisco history.

Keywords:   Filipino Americans, Filipino migrants, Filipinize, San Francisco Bay Area, civic engagement, religion

One Sunday more than a century ago, an elegantly dressed Peter Burnett and his wife, Harriet, walked two blocks from their home to the Sunday school where their daughter taught. As they crossed the street, a young gentleman respectfully tipped his black top hat as he recognized Burnett, who was the first governor of California. The Bible study groups at the Sunday school were organized by members of the University Mount Presbyterian Church, who came from the wealthy families of European descent living in nearby Portola Valley. In attendance were affluent first-and second-generation Italian migrants as well as a few French and German families. Some had moved to San Francisco from South and North Carolina but still considered themselves citizens of the Old World—Sicilian and Maltese, for example. These families established homes and businesses around San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley. As their numbers grew, and undeterred by the battering of the great 1906 earthquake, they built Saint James Presbyterian Church on Leland Street. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, the pull of suburbia and the influx of African, Latino, and Asian imigrants changed the demographic makeup of the busy neighborhood. For various reasons, newcomers to the area were not drawn to Saint James. Attrition took its toll on the once-vibrant church membership, and by the 1980s, Saint James faced closure by the presbytery. By 1990, however, instead of closing its doors, historic Saint James Presbyterian Church was opening them wider to receive an eager group of Protestants from across the Pacific. Unlike the church’s founding members, these new parishioners liked to hear the word of God in a mix of the Philippine dialect Tagalog and English (or Taglish). Many originated from Cavite Province, but in all, the membership represented numerous regions throughout the Philippines. As part of a rehabilitation plan established with the Presbytery, the new Filipino membership recruited (p.2) the Reverend Jerry Resus, who was then pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Pasig, Metro Manila. Together with a few remaining descendants of the founders of the church, they formed a new multiracial congregation that remains active today.

Currently, the San Francisco Bay Area is home to many thousands of Filipino migrants. Filipino Americans have become the second-largest Asian American population–numbering more than Japanese Americans and Korean Americans combined. Not surprisingly, many existing religious sites have become their spiritual homes. Like the Filipino Presbyterians at Saint James, Filipino migrant Witnesses, Methodists, Baptists, Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) members, Aglipayans, Episcopalians, Mormons, Adventists, and others are also repopulating many of San Francisco’s other declining churches.

From these new spiritual homes, Filipino migrants have built “bonds” and “bridges” with religious, civic, governmental, business, and social institutions within their new San Francisco communities. They have done so by means of (1) transnational influence, (2) adaptive spirit, and (3) intergenerational cohesion.

By showing how Filipino migrant faithful Filipinize elements of the cultural, political, and economic arenas within the San Francisco Bay Area cities and towns in which they have settled, this book will tell a new kind of migration saga—one that is enriched with descriptions of transnational, adaptive, and intergenerational kasamahan (bonding Filipinization) and bayanihan (bridging Filipinization).1 I will discuss these terms in greater detail later in this chapter.

A New Migration Story

I tell this story about the civic engagement of Filipino migrants through religion from my perspective as a scholar, church member, activist, and migrant. Growing up in the Philippines, I was very familiar with the central role of the church in practically all aspects of life. But I never dreamed that as a parishioner of historic Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in the South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood, the civic spirit of the church’s Irish Catholic founders (who concurrently served in San Francisco’s city hall) would one day descend upon me and awaken my own civic sensibilities—this time for my new homeland.2

(p.3) Let us think back to September 11, 2001. On that day, terrorists pierced America’s financial and military arteries, prompting a wave of fear that stimulated anti-immigrant sentiment. Soon thereafter, Congress hurriedly passed the Patriot Act in an effort to protect the United States against further attacks, but at the expense of certain civil liberties. The San Francisco immigrant community acted swiftly to voice its concerns. Encouraged by Saint Patrick’s highly energetic Filipino pastor, Monsignor Fred Bitanga, the Filipino American community became the first ethnic group to take a collective stand on this and other political issues that emerged after the tragedy. After all, Saint Patrick’s had to live up to its role as a voice for social justice, as well as a spiritual fount. As the so-called Vatican of all Filipino American Catholic churches, with Monsignor Bitanga as the figurative “pope,” Saint Patrick’s sees political activism as part of its responsibility to its congregation. One by one, Filipino American, Latino American, Chinese American, Indian American, Native American, Arab American, and African American religious and community leaders, young and old, joined the vigil. They called and prayed for the maintenance of peace, for a stop to violence against Arab and Muslim Americans, and for the United States to take a step back and examine its foreign policies as a possible motivation for the terrorist attacks. Several speakers proposed that America’s hegemonic role in the global economy was a motivating force for would-be terrorists. At the end of the gathering, more than 200 voices joined together in singing John Lennon’s peace anthem “Imagine.” The church was filled with emotion.

As if timed by fate, my cell phone buzzed while I was saying goodbye to the ever-smiling monsignor. The call was from San Francisco’s city hall. Mayor Willie Brown’s appointment secretary was asking if I would be willing to serve on the Immigrant Rights Commission of the City and County of San Francisco. There was no time to think or to pray for guidance about this important request. I looked at the fearless leader of my church. He winked his blessing, and I nodded my head in thanks. So like Governor Burnett of Saint James Presbyterian Church, I, Commissioner Gonzalez of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church, led a life of religious worship and civil service. While performing my volunteer city hall duties, I found other community-focused Filipino migrants like me who belonged to other local churches: the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in the Excelsior District, Saint Francis and Grace United Methodist Church (p.4) in the Sunset neighborhood, the Salvation Army Chapel on Broad Street, the Sixth Church of Christ the Scientist in ritzy Pacific Heights, the San Francisco Tabernacle Seventh-Day Adventist Church in the Mission District, and the Geneva United Methodist Church on Geneva Street. Like me, some attended services at more than one church and had multiple volunteer and civic duties. The focus of their work included local and “Filipino issues,” such as the rights of Filipino veterans of World War II and employees at San Francisco International Airport, but also national concerns, such as immigration and health care reform. As my list of churches grew, so did my collection of business cards from fellow Filipino migrant faithful who served both God and their new country. Some of them had even run for public office. Others were simply political activists and advocates. I became more intrigued not with the churches’ varying spiritual dogma but with the ways in which Filipinos utilize religious places as new migrants and new Americans, and the influence they are having—as mediated through these places—on the historical, cultural, and political aspects of their San Francisco Bay Area communities. Given the strong ties that many Filipino migrants maintain to their home country, I also became curious about the continuing impact that Filipino migrants in the United States have on their families and hometowns in the Philippines.

From the day of that prayer vigil onward, I began to view the Filipino spiritual experience in San Francisco as a useful lens through which to consider the social, political, and cultural integration of migrants from the Philippines into San Francisco society. Doing so renders visible the crucial but often unseen influence of Filipino migrants on their new homeland. Given the deep-seated and omnipresent religious traditions of Filipinos, I believe that the best places to observe the unique interplay of their integration and influences are the San Francisco church spaces that Filipino migrants have come to occupy. More than simply attending churches in the Bay Area, Filipino migrant groups have actually saved several religious spaces—ranging from modest storefronts to grand architectural edifices—from closure, or else taken them over from earlier migrant Catholic and Evangelical congregations, including German Lutherans, Italian Catholics, Irish Protestants, and many others.

Consequently, this book exposes an important facet of Filipino migration history to the United States. In the chapters that follow, I will discuss the migration of Filipinos to the San Francisco Bay Area in a new way, that is, through several local church sites.

(p.5) Why Is the Filipino Migrant Religious Experience Important to America?

The Filipino migrants’ sociocultural integration experience, as it occurs through their churches, challenges and builds on two of the most prominent paradigms of American social history: assimilation theory and multicultural theory. Assimilation theory assumes that to do well in American society, migrants have to fully assimilate into the dominant population or blend in with the predominantly European American majority. Multicultural theory, however, points out that while this “melting pot model” may be relevant to the assimilation experience of early European immigrants to the United States, it might not adequately represent the experiences of newcomers in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century, and particularly minority populations, like African American, Asian American, and Latino American migrants. The Filipino migrants’ integration experience builds on the notion that a melting pot dilutes the cultural particularities that new Americans bring to a diverse, multicultural society. Instead, multiculturalism allows the unique qualities of its component communities to emerge, ultimately improving the larger society.

My observations of Filipino migrant faithful from San Francisco align with those of multiculturalist scholars Min Zhou and Carl Bankston. In Growing Up American (1998), they highlight the excellent educational performance of Vietnamese migrant youth in Louisiana, which they attribute to the strong kinship support structure and network provided by Vietnamese American neighborhood-based organizations. Zhou and Bankston argue that the nonassimilation of Vietnamese led to their societal mobility and success. According to their findings, the indigenous social capital created within the Vietnamese community is what enables mobility for those who do not assimilate. Interestingly, the local church had been the central avenue for the creation of social capital in the community studied by Zhou and Bankston. However, they did not examine closely the site’s spritual dynamics, but instead only addressed certain social outreach activities, such as helping with homework. Similarly, the multiculturalist writings of Asian American scholars like Yen Le Espiritu (2003) in Home Bound: Filipino American Lives across Cultures and Rick Bonus (2000) in Locating Filipino Americans: Ethnicity and the Cultural Politics of Space, among others, illuminate how (p.6) churches have been used as sites to meet and recruit key informants and interviewees from the Filipino migrant communities in order to expose interactions among themselves and others, in community centers and cultural events as well as at their homes and family gatherings. They were not focused on the significance of the church itself.

In their pioneering works that question the assumptions of assimilation theory, Zhou, Bankston, Espiritu, Bonus, and others analyze the inwardly focused ethnic bonds that Asian American migrants have developed through the community centers, hometown associations, Internet Web pages, ethnic enclaves, and colorful festivals that they have established in the United States. But because these scholars were not focused on examining deeply the connections between church and civic engagement, their writings do not tell the story of the many outwardly focused, action-oriented, civic “bridges,” and the ways in which these connections have allowed migrants to span two homelands, blend American and Asian cultures, and form alliances between young and old. This omission in the foundational writings on Filipino migration provides an opportunity to examine the church sociologically, especially the ways in which it facilitates the integration of migrants into the United States and enables them to influence their new American homeland. This analysis reconciles some of the diverging assumptions between the assimilationist and multiculturalist paradigms by showing how new Filipino migrants have managed to align with the rest of American society without having to disengage themselves from either their Filipino cultural practices or their families and communities in the Philippines. These two competing views are the real philosophical underpinnings of the immigration debate in the United States. Understanding their divergence and then recasting U.S. immigration policy to reflect this conciliatory “Filipino American way,” spurred by Filipino American churches, provides a possible way of working out this long-standing U.S. sociopolitical concern.

The steady influx of Filipino Christian migrants over the past century into the San Francisco Bay Area has increased attendance at local Christian churches, many of which had been mostly or entirely abandoned by earlier Christian migrants. These American Christian churches and their congregations have helped Filipino migrants cultivate allegiances to their new homeland. But these churches are also learning that to many new Filipino members, being faithful to God in America and becoming an American Christian does not necessarily mean discarding either their Filipino ways of worshiping or their obligations to their Philippine (p.7) homeland. Observing a mix of first-and second-generation Filipino American migrant faithful in San Francisco kiss and then wipe the foot of a Filipino saint in church prior to joining the civil rights marches on Market Street draped in a Philippine flag testifies to the fact that it is certainly possible for migrants to integrate into America while asserting their ethnicity, protesting human rights abuses in the Philippines in the name of the U.S. War on Terror, or exposing the environmental exploitation of U.S. corporations, since this is what American liberal democracy is all about. Having recognized the necessity and benefits of catering to this new migrant group, dominant institutional structures in California like government and corporations have developed services and products tailored to Filipino American taxpayers and consumers. Moreover, although some may participate in mainstream American organizations such as Lions Clubs, the Red Cross, United Way, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), a large majority of Filipino Americans, especially first-generation immigrants, tend to connect to American society primarily through their California-based Filipino hometown, religious, political, business, social, alumni, and professional veterans’ groups, as well as their Filipino consulates, casinos, groceries, bingo tournaments, restaurants, media, parades, rallies, fund-raisers, auctions, dances, beauty pageants, concerts, nightclubs, and fiestas. It is through these familiar institutions that Filipino migrants contribute to American society. To examine this phenomenon more intensely, I focus in this book on an institution that earlier studies have failed to recognize adequately—the church. San Francisco’s many spiritual sites treat their Filipino American worship communities as barangay residents. A barangay is a traditional Philippine village, barrio, district, or neighborhood. A barangay is composed of family clusters and is considered to be the smallest political unit in the Philippines. A group of barangays makes up a town, city, or municipality. Filipinos see their church as a key community gathering space in their new American barangay. Churches therefore become sites where the familiar social structure of the barangay can be practiced. Seen in this way, church spaces are the most obvious places in the San Francisco Bay Area to observe Filipino migrants cultivating their ethnicity while at the same time becoming American citizens, consumers, volunteers, taxpayers, and voters.

Broadly speaking, the influx of Filipinos is subtly Filipinizing segments of the larger American society. Filipinization refers to varying degrees (p.8) of Filipino cultural, political, culinary, financial, or spiritual influence, support, ownership, or control. There are several notable examples of the Filipinization of American media and popular culture, both in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. The podcast section of the online San Francisco Chronicle (www.sfgate.com) includes the popular “Pinoy Pod.” One can watch Filipino news, talk, and drama on KTSF 26 all over the San Francisco Bay Area. Meanwhile, televised twenty-four hours a day all over the United States and Canada is TFC (The Filipino Channel). In music, the Grammy Award–winning hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas have included two Tagalog-language songs in their last two chart-topping albums, courtesy of Allan Pineda Lindo, a member of the group who is also Filipino. When disc jockeys throughout the San Francisco area play the Black Eyed Peas’ “Bebot” and “APL Song” on popular radio stations, they not only increase the circulation of Tagalog but also help to mainstream it in this American locale. Of course, it also helps that many San Francisco DJs are themselves Filipino. This demographic particularity of the San Francisco Bay Area prompted the Oakland Raiders football team to develop a Tagalog-language page on its Web site (www.raiders.com/Tagalog) for its thousands of Filipino American and Philippine-based fans. On national television contests, Filipino Americans called in en masse to help their kababayan (country-woman/countryman), singer Jasmine Trias, become a finalist in FOX’s highly rated American Idol and helped propel Filipina American dancer Cheryl Bautista-Burke into the winner’s circle twice in ABC’s hit show Dancing with the Stars. These singular examples from popular culture reflect the presence of a large and influential Filipino American population. English training in the Philippines has always enabled many Filipinos to enter the American workforce with relative ease. A recent trend has been for districts with teacher shortages to recruit teachers from the Philippines for their public schools. School systems in California, New York, Maryland, Florida, and Nevada are currently among those hosting migrant elementary, middle school, and high school teachers from the Philippines. Many other Filipino Americans have served and continue to serve the United States in the uniformed services—military, police, and fire. And, of course, one is hard-pressed to find a hospital in the United States without Filipino doctors or nurses.

The extensive presence and influence of Filipinos nationwide has prompted the development of specialized media. Philippine and Filipino American newspapers and magazines are now often found side (p.9) by side with mainstream and ethnic media outlets in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Honolulu, and New York. Inside these mass publications are gigantic Tagalog-language advertisements enticing Filipino consumers to switch to AT&T and send money back to the Philippines through Western Union. Given the pervasiveness of Filipinos in the United States, it is not surprising that Tagalog has become the second most spoken Asian language and sixth most used non-English language in the United States, according to language-learning software giant RosettaStone. Even Costco, the largest wholesale warehouse club chain in the world, mainstreams Philippine mango products (dried fruit and mango juice) through its 389 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico. These illustrations of various forms of Filipinization, particularly in the influential mass media, big business, and language-learning markets, indicate that while the phenomenon is strong in San Francisco and California in general, it extends to other parts of the United States as well.

The Filipino American community, a growing and influential segment of the U.S. population, has the highest median household income, along with Asian Indian Americans, compared with all ethnic groups, according to the 2000 census. This is the case in spite of the social, political, and cultural barriers that many Filipinos have encountered in their new homeland. There may be lessons to be learned from the process of adaptation and integration that Filipinos have developed, in which they form both bonds and bridges that create social and cultural capital, which in turn enable them to contribute to American society. Kasamahan (community organization) and bayanihan (community action) are forms of bonding and bridging social capital that need replenishment in American society.3 Kasamahan, or bonding Filipinization, refers to the inward-focused kinship and ethnic ties and relationships that Filipino American churches help to establish and nurture. Cultivating formal and informal groupings through the church—such as Filipino-language choirs, Bible study groups, or masses; rosary crusades, youth groups, blessed singles groups, or Couples for Christ groups; Marian devotional activities, bingo socials, mahjong groups, and Filipino provincial and town associations—leads to feelings of togetherness, companionship, fraternity, sisterhood, solidarity, pride, and competitiveness. By contrast, bayanihan, or bridging Filipinization, describes the church-inspired, outward-oriented linkages and networks that Filipino American groups use to engage and contribute to (p.10) U. S. and Philippine society. These linkages encompass a broad array of activities, including volunteer activities, civic involvement, community partnerships, political advocacy, protest marches, cleanup drives, sending money, military service, government work, overseas mission work, donating food, Peace Corps and AmeriCorps work, and fund-raising. Together, both modalities of Filipinization help strengthen America’s diverse societal base as well as refurbish the nation’s larger supply of social capital and civic involvement—the bedrock of American democracy. In this book, we will see how Filipino migrant faithful build kasamahan bonds and bayanihan bridges through transnational influence (integration through a continuous back-and-forth movement of people, symbols, finance, and food), employing an adaptive spirit (cultural traits, behavior, or practices that facilitate adjustment and acculturation), and intergenerational cohesion (collaboration across generations, old and young, or first, second, and third generations).

Filipino American Faith in Action provides a contrarian case to the prevailing assumption that religion and spirituality are diminishing in the rich developed countries of the world (which incidentally are major migration destinations) and flourishing only in poor developing countries of the world (which interestingly are major migration countries of origin). Based on the empirical evidence gathered during the research for this book, it seems that religion and spirituality in rich developed countries, like the United States, are being boosted by new migrant faithful from poor developing countries, like the Philippines. This is especially true with the influx of Filipino Christians to San Francisco Bay Area churches. More important, this book provides religion and migration scholars with the first academic volume solely on the intersections of Filipino migration, civic engagement, and faith. Scholarly ethnographic works have explored the contemporary effects of and issues associated with Filipino and Filipino American transnational migration, globalization, and diaspora.4 However, none of these books have ventured into the Filipino migrants’ religious socialization, their civic contributions, and the transpacific societal, economic, and political implications of their spirituality, even though churches are the spaces where Filipinos are most visible ethnographically.

Given these gaps, this book makes a unique and important contribution to religious studies, migration studies, political studies, Filipino studies, Asian American studies, and Asian studies by doing the following:

  1. (p.11) 1. Drawing on the intersections of a number of academic disciplines, including history, sociology, political science, economics, American studies, ethnic studies, public policy, and religious studies. In other words, interdisciplinary theories underpin the research. These include concepts drawn from studies of the political economy of migration, immigration, the sociology of religion, transnationalism, globalization, assimilation, diaspora, revisionist histories, state-civil society relations, as well as class and structural analyses.

  2. 2. Blending theoretical and conceptual frameworks to understand the role of religion and politics in new migrant communities, particularly Filipino migrant communities. The book brings together scholarly literature that is seldom in dialogue, most especially with regard to the Filipino diaspora.

  3. 3. Implementing community-based ethnographic and survey research techniques that illuminate how religion is intertwined with the everyday lives of new Filipino migrants, and how these migrants are influencing the practice of spirituality in America well beyond the Filipino migrant community. The large-scale migration and faith community survey discussed in chapter 3 is unprecedented because it measures data on the financial contributions of Filipinos to both the Philippine and the American economy, providing richer information than the U.S. census and other official sources.

  4. 4. Going beyond most studies on Filipinos and their churches, which still deal primarily with Roman Catholicism and its offshoots, such as El Shaddai. This book brings together research on Filipino Catholic, Protestant, and Independent churches. This denominational breadth is unprecedented in Philippine and Filipino studies, both locally and internationally. In many spaces we entered, my fellow Filipino team members and I were the first outsider scholars allowed entry, and were given permission to write voluminous field notes about the sociology of these churches and congregations. It is notable that in spite of being ethnic insiders, we were not immediately accepted and had to build trust over the many years of the study.

  5. 5. Giving voice to pastors, ministers, lay workers, church members and nonmembers, religious women and men, veterans, youth, families, the elderly, gays and lesbians, activists, students and others—all in all, a wide array of new Filipino migrants.

(p.12) How Is This Book Organized?

This book consists of eight chapters, which are subdivided into three major themes: (1) transnational influence, (2) adaptive spirit, and (3) intergenerational cohesion. Each theme has a chapter illustrating bonding Filipinization (kasamahan) and bridging Filipinization (bayanihan).

chapter 2, “Resurrecting Christian Faith,” focuses on the transnational influence flowing to and from church spaces in the Philippines and San Francisco. Supplementing library information with archival research and interviews with key informants, I delve first into the Americanization of Philippine churches and Christianity and then the Filipinization, later on, of San Francisco congregations and religious spaces. This migratory phenomenon has facilitated the creation of kasamahan bonds with Filipino prayers, pastors, icons, rituals, and migrant faithful easily moving back and forth among San Francisco and Philippine spiritual homes and gatherings. This transnational movement not only facilitates the influence of Filipinos on San Francisco communities but also helps them integrate with the broader, multicultural American society.

chapter 3, “Praying, Then Delivering Miracles,” is an analysis of the large-scale San Francisco Bay Area Religion and Remittance Survey, which measures the extent of transnational praying (homeland to hometown) then sending of money by Filipino faithful. Based on the results, I argue that migration brings not only a transnational influence of Filipino faith into American congregations and churches but also a transnational Filipino faith-based bayanihan to San Francisco. Their economic situation, enhanced in America, has empowered Filipino Catholics, Protestants, and Independent church members to socioeconomically influence not only their San Francisco communities but also their Philippine hometowns. The survey and follow-up focus group meetings revealed that besides congregating and praying for relatives back home from their churches in the United States, Filipino faithful deliver on their promises to help with their families’ health, retirement, and education needs, as well as community social and economic development programs and disaster relief projects in both the San Francisco Bay Area and hometowns in the Philippines. Knowing that all is well with their families back home gives Filipinos in the United States the necessary peace of mind to concentrate on their adaptation to life in America.

(p.13) chapter 4, “Gathering Souls with Food” focuses on the role of food in the religious life of migrants. It expounds on the ways in which the adaptive spirit of faithful Filipino migrants helps them negotiate the complexities associated with migration to multicultural San Francisco. This chapter also demonstrates how the American, Latino, and Asian elements embedded within Filipino culture facilitate migrants’ absorption and accommodation of San Francisco’s culturally diverse environment. Adaptive kasamahan in two sites—Iglesia ni Cristo in Daly City and Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in downtown San Francisco—illustrates how the blending of Filipino and American culinary traditions creates opportunities for camaraderie and religious conversion.

chapter 5, “Converting Bowling to Civic Involvement,” provides evidence from San Francisco disputing the premise of Robert Putnam’s critically acclaimed book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, that social capital, especially the bridging variety, has declined all over the United States. I present evidence that describes how the Filipino migrants’ adaptive spirit, mediated through San Francisco churches, allows them to balance the competing social and civic responsibilities of new migrants, which include religious obligations and civic duties in both the United States and the Philippines. Thereafter, I use two bayanihan case studies to illuminate more clearly how the adaptive spirits (or esprit de corps) of migrant faithful at Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in San Francisco and the Iglesia ni Cristo in Daly City are cultivated and channeled for the betterment of American society.

chapter 6, “Blessing Passion and Revolution,” explores the dynamics of intergenerational kasamahan. I begin by discussing the respect filled interactions we observed between youth and their elders in homes and Filipinized churches, and then explore what university students in San Francisco—particularly children of Filipino migrant faithful who attend spiritual schools—learn about social justice, community organizing, and counterhegemonic actions vis-à-vis the church. Then I explore how these students use their classroom and library learning to foster a passion for justice within themselves and then release this passion as revolutionary action to challenge injustices in American society. Thereafter, using an indepth case discussion of Saint Augustine’s Catholic Church in South San Francisco, I elaborate on four conditions, following the development of intergenerational respect, that are necessary for transforming passionate energy and revolutionary spirit into intergenerational kasamahan.

(p.14) Chapter 7, “Reconciling Old and Young Spirits,” demonstrates how ardent Filipino American youth, many socialized in faith-influenced family relations and schooling, have joined forces with their parents’ and grandparents’ generations to tackle certain social injustices. This chapter focuses on the critical role played by Filipino faithful and their spiritual communities in the pursuit of justice for Filipino World War II veterans and around extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. It will discuss the strategies these Filipino American youth used to convince the larger American public and the global community to join them in planning and launching intergenerational counterhegemonic activities, or bayanihan initiatives. These activities have included protest marches, letter-writing campaigns, testifying before Senate and House committees, and candlelight vigils.

chapter 8, “Embracing New Bonds and Bridges,” ends the book with two compelling narratives that summarize and integrate key research findings. These two stories bring us to the conclusion that San Francisco society has in many ways embraced both bonding and bridging Filipinization.

Where Is Religion Situated in the Life of a Filipino Migrant?

A majority of Filipino migrants make a conscious effort to place religion at the center of their lives, wherever they sojourn. Unlike their counterparts from other Asian countries, contemporary Filipino American migrants in San Francisco do not center their lives in highly visible ethnic business and linguistic enclaves like Chinatown, Japantown, or Little Saigon. For Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and Vietnamese Americans in San Francisco, these enclaves play a major role in their social networking with civic connections to American society. They seek to draw other members of American society into their “Asiatowns” for business and social purposes. Conversely, the Filipino migrant centers for cultivating kasamahan and bayanihan in San Francisco are much more dispersed. Most would rather blend in with whatever ethnoscape they face (kahit ano: whatever; bahala na: leave it to God), especially since Filipino migrants are, in a sense, Latino, Asian, and American rolled into one. Ethnically, Filipinos are a product of hundreds of years of Chinese, Malay, and Indian migration and intermarriages, and thereafter close to four centuries of Spanish and American racial and cultural exchanges.

(p.15) In San Francisco Bay Area cities with large Filipino populations, most of the Filipino residences, community centers, restaurants, and churches are interspersed with mainstream commercial, governmental, and residential areas, not clustered as a dense enclave. Additionally, given their advanced English communication skills, it is relatively easy for Filipino Americans to learn the nuances of American social interactions and to get along with others (makisama). After the destruction of San Francisco’s Manilatown in 1974, a more dispersed but connected web of social and civic networks grew out of Filipino churches (simbahan) and other places of worship (sambahan) in and around San Francisco. These are located in the centers of the American barangays, where Filipino immigrants gather together as one community (bayan) for Sunday or weekday worship (samba). Filipinos believe that God’s presence reaches beyond the physical church. Scattered somewhere outside their spiritual focal points are their other San Francisco Filipino community meeting and gathering places: supermarkets, Asian grocery stores, businesses, schools, parks, restaurants, senior centers, performing art and visual art studios, recreational and social halls, shopping malls, city halls, and the Philippine consulate. The supermarket and grocery store might not be Asian or sell Filipino products but could still be considered a favorite place (suki) to get Vietnamese fish sauce and Chinese bok choy (from Pacific Supermarket) and beef shank (from Safeway), which Filipinos will mix together to create nilaga, a Filipino stew. To remind them of the centrality of religion in their lives, most formal social events held in these meeting and gathering places might begin with a spiritual invocation or ecumenical prayer.

Filipino migrants come to the United States from a vibrant spiritual environment in the Philippines. After all, the Philippines is an Asian country with a large Christian majority: 84 percent are Roman Catholic, 8 percent are Protestant (mostly Evangelical/Pentecostal), 3 percent are Iglesia ni Cristo, 3 percent are Muslim, and 2 percent belong to other religions and denominations. El Shaddai, which emerged in the Philippines, is one of the fastest-growing Catholic charismatic groups in Asia. The 1991 and 1998 International Social Survey Program went so far as to declare Filipinos the most religious people in the world. In the Philippines, it is common to see worship, devotion, and prayer in many forms, being performed by community leaders and ordinary citizens on the streets, in offices, and in homes. Catholic masses are held in airports, in shopping malls, in parks, at home—almost everywhere, with no restrictions. (p.16) Events and meals, big or small, generally begin with a prayer or invocation. Sunday is a religious day of obligation for Filipino Catholics, Protestants, and Independent churches (with certain exceptions like the Seventh-Day Adventists, who attend Saturday services). For most Filipino Catholics, attending additional masses during the week is also important. If at all possible, many attend mass daily; given that religious services are widely and frequently available, it is not hard to find a mass and to make time in one’s busy schedule for it. Because of the prevalence of religious practices in everyday life, daily discourse, verbal and written, is also influenced by religion.

In the Philippines, many individuals follow the Christian liturgical calendar alongside their calendars for work and school. Moreover, many religious holidays are also official national holidays, like Christmas, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, and Holy Week. On Sundays and religious holy days, all roads literally lead to churches. In America, Filipino migrant faithful echo the religious practices in their homeland by going to mass every Sunday and strictly observing major religious holidays, like Christmas and Holy Week. The Christmas celebration in the Philippines is easily the most significant event of the year and is not complete without Simbang Gabi, a nine-day, early morning novena service leading up to Christmas Day. Simbang Gabi is now commonly celebrated in Filipinized Catholic churches in the United States. Migrant faithful often ask visiting Catholic priests from the Philippines to say masses for them and lead Bible studies and rosary sessions in homes and hotels, at private parties, and so on. Fasting and abstinence are common to Filipino Catholic migrants during the Lenten season, which begins with the placement of ashes on their foreheads during Ash Wednesday, extends through Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday, and ends on Easter Sunday. In the Philippines, Holy Week (Cuaresma or Semana Santa) entails daily church visits (bisita Iglesia), readings of the Passion of Christ (pagbasa ng pasyon), Passion plays (sinakulos), and public displays of atonement for sins—in certain parts of the country, some extremist devotees even go so far as to self-flagellate, whipping themselves on the back as they walk, bloodied, down the street. A few even have themselves crucified, literally impaled at their hands and feet, and hang briefly on the cross before descending to receive medical attention. Many of these traditions and rituals have been transplanted to the United States; the gory spectacles of self-flagellation and crucifixion, however, remain localized in particular regions of the Philippines.

(p.17) In the Roman Catholic calendar consulted by Catholic Filipinos, there is a saint’s feast day for every day of the year; sometimes there are even two saints listed on one day. Each person is born into the feast day of a saint, which in some cases influences the naming of a child as well as a place. Each town has a feast day based on its patron saint that is celebrated with a town fiesta. For instance, Santa Ana, Manila, where I grew up, celebrates the feast of Our Lady of the Abandoned (or Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados) every May 12. Usually, a special service is held, followed by a townwide procession, and then feasting in people’s homes. Migrants to the United States from Santa Ana get together and commemorate this important feast day even though—or perhaps because—they are away from their hometown. The feast days of other towns are also celebrated in America by their former residents. For instance, I have seen Bicolanos in the San Francisco Bay Area celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, while former residents of Lucban, Quezon, still host a version of that town’s traditional Pahiyas harvest festivals. There are also numerous devotions and venerations to various saints and Mother Marys (Our Ladies or Nuestra Señoras) that have been exported to the United States from the Philippines. Performing traditional Filipino celebrations and devotions such as these in the United States is a way that migrants have been able to make home away from hometown.

Religious persons, personifications, icons, images, objects, and symbols abound in Filipino religious life. They remind worshipers to always pray and be thankful, that God is constantly present, and of the need to be morally upright and just. Rosaries, crucifixes, Bibles, pendants, and various items bearing images of the Santo Niño (Christ Child), Jesus Christ, Virgin Mary, the holy family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph together), and patron saints are commonly found among the possessions of Filipinos. In the Philippines, these religious objects and symbols are displayed freely in both private and public places. The symbols are tattooed on bodies, painted on vehicles, and posted on walls; there is no law prohibiting their public display. Filipino migrant faithful in the United States have had to adapt to the religious diversity of their new communities and have limited the display of these items to private spaces such as homes and cars. In the Philippines, some statues of the Virgin Mary are so strongly venerated that they are transported weekly among devotees’ homes. The migration of Filipinos to the United States has expanded the range of these icons accordingly. Some even travel internationally, between hometowns and churches in the Philippines and homes and (p.18) churches in the United States. San Lorenzo Ruiz (the first Filipino saint) and the Santo Niño de Cebu (Christ Child from the Cebu Province), are widely worshiped, usually in the form of figurines or photographs. During the Christmas season, the traditional Filipino parol (Christmas lantern) and belen (Nativity scene) also appear in Filipinized American churches and homes.

Religious power and political power, although separated by a constitutional provision in the Philippines, are still very much intertwined in practice. From birth, most Filipinos are taught to see the church as the “fourth branch of government.” Citizens are expected to be not only law-abiding but also God-fearing. This holds true whether one belongs to a Catholic, Protestant, Iglesia ni Cristo, El Shaddai, Charismatic, Evangelical, or any other spiritual congregation.5 Catholic, Protestant, and Independent church leaders generally ask their members to exercise their right to vote on election day by supporting particular candidates who have been sanctioned by the church. Some large, independent groups, such as El Shaddai and the Iglesia ni Cristo, are wooed by candidates for their bloc votes. The late Jaime Cardinal Sin, the powerful former Catholic archbishop of Manila, was often quoted in national headlines as saying “Not to vote is a sin.” This appeal to the conscience of voters directly from the pulpit was found to increase election turnout rates to an impressive 90 percent. By contrast, in the November 2006 elections, San Francisco had a 60 percent voter turnout. Though comparatively low, this was one of the highest voter turnouts in the United States.

High-ranking Catholic priests and Christian pastors in the Philippines rank high socially, alongside town mayors and rich businesspersons. Priests, pastors, nuns, brothers, missionaries, and other religious persons are accorded a high amount of respect. They are treated as “holy persons” and never called simply by their first name. Instead, a title such as “Father,” “Sister”,” “Brother”,” “Pastor,” or “Kapatid” (Brother/Sister) is usually placed in front of the name as a sign of respect. Filipino migrants bring with them this same degree of reverence for religious authorities. They tend to place high value on the advice and opinion of religious persons, the mere presence of whom is seen as a blessing from God. Hence, priests, pastors, and religious men and women are often invited to (literally) bless anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, or any other special family occasion with their presence. Many Filipino faithful believe that miracles and divine interventions are logical explanations for events, (p.19) such as the healing of illnesses. Personal testimonies about the power and influence of God are common in everyday conversation.

For Filipino Catholics in the Philippines, who constitute 84 percent of the national population, congregating as a group for prayer daily is made very convenient by the frequency of mass services, offered every day of the week from early morning to late evening. These attract large numbers of people, both young and old. Requests for baptisms (binyag), confirmations (kumpil), weddings (kasal), wakes (lamay) and burials (libing), and funeral services, as well as vehicle, office, and home blessings (bendisyon) are numerous. At 13 percent of the population, Filipino Protestants and Independents experience this same vigorous spirituality on their days of worship. Filipino Muslims, who constitute 3 percent of the population, are also known to be quite devout. Hence, from the perspective of a new Filipino migrant to the United States, the church is the most important point of contact and acculturation. By bridging the Philippines to the United States using religion, churches facilitate the establishment of a migrant’s roots in his or her new American barangay. To many, their new church in the United States might even be considered more critical to their adjustment than the new bank, supermarket, school, or office. There may be many Filipinos or no Filipinos at all at the new church. But eventually, this new church becomes a part of the migrant family’s weekly routine. The church ultimately becomes one of the most important focal points of a migrant’s life, marking all significant milestones, from the birth of new babies to the death of elders.

Behaviorally, then, religion greatly influences the way Filipinos respond to the situations they face daily, whether in the Philippines or anywhere else in the world. Because of this influence, Filipino migrant faithful have a strong tendency to exhibit these religion-reinforced Filipino traits, values, and actions: samba (worship), dasal (prayer), panata (vow), bahala na (leave up to God), utang na loob (debt of gratitude), makisama (get along with others), pasalamat (thankful), damay (sympathy), galang (respect), awa (mercy), patawad (forgiveness), sakripisyo (sacrifice), tulong (help or contribution), lingkod (serve), pagmamahal (care), pagbigay (giving), maintindihin (understanding), and hiya (shy or embarrassed). When practiced by Filipino migrant faithful in everyday life, these have led to varying manifestations of kasamahan, and thereafter bayanihan, for the benefit of church and community, as well as San Francisco society and Philippine hometowns.

(p.20) How Should Filipinization Be Understood in San Francisco History?

San Francisco’s Filipinization and its embedded spirituality and religiosity begin with 82 million Filipinos in the Philippines, plus another 10 million who are a part of the Filipino global diaspora to close to 200 countries.6 Of this number, 2.4 million call the United States their home. As we have seen, over the course of just 100 years of migration, Filipinos have become the largest Asian American population in San Francisco and the United States (if Chinese Americans are disaggregated by their countries of origin—Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, and China). Filipino Catholics, Protestants, and Independents combined are the largest Asian Christian group in the San Francisco Bay Area, in California, and in the United States. Many Filipino Americans vote and get involved in political concerns, and make solid contributions toward making San Francisco’s economy one of the most vibrant in the United States and California’s economy the seventh largest in the world. These actions are largely informed by a strong Filipino spirituality.

Today, San Francisco and Manila are sister cities, which is a natural outgrowth of the two cities’ long-standing connection. San Francisco and the Philippines have a long, shared history as colonial territories of Spain. Hence, it is not a surprise that Filipinos first landed on the Pacific Coast during the period of Spanish empire building and foreign conquest (see Borah 1995). As a matter of fact, on Coleman Park in Morro Bay (a city halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles) is a historic marker that describes this linkage:

During the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade era from 1565 to 1815 Spanish galleons crossed the Pacific between the Philippines and Mexico. On October 18, 1587, the Manila Galleon Nuestra Señora de Esperanza commanded by Pedro de Unamuno entered Morro Bay near here. A landing party was sent to shore which included Luzon Indios, marking the first landing of Filipinos in the continental United States. The landing party took official possession of the area for Spain by putting up a cross made of branches. The group was attacked by native Indians two days later, and one of the Filipinos was killed. Unamuno and his crew gave up further exploration of this part of the coast.

(p.21) On November 6, 1595, another Spanish galleon in transit to Acapulco, the San Agustin, was shipwrecked near Point Reyes at the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, forcing the disembarkation of Filipino seamen to the shore (Nolte 1995). These are the very first recorded instances of Filipinos landing on Californian soil.

In 1776, Spanish priest Francisco Palon founded a Catholic mission on the peninsula, which was named San Francisco de Asis after the founder of the Franciscan religious order. Incidentally, it was from this mission that the city of San Francisco received its name. It was not long before the name of a Filipino Catholic sailor appeared in a local church’s registry. On August 10, 1779, Blessed Father Junipero Serra administered the rite of confirmation to Vicente Tallado, “indio de la Panpangua en Philipinas, marinero.” This event was recorded in the confirmation records of California’s Monterey mission, less than 100 miles from San Francisco.

In the early nineteenth century, even before the formal annexation of the Philippines by the United States in 1898, Filipinos had already been trickling into the ports of San Francisco on board merchant ships. One of these sojourners was the Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, who inspired his countrymen to revolt against Spain by writing novels exposing the atrocities and abuses of Spanish authorities. On April 29, 1888, while Rizal was on board the SS Belgic and trying to get into San Francisco, his U.S. port of entry, he was held up by immigration officials. To keep himself busy during the long bureaucratic delay, Rizal penned a letter to his parents, stating:

Here we are in sight of America since yesterday without being able to disembark, placed in quarantine on account of the 642 Chinese that we have on board coming from Hong Kong where they say smallpox prevails. But the true reason is that, as America is against Chinese immigration and now they are campaigning for the elections, the government, in order to get the vote of the people, must appear to be strict with the Chinese, and we suffer. On board there is not one sick person.7

Rizal’s disdain for America’s discriminatory immigration policies was palpable. When he was finally allowed to disembark, Rizal stayed at the classy Palace Hotel on Stockton Street. A metal plaque on the wall outside of that hotel (now the Sheraton Palace Hotel on Market Street) attests to his passing through on the way to New York.

(p.22) Still reeling from their protracted struggle with their Spanish colonizers, Philippine revolutionaries found themselves fighting a bloody war against the United States, their new colonizer. The mighty Presidio of San Francisco and many other nearby military installations became launching pads for American troops who were deployed to the Philippines to carry out the “civilization and Christianization of those savage Filipinos” under President William McKinley’s Manifest Destiny and benevolent assimilation policies (see Karnow 1989). Congress officially declared that the “Philippine insurrection”—not war—ended on July 4, 1902, although fighting continued until 1913. U.S. general Franklin Bell estimated that more than 600,000 Filipinos died in this war of annexation (Agoncillo 1990; Constantino 1989).

In 1903, to commemorate the formal annexation of the Philippines, a ninety-seven-foot Corinthian column topped with a bronze Goddess of Victory was erected at the center of San Francisco’s Union Square. Surrounded then by the distinguished residences of the fashionable and wealthy, a brown marker proudly hailed: “Erected by the Citizens of San Francisco to commemorate the Victory of the American Navy under Commodore George Dewey at Manila Bay.” San Franciscans may have built the monument out of pride in Dewey’s flagship, the protected cruiser USS Olympia, which had been built and launched from San Francisco, along with many of America’s other battleships. Whatever the reason, this majestic pillar and its well-heeled neighbors celebrated the expansion of the American empire to Asia.

Between 1903 and 1934, Filipino pensionados, students on all-expenses-paid U.S. government scholarships, were recruited to study at American universities. They were being trained to become the next generation of entrepreneurs, civil servants, and teachers. Many of them transited through San Francisco on the way to the best midwestern colleges. Some stayed on to study at prestigious San Francisco Bay Area universities, including the University of San Francisco, a Catholic Jesuit school. Beginning in 1906, Hawaii’s booming sugar plantation economy also brought in thousands of Filipinos as “special noncitizen U.S. nationals.” They became the first generation of manongs (elders). During their summer breaks, many pensionados worked alongside their manongs in the agricultural fields, fruit orchards, and fish canneries. Many who got tired of toiling on Hawaii plantations, and in California crops and Alaskan canneries, or who simply wanted to retire, flocked to cities on the West Coast. Their destinations included San Francisco, which enjoyed an economic boom following the gold rush.

(p.23) The migratory waves that came from the Philippines after its 1898 annexation by the United States led to the steady growth in the attendance of Filipino migrant workers at local Catholic and Protestant churches. Between 1920 and 1929, a total of 31,092 Filipinos entered California, more than 80 percent of them through the port of San Francisco (California Department of Industrial Relations 1930). However, the 1940 census counted only 3,483 Filipinos living in the city of San Francisco.

Up until the 1930s, most Filipinos were hired in farming communities south of San Francisco to perform agricultural work, but many also worked in downtown San Francisco as domestic helpers and manual laborers in the area’s numerous hotels, restaurants, and ports. Many had been told of the wealth of opportunity in cities like San Francisco while still in the Philippines. According to Dioscoro R. Recio Sr., a Watsonville, California, farmworker originally from Banga, Aklan Province, in the Philippines, “Missionaries came to the barangay and told us about America. They said there were many jobs and opportunities there” (Recio 2000, 1).

Located on Lake Street in the Richmond District and, later, Sutter Street near Union Square, the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco was established immediately after the Philippines gained independence from the United States in July 1946. The consulate’s mission was to serve the needs of Filipino migrants not just in San Francisco but also in the rest of Northern California, Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, northern Nevada, Idaho, Washington, and Montana. Like the church, the consulate became another important community center for migrants. Today, among its many duties, it administers oaths for dual citizenship and acts as the polling place for Philippine elections.

The end of World War II, the passage of the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965, and the declaration of martial law in the Philippines in 1972 intensified the conditions that drew Filipinos to U.S. cities like San Francisco. Many Filipinos who had served in the U.S. military during World War II as soldiers and civilians decided to follow the promises of a productive postmilitary life to San Francisco and its growing suburbs. Joining these soldiers were beneficiaries of the Immigration Act of 1965, which encouraged highly skilled professionals such as doctors, nurses, engineers, and accountants to move to the United States. Many brought their immediate families (spouses and children) and, upon gaining U.S. permanent residency status or U.S. citizenship, petitioned to bring more of their (p.24) extended relations (parents, siblings, and their families) (see Cordova 1983; Takaki 1987, 1995). The booming industrial, business, financial, and health care sectors of the San Francisco Bay Area garnered a large share of this new pool of Filipino professional migrants. According to the 1960 U.S. census, there were 12,327 Filipinos in the city of San Francisco. This number increased to 24,694 in 1970 and 38,690 in 1980.

The deplorable state of the Philippine economy in the 1970s and 1980s also forced a mass exodus of migrants to San Francisco. Some came to the United States on nonimmigrant visas (as tourists, students, or exchange visitors) and later overstayed their short-term visitor visas. These illegal immigrants are popularly known as “TNTs,” or tago ng tago (literally, “hide and hide”). Some married American citizens to legalize their stay, while others paid for “green card” marriages. Later, the 1986 general illegal immigration amnesty enabled many TNTs to legalize. Filipino migrants who became illegal or undocumented after the 1986 amnesty have been insulated from federal scrutiny by San Francisco’s “INS Raid-Free Zone” and “City of Refuge” resolutions and most recently by a sanctuary city ordinance. For current TNTs, both their churches and their city are their safe havens.

The dot-com boom in the vast Silicon Valley south of San Francisco in the late 1980s also increased the numbers of highly skilled Filipino migrants to the San Francisco Bay region with an expanded working visa (H-1) category. Interestingly, the dot-com bust did not decrease immigration but instead brought a new population of Filipino migrants, since the health care industry had successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to allow more health care professionals, particularly nurses, to migrate with their families as U.S. permanent residents. Filipino nurses are helping to alleviate an acute nursing shortage that has been exacerbated by an ever-growing number of elderly Americans requiring medical care. Thus, San Francisco’s hospitals, assisted living centers, hospices, and clinics are staffed with highly trained and caring Filipino migrant nurses.

From about 1910 to the 1970s, a ten-block stretch of Kearny Street, from California Street to Columbus Avenue, was informally referred to by locals as “Manilatown,” a dense Filipino settlement in downtown San Francisco. During its peak in the 1920s and 1930s, more than 20,000 manongs lived, worked, and relaxed there. After all, wages in San Francisco were much better than on the plantations in Hawaii. Also, Manilatown had Filipino-owned barbershops, pool halls, restaurants, and other businesses. Many manongs worked seasonal jobs on farms, and in canneries (p.25) and factories. During the off-season, they lived in the many single-room occupancy (SRO) residential hotels in Manilatown, including the Columbia, the Temple, and the Palm. Since many of these men remained single, these residential hotels were important social centers where the manongs could support one another spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes financially.

The most popular of these was the red brick, three-story International Hotel (popularly known as the I-Hotel). In 1977, the owner of the I-Hotel sold it to a wealthy developer, sparking a battle that united a wide range of Filipino activists, from leftists to those on the Religious Right. In August of that year, the sheriff and his deputies forcibly evicted the I-Hotel’s elderly Filipino and Chinese bachelor tenants. The eviction spelled death for Manilatown. The manongs, who at that time were in their sixties and seventies and had little money, had no choice but to move away from their old, familiar neighborhood and relocate to other inexpensive accommodations in the South of Market and Tenderloin areas and the suburbs, including Daly City. Ironically, after the demolition of the I-Hotel, the lot on which it stood remained empty for twenty-five years, until a broad-based coalition of individuals, community groups, and foundations, including the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, pitched in and bought the property from its Thai owner. It has become a fully functioning community space called the International Hotel Manilatown Center, joining the other Filipino places in San Francisco: Bayanihan Center, Filipino Cultural Center (inside Bloomingdale’s), and Bindlestiff Studios (Estrella 2004; Sobredo 1998).

The late twentieth century brought peoples from all geographic regions of the world to San Francisco, from Latin America to South Asia. New Filipino migrants now arrive on Philippine Airlines A300 airbuses at the San Francisco International Airport instead of on ships at the ports of San Francisco or Oakland. They are inspected by uniformed U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials who, in the post-9/11 era, have been renamed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and are part of the powerful U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The massive influx of migrants to San Francisco has made ICE one of the most visible public agencies in the Bay Area. As a result, the terms “INS,” “ICE,” and “green card” have been mainstreamed into the local discourse of San Franciscans. Nonetheless, and in keeping with its progressive politics, its mayor and board of supervisors uphold the city’s status as a sanctuary for all migrants, as well as a “language access city” (p.26)

Table 1.1 Filipino Population in the San Francisco Bay Area, by County


Number of Filipino Residents

Santa Clara




San Mateo


San Francisco




Contra Costa










Source: U.S. Census 2000

for native speakers of Spanish, Chinese, Russian, and Tagalog, and those with limited English proficiency.

The results of the millennium census (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000) showed significant demographic shifts, particularly in the ethnic distribution of U.S. residents. The American-born white population of San Francisco shrank to less than half of the total number. African Americans represented less then 8 percent of the total population. The numbers of both racial groups showed a rapid decline from the 1990 census. Meanwhile, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics made up close to 50 percent of all San Francisco residents. Including those in San Francisco, the U.S. Census Bureau counted close to 1 million potential Filipino food consumers in California. This is surely why there are so many Filipino fast-food restaurants in the Golden State. In 2008 these included nine Jollibee, fifteen Goldilocks, and seventeen Red Ribbon restaurants—all franchises of Philippine-based restaurants.

Filipinos in Northern California have come a long way from the days when they were referred to as “Luzon indios.” Estimated at more than 320,000 by the 2000 U.S. census (table 1.1), the Filipino community in the San Francisco Bay Area is a major part of the larger diasporic migration to the United States. Because of this large-scale Filipinization, San Francisco (like Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, and Honolulu) has in some ways become a “provincial area” of the Philippines. The growing affluence of Filipino migrants led them to move from crowded Bay Area cities, such as Oakland (6,407), to more suburban areas such as San Jose (48,149), Daly City (32,720), Vallejo (24,215), Hayward (12,755), Union City (12,587), Fremont (11,782), South San Francisco (9,987), (p.27) and Milpitas (9,381) (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000). These suburban areas experienced Filipino population growths of between 20 and 80 percent between the 1990 and 2000 census and have become figurative barangays.

The destruction of the I-Hotel in the late 1970s was the last nail in the coffin of the old Manilatown bachelor community. The neighborhood known as South of Market (SoMa), catering mostly to Filipino families, has since emerged as a new barangay. At SoMa, Filipino newcomers and old-timers live side by side in rent-controlled Victorian and Edwardian-style apartments on narrow Natoma, Minna, Clementina, and Kipling streets. Besides these apartments, there are high-rise buildings such as the Bayanihan House (former Delta Hotel), Ed De La Cruz Building, 957 Mission, and the Mint Mall. Aside from being a residential building, the Mint Mall is also home to businesses and organizations serving the local Filipino American community. Surrounded on each side by streets named after Filipino heroes (Mabini, Bonifacio, Tandang Sora, Rizal, and Lapu Lapu) is the San Lorenzo Ruiz Senior Housing Complex. And unlike the old Manilatown, the new Filipino barangay in SoMa has its share of dispersed Filipino eateries, grocery stores, barbershops, video rental stores, and tailors. Even the local elementary school, Bessie Carmichael Elementary School, is more than 50 percent Filipino and has had Filipino principals (see Canlas 2002; Reyes 2004).

Because of its Filipino population base, SoMa has become home to a number of community organizations, businesses, and institutions that cater to that population. These include the Filipino Education Center, the only bilingual, bicultural Filipino program in Northern California; Bindlestiff Studio, the epicenter of Filipino performing arts in the San Francisco Bay Area; the Veterans Equity Center, Northern California’s largest social service agency for Filipino World War II Veterans; Arkipelago Bookstore, the only Filipino American bookstore in California; West Bay Pilipino Multi-Services Center, the oldest Filipino social service agency in Northern California; and Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church. As in the Philippines, this Irish-turned-Filipino church occupies the center of the barangay, with a “plaza” extending from the front of the church to the majestic waterfall of Yerba Buena Gardens across the street.

The post-1965 mass migration of Filipino professionals brought to the United States a group of persons who were able to quickly earn and save money. Many started out renting in the South of Market area and other districts of San Francisco, but once they had enough savings, they (p.28) moved to the outlying suburbs, buying homes and setting up businesses in nearby Daly City. In a single decade, Daly City gained 7,628 Filipino residents. This rapidly changed the suburb’s ethnic makeup. At 43 percent of the total population, Filipinos in Daly City now comprise the largest concentration of Filipinos outside of the Philippines. The effects of this increased migration are visible in the suburb’s educational system. For example, in the 1997–1998 school year, 29 percent of the students in the Jefferson Union High School District of Daly City were ethnically Filipino. With this shift, Daly City’s Serramonte Mall became the center of yet another Filipino barangay in the San Francisco Bay Area.

How Did I Select the Churches and Informants in This Study?

It is a well-known fact that following Los Angeles and New York, San Francisco is one of the country’s most ethnically diverse cities, serving as one of several “gateway” cities for new migrants to the United States. Hence, I did not have to look far from where I lived, worked, and volunteered. A first-generation Filipino American Catholic rooted in San Francisco, I could attest to the important role of religion for new migrants. I know that the hundreds of spires and domes, mosques, temples, and storefront churches that meld into the milieu of the San Francisco Bay Area are important repositories of migrant stories. But my formal research for Filipino American Faith in Action only began with the formation of The Religion and Immigration Project (TRIP) and consequent financial support provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Jesuit Foundation, the University of San Francisco, and Golden Gate University. The larger TRIP project encompassed Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Salvadoran migrant communities to assess how religious groups and communities encourage the participation of recent migrants in the political, civic, and associational life of San Francisco and the United States, while maintaining their involvement with political and social systems in their societies of origin. TRIP analyzed the role of religion, religiosity, and religious communities as part of a transnational migration paradigm and a multidimensional approach to understanding political and cultural identities.

As co-investigator, I led the Filipino TRIP team with research assistance from Andrea Maison, Dennis Marzan, and Claudine del Rosario, all Filipino Americans who were also keen bilingual and bicultural (p.29) observers. Andrea has mixed-race parentage; Dennis and I were born in the Philippines; Claudine was born and raised in the United States. Our disciplinary perspectives also differed but complemented each other: Andrea is an art history scholar, Dennis majored in history and political geography, Claudine is trained in psychology and Asian American studies, and I am a political scientist. Because of their assistance, at times the writing perspective in the book switches from “I” or “my” to “the Filipino team,” “our,” or “we” to recognize our collective work. Besides our migrant backgrounds, another trait we all shared was our dedication to faith, knowledge, and community service.

Like the other Asian and Latino teams, we embarked on our fieldwork guided by the following broad research questions: (1) How do migrant religious groups encourage and support or reject participation in the political, civic, and associational life of San Francisco and of the larger U.S. political and civic scene? (2) In what ways do religious congregations foster the transnational character of new immigration? (3) What social services do religious congregations provide for new migrants? (4) Do religious congregations actively attempt to preserve the culture of new migrants? (5) What is the relationship between migrant family relations, religion, and incorporation?

The Filipino TRIP team undertook a long-term ethnographic study of Filipino Catholic, Protestant, and Independent churches and their roles in incorporating new Filipino migrants to American life. We also examined how the churches help new migrants deal with acculturative stress. The Filipino TRIP Team began by attending services, activities, and meetings at the following ten religious sites with Filipino migrant populations:

  1. 1. Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church (San Francisco)

  2. 2. Saint Augustine’s Catholic Church (South San Francisco)

  3. 3. Iglesia ni Cristo (Daly City)

  4. 4. Daly City United Methodist Church

  5. 5. Jehovah’s Witnesses (San Francisco)

  6. 6. Faith Bible Church of San Francisco

  7. 7. San Francisco Filipino American Seventh-Day Adventist Church (Pacifica)

  8. 8. Saint Francis and Grace United Methodist Church (San Francisco)

  9. 9. Saint James Presbyterian Church (San Francisco)

  10. 10. Saint Boniface Catholic Church (San Francisco)

(p.30) We also met with pastors from the Philippine Independent Church (Aglipayan), Corpus Christi Church, All Souls Church, and Saint Ignatius Church. We did archival research in the basement of Saint Patrick’s Catholic Seminary in Menlo Park and talked with Noemi Castillo, then director of ethnic ministries at the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco. The overall reception to the team by the church leaders and members in the prospective sites was warm and friendly. We conducted preliminary interviews on church histories and collected some informational materials. We were granted permission to attend worship services and other group activities. Because of time and resource constraints, the Filipino team decided to limit its in-depth ethnographic study to three churches—Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in San Francisco, the Iglesia ni Cristo in Daly City, and Saint Augustine’s Catholic Church in South San Francisco. These were the three religious sites with the largest Filipino congregations in the area.

The first site, Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church, is located in the South of Market area of San Francisco, which has the highest density of Filipino migrant residents in the city. This Filipino community includes people of all ages—from toddlers to seniors, and both single adults and large, extended families. Saint Patrick’s refers people to the many Filipino-oriented social and welfare service agencies close to its doors. These agencies provide basic social services, as well as extras, including after-school care, Tagalog classes, computer training, and tutoring services. There are also numerous other Filipino businesses nearby. Saint Patrick’s follows conventional Roman Catholic doctrines and theology as defined by the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, which in itself is the accumulation of doctrine derived from both scriptural teaching and ecclesiastical tradition. Though the parish’s congregation is predominantly Filipino, Filipino Catholicism is known for its strict adherence to orthodox Roman Catholic theology and teaching. Nevertheless, many adaptations of indigenous folk practices have become part of the Filipino practice of Roman Catholicism; these adaptations are discussed throughout this book.

The second site is the Iglesia ni Cristo–Daly City locale, located in the former Jefferson public high school complex. This complex straddles a residential and commercial neighborhood in Daly City, a suburb just to the south of San Francisco. The Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) is neither Catholic nor Protestant but an independent Christian church that originated in the Philippines. This independence is manifest in its Bible-based lessons (p.31) and in the original hymns sung during worship services and missionary events. In claiming administrative and theological independence, the INC seeks to distance itself from what it sees as corruption, hypocrisy, and ineffectuality in both the Catholic and Protestant churches in the Philippines. Nevertheless, the INC does not claim to be born out of these perceived shortcomings. Instead, the church believes that its founder, Felix Manalo, was called upon by God to establish the INC. It is for this reason that the Iglesia ni Cristo sees itself as an independent church.

The third site, Saint Augustine’s Catholic Church, is located in the city of South San Francisco. Like Daly City, South San Francisco is a suburb of the city and county of San Francisco with a large population of first-and second-generation Filipinos. Based on congregational size, Saint Augustine’s is the largest Roman Catholic parish in the vast Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, which is composed of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties. The membership, which is more than 90 percent Filipino, is responsible for the lively atmosphere every weekend at Saint Augustine’s, which is reminiscent of a barrio fiesta (village festival). Parishioners come from South San Francisco and nearby Daly City, Colma, Burlingame, and Pacifica. The church has five masses on Sundays and three services on Saturdays to accommodate the more than 4,000 families that are registered parishioners, which means that the church is bustling with activity all weekend. After each of the masses, many parishioners remain at the church for an hour or two, socializing with friends. This illustrates the degree to which Saint Augustine’s functions as a social as well as a religious center for its Filipino members.

The Filipino TRIP team compiled three years’ worth of weekly field notes from these three sites. We also organized the first-ever interdenominational conference of San Francisco Filipino migrant religious leaders at the Catholic University of San Francisco and invited pastors and congregants from Filipino migrant churches throughout the Bay Area. It is notable that in spite of the religious theme and the Jesuit Catholic school setting, the attendees willingly looked past the differences in their belief systems and joined us in examining the valuable contributions of emerging Filipino migrant congregations to the ideas, beliefs, morals, and institutions that mold and shape contemporary San Francisco culture and society. We also presented at local and international conferences, at sites as close as Berkeley and as far away as Europe.

The Filipino TRIP team also conducted extensive fieldwork in the Philippines, in the cities and provinces of Manila, Quezon City, Laguna, (p.32) Cavite, Cebu, Tagaytay, and Bohol. In the Philippines and the United States, we wrote extensive field notes, took hundreds of photographs, and shot hundreds of hours of video on the Filipino religious and spiritual terrains. We observed and participated in rites and rituals at convents, seminaries, schools, monasteries, temples, grottos, and, of course, churches. We also participated in Bible studies, prayers, meditations, outreach events, picnics, masses, baptisms, weddings, confirmations, house blessings, and funerals. For a time, we practically lived our lives around this research, eating almusal (breakfasts), tanghalian (lunches), hapunan (dinners), and merienda (snacks) with our research subjects. The teams that conducted the community survey described in chapter 3 were composed of enthusiastic Golden Gate University and San Francisco State University Filipino American graduate students, as well as University of San Francisco Philippine studies and politics students. They administered the remittance surveys in churches and other sites all over the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Filipino TRIP Team shared our research findings with the ethnic community that we served. We have published articles in Philippine News, Manila Bulletin USA, Filipinas Magazine, and Call of Nature, all publications with predominantly Filipino American readerships. Our research was also referenced in Pasugo, the Iglesia ni Cristo’s official global publication. Filipino American Faith in Action brings together our collective experiences and research, providing an overview of the ways in which Filipino Americans use their religious spaces and activities to enact their civic engagement.


(1.) Kasamahan is a Tagalog word, which literally translates as “togetherness.” Bayanihan refers to a coming together out of national pride. In the Filipino American context, the former is commonly used to refer to community organization, whereas the latter describes community action.

(2.) Back in the Philippines, I had already done civic duty as an anti–Marcos activist while attending Santa Ana Catholic Church and studying at La Salle, a Christian Brothers’ elementary school, high school, and university.

(3.) Adapted from Putnam (2000) and expounded on in chapter 5.

(5.) For instance, Brother Mariano “Mike” Z. Velarde, the charismatic shepherd of El Shaddai, a Catholic spin-off group, has risen to become one of Asia’s most powerful leaders, not just spiritually but also politically. Every politician running for public office, whether at the municipal or national government level, tries to woo the endorsement of Brother Mike. Electoral candidates know that the millions of El Shaddai votes could make or break their prized political objective. In the 2004 presidential elections, regular El Shaddai attendee Gloria Macapagal Arroyo secured not only the group’s blessings but its vote against a very popular actor—the then incumbent, President Estrada. Church leaders have also actively participated in the drafting of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the fundamental law of the land. They have sponsored pro-church provisions, including Article II, Section 12, which bans abortion, and Article XV, Section 2, banning divorce. Almost every Philippine political phenomenon is given a religious explanation. For example, the People Power Revolution of 1986 is also referred to in the Philippines as the “Miracle at EDSA,” since not a single drop of blood was shed during this military-civilian showdown on EDSA, a main thoroughfare in Manila. Highly influential Cardinal Jaime Sin, the controversial archbishop of Manila, played a pivotal role in calling for Christian Filipinos to the streets, precipitating the ouster of long-time dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

(p.186) (6.) Philippine Comission on Filipinos Overseas.

(7.) From original letter displayed at the Philippine National Historical Institute, Manila.