- Little Manila is in the Heart: The making of the Filipina/o American community in Stockton, California by Dawn Bohulano Mabalon
This book by Dawn Bohulano Mabalon on the Filipina/o community in Stockton, California, is an impressive, engaging and often personal account of this community’s history that constantly reminds the reader of the continuing force that a colonial past can have on an ethnic group. Mabalon, who was raised in Stockton, addresses the issues and experiences that have shaped her community: the defining role of agricultural labour in the community; the substantial unbalanced gender composition; the barriers that widespread racism presented to Filipina/os living and working in Stockton and the surrounding area, and the ways they were overcome; the pivotal role of space and place in forming a Filipina/o-American identity; and the memories this community has of its past. By presenting these histories, Mabalon is also writing this community into the wider regional history of the San Joaquin Delta where Stockton is located, the American West Coast, and indeed the United States. In an attempt to counter existing claims and assumptions that the Filipina/os in Stockton were migratory and never had a permanent presence, Mabalon shows through intense archival and oral sources that Little Manila played a major role in the development of the area from the 1910s and 1920s onward. Additionally, there is an implicit goal of expanding an existing narrative of victimization deriving from the community’s painful experiences to include the considerable agency and resiliency that came through amid this structure of racial violence.
Mabalon has tapped into a wide source base, such as the archives of the Filipino American National Historical Society and the National Pinoy Archives in Seattle. Her research included the discovery of previously unused archives, such as the tantalizing tale of the discovery of troves of documents and artefacts stored in the basement of one of the community organizations. Mabalon made an effective use of images in her book, with over fifty black-and-white photographs, most of which were of community members. The “dearth of archival and printed sources on the history of Filipina/os in Stockton” (14) contributed to the considerable importance of the book’s oral sources. There are lingering doubts by some about the value or voracity of oral testimony, especially in presenting the history of a group or event.1 Mabalon, however, uses her oral sources judiciously and in conjunction with other sources (including photographs), adding rich layers to her historical narrative. The personal stories that Mabalon relates are not mere anecdotes of the community’s history, but are a component of that history. As a study that examines the formation and transformations of a community identity, these oral sources give vital insight into how community members perceived historical events and how they shaped the formation of the community.
The importance of the Philippines’ colonial past in the formation of a Filipina/o-American identity is clear throughout Mabalon’s text. Like other Filipina/o-American histories,2 her study begins with a discussion of the American colonial empire that imposed itself upon the Philippines following the Spanish-American War in 1898, continuing the country’s almost four-hundred-year colonial period until 1946. Focusing on the American colonial education system, which included a significant growth in public schools that taught an American curriculum in English and the founding of the University of the Philippines in 1908, Mabalon argues that the “educational system created good colonials—hyper-American, even—who yearned to travel to the metropole” (59). Not only were school children and university students led to believe that boundless opportunity was available in America, but they were taught to speak the colonizer’s language and, moreover, led to believe in the superiority of the American way of life. As these “good colonials” were being trained, the American colonial system was degrading the economy of the Philippines and forcing once self-sufficient Filipina/os to find work overseas in the US...