Immigration's a tangled topic in San Diego, which may be why New Americans, a new-ish museum focused on that very subject, dispensed with the I-bomb altogether in its name. For such a simple word, “immigration” gets a lot of people awfully riled up—which, when you think about it, is kind of silly. Except for a very few of us (that's a shout-out to you, Native Americans), we've all got it in our bloodlines. We all come from people who were, at some point, new Americans. And every wave of new Americans—at least those who came here of their own accord—has arrived in this young, hopeful nation with dreams of a better life.
“Give me your tired, your poor,” it reads at the base of the Statue of Liberty, “your huddled masses yearning to be free.”
Though poet Emma Lazarus' words are in the spirit of our country's noblest principles, the truth is that America has generally given new immigrants more of a cold shoulder than a motherly embrace. Even those who came here legally.
This is particularly evident at a show that opened Sept. 20 at the New Americans Museum called Through My Father's Eyes: The Filipino American Photographs of Ricardo Ocreto Alvarado, a traveling exhibition that began at the Smithsonian.
Alvarado's black-and-white photographs were culled from an astounding collection of 3,000 prints discovered by his daughter, Janet Alvarado. Her father had immigrated to San Francisco in 1928, when he was just 14 years old. He was part of a wave of Filipino immigrants known as the “Manong” (“older brother”) generation. The simple snapshots Alvarado took with his view camera reveal a complicated culture, both within the “Pinoy” (Filipino-American) community and in melting-pot American society overall.
Some of the photos are portraits of blue-collar Filipino workers: farmers, busboys, bellhops and so on. Not unusual occupations for new Americans. Look a little closer and you get a broader picture of what it must have been like for Pinoys than what can be gleaned from a moment captured on cellulose acetate alone.
There are posed snapshots of weddings. The placards explain that because of miscegenation laws carrying on into the mid-century, Filipinos were forbidden from marrying whites, though they could—and often did—marry Latinos. Then there are photos of festive parties and elegant, well-coiffed Filipino women singing next to pianos. Back in the day, Filipinos were often barred from nightclubs and social events. So they started their own.
That's the dark side of Alvarado's immigration story, but the amazing thing is that in spite of rampant racism and hypocritical laws, these people look happy. They look happy in their wedding photos and happy at their parties and happy as they watch their native-born American children doing the lindy hop. And more than that, Filipino faces aren't the only ones you see in most of these photos. There are Americans of all shades: white, black and every color in between.
The New Americans Museum—part of the Arts & Culture offerings at the NTC Promenade, a redevelopment of a former naval base that thousands of Filipinos passed through around WWII (today Filipinos make up 12 percent of San Diego's foreign-born population)—documents the real American story through educational programming, an oral-history recording room and national-caliber exhibitions such as Through My Father's Eyes.
NAM reminds visitors of something many of us Americans seem to forget (especially those who treat the I-word as a slur): We all come from immigrants, even if the faces in our old family photos look at a little different than the ones in Alvarado's.Through My Father's Eyes: The Filipino American Photographs of Ricardo Ocreto Alvarado (1914-1976) runs at the New Americans Museum, 2825 Dewey Road, Suite 102, through Nov. 2.
The festivals: Little Italy's 14th Annual Festa Celebration is all about all things Italian. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12, local restaurants will provide the gnocchi, cannolis and Italian sausages, while bocce ball and stickball tournaments, plus lots of Italian music and dance along India Street, will help keep you entertained. Organizers boast that their 'hood's Festa is the largest single-day Italian-American festival west of the Mississippi. We haven't confirmed that, but we know better than to challenge Italians. Contact www.littleitalysd.com or 619-233-3898 for more info. And in case you skipped the story on this page, you may not know that about 12 percent of San Diego's foreign-born population is Filipino-American. From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, a lot of those folks will be gathering for the third annual Filipino-American Fest, or as they like to call it, the FilAmFest, on Paradise Valley Road between Gilmartin Drive and Woodman Street in Spring Valley. Expect everything from traditional Tinikling dance to contemporary street-inspired break-dancing, plus Filipino food and crafts. www.filamfest.com.
Cloth traditions: Balboa Park's San Diego Museum of Art, in partnership with the Timken Museum of Art, is just one of two stops in the United States for the traveling exhibition Kimono as Art: The Landscapes of Itchiku. Itchiku Kubota has been making kimonos since the late 1930s, but it wasn't until he was 60 years old that he finally believed he'd mastered the craft. Through a complex combination of tie-dyeing and ink drawing, Itchiku makes works of wearable art that put every contestant ever to appear on any season of Project Runway to shame. Take a sneak peak at the exhibition at www.kimonoexhibit.com, then see the 40 kimonos in person at SDMA from Nov. 1 through Jan. 4.
Swirl and sniff: Culture comes in all forms. Sometimes it's dark red, or white, or even pink and comes served in a beautiful stemmed glass. We're talking about wine, of course, and in case you aren't hip to the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, we're here to remind you of all the culture you can consume from Nov. 12 through 16 at wine-friendly venues around the city. From cooking and wine-tasting classes to olive-oil competitions and chef cook-off's, the Wine & Food Fest will have you clinking glasses with the cream of the San Diego's crop. At the very least, it'll get you a nice buzz. www.worldofwineevents.com, 619-342-7337.
Good, bad and in between: The Orchids & Onions event is pretty much San Diego's only chance to comment on the development of our city. Better yet, the format of the architecture awards show is fun, lighthearted and downright entertaining. The best and the worst of the city's developers and architects are honored or dissed in this gala, which features funny slide shows, commentary from living legends like architect Ted Smith and a pretty cool pre-party during which you can get boozed up before you sit down. We're willing to overlook the fact that they've chosen our old music editor Troy Johnson as the night's emcee (what the hell does he know about architecture anyway?), and we're assuming this year's O&O event, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, at the San Diego Hall of Champions in Balboa Park, will be just as fun and informative as in years past. $50. www.orchidsandonions.org.