On May 30, 2008, the Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc. celebrates the opening of its newly renovated and expanded community center located at 5740 Martin Luther King Jr Way S. Formed in 1935 as the Philippine Commonwealth Council of Seattle, the Filipino Community of Seattle serves the Filipino American community through educational programs, senior services, dance and language classes, and advocacy. The new center is at the site of the organization's long-time home on Martin Luther King Jr. Way S, the former Empire Bowling Alley that the group purchased in 1965.
Seattle's Filipino Community
Seattle had a well-established Filipino community in 1935, when the Philippine Commonwealth Council of Seattle formed. After the United States annexed the island country following the Spanish-American War in 1898, Filipinos became American nationals, able to move to the mainland United States unrestricted by immigration laws.
Many Filipinos came as laborers, especially after immigration laws restricted Asian immigration in 1924. Others came to Seattle to study at the University of Washington and other colleges. By 1930 about 1,600 Filipinos lived in Seattle.
As did many other immigrants, Filipinos remained connected to their home country. To celebrate the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines on November 15, 1935, a group of Seattle Filipinos planned a banquet. Organizers decided to form a more permanent association and founded the Philippine Commonwealth Council of Seattle (PCCS). They elected Pio de Cano (1895-1977) as their first president and Adolpho Ventura "Rudy" Santos (1904-1992) as vice president. The PCCS met in various spaces around Seattle, but did not have a permanent home.
The PCCS also served to draw together the many Filipino social and labor organizations in Seattle. The clubs served religious, social, and aid functions and included the Filipino Catholic Clubhouse and the University of Washington Filipino Club, as well as the cannery workers' unions. Many of the clubs brought together people from the same region in Philippines. But, according to a history of the Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc., with the formation of the PCCS, "At long last a new era had arrived, Filipinos in Seattle had finally become united" (Pamana, 18).
The PCCS developed relationships with government officials effectively. At the Commonwealth inauguration ceremony and dance held on November 15, 1935, Seattle Mayor Charles L. Smith spoke to the crowd. The next evening, at the banquet held at the New Washington Hotel, Governor Clarence D. Martin (1884-1955) addressed the audience. The PCCS also invited consuls from 45 countries to attend the banquet. Though it is not clear how many actually attended the event, the PCCS seems to have had a well-developed plan for drawing attention to the Philippines and to the Filipino American community in Seattle.
In addition to annual commemorations of the establishment of the commonwealth, the PCCS held annual celebrations in honor of Dr. Jose Rizal (1861-1896), a Filipino martyr who had resisted the Spanish occupation of the Philippines and been executed in 1896.
Facing Bigotry, Building Community
In the 1940s the PCCS changed its name to the Filipino Community of Seattle and Vicinity and then shortened it to the Filipino Community of Seattle, Incorporated (FCS). While the organization held a number of social events, it also drew the Filipino community together to support members' efforts to establish themselves in a city and country that were often unwelcoming.
The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 changed Filipinos' status to aliens, rather than nationals, and the Philippines Repatriation Act of 1935 had made it official federal policy to encourage Filipinos to return to the Philippines. Discriminatory housing practices excluded Filipinos from many neighborhoods in Seattle. Further, Filipinos often found labor unions and many occupations closed to them because of their ethnicity.
The FCS worked to improve economic and social conditions for Filipinos by promoting trade connections with the Philippines and by building a strong social network. To that end, the FCS held annual celebrations of the commonwealth's establishment and, after 1946, Philippines independence. It also crowned an annual Community Queen, held dances, participated in war bond drives, and its members performed traditional dances at public events.
The FCS has continued serving the Filipino American community for the past 65 years. Its activities have been diverse, including establishing a Youth Committee that evolved into Filipino Youth Activities in 1959, campaigning to overturn legal bans on land ownership, organizing Fourth of July picnics, and publishing books. The organization also participated in fundraising for a Helio Courier plane that Seattle residents donated to the Philippines government for the Summer Institute of Linguistics, which used it to travel to remote areas and carry out linguistics studies. The plane was named Ang Diwa Ng, Tagalog for "Spirit of Seattle." The FCS has also served as a liaison between the Filipino American community and the Seattle Police Department, helping to form the Filipino Police Advisory Committee.
A Community Center
Through numerous fundraisers and donation drives, the FCS was able to purchase the Empire Bowling Alley at 5740 Empire Way S (now Martin Luther King Jr Way S) in 1965. The building, built in 1945, sat on a large lot and featured a main hall that could be used for events.
A member of the FCS, architect Armando Rollolazo, donated his time to draw plans for the renovation. On November 24, 1965, a celebration marked the opening of the center. Festivities included a Filipino Youth Activities' Cab'taan Folk Dancers performance. The Philippine consul, Estela Sulit, spoke at the event and Bishop Thomas Gill blessed the building.
The center has two major public art installations. The first, an intaglio-mural, 15-panel, two-dimensional sculpture entitled Perlas ng Selanganan (Pearls of the Orient Festivals), created in 1984 by A. G. Weng Gavino, adorns the ballroom's wall.
The second artwork, the Phillenium Mural, to be replaced on the center's exterior when it is refurbished, tells the story of Philippines and Filipino American history. Designed by Rafael Calonzo Jr., the mural was unveiled on February 6, 2000. Timoteo Cordova, the mural project's director, wrote about the mural that, "It is a gift to the Filipino community and the city of Seattle from Filipino artists, students, historians, and community activists who united and worked towards a common goal. It is a legacy which will continue to build pride in our youth for generations to come" ("Pinoy Teach Phillenium Mural").
Renovation and Expansion
In 1998 Sound Transit developed plans for a light rail light through the Rainier Valley. FCS members realized that the route ran so close to the community center the building would no longer be usable. They began to look for a new location and to make plans to fundraise for a new building.
Changes to the light rail route took it farther from the community center, but the FCS decided to carry out a much-needed renovation and expansion of its current building.
After nearly a decade of fundraising, planning, and building, the FCS held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of their newly renovated and expanded center on May 30, 2008. The new center included new office space, classrooms, a library, and a renovated main hall, as well as a new exterior that Evangeline Café, a reporter for Northwest Asian Weekly, described as "the pristine, gold-coated building with arched walkways and royal green trimmings" (Cafe).
A large crowd attended the ribbon cutting, as did a number of local officials. Governor Christine Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims, Mayor Greg Nickels (b. 1955), Representative Jim McDermott, and Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, among others, joined in the celebration.
The new building gave the FCS more suitable space for its many programs. From Tagalog language classes and senior lunches, to citizenship and computer classes, to community meetings, and Filipino Police Advisory Committee meetings, the building is full of activities that strengthen the Filipino American community and improve individual lives.