Ricky Tjandra works for a language school in San Francisco, and used to be in charge of finding families for students to live with. Often the retired couples who hosted students were living in Daly City. And more often than not, they were Filipino American.
This got Ricky wondering about the connection between Daly City and the Philippines.
"I notice that there's a large Filipino community in Daly City, and I'm just wondering how that came to be," he asked.
Golden Gate Nursery
Why have so many Filipino immigrants and Filipino Americans chosen Daly City, as opposed to say Berkeley or Oakland?
"There was a big nursery, one of the biggest in Northern California," said Dan Gonzales, who teaches Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. "It was called the Golden Gate Nursery. And the anchor crew was mostly Filipino."
The nursery ran along Hillside Boulevard opposite the cemeteries in Colma. It was a major supplier of cut flowers to the cemeteries and florists in the area, said Gonzales. His mother and father worked there alongside some of the first Filipino families to buy homes in Daly City.
"[Filipinos] started moving out to Daly City as early as the mid and late '50s, but they were relegated to the area to the east of Junipero Serra [Boulevard]," said Gonzales.
As those first families left Daly City for jobs and homes further down the peninsula, they often sold their homes to other Filipino families. This likely established the roots of Daly City's Filipino American population.
But to fully answer Ricky's question, we need to step back and look at the complicated relationship between the Philippines and the United States going back over 100 years.
It wasn't long before English was being taught in Filipino elementary schools, American nurses were teaching Western methods to students and American businesses used the islands as a source of cheap labor.
That labor connection has driven a lot of emigration from the Philippines to the U.S., which occurred in three major waves.
A Bachelor Society
The first large wave of Filipino immigrants arrived in the early 1900s — thousands of single men answered the call for agricultural labor in Hawaii and California.
These men created a so-called bachelor society in California's Central Valley, including a "Little Manila" neighborhood in Stockton.
"That group was really the beginning of really substantial arrival and settlement in the United States," said Gonzales.
Home From War
Thousands of Filipinos joined the United States military to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese during World War II and to defend the United States.
"My father was one of them, my wife's father. In my generation, just about all of our fathers" joined the war effort, said Gonzales.
Many of the soldiers stationed in the Philippines brought wives and children home with them, creating another spike in immigration from the islands.
In Gonzales' case, his mother, Soledad, married his father, Julian, several years after the war, giving him time to save up money for a wedding. After marrying in the Philippines, they moved to a small apartment in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood, but eventually bought a house in the Excelsior/Crocker Amazon neighborhood.
"I have really vivid recollections of segregation," said Gonzales. "There was always an issue of, you know, will the white people let you live there? I mean, it was it was very clear that white people had the power to exclude."
He recalls one time when he and his parents were driving around San Francisco and they stopped to look at a house that was for sale.
"The [real estate agent] ran up the stairs and he was really eager to talk to the owner to see whether or not he would show the house to my parents," said Gonzales. "He talked to the owner for a couple of moments, walked down the stairs very slowly and he walked up to the driver's side of the car where my father was sitting and said, 'I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Gonzales, but the owner refuses to show you the house and he has the right to do that.' "
Gonzales said that his dad, who had been in the U.S. since before the war, wasn't surprised. But his mother was shocked. "I think she cried for three days. ... She never missed work," said Gonzales, "but she didn't go to work the next day."
A Change in Policy
"People refer to the third wave very commonly as the 1965 group," Gonzales said. "Post 65. Those are the big numbers."
The third large wave of immigrants from the Philippines came after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which changed United States policy from one focused on country of origin to one that prioritized people with desirable skills and family already in the U.S. Many Filipinos had both, due in part to the Americanization of their culture during the U.S occupation of the Philippines.
Juslyn Manalo grew up in Daly City and is now mayor. Her mother, Josie, came to the U.S. by herself in 1973 with plans to teach. Like nursing, teaching is a profession for which many Filipinos are recruited to come to the U.S.
Manalo recalls her mother's classroom experience with laughter: "And at that point, you know, she's 5 feet. She got the sixth grade class. And unfortunately, she was like, 'Oh, my goodness!' She was in culture shock."
Manalo's father, Carlito, moved to San Francisco several years later, on the day that Manalo was born.
They also lived in an apartment in San Francisco before buying a house in Daly City, which they chose for it's short commute to the city, Manalo said.
Manalo's parents worked hard to pay their mortgage and support the family. They didn't get involved in local politics, but Manalo said her desire to represent her community is built on the shoulders of leaders who came before her.
"There was and is a robust, civically engaged group of Filipino Americans that, you know, my parents probably weren't involved in," said Manalo. She cites the decades-old Filipino American Democratic Club of San Mateo County and Alice Peña Bulos, the "Godmother of Filipino American politics."
Daly City's International Name Recognition
"A lot of it is just a matter of practicality," said James Zarsadiaz, director of the University of San Francisco's Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program, when asked why so many Filipino Americans have settled in Daly City. He's right: From those first homebuyers who worked at the Colma nursery, to Juslyn Manalo and Dan Gonzales' parents, proximity to work and a desire for more space has brought a lot of people to this particular suburb.
And Daly City is certainly not alone in having a large Filipino American population. Large Filipino American communities exist in Southern California, in New York and in Seattle. According to 2019 census data, 4.2 million people who identify as Filipino or Filipino and another race live in the United States.
But Daly City has something those cities don't have: name recognition.
"Among Filipino Americans and Filipinos around the world, you can say Daly City and they know where that is because they probably have a friend, a relative, some family member or connection that lives in Daly City," Zarsadiaz said.
There are business connections, too. The Filipino Channel is headquartered in Daly City. And the Filipino fast food restaurant chain Jollibee picked Daly City for its first U.S. location.
"It may not be the Philippines itself, but you have access to the goods, to friends and social networks that make it easier [for immigrants] to feel more comfortable and to kind of ease into a new landscape and new way of life," Zarsadiaz said.
Growing up as part of a large Filipino community has helped shape the identity of many younger Daly City residents who were born here or came to the U.S when they were young.
"They grew up with these spaces, these foods, these traditions," said Zarsadiaz. "And it's a big part of who they are and how they see themselves as part of a wider network and community."
"When there is family that moved to a certain place, then other family members will move close by," said Manalo.
She mentioned bayanihan, the Filipino concept of doing something for the greater good.
Things like running for city council, packing up a balikbayan box with your cousins' favorite cookies, being an extra in your young neighbor's movie, hosting a foreign language student in your home — these are all examples of the bayanihan spirit.
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