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Preparations are underway to mark the 100th year anniversary of the arrival in the United States of the first wave migration of Filipinos. In 1906, they worked the plantations and farms replacing the former hands that tilled the land. They arrived as wards of the United States, not citizens of America even though the United States in 1898 paid $20,000,000 to purchase the former colony from Spain (Treaty of Paris), only to find itself embroiled in an all-out war to quash a new Filipinas Republic and its “democratic ideals.”

OUR OWN VOICE is calling writers and readers to submit their literary works to build a centennial body of literature on the first wave migration. The issues of 2006 will feature stories and essays, poems and interviews, book reviews and photo essays on the experiences of the first wave migrant workers: What did they write home about? What were their first impressions? Did they subsist on meat and potatoes? Did they look for rice? How much was a postage stamp on letters to the Philippines ? Who did they leave behind?

Does our generation know? Are we curious enough tofind out? These itinerant men left us a history here in America , but who is documenting their lives? Were records kept of their early years here in the States? Is America really “in the heart” and was Carlos Bulosan the only one in his generation to recreate in his short stories the life and times of these men?

Here is a unique historical opportunity. It can serve as our second chance to hound the libraries, to question and probe what has been handed down to us; and to actively search for literature that recreates the times. Did the immigrants of the first wave feel as invisible as a group as we seem to think we are even now in the 21st century?

My own stepfather arrived in 1916 at the age of 17. His generation addressed the first migrants with customary respect as “Manong”. The “adventurers” of his generation defied parental rules, pooling together their tuition money to board a freighter so they could experience America . Pat Cabacungan, my dad, used his brother’s passport. Could the white man tell the difference? Recruiters were interested in beefing a work force, so any able-bodied young man was signed up. The best stories I heard were about his escapades during winter. How he and his fellow workers learned to pad their undershirts with newspaper to ward off the cold. But at night in their rooming houses, when they stripped to the waist, they found their torsos blackened with printer’s ink, and their undershirts stained. Even back then, having a barkada was a necessity. After all, who would save your seat, watch your back or share news about recruiters looking for workers? He remembers always traveling in threes, moving from one location to another. How they found themselves in the East Coast is a quirky tale in itself.

Pat and his cronies spoke to each other in a language they crafted from constant usage, understandable if you listened hard and went by the sounds and not the actual words. It was a combination of mangled idioms and cuss words that had a pungent ring to them. My favorite was Salamagan! It was a prefixed cuss spat out before every sentence. Apologies were profuse when it began and ended with “Beri kasorsoryan . . .”And in order to get us out of bed, he would shout out a wake-up call that always baffled me—“Da war is obber! Da war is obber!”

You have a grandfather, a grandmother, an old uncle, an aunt —all with untold memories. Mine them. Listen. Jot down all you hear. The stories will be priceless—your sole inheritance that will see you through the hungry years.

Remé-Antonia Grefalda
April, 2005

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