Clemente Castro Cacas was born in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur in the Philippines in 1910 and came to the United States at age 19 in 1929 -- a few years before the Great Depression.
Cacas came to the United States on a whim. He belonged to a few, select group of Filipinos that were allowed to travel to the America during the American Occupation of the Philippines. That group included pensionados, United States Navy men, students, and adventurers like him.
He landed in San Francisco, then moved to Washington DC. There, he joined an already flourishing Filipino community who had established themselves since 1910. .
The US government did not allow Filipinos like Cacas to become citizens. Instead, they were regarded as US nationals, the same way Puerto Ricans are classified today.
Their children, however, became American citizens by birth. Clemente’s pioneering and historic beginnings would have remained unknown, if not for the efforts of Rita, one of his children, who co-wrote a book which documented the lives of Filipino families in the Washington DC area from 1910 until the 1930s.
As young kids, Rita and her sibling weren’t very keen on their father’s stories about his early years in the United States. But when he started to exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease, Rita decided that it was time that she sat down with him and listened attentively to his stories.
She began her research in the late 1970s and early 1980s. "By that time my father was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and he started to forget about those stories," she reveals. "I realized there was not very much time left. I conducted a 3-hour interview with him; we looked at all his old photographs – photo albums from the ‘30s and ‘40s-- and that brought back some of the memories. As he was talking about his experiences, he started talking about friends and colleagues, who I realized that outside of his personal stories, there were a lot of those families I did not know."
After that pivotal interview with her father, Cacas received a grant from the state of Maryland in 1993 that allowed her to secure the oral histories of 22 Filipino old-timers.
An experienced photographer, Cacas works at the National Archives in Washington, DC. She took museum-quality portraits of the families with the intention of publishing those in a luxury coffee-table picture book. But she had to abandon that project when she realized that such a book would cost between $80 to $100.
Images of America: Filipinos in Washington, DC was published by Arcadia Publishing, an addition to 20 other books about Filipino-Americans from various regions in the United States which they’ve published. Images of America is priced at $22 a copy and was launched last November.
"We presented a proposal to Arcadia Publishing in the summer of 2008, and we received our contract before the end of summer," Rita Cacas said.
Juanita Tamayo Lott, Cacas’ co-author, was raised in San Francisco, but spent her adult years in Washington, DC. She is a retired Federal senior demographer, policy analyst and special assistant to the US Census Bureau director. She co-founded the first US Filipino American Studies in San Francisco State University in 1960, and the Filipino American Studies Program at the University of Maryland College Park in 2007.
Cacas began writing and collecting vintage pictures around November 2008. "The first problem we had was trying to get some of the vintage photographs from families because a lot of these persons were already in assisted living homes and they had to scale back on their possessions, and so the children did not want the black-and-white photographs and some just threw them away," Cacas said.
Lady Luck, however, smiled at her. "We found the Toribio family, who lived on Cobb Island, which is one hour away from DC. They have several Tupperware bins full of these historical photographs from the 1930s and 1940s," Cacas relates. She was able to scan and restore some of those photographs for the book. "A lot of those photographs documented some of the big, lavish parties that were held at a few DC hotels, like the Mayflower and Scouts Hotel. These are all very famous hotels around the ‘30s and ‘40s, and they still exist," Cacas reveals.
Arcadia required that they limit the picture selection to a maximum of 220 photographs, and the caption for each photographs to a total of 70 words. "That was difficult," Cacas said. Some of the manuscripts and photographs will go to the Library of Congress for use by other writers and authors.
"I feel that I’ve done what’s needed here, and whenever I go out to talk about the book, I try to encourage young people to write their own story because there are a lot of communities that have emerged since 1965 that need to be documented as well."
She wrote the book while working full-time as an archivist at the National Archives. "I have been working full-time with the Federal government for about 33 years –at the National Gallery of Arts for about 20years, and then I went to graduate school, major in Library and Archives," Cacas said. "I would come home around six o’clock at night and I would be working until three in the morning," she relates. "That’s when my Library Archives training came in handy because I needed to be able to learn how to give a good summary of the persons’ lives that would give justice to them in 70 words. These were people who were involved in historic events."
On April 24, at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books in UCLA, Rita and five other authors had a book signing event. Their attendance there was under the auspices of Philippine Expressions Bookshop, the only Filipino-owned mail-order bookshop that is promoting the literary works of Filipino and Filipino-American writers.
The other authors who came to festival were Cacas’ co-author, Juanita Tamayo Lott, Cecilia Manguerra Braid, who co-edited Finding God: True Stories of Spiritual Encounters with Marili Ysip Orosa; Carina Monica Montoya, author of Let’s Cook Adobo!, a cookbook for children designed by artist Eliseo Art Silva; Ming Menez Coben, PhD, author of Verbal Arts in Philippine Indigenous Communities: Poetics Society and History; and Carlene Sobrino Bonnivier, who penned Seeking Thirst, her second novel.
"Today has been very good, although, really much less than in previous years," Expressions owner Linda Nietes reports. "There were bigger years; I guess the economy affected a lot of people; although I noticed that the crowd is not so large compared to previous years, I think that our sales have been good as well. Every time we participate we always get new clientele – beautiful—and that’s why we are here; we want to outreach," Nietes said.