Rough Draft.. |Time line
Looking south from Jersey City you can see Ellis Island, the gateway of most of the immigrants in this country. Being of Filipino ancestry we have few ties to Ellis Island but further south and connected to a much earlier point in history is the magnificent Verrazano Bridge, the longest single span bridge in the world. Just who was this Verrazano? He will serve as my reference timeline.
Just a few years after Columbus rediscovered America, European explorers followed the westward trail. In 1512 Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama and re-discovered the huge Pacific Ocean, confirming that the new American continental land was not the Indian Continent, as Columbus mistakenly thought. Numerous new explorers raced to find a passage through the big continent.
Sailing under the French flag, Giovanni De Verrazano discovered the entrance to the Hudson valley in the 1520s. At this point of history Hudson Valley was still untouched by the European settlers. Verrazano had been commissioned by the French government to chart a North American passage to the Continental divide.
In 1519, a few years before Verrazano's discovery, Ferdinand Magellan sailed from Spain on his famous westward voyage around the world. Unlike Verrazano, he was looking for a Southern passage through the Americas to the Pacific.
He re-discovered the Philippines as the other Europeans were sighting the banks of Hudson River. Just a parallel historical chronology of exploration.
Who is the first Filipino-American in New Jersey?
Joseph Bernardo, Landsman, aged 23, occupation Steward, enlisted March 25, 1865, for 3 years, at Boston. Born Manila, eyes black, hair black, dark complexion. Page 169, Volume 43 of the Naval Rendezvous Reports, available at the National Archives, Washington, D.C. Bernardo probably the same Joseph Bernard listed on the archives. Muster Rolls for USS Conemaugh also show Joseph Bernardo, Landsman, aged 21, born Manila, occupation Cook, resident of New Jersey, enlisted March 31, 1865, for 3 years, at PP (Philadelphia?). Received bounty of $100.) He was one of the Filipino-Americans who participated in the US Civil War. (SOURCE: Washington Archieve. I am still looking for more information.)
Pancho Villa first fight in the US was in Jersey City.
The Jersey Journal issue 6/7/ 1922 reads:
Heralded as flyweight and bantamweight champion of the Orient and Australia absorbed a boxing lesson by Abe Goldstein at the Oakland AA last night. Acting under the New York Jewish boy was content to jab and cut off the diminutive Filipino who was handicapped by height, reach and weight. (114-1/2 to 112-1/2)
Only on the twelfth round did the visitor flash the brand of festive endeavor that would entitle him to a match with American flyweight. In the other eleven rounds Goldstein simply toyed with his opponent, receiving 99 percent of the enemy punches (mostly wild ones) or arms and shoulder. Villa was personification of politeness after repeatedly boxing fouls, outside of that he has a lot to learn about the manly art of defense. According to the “dope” he will be re-matched with Goldstein or another charitable Yankee scrapper, for a bout in the greater city.(end of the news)
(note: Oakland AA was one the various boxing arena in Jersey City. It later became the Braddock Boxing Arena. It was later converted to Bowling alley until it was demolished few years ago. It was located at the corner of Baldwin and Newark Ave. I will show the picture later)
It is interesting to note that Jersey City in the 1920’s became a world class boxing arena. The first million dollar gate happened in Jersey with Jack Dempsey. It was the decade also when the Flyweight Division became popular. New Jersey’s famous little boxer Johnny Buff fought and meet Pancho Villa. In September 14 of same year, Pancho Villa won the North American Flyweight title by knocking Johnny Buff, the pride of Perth Amboy. He became the world champion by defeating JimmyWilde. Today he is Hall of Fame boxer and considered one of the two best of all time greats in his class.
In 1928 Knight of Rizal was organized by the Filipinos living in Northern New Jersey.
Among the founders was Albert C Young who came to Newark and later moved Union Beach. The monthly meeting were held every third Sunday of the month until the late 1980’s in the his residence at 600 Park Ave.,Union Beach. A certain Nicholas A Gacino later took the leadership. The brothers as they called each other were very closed and the organization listed Throdora Abaya, as the Mother Adviser and Miss Louise Ruth Shapiro as the legal counsel. Most of the early immigrants were male bachelor, another member was Alfredo M Alvarez from Manila (DOB December 27, 1902) who married a Polish woman, Estelle Chesky in March 17, 1928. The couple produced second and third generation of Filipino-American in Elizabeth section where Aflredo work in the Singer Mfg. Co for 40 years.
It is amazing that this was only about 40 years after Jose Rizal crossed the Hudson River in 1888 that the Filipinos in New Jersey banded as brothers under the Knight of Rizal fraternity. Rizal described the Hudson River in his diary,
The Hudson River which runs along carries many boats. We crossed over a bridge. The landscape is beautiful; and it is not inferior to the best in Europe. We are going along the banks of the Hudson. They are very beautiful, although a little more solitary than those of the Pasig. There were ships, boats, trees, hills; and the major part is cultivated. The Hudson is wide. Beautiful ships Sliced granite rocks were paved along the railroads. Some points widely extended. There were beautiful houses between trees.(National Archieve photo-from the book, SITTING IN THE DARKNESS
Americans in the Philippines by David H. Bain)
He could not predict that along the Hudson River in Jersey City became the largest concentration of Filipinos in the East Coast that we see today.
People from Jersey City probably heard first hand news from the Philippines from the US soldiers who were assigned in the Philippines before the WW2,. Charles Bednarski was stationed in the Philippines when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He was one the 512 American GI who survived the fall of Bataan in 1942 and the concentration camp that followed. Bernarski has fond memories of the Philippines and planned the marry a 21 year-old Ellie T Santos but the war broke off. They parted company and Charles was unable to find her after the war. (source Jersey Observer Dec2, 1983)
During the war, resident of Hudson County volunteered in the war factory located in Bayonne. PT Boats were built and saw engagement in the liberation of the Philippines (source: vol III History of New Jersey)
Bayonne became the major hub of Military Transportation and attracted sailors from the Philippines. Bernardo (Benny) Liwanag worked onboard merchant ships chartered to MSTS to deliver war equipment to England and Russia. He came to Jersey City but he was part of the Filipinos seafarers who were living in Brooklyn in 1920-1930. He moved to Jersey City and died in few years ago after his retirement. He was a Chief Boatswain mate assigned in the various transports in Bayonne. His deck seamanship was legendary onboard the military ship transports,
The city of Jersey City sent their sons and daughter in the liberation of the Philippines, US Representative Frank Guarinni, Eugene F Cody, (and looking for more names) participated in the liberation of the Philippines and told Jersey City about the Islands in the South Pacific halfway around the world. These veterans of foreign legion kept America from direct attack except from the infamous Dec 7 bombing of Pearl Harbor and Sept 11 World Trade Center. Like the pilgrims and crusaders of ancient times these soldiers and sailors double as teachers, missionary, diplomat and friends. The cultural and political bridges indirectly became closer.
Post war era .
There were Filipinos who landed in Jersey City by jumping ships from the various nearby seaports in the Hudson River. Teddy Santos joined his brother who was living in Jersey in 1949. Today, Teddy (close to his 80’s) is working at St Francis Hospital having married a Puerto Rican girl from the area.
(more interview with Mr Santos later)
in 1960.. The coming of nurses and doctors from the Philippines. The nurse dorm, Murdock Hall behind the Medical Center was full of Filipina Nurses. Family started moving in the apartment houses near Christ Hospital, St Francis, and the Medical Center. Filipino-American member of the US Navy and Coast Guard engagement with the nurses assured permanent stay as the exchange program was just temporary.
In the early 70’s Filipinos from other profession took advantage of the new change of immigration law and saw the influx of new immigrants. The newcomers settled near the Grove and Journal Square as most of them found employment in Manhattan. It gave birth to the Manila Avenue community that in part saved the deterioration of downtown.
Family re-unification brought more Filipinos immigrating including veterans who fought the WW2 (mostly the elderly parents of the working newcomers). This facilitated the extended family tradition. Guerrilla veterans like Ganio, Jose Red, 11th Airborne Division, US Army, Resty Valerio, Alfredo Diaz, etc now call Jersey city their home (bivouac)
Today, majority of the Catholic parishioners are from the Philippine joining the Irish, Polish, Italian, and Hispanics. More than half of the students of all the parochial schools are children of first generation Filipino-American. There is also another Christian denomination from the Philippines that had organized (membership. The church is located in Jersey city (Jersey Journal spotlights the news just few weeks ago.. Checking)
Paolo Mantalban is just one of the graduates of parochial school who became famous and owes the development of his talents.
Lincoln Park Tennis Court is the favorite outdoor sport gathering of the Filipinos in Jersey. You will find kids and the veterans doing the cardio vascular execercise almost everyday. It is here where Eric Taino practiced and before winning the US junior double few years ago. (source:New York Times(New Jersey Editon, oct 20, 2000)
Religious celebration like the Santa Cruz de Mayo (May Festival) and Santo Nino (Jan) are part Jersey City yearly schedule.
Santo Nino image , the gift that Magellan gave in the Philippines is brought back to Jersey City. The other yearly parade is the Filipino-American friendship summer festival. It is the celebration of the tie between people of Jersey City and the Philippines rather than the political implication. Two lawyers (??? And del Prado) became Judge in the City Court.
Filipinos are now slowly participating the political affairs as the Jersey becomes the most diversified city in America..
(looking for more oral history
this is work-in-progress. Please email me if you have any related experience or knowledge that I might be able to add. All contribution will be acknowledge and credited.) This is a joint project with the PACCAL group headed by Linda Mayo.
Nestor Palugod Enriquez