Friday, February 21, 2020

Manila House

From Boundary Stones:
2422 K St. NW, nestled in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood just down the street from the George Washington University, looks like any other D.C. row house. But for the Filipino community in D.C. during the 1930s through the 1950s, it was a haven - a source of culture, community, and comfort. As those who remember it fondly today can testify, 2422 K St. NW wasn’t just a row house; it was the Manila House. 
Although today there are only a couple of Filipino-Americans still living who visited the Manila House in its heyday, stories of the house have been documented by Filipino writers and have been passed down in families. “I first learned about Manila House 24 years ago, in 1993, when I interviewed my father Clemente Cacas and his friends, Fernando Aguilar and Mateo Perez,” recalled Rita Cacas, writer and archivist of D.C. Filipino history.[1] “They described the house as a place for taxicab drivers like themselves to hang out, play cards and attend dances for ten cents on weekends.”[2]
It was a place of leisure for certain, but the Manila House was also much more than that. It provided Filipino-Americans a unique space to connect with each other and with their culture in a city that could be isolating. 
Filipinos began to settle in and around D.C. as early as 1900, but their numbers were small.[3] According to U.S. Census data, there were only 294 Filipinos living in D.C., 327 in Maryland, and 126 in Virginia as of 1930.[4] The Asian population at large in D.C. was only 780, or 0.2% of D.C.’s total population.[5] Many Filipinos came to the D.C. area to work as government workers in the office of the Philippine Resident Commissioner, as cab drivers, or as officers in the military[6]. Many Filipino men enlisted in the U.S. Navy in particular. Since Washington was the center of government work and Annapolis housed the U.S. Naval Academy, the D.C., Maryland, Virginia area was attractive to Filipino immigrants who sought work in those fields. Still, Filipinos found themselves just one small part of a large metropolitan area. 
The city was still largely segregated, with African-American communities in the southeast and southwest quadrants of Washington and white communities in the northwest and northeast quadrants.[7] Nila Toribio-Straka was just a child during the 1940s, but she remembers how her parents had to navigate the racial dynamics of the city. “[They] would be walking down Pennsylvania Ave, or wherever… and if a Caucasian person walked toward them, they had to cross the street and walk to the other side,” she explains.[8] “If they were on a bus, and again if a Caucasian came, they had to go to the back of the bus.”[9] (Read more.)

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