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Collections

Originally published Sunday, April 11, 1999

Efforts to create a Filipino National Historical Museum in Stockton will receive fresh impetus from the current exhibition at The Haggin Museum, say members of the local chapter of the 20-unit-strong Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS).

“I’m sure it will help,” said Virginia Zamba Melear, chapter secretary-treasurer, who created the idea for the museum along with Frank Acoba and the late Cecil Bonzo. “I think we’ll move one step closer because The Haggin will give publicity to our endeavors. Most of all, it will make the greater community aware of what the history is that we’re trying to preserve. Much of it is not documented in books.”

The national society approved Stockton as a museum site because of its historic role as the center of Filipino American family and community life and labor activities, said FANHS archivist Fred Cordova. Once the largest population center of Filipinos outside the Philippines, Stockton’s “Little Manila” attracted thousands of immigrants who found work and support systems here.

“Much of the birth of Filipino American history was ensconced in Stockton, and it’s part of our national society’s effort to preserve and promote what that history is all about,” Cordova said.

The Stockton museum would become one of three key preservation sites in the United States, joining Seattle’s National Pinoy Archive and an embryonic national library in New York City.

The search is now under way to find a site to showcase the various historical artifacts, writings and photos, some of which are housed in boxes in the homes and garages of various FANHS members. Melear said they’ve been used for limited exhibitions at local libraries, banks and festivals.

Seeing a major display of their collections at the museum will be a heartening and emotional experience for many

FANHS members and other Filipino Americans, Melear said.

“I know when I go to see the exhibition at The Haggin Museum, I will cry because this project is so close to our hearts,” she said. “The museum would be just about like The Haggin exhibition, but more detailed. We’re still working at it, and we know what we want to put there.”

Chapter vice president Mel La Gasca of Tracy said the group might start with a small storefront and establish “a process for categorizing all the material that we’ve got, and assign responsibility for the artifacts.”

La Gasca sees the museum playing a much-needed outreach role in the community, with volunteers visiting classrooms and cultural events with displays and giving talks.

“There’s a multitude of things we can do, but we need to think about the process and how we can secure some funding. Small fund-raisers could keep us afloat.”

La Gasca agrees that the current Haggin show will do much to advance the cause of a Filipino American history museum in Stockton, especially as it provides FANHS members an opportunity to network with those interested in helping it become a reality.

“I think it will really open some eyes and spark some interest,” he said.

Melear said she dreams of someday taking her grandchildren to the museum.

“Some of them have dark hair and dark eyes, and some of them have green eyes and fair skin. They are like flowers in a garden. But I would like to be able to take them to such a museum and show them who their great-grandfather was and what he did. I don’t want them to be like a lot of young people who wait until it’s too late and then have to explore someone else’s version of history.”