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SF’s Ilonggo Circle rekindles the flames of legacy and tradition

For decades since the late 1940s, this Victorian home in what is now Japantown in San Francisco is the home of the Ilonggo Circle – an organization of immigrants who hail from the Western Visayas region of the Philippines. The Circle was formed in 1937.

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As new immigrant families in one of the most famous cities in the world, members of the Circle would gather in this house every Friday, with their whole brood in tow, to re-create a semblance of the communities they left behind back home in Panay and Negros islands.

The house was purchased in 1948 through the generosity of ten merchant marines who were kasimanwas (fellow men in the Ilonggo dialect). It became the cultural, social and civic hub for these families.

Families

From the end of the second World War to the late 80’s, theirs was a weekly gathering that would start on a Friday night and often end on Sunday.

“Our children grew up here, with each other. We had a lot of good times here. Everybody would look forward to coming here on Friday. This was our home away from home,” shared Eva Armada, the current chairman of the Circle’s board. Her husband, Ariston Armada, has been the Circle’s past president for a number of years.

With a twinkle in her eye and a charmed smile on her face, Eva reminisced about the old days when the house was filled with chattering and dancing grown-ups, and kids running around playing hide-and-seek.

Past Revisited

But other than old pictures of grand parties and majestic parade floats hanging on the walls of the front parlor, this old Victorian now only houses the ghosts of the past. With only an old caretaker posing like an ineffective sentinel against the onslaught of progress
that now define the city of San Francisco, this house is slowly falling into disrepair.

Very seldom now does its threshold welcome the pitter patter of little feet – as the second and third generations of these Ilonggo immigrant families have moved to the suburbs and now focused on their respective careers and families. Meanwhile, the old timers with their limited mobility due to illnesses and old age, can only muse over what they have lost during an occasional get-together.

Revive

During one of the Ilonggo Circle’s parties in honor of then PhilippineVice-President Fernando Lopez who was also from Iloilo

Afraid that the legacy of the Ilonggo Circle will be lost forever, Eva sought the help of Tony Salcedo, another old stalwart of the group, to revive the organization and recruit new members among the younger generation. They also sought the help of their counterparts
in the Ilonggo Circle of Stockton.

To speed things up, Tony started his research and began reconnecting with his old pals at the Circle. He explained that membership
rosters, bank accounts and i n s u r a n c e policies need to be in order to conduct proper business for the Circle.

Stockton group

Their efforts led them to Elena Mangahas, a fellow Ilonggo and member of the governing board of Stockton’s Little Manila Foundation. It so happened, Tony shared in an interview, that Elena was also on a mission to revive the Stockton group of the Ilonggo Circle.

“Traditions are important to immigrant groups because it is what connects them to the glory of the past and the possibilities of the future,” said Elena in a separate interview.

Elena lamented the inevitable loss of this generation’s connection to the lessons of the past if the legacies like the Ilonggo Circle are not properly bequeathed to the next generation.

Member of Iloilo CircleShe shared, however, of recent developments when the younger generations have expressed willingness to return and rekindle
their parents’ legacy.

She shared, however, of recent developments when the younger generations have expressed willingness to return and rekindle
their parents’ legacy.

phase out the society is to lose that original connection with the loving people’s presence. When traditions are lost, the good stories are muted,” Elena added.

Diamond Anniversary

For her part, Eva threw a grand party at the house on Sutter Street last August to celebrate the Circle’s 75th anniversary. She hired a band, her three children put together a feast, and every Circle old-timer, healthy enough to come, joined in the festivities.

Once again, even just for one night – the house was filled with people, the sounds of music and dancing feet echoing on its polished floor boards. “It was just like old times,” Eva added.

What Lies Ahead

iloilo-circle-house

Tony and Eva, along with their Stockton friends led by Elena, know they have a tough journey ahead in their quest to revive the Ilonggo Circle and preserve the house. But they are determined for the sake of preserving culture and heritage.

“The Iloilo Circle house represents one of many vestiges of Filipinotowns. It is located at an area that is a testament to the vibrant communities of Asian banding together when society’s elements are harsh. Brick and mortar preservation translates to a temple”
of cultural affirmation, and a continuance of the ideals that made as survive as a people,” Elena further noted.

And yes, having been born and raised an Ilonggo myself in Silay City, I left the interview a card-carrying member of the Ilonggo Circle hoping that my children will also grow up connected to and respectful of our heritage.

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