Photo by Annabelle Lee-Adriano

                                                                                                 Photo by Annabelle Lee-Adriano

Oscar Peñaranda

I was born under my mother’s fathers (a Spaniard) house, long in its ruins, at the end of World War II, in Barugo on an island called Leyte in the Philippines. Both of my parents were also born there, my father, Florentino Peñaranda, in 1904 and my mother, Genoveva Gutierrez, eldest of their respective siblings.

My father was the son of the premier revolutionary leader in Leyte and Samar during the Philippine-American War and was arguably the last officer of Aguinaldo’s Regular Army to come down from the hills, lay down his arms and surrender in Baybay, Leye, on his 25th birthday in 1902, June 19. He was a Colonel with no more higher rank to promote for all had been killed or captured. Lukbnan (Samar’s Commander), Mojica (Leyte’s Commander), and Malvar in Batangas had all been killed, captured or surrendered. On July 4, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Philippines “Pacified.” My grandfather Florentino Peñaranda came from a family of farmers in the area.

My mother’s father was a total Spaniard, but a very cool guy. I remember him clearly. He died of bad milk when I was 9. My father’s only brother and the last born used to tell me that my two Lolos used to sit on their porch and discuss the politics and situations of the time. I never saw the Revolutionary Lolo. He died 5 years before I was born. I don’t know whether my Spanish Lolo was born in the Barugo or Santander area in Spain. I found no record of his birth in Spain, just one or two of his brothers and his parents. Folks in Barugo say that he got there in Barugo or his father got to Barugo because they were shipwrecked. But he wound up with a lot of property in the area most of which some of his sons, my uncles (mother’s brothers) quickly squandered.

My mother became a teacher (almost every adult not from my family introduced themselves to me as “your mother’s student”). She taught mainly at the Philippine Normal University. My brother and I went to the elementary school. After she retired and we went to the States, she taught again (Spanish) at St. Mary’s College High School, a Catholic high school in Berkeley, California.

As for me, I went to school in Manila until the sixth grade, returning to Leyte (then a 3-day trip on a steamliner) every vacation time, a set-up insisted upon by the elders of my hometown on almost every young child who went away for an education. With some exceptions folks say that my love for life and all its foibles, my love of music, celebrations, people and social life I got from the Gutierrezes (until now supplying actors for the movie world), and my love of books, literature and academics I got from the Peñarandas. Both family names are still very active in local politics and fiestas.

My father went on to join the Philippine Foreign Service department after getting his law degree in Madrid International Law. In 1956, he was assigned along with about eight others by the Philippine Foreign Service to open the very first Philippine Consulate in Vancouver, Canada. We were arguably the first official Filipino residents of Canada. I was twelve when my parents, brother, sister and I immigrated. I was seventeen when we came to San Francisco, California in 1961.

Through the years, I experienced from my vacation habits, hunting, fishing, camping, picking fruits in the virgin woods and on farms along the way in Canada. In California, I also picked fruits—in the Suisun Valley, Delano, Putah Creek, Winters, and Stockton. Every kind of fruit growing in California it seemed I picked, even some vegetables in the great expanse of the Salinas Valley. After three summers, I went to Las Vegas and worked as a busboy and waiter for two summers. For the rest of my fifteen summers and two autumns, I went to the Alaskan fishing canneries. 

In 1965, I spent my summer working in Delano and Las Vegas. I worked in Delano the previous year or two and Las Vegas the previous summer as well. I remember Muhammad Ali training in Las Vegas in preparation for his fight with for the heavyweight championship of the world in Miami against the champion, Sonny Liston. A couple of young men from Delano were also in Vegas when I was working there. They were looking for a job in Vegas as well. Eventually I developed a close friendship with ne called Slim Gator (Narciso Toralba). They asked me to join them in their picking of fruits in Delano in case I wold be dissatisfied with the jobs in Vegas. I told them that this summer is almost over and that I have to go back to San Francisco to go to school (City College of San Francisco).

I remember spending my twenty-first birthday (August 21, 1965) alone in Ocean Beach of San Francisco. On September 8, the Great Delano Grape Strike began, I was not there in Delano, but the peop0le who struck, the Filipinos, I had known real well because they were all at South Naknek, Bristol Bay, Alaska. Their foreman, a labor leader himself, though a contractor and foreman at times, was from Delano. His crew, largely from Delano, was in Alaska working the salmon run in the fish canneries. They related to me the happenings before, during, and after the Great strike of 1965. Slim Gator was one of them. They told me that Larry Itliong, the Union Steward/Delegate of that South Naknek cannery for several years, had to stop being a union man in Alaska because of his participation and leadership in the farm labor strikes in California—the greatest being in the area of his hometown, Delano. The union man who took Itliong’s place in our cannery was weak and a company man, not at all like Larry, not at all following Larry’s legacy as a feisty Union Man who takes no shit from anybody. The Filipino workers in my cannery, Dissatisfied with the one who succeeded Larry, the Filipino workers in my cannery replaced him. In his stead, I was elected and served as the union delegate for the rest of my stay in the cannery. I worked in Alaska for fifteen consecutive summers. Fifteen! And each time I swore I would never return again. I got to meet Larry Itliong in Delano when I got back from Alaska when I visited my friends there. I also got to talk to him a little more when he came to San Francisco.

When I got back from my first year in Alaska, not only the labor strikes were brewing and proliferating, there were also the Ethnic Studies, Vietnam, Feminism, Gay issues, Hippies, the money complacency of the economic elites questioned mostly by the youth,  and the demonstrations and movements happening throughout the country and the world. While on my third or fourth year in Alaska, I got a telegram from Ed De la Cruz of West Bay telling me that I have or am being seriously considered for a teaching job at San Francisco State. They had gotten all their demands and that I was one of the few Filipinos at that time with a Master Degree and qualified to teach and write a curriculum. To this day seventy-five percent of the courses at the San Francisco State University’s Pilipino Studies program was written by me. When I got back I started teaching under Joaquin Legaspi (1969) and a year or two later became the teacher with Danilo Begonia as my grad Assistant.

The International Hotel was also in contention at the time. We were rallying and demonstrating to save the hotel. At the hotel basement we as writers and artists started a coalition of Asian American artists called Kearney Street Workshop and id photography, silkscreen, poetry and other artistic ventures. With Carlos Villa, (now deceased), renowned international Filipino American artist, and myself founded the Filipino American Arts Exposition (of which the Pistahan is part) in San Francisco. About thirty thousand Filipinos to this day attend this celebratory event of Filipino and Filipino American Arts and Artists. On the teaching of Tagalog/Filipino, I was one of the three people who persisted in getting it institutionalized in the California public schools. With regards to the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), I became a member at its inception, became the founder and first president of the San Francisco chapter. Currently, I am a member of the Board of Trustees of the national organization.

In 2010, I retired as a school teacher—having taught 12 years at San Francisco State, 9 years at Everett Middle School in San Francisco, 15 years at James Logan High School in Union City and 2 more years at San Francisco State again.  Along the way, I authored numerous stories, poems, and essays which have been anthologized internationally for about forty years now. I have two books of my own published so far: Seasons by the Bay (a novel in stories), and Full Deck, (Jokers Playing): Poems, a collection of poetry. I have more on the way. 

Now in my retirement years I go to the Philippines and sometimes do workshops and presentations in Writing, History, Culture, Education and Lifestyles.  Stateside, I continue to take interest and support the endeavors of our community. In retrospect, throughout the years, it seems I have had a three-folded education in living, growing: institutions, community, and personal experiences. Institutions were the schools—pretty self-explanatory. Community? Inspiring me and earning my admiration, that would be my friends and colleagues active, as well as those not so active, in the Filipino American communities throughout the country, with the San Francisco Bay Area being the focal point. Then, there is the Personal Experience education. This is my heritage. Sages and fools of my Philippine and Philippine American surroundings, their customs, their dreams and hopes, some selfish, some heroic; their brave visions, their stories of long ago swept me. I found out (much later, of course) that I was pretty well molded in values because of these. All this before I was twelve. Whether it is a credit to that richness of heritage, or a defect in my own abilities of perception, I have not learned much since. Probably a little bit of both. I speak Tagalog, Waray Visaya, and sometimes when I have to, English.

List of (creative and remembered) Publications

1.     Flips, Poetry anthology, San Francisco, CA, 1971

2.     Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers, Howard Univ. Press, 1974

3.     Liwanag: Literary and Graphic Expressions, Liwanag Publicatins, 1975

4.     Reading America, Prentice Hall, 1970

5.     Asian American Authors, Houghton-Mifflin, 1975

6.     Reflections, Scott Foresman Literature textbook, 1985 (?)

7.     World Literature, Scott Foreman Literature textbook, 1998

8.     Filipino Writings in America, story anthology, Anvil Press, Philippines

9.     Contemporary Filipino American Writings, story anthology, Anvil Press, Philippines

10.  Resistance in Paradise, American Friends Committee, 1998

11.  Reflections and Recollections, two stories, Tiboli Press, 2001, San Francisco

12.  North American Review, “Day of the Butterfly,” story, 2001, spring

13.  Amerasia Journal, 2000, spring, UCLA Press, “the Courier,” a story, and “Remembrances of the Unborn,” a memoir

14.  Growing Up Filipino: Stories for Young Adults, ed. by C. Brainard, PALH, Los Angeles, 2003

15.  Fil-Am: the Filipino American Experience, ed. by Krip YusonPublico, Philippines, 1999

16.  Growing Up Filipino II: More Stories of Young Adults, ed. by C. Brainard, PALH, Los Angeles, 2010

17.  San Francisco Noir2: The Classics, ed. by Peter Maravelis, City Lights Press, San Francisco, 2009

18.  Fields of Mirrors, An anthology of Philippine American Writers and Artists (PAWAINC), ed. by Edwin Lozada, 2008

19.  Seasons by the Bay, novel in (collection of) stories, 2004, T’boli Press, San Francisco

20.  Full Deck, (jokers Playing): Poems, T’boli Press, San Francisco, 2004

21.  Two Plays produced by the Asian American Theater in San Francisco, 1980; The Truant and Followers Of the Seasons

22.  Stories and poems put on the Stage by Bindlestiff Theater, San Francisco, several sessions/runs, 2006, 2011

23.  Prelude to a Gig, shot film from my short story of same name, 2012

24.  Recipient of the most prestigious award Gawad Ng “Alagad ni Balagtas,” by the union ng Mga Manunulat Sa Pilipinas (Writers Guild of the Philippines) in 2012 for his lifetime achievements of his writings and creating curriculum in schools