Saturday, September 27, 2014

Dorothy Cordova, Founder, Director, Historian & Archivist, F.A.N.H.S.

Dorothy generously devotes her time to the Filipino American National Historical Society which she and her late, lamented husband founded in the 1980s and now is a strong nationwide organization. While both Cordovas were determined and effective activists (while raising eight children) Dorothy also carved out an impressive career as an historian and archivist.

Have you lived in the Central Area your whole life?

I was born here. Actually, I was born at 420 Broadway...You see, I don’t know what people call the Central Area anymore.

I’m letting people define it themselves because it’s shifted over the years.

For those of us who lived here for a long time the Central District, the CD, was the boundaries of the Immaculate (Church) as the Catholic School in the Central Area. On one side the boundary was 27th and Denny where we lived on 27th and Denny at one time. If I lived across the street, I would have gone to St. Joe’s. If I lived to the east, I would have been in St. Theresa's parish. My family was right on the edge. So (for us) that was the boundaries for the CD. 

Immaculate Conception Church.

Then, when Model Cities came in, those boundaries changed. They were reconfigured by the African-Americans who were in charge of Model Cities, basically. The boundaries were very roughly shaped like a bird, and the tail of the bird was Interlaken, believe it or not. 

Model Cities Program. 1971

Once again, I lived right on the edge. Still, I was born on 420 Broadway which is in the Central Area, and my second home was across the street from Garfield (High). When I got married I was a senior at Seattle U, and I lived about 3 blocks away from Seattle U towards this parish (Immaculate). Next, I moved out of the Central Area for a while, I was at 3119 East Ward.

Essentially though, my whole life was Central Area, because my kids went to school here, my church was here, and my parents, sisters, and brothers were still living there. Then, I moved to the other side of the Arboretum. Even though technically I may live outside, my whole life has been here. This is my second home. 

Former Immaculate Conception School. Headquarters of the
Filipino American National Historical Society

I went to school here at Immaculate, but I also went to school at a place called Maryknoll (School), which was on 16th and Jefferson. When the Japanese were sent to the camps in 1942 (from Maryknoll school) then all (remaining students) the Filipino kids moved here to Immaculate. That pretty much integrated the school.

At that point, what was the racial mix?

The school had been basically white. There were some African-American kids there, at that time they were known as Negroes, that terminology has changed over the years. My best girlfriend for years was the first girl to greet me. When Sister introduced me to the class, this was in late March; I didn’t know anybody. This tall African-American girl came marching up and shook my hand and said, “I’m glad you’re here.” I think she was glad because now there was another person of color. I was the smallest girl in class and she was the tallest, but we were inseparable for years. The school was mixed.

Most of the white kids, well, it was interesting. When I reflect back on them they were usually the children of immigrants or the grandchildren of immigrants. A number of the kids at home probably spoke another language. There was Italian, French, even Yugoslavian there. Similarly, at my house, Filipino was spoken. My parents were from the north of the Philippines. At the time, most of the Filipinos in Seattle were Ilocano’s from the north part.

This is Ilocano country, not Tagalog country. Some of the earliest families living here in Seattle were Visayan, but the majority of the people here for a time, prior to 1965, were Ilocano from the north and they didn’t speak Tagalog.

So you started here at Immaculate, and then for high school...did you go?

There was a high school upstairs. I went from the last part 5th grade to high school here. I graduated and went to Seattle University.

You were in Catholic schools for the whole duration.

Yes, sixteen years, all my schooling was maybe within eight blocks. Then I got married and started having kids, I have 8 children. I started to work again when my oldest son was in college then and the youngest was starting first grade. Then my husband (Fred Cordova) and I helped start an organization called Filipino Youth Activities. We started it in the Central Area, at the old Maryknoll Center, which became the Saint Peter Claver Center in 1955, no 1957. We moved into the Saint Peter Claver Center before Bob (Santos) was there. 

Non-extant Maryknoll Center.
Courtesy of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Maryknoll US
What were the youth activities?
We did folk dancing, we taught classes in a lot of different things, we had the drill team. My husband started the drill team. We had all kinds of things going, all the time, there were also events that took place all year. We tried to provide wholesome youth time activities for our Filipino kids. That was pretty much my volunteer life for around 25, 40, 50 years?

The intent was for the activities to keep kids out of trouble or…

Yes. To keep them out of trouble.

Photo: Collection Dorothy Cordova

What was going on that was troubling?

Well, to give you that background we’re going to have to go back further in time (laughs), because, I’m really old and there’s many parts of my life (to remember).

When I was growing up my brother, he’s now an art professor, started a youth group at our church. It was called Filipino Catholic Youth. A lot of the kids living in the Central Area attended, they were either in the Central District or on the fringes, most of the other kids lived pretty much within blocks of Maryknoll. We had this youth club, and we all went to school, we all graduated high school together. Then some went to college and some men went to the Service.

When they returned and were starting their families there were those who were afraid some of their children could get in trouble. I remember them coming to our apartment and asking my husband if he could help with the youth group. By that time Fred (Cordova, her late husband) was working for the Archdiocese, he was the sports reporter for the Catholic Northwest Progress.  So he got involved with the CYO Catholic Youth Organization, it was basically for boys.

So you can understand, those of us in the second generation were all starting our own families at the same time - a whole bunch of us. This subject is a class I could teach for a quarter, so it’s hard (laughs) to even begin to encapsulate it into a short form on the Central Area.

With a lot of the kids, well... it was a mixed bag. Some of the kids we worked with in the Filipino Youth Activities (FYA) were our children and they were third generation kids.

We worked with them in the Asian-style. Yet we (the parents of the kids in the FYA) were not the first generation; we were born here. Our parents were the ‘Issei’  (immigrants) as they’d term it in Japanese; we were the ‘Nisei’, the second generation.

We were born here, as were our kids. All of us who founded the FYA were second generation, and we started activities for our children who were 3rd generation. Still, there were a number of kids (in the group) who were second generation because their Dad’s were the same age as our parents and had married younger women; the war brides. There were many Filipino men (compared to the number of women here). In the state of Washington early on, the ratio of male to female was 6% female. 

Photo: Collection Dorothy Cordova
However, in the state of Washington there were not anti-miscegenation laws. So, the majority of kids that I grew up with were Mestizos. A lot of the kids were: Filipino-Native American, Filipino- Caucasian, Filipino-Black, a few Filipino-Japanese but not too many, and no Filipino-Chinese.

Now why’s that?

Because there were very few Chinese women.

(Laughs) That would do it. That’s right, I remember that (Chinese Exclusion Act) now.

Basically, the Mestizos here were Filipino-White, or Filipino-Native American who had come from Alaska or the reservations here. So for the longest time in the FYA that was the make up of our group. Unlike the other Filipino community organizations we gravitated towards the children who were the children of our friends and like our friends were also Mestizos. Many of our kids for the longest time were mixed. It was easy for us to start out the FYA because most of the kids could walk to Maryknoll. Later on, we moved to Atlantic Street Center

I interviewed Mr. Ike Ikeda, who was Director of the Atlantic Street Center for many years.

We used to be located there for a while, that’s where Fred started the drill team. We met every Saturday here in the Central Area. Also at that same time, during the 1960s and late 70s, Fred was involved in Civil Rights. He was a good organizer so he was out there a lot during the 60s.

Those were really interesting days. I remember when we moved near a block away from Broadmoor but outside of the wealthy enclave.  I was pregnant with Damien, the son you met, he was my number-two-son. Eventually, we had five more kids so we were bursting out of our house. Then, we tried to move from our first house, which was right on the other side of the Arboretum.

We started looking around for another house - this was before Open Housing. So, it was hard. There was one house we looked at and we signed the paper. By the time we got home we were told the house had been sold. Those were pretty rough days. My husband was really involved in a lot of things one was Affirmative Action. I have a picture of the march for Open Housing, the two kids carrying the banner out front are my two sons with the FYA Drill Team banner. Even our parish priest here was involved in civil rights. I don’t know if Bob mentioned Harvey McIntyre; he was our parish priest here (at Immaculate Conception Church). 

Photo: Collection Dorothy Cordova

So, there was a lot of trouble in the 1960s. The school gradually saw the neighborhood changing. Down where my grandparents lived the whites were moving out and the blacks were moving in. This area was not always all black. It started to become black when the war (WW II) broke out you had this huge influx of people from the country (from the south, for the War Effort). I remember as a kid walking home seeing garages being turned into rental units for people to live.

I remember where I lived in Madison Valley when we were growing up there were three houses sitting in the woods along one square block. Gradually, all these little woods disappeared as they put up duplexes in 1942. We started to see all the fun places where we played going away.

We had unique little bungalows, and they’re still there. Some of them are disappearing because now Madison Valley is becoming pricey.

Anyway, I’m going to backtrack a bit because when I was growing up in Madison Valley up the hill on 23rd Ave and Madison was where the blacks lived. There were more businesses up there more than over here (near Immaculate Church).

Mr. Grose’s Plat is where that community started in 1890, roughly.

All my memories of that area before WWII are the old churches on 23rd Ave. and Madison St. and along the strip there, there was a Japanese market, a pool hall and some other places as well as black businesses. If you took a right as Madison started to go downhill there were other black businesses there. It’s all vacant now. There was Mr. Strickler’s Drug Store and other places. You know the history of this place, don’t you?

I’m picking it up as I go.

All that land was owned by an African-American gentleman.

 I’m not sure how much land he owned up into Denny, but I’m sure he owned…

It was around 12 acres.

I know that he did sell of some of his land. I know that, Millie Bown (famed musician - YouTube link) who is African-American, and her family lived further up there. I interviewed her about the neighborhood. It was my neighborhood too. We were the only Filipino family in the Valley. In fact, we moved there because my father was a businessman so he could (afford to) live there. 

My father was murdered. He was shot by a white man (laughs ruefully), but that’s beside the point. That was back in 1936. Part of that was that nobody let their kids play with my brothers and sisters and I.  

He got shot by a white man. My father bought this gold mine from this white guy, who was kind of ‘cuckoo.’ I remember the day he was killed, I had just turned 4 years old. That day sticks in my brain. It’s probably why I became a historian because I am reliving the past. My father came in the house, he was always in a suit unlike other men. He was on the way to meet his two lawyers downtown. This guy came in and shot one lawyer, killed the other lawyer, shot my father and the first lawyer escaped.

A woman who did a biography on my brother spent many years doing research. One day she called me to say, “You’re really going to be upset about this.” I said “Why?” Her research covered the court case. When Mr. Correal (the murderer) was tried, he was never tried for the murder of my father, just for the white lawyer.

All this time I always thought he was sentenced to life in prison because he had killed a man who had had five kids. I forgot he was a Filipino. You consider back in those days we were considered (to be) nothing. You know, things like that stick in your brain.

That’s awful…

Really and truly… It’s (pauses) you could imagine... I was probably the most neurotic person you ever met. Coming home from school to my house, the safe enclave was school. The safe enclave was my house, but I had to walk 18 blocks to my house. If I was alone it was like going through territory that was…

Unfriendly territory?

Yes, because you didn’t know if people would say comments about you or whatever. The area around us was basically white. The kids who lived here all looked the same. My brothers and I had to go through it, because it was where our father put us before he died. It was ok because we had woods near us. They didn’t have any woods over there. 

When you were walking home, was it just words or…

Sometimes they would throw stones at you, or make comments. I remember walking past Mayrand’s drugstore on 23rd Ave; back in those days every drugstore had a soda fountain. Now, I would go inside Strickler's on 23rd and Madison, because I knew the people. They were all people of color. I could get a magazine, read it, while I’d drink something. If I went in Mayrand’s, I was never waited on.

I remember one day in 8th grade, a bunch of my girlfriends decided to go to Mayrand’s. They went to sit at the counter. They said, “Aren’t you going to sit with us?” I said, “No, no...” They insisted, so I sat there; knowing full well what was going to happen but I didn’t want to say anything. The waitress waited on everyone, and then one of my girlfriends, Jenny said, “Did you take her order?” The lady looked exasperated and, I was so shy, I just said, “Oh, I don’t want anything.” I knew that she would have taken my order and would just have thrown it...

So, all this made me very...neurotic. I think actually all those little slights actually built up and when the time came for the Civil Rights Movement I suddenly became a loud-mouthed person.

Instead of making you feel less than over time, it turned into steel.

Oh, yeah.

Photo: Madeline Crowley
It made you a fighter.

It did, though, never for myself. It was so funny. My husband said, “You’re so scared of everybody.” I said, “Yes.” If I was standing in line and some white person would step in front of me I wouldn’t say, I’m here. I would never; I’d let them do it. People would say why are you letting them? Yet, when I’d see them do it to somebody else, I would say something.

It’s because I’m afraid of what’s going to happen. It’s so ingrained in my brain. But during Civil Rights, because of the job I had working for Bob Santos. Did he tell you he hired me? (laughs) I was dogged. It was their committee.

I’m more comfortable in the background. Still, I found my tongue in Civil Rights. I found validation to speak out. Actually, if I had lived on the north end, or down in Beacon Hill, I don’t think I would have been as effective as I became.

I was never the one to be featured in the newspaper like Bob (Santos) was, I was the one doing the research. I’m the one who they would throw out to go talk the Boeing people, or the UW School of Medicine. I was just aiding them.

Then, when the Vietnamese (refugees and immigrants) came (to Seattle) my office was the first to receive them (and advocate for them). We were doing state of the art things (actions and research) we worked our way out of business. Basically, we were the research arm to give people the material by which they could write (their own) proposals.

At the same time… I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. You see, when you work with people for a while who have real needs, especially immigrants, who think you have the power to change their life, but you can’t. You’re all people of color, you’re fighting the system; and it isn’t going to work.

There were times that I just became too involved with the people I was working for and I took their despair personally. It wasn’t only during Civil Rights, it was during the Social Revolution. I was going full out, I had 8 kids; I was doing research as part of my job, and I was volunteering at the youth program, the FYI (Filipino Youth Initiative). We were now turning FYI into a social service agency. It was all became too much for me. In 1972, the state threw me a life preserver and asked me to work on oral history.

Photo: Collection Dorothy Cordova
I thought, “My God, this is really something!” There’s nothing about us out there. I felt like we weren’t out there because in the history books there was no mention of my people; it’s like we didn’t matter. We were...inconsequential. When I was growing up going to a Japanese school, Maryknoll, (they’d probably be mad if they heard me saying this) they used to call me Colombo, my brothers and I. They used to call the Filipinos ‘Colombo’ behind their back; I knew what it meant. It’s a derogatory term for darker. Colombo is not a nice word.

There are a lot of mean words for people. That’s hard when you’re little; kids can be brutal.

The kids learned it from their parents. The impact that had on my brother and I was we decided that we would outdo the Japanese kids. We had to become smarter than them. My brother had to be a better artist. We were accepted, but they didn’t accept my little brothers. Now, I’m not a stupid woman. My first job after my father died was to take care of my little brothers and sister.

So all these little things, all my life I’ve always wondered. I’ve seen it with Filipinos; the ones direct from the Philippines, they discriminate awfully against blacks. I have 17 grandkids, and three are Filipino-Filipino, four are Filipino-Mexican, the rest are Filipino African-American. It really pisses me off when people from the Philippines make derogatory remarks about blacks. I feel, Who the hell are you to even think this?

My husband and I were in the Central Area with our youth groups and working for the people for so many years. After Fred died (recently), itwas so amazing at his funeral how many young people we worked with over the years showed up. There were over 1,000, around 1,200 people showed up. It was crazy. A lot of them were people he had worked with, they were mixed blood many of them.

That made me think, this Central Area was a haven. Kids who lived in the Central Area, they act tough, when people look at my kids they’re all, “Oh, they’re Central Area.” They are Central Area because they talked a different way, they strutted a different way, there was a different way they did a lot of things. But, maybe part of it is a facade. Maybe that’s the way.

Maybe it’s protection. If you’ve been slighted, you protect yourself.

There was a camaraderie too. You know over the years the Central Area has changed. There’s just so many other people that you’ve interviewed...they left us. They left the area.

Almost everybody.

I never did. I’ve seen the changes. That why I did this project called, “The Many Transitions of the Central Area.” Even since I finished it the Central Area keeps changing.

I don’t drive, or take the bus to come to the office, I remember once as I’m walking up Union, Street, the young drug dealers would be standing on the corners. They weren’t threatening to me, they’d say, “Hi, Ma’am.” Well, maybe at first they’d be a little uptight, but if you treated them well… I’d think, “Well, what the hell; it’s all they can do!” I mean, there weren’t any jobs for them.

At one time jobs some youth programs were offered for those kids, but then all those dried up. Sure, there were shootings and things like that, but I can lay out for you the way this neighborhood, the Central Area, has changed. This is speaking as a person who has never left. There were times that I was afraid. Can you imagine being here (at the Filipino American National Historical office at Immaculate) around 10 - 11 at night in the 1970s when there were many people who wouldn’t dare come here even in the daytime? I’d be writing proposals and I’d tell my husband don’t come until late. People would ask, “Are you scared?” I’d say, “Well, of the ghost!” (Laughs) Of course, I had the doors locked; I’m not stupid. There were times I would come into the building and the building had been broken into. My door was kicked open and things were stolen. Those days are gone. 

Filipino American National Historical Society Office in the former Immaculate School. 

I remember even earlier when the neighborhood here was basically white, and as it was gradually turning African American. All of a sudden, changes came during wartime. People came here to work in defense plants either at Boeing or in the shipyards, or they were servicemen who ended up living in the housing projects. Where else could they move to (because of redlining)? Right by Garfield and down towards Yesler because were already Blacks living there. The more settled (early arrivals and pioneering black families) were living off Madison, where their businesses were: the grocery store, the pharmacist and his drugstore, a doctor, a dentist - the people who were educated.

The Black middle class lived up towards Madison. That’s where they had the YMCA. While over here (near Cherry Street) people were more working class, and then the transients. When the Blacks came of course they’re going to gravitate where they see people like them, and of course there was resistance.

There was a man; his name was Morris Hardcastle.

Yes, he’s mentioned quite often.

I swear to God, my dad knew him. My brother used to tell me he had a real estate office on 24th and Union. Honestly, that guy made money. He was telling whites that the blacks wanted to move in. That scared the hell out of them, so they would want to sell their house, and then he would turn right around and sell their house to the Blacks. So he was double dipping. And so gradually we started to see what had been all white become speckled with Black and white, and then eventually pretty much Black.

One of the first interviews I did was with a former fireman, and he said that Hardcastle broke the color line.
Yes, but he broke the color line by selling...he actually went and told the people the Blacks were moving in. How do you do that?! Now, think about that logically; how do you get a person who’s been living there 30 years to finally move out? Not unless there’s a danger.

So, he created fear. No, he operated on an existing fear.

And built on it. And it was true, they were moving in. But what houses were they going to move into? He had to create a vacancy.

You know, the first time it came up I naively misinterpreted it as, of Mr. Hardcastle was a civil rights activist bringing down redlining.

Oh, hell no! He was a businessman!

Sounds like a rapacious businessman.

What I heard from other people was that he was actually telling other people that the Blacks were moving in. Come on; give me a break. You don’t say that like, “Oh, would you like to sell your house? I really would like this neighborhood to be integrated?”

As Hardcastle came up and as the story developed I figured out he was not a 
good guy.

He made the whites move out. He helped move the color line! In a way, ok, there are sometimes blessings in disguise. He broke the color line all the way up past the Central District. Because no one considers the other side of 33rd Ave...

Yeah, he (Jack Dunn, the fireman) was talking about the other side of 33rd.

They were moving there because they didn’t want to live within 20 blocks (of blacks). Our parish changed. The whites moved out. Now, they didn’t move out all of a sudden; they moved out because they were afraid! Our school, we have pictures in the yearbooks here, we start seeing the high school change from pretty much white with a few blacks and Filipinos and one or two Japanese, into the latter years mostly people of color.

I wonder what a lot of people were afraid of.

They didn’t like people of color. Like I said before when my brothers and I moved into the neighborhood, the neighbors wouldn’t let their kids play with us.

But their kids in the neighborhood wanted to play with us because there were five of us and we were having a lot of fun. When it would rain, my mom (she’s from the Philippines) thought that’s a free shower! So it would rain and we would bring out our bathing suits and prance around; we were different. And there were a bunch of us. The other families had only one kid or two kids; there were five of us out there having a grand old time. All the kids wanted to play with us; after a while we became the house to go to after all the other parents decided, “Well, I guess they’re brown, we turn brown in the summertime too.” There were just good parts of the year.

I’m learning a great deal from this project; it’s why I keep doing it.

Did anyone ever talk about the riots that took place here?

Not really; tell me about that.

It’s because the others you interviewed, they weren’t here.

You’re right. Many had left.

It was pretty wild here.

What year was this?

God, I was the late 1960s? I wasn’t here (at the office in Immaculate) at the time but I interviewed a woman who was here. She was an old Filipino woman, and she lived on Cherry and 21st. She was coming home from a relative’s home and they couldn’t come down 23rd Avenue, because of the massing of the group was already starting. This group had come all the way around, they came from the north end and drove around but they (stopped to) tell them to get out of there. She said that once she was home all hell broke loose, and she stood by her window and watched it. They were coming up and throwing things. Her house was left alone because one of the older leaders was an old parishioner here, and he knew all her kids, so they left it her house alone. The next day some of her white neighbors moved out.

People knew people in the neighborhood at that time. So they were singling out the houses.

Some of the white neighbors had been here a long time too. But some of the rioters who were there didn’t know everybody. It worked both ways. There were some (white) people who stayed, but then Morris Hardcastle hadn’t gotten to them. They moved because it was kind of bad.

Even as a Filipino there were times when I could feel the tension. People would say, “Why are you still sending your kids to school here?” I’d say, “Well, I was working on Jefferson...” Maybe for me, it was a statement that I wasn’t afraid. Maybe for me, also it was because when we had our drill team, I felt more physically violated when we brought our drill team up to the north end (above the ship canal) where the white kids would yell at the team members, “Ching Chong Chinaman!”

I would scream at them, “Get it right; they’re Filipino!” You know, if you’re going to be derogatory at least get their ethnicity right. So, it doesn’t really matter. I could understand this thing (the anger). Hell, my father was killed by a white guy. So to me the Black guy wasn’t the devil, if I had to look for a devil it could well have been a white guy. My mom was very catholic, my mother prayed for that man every night. Anyway...bless my mom. 

Photo: Collection Dorothy Cordova

The thing is, what I really admired about the Immaculate School, the nuns at the school stuck it out. They were all white. There was a time when all the whites had moved out and there were a few kids left from poor black families, many of whom couldn’t pay. If they did they could only pay a little bit, so enrollment was going down. There was something like 10-12 nuns living on less than $1,000 a month to run a convent. The church, the parishioners would give them food and do other things. That was all part of the Central Area history.

The Central Area was also really dynamic too in the 1970s. Those were pretty exciting times. To me it was exciting anyway because a lot of things were happening in our office on Jefferson. We would have meetings but we didn’t have Facebook or Twitter to let people know. Still, you could say there’s going to be a meeting tonight and 100-200 people would show up. Nowadays, if you want to hold a meeting that has to do with concerns, you’re lucky if within a week some people will show up or even care. Back then people cared. Model Cities was right here on Jefferson and 18th, and across the street was CAMP, and across from that our parish with our Civil Rights priest. Then, a lot of the people in our parish were involved in those things one way or another.

Why do you think that decision to take action, to be activists changed?

I don’t know. People, maybe people got burned out. Maybe some things got accomplished, for example, Affirmative Action.

Part what I was doing when Bob (Santos) and his group hired me was to do research on issues. At that time, we were dealing with two different things. I was part of the old community that had a lot of problems. We had a growing elderly population, we had our youth, and it was also a time of Social Revolution. Also, we had new immigrants of a whole different type and orientation.

It wasn’t like my parents who came in as very young people having not finished high school or even grade school. Some of the new immigrants, though, which is an unusual thing about Seattle, a disproportionate number of these immigrants here intended to go to UW or WSU; they came to go to school. Still, a lot of the people I started to do research with were new immigrants coming after 1965. Things were really different for them.

Our office was on 16th and 17th then it moved here (to Immaculate Conception) we had to move after the Archdiocese sold St. Peter Claver Center to Providence (Hospital). We were doing research largely on immigrants as well as on the existing elderly and other issues. 

St. Peter Clavier Center, formerly Maryknoll. Non-extant.
Courtesy of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Maryknoll US

By that time Bob was (working) in Chinatown; that was a whole different set of issues. Chinatown is Chinatown, or the International District as they started calling it, but back here I was dealing with everything else. ‘Everything else’ had to do with most of the rest (of the Asian the pan-Asian community). Chinatown had to deal with all those people down there.

Then suddenly in 1975 my office was one of the first to start working with the Vietnamese. Different dynamic. My office was called the “Demonstration Project for Asian Americans" a group started by Bob and some other people, including Peach Emeril and people from California). It was a Demonstration Project, which was to mean short term. But it lasted 12 years, well for me, it lasted until 1971, until I closed the door on it in 1988. Most of that time I was working for nothing, but all that time was picking up research.

During the 70s we were doing all this, but when we moved the office to Immaculate the Vietnamese followed us. And so, they too were part of the Central Area. In fact, the Vietnamese Catholic Church was ensconced here, in our building and they used our parish for their 1:00 masses. And then in this building, we had all these social events.

When my office moved here a lot of the FYA moved here, the Filipino Youth Activity, so we had all these youth programs. There were problems with these Vietnamese gangs. There were also a lot of immigrant kids starting bilingual education, so we were doing the research on that. It was crazy. On top of that, we were beginning work with the Koreans. It was everything all at once.

Also at the same time, Dwight Pelz, (until recently) Director of the Democrats. Dwight was here too doing work with the neighborhoods. I mean; this building was hopping with Social Justice activity. The first school program for homeless kids started in this building. This is a very unusual building. The parish closed the school in 1975 in June, so then we had my office here, and the Vietnamese, and the FYA, and others.

We had black parishioners who were running food banks out of here. We had Catholic charities being reconstituted from here in this building. Every room was taken with a different entity: Dwight Pelz’s group, Fair Share, were calling attention of the city to the rat problems in this area. They brought a dead rat and put it on the desk of a city office. They were not beyond those kinds of things.

Dwight and his friend Rob went through the whole state getting petitions signed to stop the tax on food. A lot of different things started here. This was all here in the Central Area. So it wasn’t just black. I mean across the street was CAMP (Central Area Motivation Program), and over there was DHS, which is now called something else, and you had all the churches around here.

Photo: Collection Dorothy Cordova
It’s inspiring, there were conflicts and prejudice coming from some in the dominant culture and from some communities to other communities, but in this neighborhood you also have this continuous narrative of cooperation especially with the young people of different cultures finding common cause; particularly in the 1960s and 70s. That seems to have dissipated. I don’t know if it’s the pace of life or digital devices...

I think actually it started in the 1980s. When Reagan came in it became more or less the ‘Me Generation concerned about ‘What’s in it for me?’ There was a more overall altruistic feeling in the 60s. Then people didn’t want to go to war, they wanted equality, there was that whole tenor; it was about going beyond yourself.

After a while people started to feel (differently). For example, I have eight children, the first three did a lot Civil Rights actions. My last children didn’t. They were exposed to it, because God knows every time we would go down to protest and Fred would speak in front of the council we would bring a little entourage; we would make our kids go. Perhaps that’s why they wouldn’t get involved, because they felt, “Been there, done that, Mom.” Even though they had no idea what was going on. I don’t know; things do change with kids.

When I was in college, we were pretty much a ‘don’t rock the boat’ kind of culture. Then in the 1960s we were given permission, in the ‘70s we really were on. Those were the days when everyone swore a lot. I mean me, a good Catholic schoolgirl, all of a sudden (like a lot of kids) I discovered that the only way people would pay attention to me was if I was cursing. Then really...when I wanted bilingual education in public schools, I remember acting like a crazy person, “God dammit…” I was really angry. I was very angry.

Still it was funny, I spoke at Seattle Public Schools, then I went to Seattle Central Community College. There it was different because the guy in charge was my old classmate at SU. When I wanted to get bilingual education into the system at SCCC; he was my friend, he wasn’t the enemy. All I had to do was walk in, talk to him and be really reasonable, and that program is still in existence. 

In general, people deal with different people in different ways. I know that Bob was different with different people; and that’s the way you are. You knew where and when you had to curse and cuss in those days.

After a while, though, I didn’t like myself. I felt I wasn’t me anymore. I felt I was turning into this crazy lady.

A lot of the people I worked with (through the office, working for Asian immigrants) didn’t live here, they just came to my office which just happened to be in the Central Area. What was hard was they thought I was going to change life for them. And I had no power. None whatsoever.

I could just write about the issues, I could go talk to people about it, you know. We could end up on TV and speak about these issues, but who gave a hoot?

Other things were happening also. As I was going through the 1960s and late ‘70s another big issue was coming up, and that was Women’s Rights. That was big, really big. At that time my sister was working for the office of Women’s Rights. She had this neat idea of bringing together all these women, a panel with all these minority women speaking about our history of discrimination, and the audience was basically white. I remember after we were done, we were challenged: “Why didn’t you talk about the men? The men are our real enemies!” Oh, my God, all the women on the panel were thinking… one black woman who was a lawyer said, “Where do the kids learn discrimination from? From the knees of their white mothers!” 

Photo: Collection Dorothy Cordova
Oh my God, chairs were being thrown; my sister was going nuts. She said, “This is turning into something (bad)!” I said, “No, this is exciting, it’s the beginning of people talking about this (different experiences of discrimination).” I was challenged, I’m here from the Central Area and people are saying, “Oh no, you need to get involved in the Women’s Movement.” They didn’t understand that being Filipino, Filipinos don’t walk ten steps behind their husband.

Especially our mothers, I always felt sorry for our dads, because the women were pulling them by their nose. They were henpecked! So it was different, I didn’t understand what they (Women’s Movement) were talking about. I didn’t understand. I mean I understand what they were talking about, but that was their mothers - not me (and my experience).

I was talking about the discrimination Filipinos as a people were experiencing, or all people of color; it wasn’t just that women were being discriminated against. And some of the people perpetuating that discrimination were white women! So why then should my men become my enemies?

That’s true, the Women's Movement wasn’t sensitive to issues of color, it wasn’t sensitive to women saying, “No, my big problem isn’t men, my big problem is this culture that says I’m not important. And right now feminists are doing that by not listening to me.” And so, it became this thing that wasn’t for everyone. It has really suffered from that.

It was really funny because a lot of the women who were feminists became really good friends of mine. I’m pretty much a feminist, but I don’t hate men. I had five brothers, I have five sons, and I dealt with men, and I dealt with some women who were bitchy.

The thing is people are people, and you have to deal with them. I took their challenge up and I did a project. It was one of the best things I ever did. I received money through the Washington Commission for the Humanities.

It was called, “Minority Women in the Feminist Movement”. It was based on what I saw at my sister’s meeting for the city. I thought, “Wow, this is great.” I brought in all these different women from different points of view; women who didn’t think men were the enemy, women who were very comfortable with who they were, there were professional women who figured they were just as good (as men). I remember I did one show on PBS on KCTS, I got a good panel together. It was similar to what happened at my sister’s meeting; they were at each others’ throats! It was broadcast into Canada. Afterwards, I had several different events, I thought, “Oh God, this is really nuts.” It was so exciting, because people were dialoguing.

I’m digressing because you want (to discuss) the Central Area and I just happen to be here, but when the Central Area was changing over 20 years, society was changing. There wasn’t just a change in the neighborhood and who was living here, but changes in attitude regarding how people perceived each other. For example, in our school and in our church, we saw religious women going from habits to modern dress. They were still the nuns, and to be honest with you once they got rid of their habits, I thought they became more liberal. Some of them did. Maybe it was because they were given permission.

And those wimples hurt.

I know! (Laughs) We used to wonder if they had hair. The boys used to wonder if they had legs. Everything during that time was in such a great state of flux.

It must have been very exciting.

It was very...very different. Very, very different. But you know what saved my life? Oral history.

Fred Cordova serving as a deacon at Immaculate Conception Church.
Collection: Dorothy Cordova

I think that in 10 years I’ll be saying the same thing.

It saved my life because I was able to reflect; I was able to hear peoples’ stories.

I wonder, going back to what you were saying before, if that allowed you to step into who you are as a person? You like reading, you like talking, you like listening, you like history and research...instead of fighting these public battles when you are not by nature a fighter; so it costs you a great deal.

It was awful. I honestly thought, ‘What I really want is my Catholic teaching.’ (laughs) I wanted everything to be equal. I wanted everything to be fair. Things were hard to come by, and it was really hard. Some of the prejudice I felt came from people who were within my own religion. For example, O'Dea High School is where my boys went, my girls were here at Immaculate. O'Dea was pretty much white. Immaculate was pretty much mixed. I used to be really active in Mother’s Club, and I would hear comments from some of the other mothers talking about the ‘whores’ at Immaculate. (Long pause) They had no right to say that.

They were talking about children?

Yes, they were talking about kids who happened to be black. These were ‘good’ Catholic women who went to Communion every Sunday, I’m sure. There was a time during the late 1960s or early 70s when I honestly thought about leaving my religion. I really did, until I found my voice and figured, “Hell no! I’m going to stay here and be really mouthy and let them leave!”

I remember one of my old classmates at Seattle U, we were in Sociology together, because I was a Soc. major. He greeted Fred and I, with this kind of derogatory remark, he called us, the ‘Pinkos’. I’d say, “What does he mean?” I mean, we were taught (those values) by the Jesuits. Did I hear things differently (about being a Christian) in school? Did I process my religion a little bit differently?

You guys were in social activism at that time?

Oh yeah, we were big time.

So he thought you were a Communist.

Yeah! I mean, my God! What does that say about the Catholic Church? You know, that’s very telling.

See, my hero was Hunthausen, who was pretty much...he was really treated badly by the conservatives; to the extent that they complained to Rome, to the Vatican, about him.

One example I have, I don’t know what their problem was, but at that time there were a lot of priests leaving, and Hunthausen would meet with the priests; he would socialize with them. But he was also very open at that time too. He would go to protests, he would be part of the group who would go and protest over at Bremerton or wherever. He would say he would not pay a portion of his tax that would go to war.

People complained about that. There was a Bishop (now a Cardinal) in Washington D.C. who was sent here to oversee him.

Hunthausen was very good to me. He put me in two national conferences: for the campaign of Human Development; and for the catholic bishops. Every time that I would identify myself as being from Seattle, you could tell who the liberals were in those committees because they would all come up to me and tell me that they were praying for Hunthausen. He was their hero; and this was priests and laypeople.

There were always within the Catholic Church people who questioned… the present Pope (Francis) isn’t like that (conservative). I just hope the new pope stays alive long enough, he’s pretty old.

Some are afraid he’s going to get killed, because he’s disenfranchising some powerful people who went into the Church because of the potential for a lavish lifestyle. They’re not being promoted and they’re being stripped of some of their luxuries…

Well, shame on them! The church wasn’t started for them! He’s going back to where it should have been.

Right, he’s going back to the real values. And so God help him.

Truly. I always figured that Pope John XXIII didn’t live long enough, but he changed everything, and that’s why the nuns got out of their habits.

Just like how the Central Area changes, our church changes, our politics change, the government changes. It’s...well… I’ve talked about everything else but the Central Area (chuckles)

No, your experience is part of the Central Area. This is the way it normally goes, I let people start with where they grew up, and then I let them talk about their life because what I hope to paint is a portrait of all these people who in their own way lived and loved and were here, as well as those who contributed but like Bob (Santos) and Doug (Chin) moved away.

Well, Bob would have a group called the 16th Avenue Gang, he probably told you about that; the neighborhood thing.

They had a reunion. It’s funny because it started differently, it started with one of my younger brother’s ideas. My brother used to work at this place called The Snack Bar. It was this place where especially the Blacks, talk to Eddie Rye, do you know why Eddie is? You need to talk to him; he’s Central Area. Ask him about The Snack Bar. Anyway…

I think Carver Gayton mentioned The Snack Bar.

It was a place that young Blacks could go to on weekends. I was told, there were so many people there on weekends they would spill out onto the street because they had nowhere else to go. The ones running the business were my brothers; so people thought they owned it but they didn’t. The Flajoles owned it, and my brothers ran it because they used to work at Ivar’s, so they knew how to fry fish. My dad was a night chef over at Ivar’s, so he was friends with the Flajoles who wanted to make extra money. They had a big parcel where the bank is, then it was just a little gas station, so they put a little building there called The Snack Bar. It was a hangout for the kids for years. 23rd Ave and Union, had a lot of businesses all around that corner. It was very vital. Now, it’s dead, really dead but things are changing. What’s going up on all those corners? Apartments or condos?

Yes, with retail below. So it’ll be completely different in 7 years.

A lot of the black businesses are going to be moving out.

And already have.

I don’t know where they’re going to go.

Was there, in general in your experience, a good relationship between blacks and the Filipino community?

It depended. It depended on who the Filipinos were and who the Blacks were. I’m not sure about the parents, but there was a lot of intermarriage (amongst the kids of the 50s). A lot of kids hung around together; they went to school together. Like I said, my best friend was Patti Bown (famed musician)

She was black and I was Filipino. So we were together from 5th grade into college. A lot of my brothers and my children’s friends were black. In this school it was Black and Filipino basically, starting in the late 1960s to the time it closed. For about 15-16 years or so. So my brothers and sister’s friends were a mixture; whoever was there you know?

That’s one thing that’s very cool about this neighborhood. On the East Coast you’d have a Little Italy and a Chinatown and kids wouldn’t really mix exactly the way they did here. I think Quincy Jones also spent a lot of time with Filipinos.

He did. It was interesting, because he never mentions Japanese or Chinese but he always mentions Filipinos. Maybe it’s because Filipinos were more, how would I say? I don’t know…

I’ve only been to a couple of Filipino events, but I’d have to say that from those few experiences that Filipinos parties are a lot of fun.

We are a lot of fun.

Very warm and welcoming communities, lots of dancing, lots of food and just a real emphasis on wanting you to join the fun.

We’re different, and we know that. I see this all the way because I do national events. My organization, I’m the Executive Director of a national organization. This whole thing with blending with different races, we’ve always done that where some of the others might have not or they looked down (on mixing). Now, I’m talking about my generation. I’m not too sure about the people who came after 1965. Maybe we mixed, and our kids did, because we needed to, or it was the neighborhoods we lived in.

I started teaching around 1989 at UW and I’d ask the kids, where do you live? Early on a lot of the kids were third generation Filipinos, they were like my kids with smatterings of the others. But then towards the end in 2000 and in this Millennium a lot of the kids were 2nd generation, they were as young as my grandchildren. And they never lived in the Central Area.

They didn’t even live in Seattle! They weren’t in Beacon Hill; they lived up north or in Shoreline, Bellevue, Edmonds, Tacoma, Bremerton. You know, they were Navy kids.

I started to see and tell everyone in my group, we have to really be aware of demographics, because it tells a history; there’s a pattern. After WWII, those of us who were the old families, we lived here in the Central Area. The new families who came later who were Bataan Corregidor the military people, they were the sergeants. They lived up north close to Fort Worden, because it was military. So their enclave is from Fort Worden to Magnolia or north. It was just that.

I could almost tell what they did. They’d say, “Oh, how do you know?” I’d say, “It’s something you know instinctively.” If their father was from Bremerton, I’d say, Oh is your father in the Navy? Well, it’s a no brainer if you’re second generation. Even people my age, their fathers were in the US Navy. Most of them then in those days, they were Mestizos, because there weren’t any Filipino women, so now when they’re US navy they’re Filipino Filipino.
Yeah, that’s the way it is. Now, if they come from this area, a lot of the time they intermarry. Like Bob Santos, he’s like me. A lot of his grandkids are mixed blood. But then we’re Central Area people.

That’s why I kind of want to capture this history, because it was these moments in time and these people creating things together.

This mixing of peoples, if you give everybody a chance to get an education, it becomes this beautiful growth that’s good for the county. There were some amazing things that happened here because the kids shared. The kids shared their experiences, the kids shared their cultures, they shared their food; they danced together. And if you create an opportunity where there’s enough parity…  But today in the community, you may have people who live next to each other who…

Who don’t talk.

They don’t talk. There are people were here since 1947, now on a fixed income. The new arrivals might be from Korea or Canada with an enormous income. Even if the grandkids are the same age as the newcomer’s kids, their realities are so different.

The Central Area is changing; again. I’m 82 years old. I remember when I lived across the street from Garfield High, I have really vivid memories of that. I was there for around 2 years. We lived upstairs and the landlord was a Jewish family.

It was on Terrace. It’s still there; it’s a duplex. We lived upstairs. Of course, my mom and dad had a restaurant in Chinatown where the post office is now, that’s the door to our place. I remember the wooden sidewalks there then.

My mom would tell stories. Once, my uncles brought over a roast pig. And they’re Jewish downstairs. My mother was saying the woman downstairs was upset. I had to explain to my mother many years later that the Jewish, they don’t eat pork, Mom. You were bringing a whole dang pig over. But, she didn’t know. It didn’t even occur to my mom that they shouldn’t bring a entire pig that’s going to be roasted. They brought and roasted it in the side yard! (laughs) I don’t remember exactly because I was too little; we moved out of there when I was three. I was probably there for only two years.

Things do change. The other thing I remember about growing up here were all the Jewish businesses. It wasn’t until later that I realized there were a lot of Jewish people here, a lot of synagogues. The only one that’s left is the one here on Union.

Yes, they all left. I think the Synagogue on Union is Reform, and all the businesses and synagogues over here were Sephardic. The Sephardim left in the early to late 1960s and went to around Seward Park. I interviewed one woman who is anonymous for this project, and she said they were driven out by black unrest.

Or they were driven off because they were afraid of the blacks. It was a half a dozen and then a one sixth of another.

That was probably when the riots came through. I wasn’t here the night of the riot but I came to work the next day, because I didn’t live here.

What was it like the next day?

I had read about it in the papers, and then I came over. Everybody was buzzing about it because the nuns were here. And my kids were going to school here. Still, I never thought about taking my kids out of school here.

Were there many burned down buildings?

Not too many that I know. A lot of rocks were being thrown. I should probably listen again to the tape of auntie to see. She was describing what she saw from her window. She lived a block away, two or three blocks away from Garfield High where they were massing and then coming that way. Quincy Jones lived around 2 blocks away from Garfield, a block and a half away.

He would have been gone by then.

He was gone by then, but his family, his brother Richard who’s now a judge, was still living there. You should interview Richard!

You’re the second person to tell me I should interview Richard.

He’s a nice man. 

(Dorothy Cordova came to this project via the Filipino American National Historical Society)

Special thanks to Zachary Hitchcock for his hard work with transcription.

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2014  All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

This project was supported in part
by 4Culture's Heritage Program


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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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