Captured in time

Alumna Juanita Tamayo Lott traces the history of Filipino Americans in Washington, DC.

Book-cover.jpgWhile editing the spring/summer edition of social-sciences newsletter Dialogo, I became intrigued by an alumni-news tidbit from Juanita Tamayo Lott, AM’73, about her new book, Filipinos in Washington, D.C. (Arcadia Publishing, 2009). Coauthored with archivist and photographer Rita M. Cacas, the work offers a historical account of DC-area Filipino Americans. It starts with the first settlers, who arrived in 1900, and extends through 1964, when the Capital Beltway now surrounding DC was completed. "Before the Beltway, not as many people owned cars," says Lott. "They lived closer together, and there was a stronger sense of community." Cacas selected and scanned the book's 200-plus archival images. Retired federal demographer and policy analyst Lott, a San Francisco native who moved to the DC-area almost 40 years ago, worked on detailed captions and overall theme. The authors, both of Filipino ancestry, spent hours interviewing descendants of the pioneer generation.

Interested in the locale (one of my previous addresses was in DC) and different cultures, I couldn’t resist ordering a copy. The images range from young families inside exquisite Victorian homes to blushing brides surrounded by taffeta-clad attendants to proud Navy officers posing in crisp uniforms. The photos and accompanying captions illuminate the lives of ambitious families who made their home in America’s capital.

Earlier this month, Lott spoke with UChiBLOGo about how she and Cacas pulled the book together.

QandA_QDrop.jpgHow did you and Rita gather all the photographs?
QandA_ADrop.jpgOne thing we did was to announce in the various places these families frequent—for example, churches and businesses: "We are looking for your family albums. Please make sure the photographs are black and white and from before 1964." And there was a family, the Toribios, who had lived in DC and then moved to Cobb Island, off of Annapolis, Maryland, bringing with them thousands of photos packed in Tupperware. Rita and I had access to these wonderful images—some are of the community’s annual balls.
QandA_QDrop.jpgThose photographs of the balls are breathtaking.
QandA_ADrop.jpgPeople cared about how they looked and really dressed up. And, as you can see in the images, even though there was segregation at the time, such events attracted a diverse crowd. One characteristic of Filipino Americans is that we tend to be quite open and receptive to other cultures. A lot of our children are of mixed-heritage. Rita and I also wanted to show that the people in this community saw themselves as Americans. Many of the Filipinos who arrived in Washington came to work for the government and did so via the military—the Navy, in particular, but the Army and Air Force as well. Even if you weren’t a U.S. citizen, if you had served in World War I or II, then you could secure a federal job. Public service was a big deal for these people, as was civic-engagement—getting involved in social groups such as the local woman’s club or the PTA or the taxi association. They joined organizations, and not just those for Filipinos.
QandA_QDrop.jpgEven though the photos are taken from personal family albums, Filipinos in Washington, D.C. seems to hit on a number of broader themes. There are images of war veterans, activists, people who worked for NASA.
QandA_ADrop.jpgWe wanted to go beyond personal stories to talk about history. Significant things happened in the 20th century—wars, economic depressions—that changed people lives. It’s easy to forget that a lot of what we do is not in our control. Major events often determine our ability to move forward or not.
QandA_QDrop.jpgWhat sort of reception has the book received?
QandA_ADrop.jpgFilipino Americans from other parts of the country have told us that that they can relate to it. They’ve said, “You know, my family had that same journey.”

Katherine Muhlenkamp


Author Shines a Light on Local Filipino Heritage (, January 27, 2010)

June 23, 2010