Scroll Top

KSW Co-sponsors the Alvarado Project

by KSW News, Jan 1, 1998

The Official Newsletter of Kearny Street Workshop

Winter 1998

KSW will work with members of the Alvarado Project to present Through My Father’s Eyes, a pictorial exhibit on the pioneering Filipino American communities of San Francisco and California during the post war era- circa 1950 on September 9, 1998 in the Jewett Gallery at the SF Main Library. This historical photo exhibition of the City’s Filipino American community will feature a selection of work by the late Ricardo O. Alvarado (1914-1976) from an archive collection of over 3,000 4×5 portrait works. The Alvarado Project is headed by his daughter Janet Alvarado.

Ricardo O. Alvarado’s photographs paint a picture of Filipino life in the City and neighboring rural farm communities during the post war era, showing how Filipinos both maintained their cultural heritage and participated as members of the broader community to build their lives in the City. His work is a testimony to the Filipino presence in San Francisco that has existed in such areas as South Park, Manilatown, South of Market, the Fillmore, North Beach, and Nob Hill. Since the turn of the century, many manongs (elders) lived or came to these areas during the off season to work as cooks, houseboys, dishwashers, bell-hops, and warehousemen.

The exhibit will emphasize the cross-cultural exchange in the City’s diverse ethnic communities. Portraits of African American, Anglo American musicians, workers and friends show the diversity of the City’s community-at-large.

There will be a timeline highlighting significant periods in Filipino American history in the last 100 years. A catalogue consisting of pictures and historical text will also accompany the exhibit. In addition, there will be a ten minute video loop that will bring the visuals to life by capturing the stories of the older generation of Filipinos. This video will be part of a longer piece that will preserve the memories of Ricardo Alvarado’s peers, many of whom are still around.

Selections of work from the Alvarado Collection have already been slated to be part of other major shows – “Sino Ka, Ano Ka”, curated by Carlos Villa, which will premiere at the SFSU Art Gallery at SF State: and in the “Harlem of the West”, curated by Lewis Watts and Rupert Jenkins at the San Francisco Art Commission Gallery. Several photographs will appear in “Cipactli”-Volume 8 Summer/Fall, a book being published by Alejandro Murgia.

Ricardo Alvarado was an immigrant who arrived in California from the Philippines in 1928 as part of the first wave of immigrants known as the manong generation. He made his living as a janitor and a “houseboy” until 1942, when he joined the famed first Filipino infantry of the United States Army, formed to fight the Japanese in the Pacific realm. He served as a medical attaché during the war, then signed up for reserve duty for an additional four years. In 1948 he was discharged, and he returned to San Francisco. As a civilian, Alvarado found employment working for the Army, and he worked long hours as a cook at the Letterman Army Hospital at the San Francisco Presidio.

Alvarado’s photographs capture a complex social climate. He lived through and recorded not only the euphoria brought on by the end of the war, but also the prevalent anti-immigrant discrimination, oppressive job restrictions, and frightening racial unrest of the time. He found kinship among his kababayan (Filipino countrymen) and those outside his ethnicity, through his group and solo portraits of Filipino-Americans with African Americans, Mexican

Americans and Anglo-Americans. The faces depicted in these photos reveal much to the viewer: hope, dignity, harmony, joy, grief, hardships, and respect. Alvarado embraced the contradictions of his subjects’ lives with his camera’s eye.

The collection of negatives, which has been well preserved in the basement of Alvarado’s home for the past twenty years, has special significance to the history of San Francisco. No other collection as extensive has surfaced that represents the Filipino in San Francisco during the post-war period.