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At home on many islands, and one

Bainbridge’s Filipino-American community shares its stories on Sunday.

The event is billed as a panel discussion, but it’s likely to turn into a party.

The history of the island’s Filipino-American population is the subject of a first-ever presentation, sponsored by the Bainbridge Island Historical Society, Sept. 19 at the Filipino-American Hall. The building is at the heart of that community’s history, hosting scores of lively celebrations over the years.

For those who turn out to participate in a discussion with Filipino-American community leaders, eat traditional Filipino foods like pansit and chicken adobo, and view displays of crafts, the day may be an introduction to a longtime group of island residents.

For the Filipino-Americans who share stories, food and handicrafts with the larger community, the day is likely to be a nostalgic look back at events held at the first building associated with that ethnic community to be listed in the National Registry of Historic Buildings. The hall was built in 1943 and extensively renovated and re-opened in the mid-1990s.

“I like to recall my childhood experiences and share my memories of growing up here,” said Felix Narte, Jr. “The Filipino-American Hall was a very important part of that. Oh, boy it was great. I mean, just the experience (of being) here. It was a crowded hall then, with weddings, baptisms or just a party. It was just something.”

The Sunday event is important to both the Filipino-American group and the island at large, president Rudy Rimando points out, because newer islanders need to be introduced to an ethnic group that represents a big slice of island history.

“This is the very first time that we’ve done an event like this,” Rimando said. “It’s the first time the Bainbridge Island Historical Society is co-sponsoring it. And we are very grateful to them for doing that, because it will also help us to be known to some community members who don’t know much about the Filipinos and how they came here and how we became part of this community.”

Islands to island

Bainbridge was the first place in Puget Sound that Filipino immigrants settled; they first moved here in 1883 to work at the Port Blakely mill.

After the United States annexed the Philippines in 1898, immigration to the United States from the islands increased.

That passage of Filipino history, the “pre-Bainbridge” era, will be featured Sunday in a presentation by Indianola author William Schroder, whose debut novel “Cousins of Color” chronicles what Schroder calls “America’s first overseas war of conquest and domination.”

The U.S. acquisititon of the islands had one benefit for Filipinos who desired to come to the States: as U.S. nationals, they were not prevented from entering the country by the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act that restricted Japanese and Chinese immigration.

When the Great Depression hit the Philippines in the late 1920s, 44 young men came to Bainbridge. Here, they found that the Filipino “sakada” system of hiring out as contract laborers in the pineapple and sugar fields easily translated to helping harvest the strawberries Bainbridge became noted for after Port Blakely mill closed doors in 1914.

When the Japanese berry farmers were removed from Bainbridge during World War II, Filipinos ran many of the large farms clustered around Island Center and Lovgreen Road.

During the 1940s, about 60 Coast Salish women from Canadian reserves, who came here annually to pick berries, married Filipino men. Their children, the “Indipinos,” are still part of Bainbridge’s Native population.

Picking berries was hard work that paid about 60 cents a crate in 1942. After a long day in the hot sun, the community would gather to dance, sing and picnic.

The social scene at the Filipino-American Hall embodied the closeness of the farming community, Narte says.

“People would all help one another,” he said. “Then there’d be a feast right after.”

Although that history is familiar to Narte from childhood and family stories, the upcoming event is a way to refresh memory.

Narte says he appreciates the part played by the Historical Society in preserving his past, both in organizing the day and presenting the history at the museum’s new site on Ericksen Avenue.

“It’s a place where I can get in touch with my past,” he said. “It’s great what they’re doing. It exposes us, opens it up for people to know what it was like here – the early part of Bainbridge Island as we go now towards the future.”

* * * * *

A colorful heritage

The Bainbridge Island Historical Society presents a slide presentation and panel discussion, “Filipino-Americans: Our Years on Bainbridge” at 2 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Filipino-American Community Hall on High School Road. Filipino-American islanders will share stories about when they worked island farms. Filipino handicrafts and cuisine will be available. Information: 842-2773.

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