i
was born and raised in Stockton, California, the daughter and
granddaughter of Filipina/o immigrants who called Stockton
home for much of the twentieth century. In my earliest mem-
ory of Stockton’s Little Manila neighborhood, it was 1977, and
I was a precocious five- year- old. My tatay—my father, Ernesto
Mabalon—led me across busy El Dorado Street to the corner
of Lafayette and El Dorado and nodded greetings to the elderly
Filipinos standing there, surrounded by the din and fumes from
the Crosstown Freeway. The uncles stuffed dollar bills and quar-
ters into my hands, and they greeted my father effusively in Taga-
log, Illonggo, Aklanon, and English. “Anong balita?” (What’s the
news?) was my father’s smiling response. Within minutes, I was
balanced on a stool at the counter of my grandfather’s diner, the
Lafayette Lunch Counter, the tips of my toes brushing the foot-
rest. My white- haired, dimpled lolo, Pablo “Ambo” Mabalon, set a
plate of my favorite steaming hotcakes in front of me. As I ate, I
listened to the elders around me, who were making kuwento—tell-
ing stories—and roaring with laughter. This was not history to me,
at least not then. This was just another morning, my father’s day off
from work in the fields, with my favorite breakfast.
Almost two decades later, I was a student at the University of
California, Los Angeles, and was home for the weekend. I had just
read a riveting book, America Is in the Heart, by a Filipino author,
Carlos Bulosan, which was required reading in my Filipino Ameri-
can history course. I asked my father about Bulosan, and the story
he told me continues to intrigue and astound me. From the 1930s
to the early 1950s, Bulosan used the Lafayette Lunch Counter at 50
East Lafayette Street as his permanent address in Stockton. When-
introDuction
reMeMBering LittLe ManiLa
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