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Filipinos Bring a New, Exotic Touch to Eagle Rock

May 01, 1986|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Where can you find the latest movie from Manila, canned banana blossoms or relyenong manok-- Tagalog for sweet and sour stuffed chicken?

Drive through Eagle Rock these days and you'll see small shops selling such wares from the Philippines. They sit tucked among purveyors of more traditional Americana--the 60-year-old hardware stores, the neighborhood barber shops.

With its ethnic grocery stores, small restaurants and musical dialects, the Filipino community is changing the landscape of Eagle Rock, splashing daubs of exotic color on the staid main streets and homes with white picket fences that characterize the area.

Eagle Rock, once a bastion of working-class whites and conservative values, today attracts an increasing number of Asians and Latinos. The Filipinos, who are among the largest and most visible of the new settlers, say they are drawn by the area's reasonably priced housing, low crime and good schools.

"Eagle Rock . . . that is where Filipinos move after they have climbed up the economic ladder to where they can buy their own homes," said Gilroy Gorre, editor of the Philippine American News in Los Angeles.

Shirley Minser, an aide to Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alatorre, whose 14th District includes Eagle Rock, said the Filipinos are helping to create a "completely different mix" in Eagle Rock, which is sandwiched between Pasadena and Glendale just south of the Ventura Freeway.

Fast-Growing Group

There are no current statistics on how many of the community's estimated 22,000 residents are Filipino. The federal census recorded that about 1,000 Filipinos lived in Eagle Rock in 1980, and community leaders estimate that figure has at least tripled since then. Some Filipinos say it may be as high as 5,000, or nearly 25% of the population.

The Filipino presence is especially strong in the community's churches. Most Filipinos are passionately Roman Catholic and, for many, social life revolves around weekly or daily Mass, elaborate celebrations on religious feast days and family groups that meet weekly to recite the rosary. Religious services are held in English, which a large number of Filipinos are taught to speak in addition to their native languages.

Several Catholic pastors say their Filipino congregations have increased tremendously.

Ten years ago, his parish had only a handful of Filipino families, says Father Vincent Serpa, pastor of St. Dominic's Roman Catholic Church on Merton Avenue. Today, they constitute a third of the congregation and play an active role in church and school affairs, he says.

"Filipinos are pretty religious," said Danny Cases, who helps his nephew run the Little Manila market on Eagle Rock Boulevard. "When we move, the first thing we look for is, is there a Catholic church in the area," Cases said.

Not all Filipinos are Catholic; they also make up 25% of the Eagle Rock Seventh-day Adventist Church's congregation, according to Pastor Jim Brown.

In recent months, events that culminated in the ouster in late February of former Philippines President Ferdinand E. Marcos have made politics rival religion as a popular topic, although most residents maintain they are apolitical.

"We don't talk about politics that often; it's something that doesn't involve our lives directly," said Rufina Mallari, who owns Ping's, a Filipino fast-food restaurant on Fletcher Drive.

Politics Shunned

The Pilipino-American Community of Eagle Rock, also known as PACER, a social and philanthropic organization, steers clear of politics, according to president Ray Gonzalves.The club was formed in 1982 and has about 150 active members, Gonzalves estimates.

When pressed, most Eagle Rock Filipinos say they support the new President, Corazon Aquino, and are watching their homeland cautiously for signs of economic revival. A number said they opposed Marcos but failed to speak out while he was in power because they feared reprisals.

Although some think they may eventually return to the Philippines if conditions there improve, most Filipinos in Eagle Rock, who emigrated to the United States for jobs rather than political reasons, say they are here to stay.

"We're just trying to do whatever America wants us to," Cases said. "With the poor economy in the Philippines, it's hard to go home."

In Filipino businesses as well as homes, reminders of the country left behind are widespread.

At Filipiana Restaurant on Eagle Rock Boulevard, savory Filipino dishes--the food blends elements of Malaysian, Chinese and Spanish cuisine--are served in a smorgasbord-style setting while a television set blares overhead. Below the TV, however, is a small religious shrine. A votive candle flickers on a small table next to a statue of the Virgin Mary. A rosary drapes over a statue of the Christ child, next to an offering of fresh flowers.

Why do Filipinos flock to Eagle Rock?

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