April 8, 2003
In an exhibit the Washington Post called "compelling," SFSU alumna Janet Alvarado gives museumgoers a rare glimpse into personal and cultural history.
Working with Franklin Odo, director of the Smithsonian's Asian Pacific American Program, Janet selected 50 photos from the more than 3,000 in her father's collection to create the Smithsonian's first major exhibition on Filipino Americans. The photos spotlight the presence and contributions of a sizable population, particularly in the Bay Area, that is not widely recognized. Nearly 12 percent of SFSU undergraduates identify as Filipino.
"Through My Father's Eyes: The Filipino American Photographs of Ricardo Ocreto Alvarado (1914-1976)" showed at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., through March 31. The exhibit is now starting a national tour, including a two-month stay at the Golden State Museum in Sacramento starting July 5.
The purpose of the show, Janet says, is to create a "strong narrative" about her father's times. She says pictures in the exhibit were chosen for what they reveal in "social documentary, humanities and art."
A Filipino who migrated to the United States for work, Ricardo Alvarado worked odd jobs in San Francisco until World War II, when he served in the First Filipino Regiment of the U.S. Army. After the war he cooked at the Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco and took photos as a hobby. Most of the pictures date from the 1940s and 1950s, as the local community began to shift from mostly bachelor laborers to couples and families. When he died in 1976, he left behind thousands of shots depicting weddings, workers, pig roasts and other scenes from everyday Filipino life in the Bay Area.
After poring through her father's photos, Janet made it her task to see that the photos, and the history they reveal, were remembered. The result was the Alvarado Project, a nonprofit devoted to preserving and displaying Ricardo Alvarado's unique images. In 1997 the project moved into high gear just as she was returning to SFSU to study graphic design.
Ideas for how to present the photos came from her professors as well as from her previous experience volunteering at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Janet notes that many of the people who have helped on the Alvarado Project were fellow design and industry students at SFSU.
The project's first big event came in 1998, when Alvarado photos appeared in San Francisco's observance of the centennial of the Spanish-American War. That war ended Spain's control of the Philippines and placed the islands under U.S. governance. To mark the event, Janet compiled some of her fathers' photos, stories of people in the photos and a timeline of anti-Asian laws in the United States. Her exhibit appeared at the Jewett Gallery of the San Francisco Public Library.
That same year, she proposed a similar exhibit to the Smithsonian. The following year the museum offered her a slot in 2002 to stage the show.
The exhibit was especially pleasing to Janet's mother, now 83, who was "really impressed," Janet says. "She always knew I was capable."
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