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Pictures do paint a thousand words, even snapshot ones

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POSTED February 9, 2009 4:20 a.m.
A picture truly paints a thousand words. Yes, even ones that are the obligatory promo shots intended for scrapbooks that only family members, relatives and maybe a few friends would enjoy viewing one too many times.
At least, that’s what I used to say. Until I bought the Images of America book, “Filipinos of Stockton.”
At first, I was disappointed when I flipped through the pages of the slim softcover at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore at Weberstown Mall and saw that it was just a glorified photo album. “I don’t think I’d like to spend this much money for just a picture book,” I commented to my husband who was the one who called my attention to the book. I just got done paying for about half a dozen tomes including “Earth From Above,” a coffee-table book that weighed like a ton but one that I had always wanted to get my hands on. I debated whether I wanted to add one more to my load, or whether I wanted to stand in line again at the cash register since we were already on our way out the door.
But I was compelled to buy the last copy on the store shelf after I saw several familiar faces in some of the photos as I flipped through the pages.
In the story I wrote about the book about two weeks ago, I noted that while this compendium of archival photographs focused on the Filipinos in the Stockton area, a number of the faces were actually from Lathrop and Manteca. They earned mention and inclusion in the book by virtue of their extensive involvement through the years in the city that, at one time (maybe even now but that may be debatable today), was recognized as the site of the largest Filipino community in the United States.
The late Rev. Apolinar Sangalang, former mayor of Lathrop where he was a resident for many years before he died, for instance, was a prominent member of the Stockton Filipino community even though he did not live there. He held various positions, including co-founder and charter member as well as president, in a number of Stockton organizations whose memberships included Filipinos residing all over San Joaquin County. In the photographs where his name and face appeared, he was either being sworn in as an officer or posing for a group picture of an organization’s slate of officers.
Then there was Cecil Bonzo who was a major mover and shaker, not just among Filipinos in Stockton and Lathrop where he grew up and farmed, but among farmers of various ethnic groups throughout the San Joaquin Valley. For me, his name will always be synonymous with the Farmer’s Market under the Crosstown Freeway on Lafayette Street in Stockton which he co-founded either back in the 1970s or 1980s. Before he died several years ago just months after his beloved wife passed away, I had several opportunities to interview him for stories about the Farmer’s Co-op to which he devoted his life and energy. He was also an excellent cook. In fact, one of the stories I wrote about him for the Bulletin was about his cooking. Later, he parlayed his culinary interest into another business when he opened a Filipino restaurant not far from the Crosstown Freeway Farmer’s Market.
The half page in the book dedicated to Filipino artist Greg Custodio also brought back memories of the times I had occasion to meet him in person. I still have the negatives of photographs I took of the various murals he painted throughout Stockton. Several of the buildings that displayed his artistic skills - the majority of them, I believe - had long succumbed to the wrecking ball. But last I knew, his mural at the historic St. Mary’s Church altar in downtown Stockton still survives.
His murals may all eventually vanish from the Someplace Special community’s urban scene but he will always be in Stockton’s history books as the city’s first and only salaried muralist. He held that position from 1974 to 1994. Sadly, he died in an automobile accident in Texas in 1998 at age 60.
But one of the most intriguing faces in the book to me was that of Mr. Claro Candelario. He was my next-door neighbor when I lived briefly in Stockton. I was renting a room from a Filipino couple at the time who introduced me to the gravel-voiced Filipino manong, a prominent Filipino community leader. He was probably in his 70s when I met him but he had a really sharp mind with a keen intellect, and lots of stories to tell! He told me stories about his association with Carlos Bulosan of “America is in the Heart” fame, a book that has become a classic in ethnic history and cultural anthropology studies in the U.S. One day, during a conversation we had while we were standing on either side of the cyclone fence between my landlord’s property and his house, he mentioned about the poems he had written about his American experience and other writings. When I asked him if he was going to publish them someday, his answer sounded like a bombshell to me. He said he didn’t think they were any good so he burned them all.
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