Western Neighborhoods Project
"I am OMI"
Interview with Maria Fe Picar
May 19, 2003
Areza Picar: This is an interview with Maria Fe Picar, a longtime resident of OMI. The date is May 19, 2003, and we are at her living room in her residence of 200 Grafton Avenue. Tell me how you got to the OMI.
Maria Picar: I got to the OMI when I was born, about a year after I was born. My parents moved here, to 230 Brighton, which was down the hill. They had bought their first house. That's how I came here.
Areza Picar: So did you primarily live at 233 Brighton?
Maria Picar: 230 Brighton. I lived there till I was eight, and then they built this house up here in 1963 and we moved up here, and I've been here ever since.
Areza Picar: So what were your parents like?
Maria Picar: Mom and Dad were sort of middle-aged parents. My mom had me and my sister when she was forty-one and forty-three. They were Filipino, of Filipino descent. They were born in the Philippines. My mom came from an area called Pangasinan, my dad from an area around Baguio called Abra. So it was all the north of the Philippines on the island of Luzon.
Areza Picar: So were you born here?
Maria Picar: Yes, I was born here. Me and my sister were born here. My parents were pretty much old-fashioned and very strict. They did not want us hanging out with a lot of our American-born friends and just different people that we went to school with. They felt like they didn't know them, so we couldn't hang out with them.
Areza Picar: Did you go to school within the area?
Maria Picar: Yes. I started out going to a school that was on Capitol. I went to kindergarten there. There was a school there and it was called Farragut, and I went to kindergarten there. Then they torn the school down and they had made it those housing units, I think, that are there now. And so then I went to Saint Emydius after that and graduated. Then went to Mercy and graduated from there, and then City College and State.
Areza Picar: What kind of games did you play as a child?
Maria Picar: We played all sorts of games when we were kids. We played dodge ball out here in the street, right here on Brighton. We played hopscotch. We played jump rope. We played jacks. We played kick ball. We played tetherball. We played volleyball. We played everything. Badminton. Mostly out in the street, too. Hopscotch. Four-square.
Areza Picar: Did you go to any of the parks or the playgrounds around the area?
Maria Picar: Let's see. The only park we went to in the area was up at Ocean View. We went there once in a while, not a lot, though.
Areza Picar: Where did your family get their food when you were a child?
Maria Picar: Most of the time my parents would just go shopping, and they would make all this Filipino food, and then they would make American food. They would go to McDonald's or they'd go to fast food places, Safeway, and buy food and just cook it.
Areza Picar: Was it hard to find any Filipino food around here during that time?
Maria Picar: It was sort of hard, but there were little stores that you could go to, little Filipino stores, like on Geneva and stuff, and my mom would always buy stuff there to make lumpia and pansit and [unclear] and some of the desserts and things.
Areza Picar: What did you like and dislike about school?
Maria Picar: What I liked about school was I had a lot of friends. But what I didn't like about school was I noticed that there weren't too many people like me in school, because everybody else was white, primarily, and maybe some black kids. But there weren't a lot of Filipinos or Asians back then, so it was kind of weird. They didn't really tease me or anything, but it just felt kind of strange being like somebody of a different color.
Areza Picar: So what type of children did you gravitate to, or ethnic background?
Maria Picar: I usually hung out with a lot of the black kids in school because I thought they looked more like me, so I'd hang out with them. Actually, they actually befriended me, so I just hung out with them most of the time. I had a couple of friends that were white also, but it just seemed like mostly all the kids in the neighborhood back then were black, so we hung around with all the black kids.
Areza Picar: Did you go to church, and if you did, what did you like and dislike about church?
Maria Picar: The only thing I liked about church is we got to sing some of our songs and we got to play guitar and stuff for some of the Masses. What I didn't like was all the long, like, ceremonies, like the benediction and stuff. We had to go there every Friday and put our beanies on or we wouldn't be able to get into church. That kind of stuff.
Areza Picar: Do you recall the types of businesses that were in the neighborhood during that time?
Maria Picar: Oh, yes. There were a lot of different businesses in the neighborhood. It was way back in the sixties. For one, there was the El Rey Theater, which is now the Voice of Pentecost Church. We used to go in that theater and watch all kinds of movies. Then there was a drugstore on Miramar, and we knew the druggist there, and he would always give us rock candy and all this stuff for really cheap, and comic books. That was another thing we'd buy. All of the Superman and Lois Lane and Marvel Comics. What else was there?
There was a corner store down the hill, Charlie's, it was always there on, Holloway and Brighton. He was there since we were little kids. He just recently retired, like two years ago. The store across the way from Charlie's was Mr. George. He was a Chinese guy. He sold a lot of candy down there, and we'd go down there, too, and buy those saltwater taffy things and those Dot candies, you know, a piece of paper, you could peel them off and eat them. We'd buy those there.
There's a laundromat that's there, is still there, but it's a different owner now. So those are the only ones I really remember. And then Safeway, of course. But Safeway was put up in the nineties and then torn down years later. Not torn down, but now it's Rite-Aid.
There was a pet store where Java is on Ocean now, and this old lady owned it and that place stunk every time you walked in there. She had all these different animals and it just seemed like she never cleaned some of the cages. So I remember that place, because we'd always call it the stinky pet store. That's about it.
Areza Picar: So what did your family do for fun?
Maria Picar: Well, sometimes they'd take us to the drive-in movies. We'd all go to the drive-in, in Dad's green station wagon, Chevy station wagon. They did take us to L.A. once, to Disneyland, or twice, but they were kind of too old to run around with us. So they'd sit on the bench and say, "Well, you guys can go run around and we'll meet you back here later for lunch," or whatever. Me and my sister would take off and run around. Because by that time my parents were close to sixty and close to retirement age. And I was starting to drive, so my dad let me drive to L.A., because he got tired. I had my permit back then. But that's all we really did for fun. Then we'd go to, of course, relative parties. There was always relative parties. All the food.
Areza Picar: So how did your family get around when you were young?
Maria Picar: Well, my dad drove us, for one thing. He'd always drive us, because my mom didn't drive. Then we'd take the bus or we'd walk. If it was close enough, we'd walk. We'd walk home, back and forth from school. But then we'd get a ride from our cousins, or if we couldn't do that, we'd take the bus.
Areza Picar: What changes have you noticed in OMI over the years?
Maria Picar: Oh, god, there have been so many changes. Well, there was a time, like way back in the early eighties and late eighties, that it was such a drug-infested corner down here on Holloway, that there were always so many druggies hanging out, trying to sell drugs, and just weird guys hanging out on the street. Now there's been so many different people buying that property, that the neighborhood has become so diverse. I mean, there was never a time when I'd see all these Asian or Chinese neighbors, and I see tons of them. Now, you know, the improvements that are on Ocean Avenue really changed it a lot, too, and all the businesses. So it's a lot different.
Areza Picar: How have people gotten along in the past in the neighborhood?
Maria Picar: In the past, people that knew each other got along with each other. Like, I've known my neighbors for years and we've always gotten along. But it's like, if you didn't really know people, it was hard to get to know people, because people weren't too friendly back then. It seems like people are getting a little better about it now and they're saying hi, at least, and stuff. But there's some neighbors that I knew across the street that I didn't even know before that only started recently like saying hi and stuff. So people just keep to themselves.
Maria Picar: What fashions do you remember of the past?
Areza Picar: Oh, god, there's been so many fashions. Oh, well, platform shoes and bellbottoms and white go-go boots and mini skirts, Nehru jackets, tight jeans, sagging, when the guys wear their pants--they still do that, though, wear their pants all the way down to their knees. Stiletto heels. I guess that's all. There's a lot of them.
Areza Picar: Do you remember the Civil Rights Movement?
Maria Picar: Well, I was kind of young when the Civil Rights Movement came about. I remember Martin Luther King [Jr.], and I remember Robert [F.] Kennedy getting shot and stuff like that, and JFK [John F. Kennedy] getting shot, but that's about all I remember about the Civil Rights Movement. And the Black Panthers at the Olympics. Bobby Seale. Those people.
Areza Picar: How about the Vietnam War?
Maria Picar: Well, the Vietnam War was a big thing when I was growing up. In high school I just remember all the songs, all the music, like Buffalo Springfield and people like that always talking about and singing about the war. Jimi Hendrix. So I don't know, it didn't really affect me personally. But for my husband, his brother went into the war and he came back kind of strange. So I mean, I don't know. The Vietnam War was just senseless to a lot of people. It didn't have any real effect on me.
Areza Picar: How has the OMI welcomed newcomers, especially that of people of different races and nationalities?
Maria Picar: I think Ocean View has been a good example of that, trying to have a lot of different events surrounding the neighborhood so people can meet each other, all these cultural events. Like we try to have Chinese New Year and Black History and things like that. But we still need to do a better job of people meeting people. It seems like people still congregate with their own kind. Like if there's a Samoan church, all the Samoans will go there, or a Chinese church, they'll all go there. But I don't think that they really interact with different peoples of different races unless they know them personally. So it's kind of hard to do that sometimes.
Areza Picar: Do you think it's hard to break down those walls?
Maria Picar: Sometimes it is hard to break down the walls. I mean, there's a lot of language barriers, that's for sure, and that's probably why it's tough. But if you had people to go to these community places that spoke their language and English maybe, then it would probably be easier, because a lot of times it's just communication.
Areza Picar: How have the holidays been celebrated in the neighborhood or in your family over the past years? Like, what kind of holidays do you celebrate?
Maria Picar: Well, with my family we celebrate mostly all the holidays, particularly Christmas and Thanksgiving and Mother's Day, Father's Day, birthdays. But in the neighborhood, since I've been in charge of the Cultural Participation Project, we've celebrated a lot of holidays like Kwanza and the Easter egg hunt. Well, the big one is the OMI International Festival, which we just started two years ago. That's a big one that tries to get all the people of different cultures and entertainment and talent and vendors together.
[End of interview]
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This project is made possible by a grant from the CALIFORNIA COUNCIL FOR THE HUMANITIES with generous support from the San Francisco Foundation, as part of the Council's statewide California Stories Initiative. The COUNCIL is an independent non-profit organization and a state affiliate of the NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES. For more information on the Council and the California Stories Initiative, visit www.californiastories.org.
Page launched 20 Aug 2003.