1930s Filipino American murder case inspires new book

SAN FRANCISCO — Marivi Soliven, author of “The Mango Bride,” joined the roster of featured writers last Saturday at the 4th Filipino American International Book Festival.

The Palanca award-winner promoted her latest book, “The Rizal Dance Hall Murder,” a work of historical fiction set in 1930’s San Diego, at a Filipino-owned taxi dance hall.

“The premise of the Taxi Dance Hall was that you had white women, usually young white women,” she said, “who would dance with Filipino farm workers, who at the time were not allowed to marry. So you had this whole generation of Filipino bachelors…and all they want is some female companionship.”

The plot for her new book, Soliven uncovered while digging through Filipino American archival documents for the San Diego Public Library.

“I found a hundred years worth of beauty pageants… so in that whole pile of beauty pageants, there was one sensationalized murder trial that caught my eye. It was the only one in 1935.”

Soliven says back then, the shooting death of Filipino taxi dance hall owner Paul Arriola made headlines across Southern California.

“So what happened was, Mintee Savage, Mamie Savage says this is bad for my business I can be the only game in town. So she told her Filipino bartender to find another Filipino to shoot Paul Arriola.

Though the story emerged from a dark moment in San Diego’s Filipino American history, Soliven says as a writer, she found the pre-World War II Fil-Am experience irresistible.

The Rizal Dance Hall Murders awaits a publishing deal. That’s why Soliven is spreading the word about the story she believes is worth telling.

“Finally I’m like you know what, screw it. I may not be published, but the novel is done. I’m going to go on a speculative fiction book tour,” said Soliven. “I define that as I will keep touring this unpublished, unrepresented book until people start to speculate when is this piece of fiction going to be published ba?”

Until then, she’ll keep writing about what she’s most passionate about: the Filipino immigrant experience.

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