San Mateo historical museum honors the immigrant experience

REDWOOD CITY, CA — This kulintang performance was in celebration of the newly renovated immigrant section of the San Mateo County Historic Museum.

The “Land of Opportunity: The Immigrant Experience in San Mateo County” exhibit focuses on the largest groups of immigrants who came to the county — which include the Chinese, Irish, Italians, Japanese, Portuguese, Mexicans, and Filipinos.

Originally established in 2006, the museum wanted to update the exhibit.

Alvin Gubatina is a counselor who is part of Skyline College’s kababayan learning community in San Bruno, Calif.

He was tapped by the county to curate the Filipino portion of the exhibit.

“We have over 7,000 islands in the Philippines and that’s hella different people so how can we capture these folks in like four objects? So I just chose the ones that would start the dialogue, start the conversation, start the Google searches.”

After consulting with some Fil-Am leaders and members of the community — Gubatina decided to include two historic items that are still being used today, with roots from Mindanao.

The first is the Malong, which is a multi-purpose garment, and the other is a brass gong from a kulintang set.

The other objects are more modern.

Gubatina added a program from one of the recent Pilipino Cultural Night productions at Skyline College.

More commonly known as PCN’s, these productions serve like a right of passage for many Filipino American college students in discovering their heritage.

Gubatina added the giant fork and spoon, because he says it represents the celebration of abundance.

“This gallery really takes a look at how important immigration and immigrants have been to the story of San Mateo County…and we really want to acknowledge that the immigrant story is an ongoing story and that Filipinos are an important part to that story,” said Carmen Blair.

“When we think about museums we think about old stuff but the way but the way I like to think about this is it’s a building full of stories and somebody has to get our story as accurate as possible and we can’t do that without our folks, without our community.”

The museum is open everyday, except Mondays, from 10 am to 4 pm.

The final addition to the exhibit was traditional wear — to which I was surprised to learn — that as a Skyline college kababayan learning community alumni — was added.

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