The Ardor of My Father

Amado Alminiana (Photo courtesy of Eva Monroe)

My father couldn’t have picked a worse time to come to America to fulfill his dreams in the fabled land of streets paved with gold. It was 1929, the American Stock Market had collapsed, hundreds of thousands of Americans had lost their jobs, and the homeless and disenfranchised from the country’s Great Dustbowl were on the march to the West.

The competition for jobs was tough, but not enough to deter a young man from La Union, Ilocos Sur. Guts and determination, prudence and prayer were to be Amando Alminiana’s guideposts to success in the “Promised Land.”

“Whites Only” signs, back door jobs, anti-miscegenation laws and outright discrimination only taught my father to firmly hold his head high and work even harder. Many of his compatriots, heartsick and lonely, succumbed to the easy gratification of gambling, dime-a-dance halls, flashy zoot suits and easy women.  There was never any discrimination in taking hard-earned dollars from unwitting Pinoys, young and old. The Visayans were romantics, Tagalogs spendthrifts, but the Ilocanos were kuripot—tight-fisted, as my father reminded us–to the chagrin of his future wife, Nena Rosario Nieva Cortes, who was from Lucena City in Quezon Province. He managed to hold on to his hard-earned savings.

My father learned the value of an American dollar at the age of 19, when he started on the rocky road to financial success as a dishwasher in a Stockton, California restaurant.  He progressed through the kitchen as a line cook and chef and watched every formal dining room detail for the mores and manners of American life. Talking to as many Americans as he could meet, he learned how to become indispensable to the kinds of people who would later hire him as a houseboy in Hollywood. 

It was in the land of tinsel and stars that my father set his sights on what he would acquire for himself and his future family, once he had found his fortune. Perhaps he not chose not to think about the only avenues available to a young, high school graduate from La Union. In the 1930s, without a college education, my father’s dreams hung on the ownership of either a dry cleaners, corner grocery store, barber shop, or an “Oriental” restaurant on the lower main streets of the land where “opportunity” abounded.

Fast forward to pre-WWII Watsonville, California. After selling a pool hall in Los Angeles, my father purchased the six-chair Universal Barber Shop on Main Street, complete with a public bathhouse and living quarters for him. He hired a manager for the shop and decamped to Moler’s Barber School in San Francisco to earn a  Barber’s Certificate. Once back in Watsonville, he expended his extra energy on the tennis courts of Carmel on Sunday, his one day off, dressed in his whites, flannel or linen, and a natty striped sports coat, ascot on his neck. On his off days, my father was a competitive tennis dandy.

In 1944, recruited to General MacArthur’s Repatriation Forces in Manila, my father was one of thousands of Filipino men on the West Coast who went back to the land of their birth to revitalize their war-torn country. Accompanied by his two best buddies, Pol Nepomuceno and Pete Laconsay, it was in Manila where he met the woman of his dreams, a war widow and her young son--and her two best friends. Their wartime courtships flourished. They all married and life began anew as Amando, Pete and Pol, now bonafide war veterans and U.S. citizens returned to America with their beautiful wives to start the next phase of their incredible immigrant lives.

Many of his compatriots, heartsick and lonely, succumbed to the easy gratification of gambling, dime-a-dance halls, flashy zoot suits and easy women.

The Universal Barber Shop was the male social hub of Watsonville. Everyone from the Chief of Police to the Mayor rubbed shoulders with the Filipino migrant workers and the Yugoslavian, Japanese and Portuguese farmers in this bucolic town’s popular barber shop. Diversity in the Universal Barber Shop on lower Main Street was the accepted reality. My father saved his money (gleaned from tips) and invested wisely in real estate and another barbershop in Santa Cruz. He built a new house for his bride and stepson, and when their long hoped for daughter arrived, she was ceremoniously driven home in a brand-new car. His three children went to private schools--from elementary school through college. We were taught the value of education and thrift. Our first gifts were savings accounts, which he dutifully filled as the years flew by.

By American standards, my father worked long hours in the shop and at home. This was the only roadmap he had, but it proved to be a successful journey as his goals and one man’s immigrant dreams came to fruition. Lest you think he ignored his family as he pursued this arduous road, his was the face I awoke to in the morning, as he gently roused my younger brother and me with warm washcloths for our faces before our feet even touched the floor. A hot three-course breakfast awaited us in the kitchen and our lunches were packed with loving care. Before he took us to school, he put a load of laundry in for my mother. 

Our weekends were filled with parties, friends and visitors from afar, my father presiding at the stove or barbecue as the head chef. We hit the tennis courts, the beaches, San Francisco constantly, the California Mission Trail, Disneyland, Lake Tahoe and more. Our home was warm, welcoming and lovely, thanks to my father’s diligence (and my parents’ good taste!) and will to pursue the sometimes elusive American dream. In the end, we all lived and loved my father’s dreams.

I am grateful to my late father, Amando Alminiana and to the legacy he left to his family. He believed that you can attain what ever it is you desire, with pluck, hard work, and a faith in God that compels you to never lose sight of your goals.

A loving Happy Father’s Day to you and your memory, Dad.

Eva Alminiana Nieva Monroe

Eva Alminiana Nieva Monroe

Eva Alminiana Nieva Monroe has served the community of San Francisco for over 30 years as a Trustee, Chairman and Director for a variety of nonprofits organizations serving SF's disenfranchised children and young adults in the public and private domains of schools, hospitals, public parks and museums. She resides in Forest Hill, San Francisco with her husband Mike, and has two grown sons and a new grandson.