FANHS 2008 National Conference by Rodel Rodis


Honoring Thelma
By Rodel Rodis
First Posted 11:01am (Mla time) 07/08/2008

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The Alaska chapter of the Filipino
American National Historical Society (FANHS), led by
Dr. Aurora Salazar Hovland, proudly celebrated its
25th anniversary with its 12th Biennial Conference at
the Anchorage Hilton Hotel July 3-5, 2008, drawing
more than 300 delegates from all over the United
States to the land of the midnight sun.

“The Lure of the Salmon Song” was the theme of the
conference, referring to the tens of thousands of
Filipino “Alaskeros” who have worked in the Alaskan
canneries since 1915. In 1930 alone, there were 4,200
Filipino cannery workers in Alaska. Their numbers
swelled to 9,000 a decade later but by 1976, there
were down to just 1,200. Their numbers are
insignificant now.

A highlight of the conference=2 0was the Friday morning
plenary session on the “Alaskero Experience” with
former Alaskeros sharing their recollections of their
time at the canneries. Dr. Alan Bergano, a dentist in
Virginia Beach, West Virginia, was a student at the
University of Washington when he and his girl friend
(now his wife), Edwina Lapa, worked several summers in
Alaska to pay for their college education.

Also sharing their mostly bitter experiences were
Larry Flores of Seattle, Oscar Peñaranda from Union
City, California, Ray Guimary from Portland, Ray
Pascua from Yakima, Washington and Jesse Tabasa from
Aptos, California. They spoke of working 16 to 23 hour
days standing on their feet as they sorted tens of
thousands of salmon, eating nothing but rice and
salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner and living in
crowded segregated bunk huts.

Anthony Ogilvie, Dean of Continuing & Professional
Education at Seattle Central Community College and
chair of the historic 1971 Young Filipino People’s Far
West Convention held in Seattle, explained how
segregation at the canneries worked. Because he was
mistaken for being “white”, the cannery bosses gave
him the easy job of doing mail call, where he spent
most of his “working” days just sleepin g in more
accommodating quarters and getting paid far more than
his brown-skinned brothers. (Yes, he felt guilty about

The FANHS Conference was dedicated to the memory of
Thelma Garcia Buchholdt, the former 3-term national
FANHS president who initiated the holding of the FANHS
national conference in her home state of Alaska.
Unfortunately, Thelma did not live to see the fruition
of her efforts as she died of pancreatic cancer on
November 5, 2007.

Thelma had immigrated to the US in 1951 and was
enrolled in graduate studies at the University of
Nevada in Las Vegas in 1956 when she met Jon
Buchholdt, a fellow student. After they married in
1957, Thelma and Jon Buchholdt, and their 4 kids,
moved to Anchorage in 1965 and Thelma immersed herself
in the local community. In 1974, she was elected to
the Alaska State Legislature from a mostly-white
assembly district, becoming the first
Filipino-American woman elected to public office in
the United States. In 1980, she was elected the first
Asian-American president of the National Order of
Women Legislators.

While her eldest daughter, Titania, was enrolled at
Georgetown University School of Law, Thelma and her
husband, Jon joined her in Washington DC and enrolled
at the District of Columbia School of Law in 1991.
Father, mother and daughter all took and passed the
Alaska bar.

In 1996, Thelma published her landmark book Filipinos
in Alaska: 1788-1958 (Aborigina l Press) which provides
detailed information about the first Filipinos
recorded to set foot in Alaska. Her research
established that a British ship, the Iphigenia
Nubiana, under the command of Capt. William Douglas,
left Zamboanga on February 2, 1788 and landed in the
Cook Inlet in Alaska on June 17, 1788 with a “Manilla
Man” as part of the crew.

In that same year, Capt. Simon Metcalfe, an American
fur trader, brought his ship Eleanora to “Manilla” for
repairs and hired 30 “Manilla Men” to be part of his
crew. Five of these “Manilla Men” were assigned to the
other Metcalfe-owned ship, Fair American, in China.
Both ships then sailed to Alaska where they landed
with their “Manilla Men” crew in the summer of 1789.

When Thelma died in November of 2007, the state’s
governor ordered all flags in the state to be flown at
half mast to honor Thelma Buchholdt and her
contributions to Alaska.

Dr. Joan May Timtiman Cordova, a Drexel University
professor in Philadelphia, with a doctorate from
Harvard University, was elected FANHS national
president. Elected national vice-president was
Evangeline Canonizado Buell from Berkeley, California,
author of Twenty Five Chickens and a Pig for a Bride:
Growing Up in a Filipino Immigrant Family. Elected
Secretary was Ron Buenaventura from San Diego,
California. Elected Treasurer was Fran Alayu Womack
of Chicago, Illinois.

While FANHS was incorporated in Washington state in
1985, it is celebrating its 25th anniversary at the
conference because it traces its beginnings to the
publication of Fred Cordova’s landmark 1983 book,
Filipinos, Forgotten Asian Americans (edited by
Dorothy Laigo Cordova). If the US can celebrate the
birth of its independence in 1776, instead of 1789
when the US government was first established, why
can’t FANHS do the same?

The next FANHS national conference will be held in
Seattle in July of 2010. Be there or be square.

For more information, log on to

(Please send comments to or log on to or write to Law Offices of Rodel
Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127,
or call (415) 334-7800.


Dr Joanie said…
While this article says that the Alaskeros described their experiences as "mostly bitter," I'd like to broaden that perspective. The Alaskeros who shared their experiences at FANHS conveyed pride, resilience, determination, courage, humor, and a "Pinoy attitude" (that Allan Bergano can describe further).

Yet I very much appreciate that Rodel took the time to both attend FANHS and to write various articles about the 12th Biennial National Conference of FANHS. Maraming Salamat!

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