COURTESY RICARDO OCRETO ALVARADOBox socials were among the Filipino-American activities Ricardo Ocreto Alvarado photographed for two decades in San Francisco.

Photos bring post-WWII-era Filipino-American community to life

In the 1940s and ’50s, Ricardo Ocreto Alvarado made it his mission to document his world – San Francisco’s Filipino-American community – by photographing his family and friends at their homes, at their jobs, and places where they played.

Selecting from some 3,000 black-and-white images he left when he died in 1976, his daughter, Janet M. Alvarado, has curated an enaging show of several dozen of the pictures, “Compositions: A Filipino American Experience,” on view at the San Francisco Public Library through Dec. 7.

The exhibition “captures and reveals the lives, cultures, hardships and joys of a generation that needs remembering,” Alvarado writes in notes accompanying the display. Grouped by theme and location, the historical photos show life in South Park, South of Market, the Presidio, the Fillmore, Western Addition and Bayview-Hunters Point – areas where Filiipino Americans worked as cooks, dishwashers, barbers and houseboys in the post-World War II era. Alvarado, who came to California in 1928 at 14, served in the U.S. Army during the war, and held jobs including janitor, houseboy and cook.

The collection reveals that Alvarado was insightful and successful, as his daughter notes, in obeserving, “with his camera’s eye, ordinary people in everyday situations.”

The most fun photos showcase folks in extracurricular activities, such as the prim and proper young women in gowns at a box social in the 1950s or at more leisurely sock hop.

Music also played a big role in the Filipino community, whose members bonded with African Americans. A series of photos taken in the Fillmore showcases sleekly attired blacks and Filipinos performing, and enjoying, music.

Seemingly a stranger to noone, Alvarado tooks picture of weddings, funerals, parties and family gatherings. He shot street scenes, beauty pageants, and food and agricultural workers.

One of his most charming images is a 1950s-era portrait of his wife, Norberta, pictured with a car in 2900 block of Pine Street, near their first residence in The City. Not long after, Alvarado stopped taking photos, and returned with his wife to the Philippines.

The exhibition also has eye-catching antiques, such as vintage film, darkroom supplies purchased at Fillmore Camera, as well as the photographer’s camera bag.

IF YOU GO

Compositions: A Filipino American Experience

Where: Skylight Gallery, sixth floor, Main Library, 200 Larkin St., S.F.

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, noon to 6 p.m. Fridays; closes Dec. 7

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 557-4400, www.sfpl.org

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