Five Dollars in Change

In a perfect world, every artwork that we create—whether it be a painting or play, film or poem, gourmet meal or modern sculpture—should be a labor of love. Of course, the reality is that we live in the imperfect world of creative blocks and deadlines and personal limitations and hard-to-please audiences (including the audience of one’s self). So every labor is accompanied by labor pains.

Thankfully, I recently had the opportunity to work on a project that is indeed a labor of love. But the funny thing is, the project really has nothing to do with me. Let me explain.

My father was one of those older dads. He was in his fifties when he had my brother and I, and he had lived a colorful but arduous life. He immigrated to the US in 1926, and lived a tousled life punctuated by the Race Riots of the 1930s, the Great Depression, World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and a thousand other significant events. As a labor organizer in the 1930s, he was beaten, arrested, and branded in the congressional record as a “communist agitator.” He was the first Filipino correctional officer in the state of California. He may have been the first Filipino to get a law degree in America (although he was prohibited from taking the Bar Exam). He was one of the first Filipinos to run for a US government office. He aided hundreds of Filipinos in immigrating their families to America. He worked for six decades as a civic leader and civil rights activist. So his life was compelling, unique, and consequential.

I have many memories of sitting at the dinner table with dad, shooting the breeze, watching him play solitaire. As he flipped every third card, I would ask him about his life. And quietly, introspectively, almost casually, he would share with me one amazing story after another.

For years, I pleaded with him to write down these stories—for myself and for the family. Finally, five years before his passing, he relented and penned his memoirs, and my cousins and I were able to self-publish them in a book that was shared with the extended family. Five Dollars In Change was the title my cousin, Eric, came up with, signifying the amount of money my dad had in his pocket when he arrived at the docks in Seattle, at the tender age of nineteen.

This year is the 20 year anniversary of his passing, so my family decided to re-release his memoirs and make them public. This gave me a chance to revise his manuscript, as well as add extensive footnotes about the history, culture, and social context of his life. Moreover, we were able to add personal impressions and anecdotes to hopefully contextualize his stories to our children, and eventually, their children as well.

So, yeah, this book has been a labor of love. My father, more than any other human being, has been my role model, my teacher, my hero. If you are a Filipino American—or you relate somehow to the immigrant story—then perhaps this book might be a labor of love for you too.

Five Dollars In Change: Two Countries. One Incredible Story. The Legacy begins. is now available in paperback and Kindle on

[Banner Photo: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash. Upper photo: Dad as American Legion post commander. Lower photo: Second edition book cover.]

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