Frederick A. Cordova, Sr.
June 3, 1931-December 21, 2013
A crowd estimated at 2,000 jammed into historic Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Seattle on January 11, 2014 to bid farewell and pay last respects to the iconic Fred Cordova: devoted husband and patriarch of a large Filipino American family, historian, published author, journalist, archivist, deacon, civil rights activist, and university public information officer. Additionally, an overflow of 300 people watched the proceedings via video in the lower level multipurpose room. Attendance at the previous evening’s Rosary was almost as large.
The crowd’s diversity reflected Fred’s vast interests and communities – a mixture of former Filipino Youth Activities (FYA) members, many now middle aged; aging Bridge Generation Filipino American contemporaries; Filipino Community members; university faculty and staff; civil rights activists; ordinary men and women; politicians; and countless relatives and friends from virtually every ethnicity and from all corners of the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.
The funeral Mass, celebrated by Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, was the most impressive religious ceremony I ever witnessed. Flanked by a FYA honor guard dressed in Muslim-inspired attire, upwards of 30 diocesan priests and deacons entered the church with the Archbishop, followed by the grieving but proud Cordova family contingent. Throughout the Mass three different choirs filled the beautiful old church with traditional hymns.
The many highlights of the Friday evening Rosary and Saturday Mass were provided by Fred and Dorothy’s eight children – Frederic Anthony Jr., Damian, Timoteo, Cecilia, Margarita, Dominic, Dion, and Bibiana. All had key roles in reflecting upon their father’s life with the appreciative congregation. It was truly a Cordova production that their father would have been most proud of – alternately inspirational, intimate, humorous, entertaining, and always informative.
Others spoke of Fred’s involvement as co-founder of the FYA and the Filipino American National Historical Society, as an academician, as the ground-breaking exponent of Filipino American pride, as a civil rights leader, and as an original member of the activist Filipino American Young Turks of Seattle.
The emotional interment at Calvary Cemetery in the midst of a typical Seattle rainstorm was fittingly Fred and reflective of the humility espoused by the Catholic Church. Many individuals are interred in an elaborate and richly decorated casket – I noted that Fred’s final resting place was unadorned and beautiful in its simplicity
I was privileged and honored to be asked by the family to speak at the reception which followed at the University of Washington. Since other speakers spoke of Fred’s many community activities and accomplishments, I chose to focus my remarks on remembering Fred from our days as kids and teenagers in California during the 1930-40s. Among my recollections:
- Fred babysat my late wife Terri and her younger siblings in Stockton – perhaps early training for his later being the father of eight children.
- Like other Bridge Generation Filipino Americans in California, he led a migrant existence.
- He enjoyed jazz and dancing, like other young Filipino Americans,anddanced the off-beat tothe music of then unknowns Dave Brubeck and Cal Tjader.
- Fred also liked girls, driving 60 miles to my home town to see a girl he was enamored with.
- Since he spent a year in a seminary, his contemporaries called him “Pari”, the Filipino word for “priest”.
- He was a member of a Stockton Filipino youth basketball team but sat on the end of the bench, the last person to get into the game when it was out of reach – which I could also personally relate to.
- While Fred related well to his contemporaries and participated in sports and dances, he didn’t run the streets in Stockton – consistent with the values he always possessed.
My closing remarks were on a personal note. I thanked Fred and Dorothy for their role in introducing me and my family to the Seattle community. Fred was the only person Terri and I knew in Seattle upon my arrival to a new job in 1970. My children were immediately recruited into the award-winning FYA Khordoba Drill Team where they made life-long friends.
Similarly, my wife and I met a group of community and politically aware Filipino Americans who were to become our partners in community activism and also were to become our closest friends. We found we all had a common goal: to help bring the Seattle Filipino Americans into Seattle’s sociopolitical mainstream.
Besides Fred and Dorothy and Terri and me, these young Filipino Americans included: Bob Santos, the firebrand civil rights activist of the International/Chinatown District and director of an inner city tutoring agency; Andres “Sonny” Tangalin, a high school administrator and vocal member of several Asian civil rights organizations; Roy Flores, the director of the University of Washington (UW) Ethnic Cultural Center; Larry Flores, who helped lead a 1960s student protest that led to the establishment of Filipino and Asian programs at UW; the energetic Tony Ogilvie, assistant director of minority affairs at Seattle University; Jeannette Tiffany, a talented expert in multimedia communications; her husband, the organizational savvy Dale – a Flathead Indian American and the group’s only non-Filipino; and spouses Angie Flores and Evelyn Tangalin who brought a woman’s perspective to what often was a male-dominated agenda.
We were soon joined by other similarly minded young Filipino Americans: Dolores Sibonga, who went on to serve several terms on the Seattle City Council; Peter Bacho, soon to become an award-winning author; Bob Flor, a Democratic Party insider; Pio DeCano Jr., an educator and son of the legendary Seattle labor leader; Mike Castillano, assistant to the UW vice president of minority affairs; and Frank Irigon, a UW student leader.
After the group successfully brought needed funding to the Filipino Community of Seattle, its president named the group “Filipino American Young Turks” in recognition of the Middle Eastern insurgents of the early 20th century. Here in the year 2014, we are now the “Filipino American Old Turkeys”. Fred Cordova and several others may now be gone but we are proud of the role that the “Young Turks” played in helping bring the Seattle Filipino American community into the city’s sociopolitical mainstream. Thank you, Fred and Dorothy for bringing us together.
I will miss you, old friend. Rest in Eternal Peace, Fred