George Koster

VOC/COS Episode 6 Transcript

From Bankruptcy to Reinvention –

The City of Stockton


Episode 6:
Our strength is our diversity

Listen Now | VOC Producers | Share | Episode 6

A transcript, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows.

Show Guest: Dillon Delvo, Co Founder and Executive Director of Little Manila Rising

Series Introduction: Welcome to Voices of the Community, which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities.  We introduce you to the voices of community thought leaders and change makers who are working on solutions that face our fellow individual community members, neighborhoods, cities and our region. This is George Koster your host.

Series Introduction: This episode is part of our documentary series “From Bankruptcy to Reinvention - The City of Stockton”. The documentary series attempts to provide listeners with the insights, points of view and personal stories from the various voices of change makers working to Reinvent the City of Stockton. The interviews were conducted from August to September 2016 leading up to the election of Mayor Michael Tubbs who is our central character in the series. The interviews in the documentary series have been edited to fit into our show format. The unedited full interviews will be posted on my website along with each episode of the series.

Show Guest Dillon: That's one of the things I started to understand in the youth ministry, this idea of empowerment of our young people. That they really have the ability to do what they want and move mountains in many different ways is I think how we'll bring about change.

Show Host George: Stockton was home to the largest community of Filipinos outside of the Philippines and they were segregated to a four-block area called Little Manila in downtown Stockton. In this episode we feature the voice of Dillon Delvo a 2nd-generation Filipino American and co-founder of Little Manila Rising.  Dillon and fellow co-founder the late Dr. Dawn Mabalon formed Little Manila Rising to both preserve the history and reclaim the last remaining buildings of Little Manila.

Dillon shares his passion, insights and organizational work around advocacy, education, arts and culture as part of Little Manila Rising’s efforts to revitalize the Filipina American community in Stockton. The Filipina American community is the largest Asian community in California.

No one’s coming to save us, we have to figure this out ourselves
— Dillion Delvo, Little Manila Rising

Show Host George: Stockton was home to the largest community of Filipinos outside of the Philippines and they were segregated to a four-block area called Little Manila in downtown Stockton. In this episode we feature the voice of Dillon Delvo a 2nd-generation Filipino American and co-founder of Little Manila Rising.  Dillon and fellow co-founder the late Dr. Dawn Mabalon formed Little Manila Rising to both preserve the history and reclaim the last remaining buildings of Little Manila.

Dillon shares his passion, insights and organizational work around advocacy, education, arts and culture as part of Little Manila Rising’s efforts to revitalize the Filipina American community in Stockton. The Filipina American community is the largest Asian community in California.

Dillon: Well, my name is Dillon Delvo and Little Manila kinda came about really, just... I think fate I'm now the executive director of Little Manila been doing this now for three years, although we've been operating as organization as volunteers for the past 16 years.

It all starts with myself and my friend Dr. Dawn Mabalon who's now a Professor of History at San Francisco State University. We've known each other ever since middle school. Me in seventh grade and her in eighth grade and then throughout high school and then we went off to college. So we were friends.

At our annual Barrio Fiesta, which is kind of the biggest Filipino gathering in Stockton annually, we saw each other again, and we reconnected. And the thing that really we started talking about was the fact that although we were born and raised in Stockton our dads were both guys from the Manong/Manang generation which is the first large generation of Filipinos to come to America mostly in the 1920s as a result of California Agriculture. The industry starting to kind of explode they needed cheap labor. At the time, the Philippines was a territory of the United States and so they could come over as Naturals.

So, the big thing to us is although Stockton is kind of a center of California Agriculture and they are migrant field workers and all this history took place in Stockton. And a matter of fact, you know, it was the largest population of Filipinos in the world outside of the Philippines at the time from the 1920s to probably the early 1960s.

We knew nothing about our history, which also meant we knew nothing about our dads to a certain degree and we didn't know anything about this heritage that really kind of helps to define our identities. We didn't know about ourselves. And we were kind of on the cusp of losing all this history. You know through college ethnic studies classes was so much of our inspiration. Understanding for the first time that success is not so much this kind of thing that you do by yourself, but it's really about building upon a legacy of people that sacrificed greatly for you to have the opportunities that you have today. Not acknowledging that, not letting it be kind of a way to live your life is I think what privilege is. So for us to learn that, it was really life-changing for us. And here we were learning about all this stuff and the history of Stockton.

We're born and raised there, but I had to go to San Francisco and she had to go to Los Angeles to learn it. The question of why did we have to leave Stockton to learn about Stockton is something that really kind of messed with our minds. So at that Festival, Dawn started talking about working on her doctorate in history and her project was going to be on Little Manila this place in downtown Stockton, which is adjacent and kind of mixed into Chinatown.

At the time Filipinos and many people of color in the 1920's and 1930's weren't allowed north of Main Street. This wasn't a law, but we heard stories that police didn't have a problem taking people back to where they belong at the time. And so Dawn and I we're actually on Main Street, as we're coming back into town from the Festival. She said well we got to do something about this because there's only a few buildings left. Most of it was destroyed by the crosstown freeway. And literally there's a wrecking ball in front of one of the last remaining blocks. At the time, the City was calling it The Gateway Project because it's the first thing that you see when you come off the freeway and come into downtown Stockton. And their vision of a Gateway Project welcoming people to Stockton was to build a McDonald's and Union 76 station.

It was personal to Dawn because that block housed her grandfather's restaurant and the Lafayette lunch counter. At that time no one really understood the history of that area or valued that history. It was really seen as kind of just well that's Skid Row. You know, that's where all the bums and all the homeless hang out. But, not understanding the context of stuff like redlining. The fact that people weren't welcome on a certain side of town and you know, the fact that it became kind of more of a class issue rather than race issue.

Basically, the current day class lines were drawn by yesterday's racial lines. Basically, we stood in front of these buildings and I was a film major and so I videotaped the destruction of these buildings.  You know while Dawn was working on her dissertation about these buildings.

So she went and did exhaustive research on the history of every single building and what it has been throughout time and really painting a picture of this community that existed and what really Little Manila was.

George: And it was called Little Manila?

Dillon: Yeah, it was called Little Manila and we were the largest population Filipinos in the world outside the Philippines from the 1920s to 1960s. And one of the biggest reasons why that was in Little Manila was because there were actual Filipino businesses there. Which is rare back in those days because it was illegal for Filipinos to own property.

But there were folks that were willing to lease property to them. And so that's how they were able to have businesses there. Now the Filipino immigrants at the time were field workers. So their migrant field workers. So most of them were in town just from like December until around April, May for the asparagus season. Than they would go from Delano all the way up to Alaska for canning season.  But you know why in Stockton? It was because of these businesses that were there.

What Dawn has found is that in many of the letters, if you could own property, and you're a 16, 17, 18, 19 year old person coming to a Strange Land, your only form of communication was mail, often times it was these businesses that would hold all these shoe boxes of mail. And you would use their addresses so, that when you would come in for asparagus season, it was the only opportunity you can hear from your family and catch up and see what's going on.

More than anything, I think that's why a migrant field laborer could consider that place home. Its, the only way to connect. So those businesses were essential in that Community just to be able to communicate. So, what happens next, Dawn starts saying hey, you know, we can't save these buildings. It's already too late for us, but we could at least mark them. And so her and I worked with the City to have the City name it a historic site.

But, we got a lot of support from the Vice Mayor at the time, her name is Gloria Nomura, who was I think one of the first Filipino politicians to get to the Vice Mayor level. So we were able to get that done. We raised money. It's funny how we raise funds, because literally we were just out of college.

So at the same time we were trying to figure out how we're going to pay back our student loans. We decided hey, let's ah, let's mark this area. And so one of the ways we raised funds was we had a friend that designed a t-shirt for us. And we literally sell these t-shirts out of the trunks of our car. And then another thing that happened was like Dawn was parked, this is a  funny story.

She was parked over a manhole in San Francisco and there was an underground explosion and her car was actually lifted up, because of this explosion. And so anyway, part of the settlement from that, helped pay for these banners. So literally it was extremely Grassroots. And I will say that at the time we were all extremely innocent about what was going on in the City.

So the year at this point is probably around 2000 when we kind of get started like 1999 when Dawn and I start talking than 2000 and we really get started and designating the place. And then in 2002, it gets designated. We've raised the money we're putting up banners and then we unveil the plagues and banners in October 2002. We're able to shut down one of the streets, and we had about seven hundred people show up and have this great kind of just unveiling ceremony, all the politicians are there. And we get to show that sign that you see coming off the freeway and all the banners that kind of tell the story of Little Manila with these different themes as you look at all the banners. So that happens and then another thing happened. So all of a sudden the person that was the Vice Mayor (Gloria Nomura) at the time who we asked to be our chairperson for the organization quits on us.

Which we didn’t really understand. I think she was just well, I'm just overwhelmed, you know a lot of things going on. And so I think you and Dawn can do a great job. Right? About a month after the unveiling we find out that the City has named that block that we were on as one of the blocks in a eight square block Redevelopment Area. For over a year there was a developer working on a plan to build a strip mall in the area that we had just designated as historic. And so, to me it was like, well, you know, we just wanted to mark the area so people would know that this is significant not just a local history, but really Filipino American history which in the end is really just “American” history.

So all of a sudden, well, how do we save three buildings?  Right, and that question of how do we save three buildings is something that we're still trying to answer today. And what we've learned I think over the past 16 years is that it's not as easy as just buying the buildings … laughter

George:  Were you able to actually purchase the buildings?

Dillon: Well at one point we did we entered in an LLC with another organization, but then lost it in with the whole market crash. Prior to that, what happened was the RFP from the City went out for this development plan. There was already a developer who'd worked on it for over a year. Ugh, the developer at the time current City Councilmember of Union City ex-Mayor of Union City and our City Manager at the time, a guy named Mark Lewis. His job prior to being the City Manager of Stockton, was being the City Manager of Union City. And so how does one find out about this Redevelopment plan a year ahead before it gets announced. It's all kind of inside. Their whole thing, was well if we can develop and increase the tax base that we can do a bunch of, good stuff. But, of course at the time Stockton was one of the fastest-growing cities in America. Basically City government gave the keys to developers, massive sprawl throughout the City. All this stuff really leads to the bankruptcy of Stockton a fiscal bankruptcy. But on our side, we also believe a moral bankruptcy.

As we start to engage these two newly graduated students just say, “let's fight developers”. Laughter.. We were extremely naive now if you would have asked present day 43 year-old Dillon, right? You know, hey, can we find developers? I'll be like hell no, and this is crazy. But I think our advantage at the time is that we were extremely naive and we were like, wow. Well, you know, we were born and raised in Stockton with the SUSD schools lived in South Side a whole lives and went off to college and now we're coming back and we want to help, right.

And we thought yeah, the City, people in the City are going to love us and you know, like who does that, you know at the time and like people like no one does that everyone was always leaving Stockton. So there was never a lack of smart and talented people in Stockton. It was just how do you get them back? You know, they would fall in love with the communities where they went school or job opportunities were prevalent in other places just weren't available in Stockton at the time.

George: Which gets us into that whole conversation we were just having a second ago, the Michael Tubbs generation, your generation working together in that if you will kind of in-migration of Stockton residents coming back to work in the community. But, I want to go back to your point about moral bankruptcy. Could you please share a little bit more about what your and Dawn's take on the moral bankruptcy of the leadership of Stockton, for example?

Dillon: Sure, so the question of how do you save three buildings? And so there was a one month time frame for proposals for a development plan. And we approached the City and we asked.. "Can yah delay it three months"? Because although I was a film major at San Francisco State and Dawn was a history major. We believed that we could, in three months laughter, come up with a development plan. Though, neither one of us are affluence. So the crazy thing is we did come up with a development plan.

Show Midpoint / Show Host George: You are listening to Voices of the Community, which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities. This is George Koster your host and if you are just joining us, in this episode we are discussing the reinvention of the City of Stockton California. Our guest today is Dillon Delvo the co-founder and Executive Director of Little Manila Rising. Dillon is reviewing both his and fellow co-founder the late Dr. Dawn Mabalon long term efforts to negotiate with the City of Stockton and real estate developers over the historical Little Manila buildings as well as build a grassroots community movement to preserve and revitalize what is left of the Little Manila legacy.

Dillon: So, how did we get there? Well, we called our friends, that we knew in college and they were involved in urban planning. One was Michelle McCollum who's now the head of the Asian Pacific Islander Americans in historic preservation. Another person, her name is April Veneracion. She has been extremely active in San Francisco, now works for Supervisor Jane Kim. But at that time we were just newly graduated, laughter...

And we together kind of started to figure out. Okay, we need to hold three communities charrettes and so we knocked on all the doors in the community in eight Square blocks. So of the development plan, there was only three buildings that we were concerned with on one of the blocks, but you're talking about eight square block area. So it quickly became more than just a filipino-american preservation issue. As we knocked on doors and talk to residents, business owners, nonprofits that were in the area, what we found were community members, Stocktonians who were always under the threat of eminent domain.

One family, they were the third generation in that house. Their grandparents had lived in that house. They were born and raised in that house and they said wow, this is the first time anyone asked us what we'd like to see in our community. All we would hear from the City, we would always just get these letters that eminent domain was coming. In 2000-2001 housing prices were soaring. The property value in that area was probably the lowest in Stockton at the time.

And so, you do eminent domain on these families you were making homeowners, into renters overnight. So we thought it was extremely immoral. Just the fact that it was a community that really felt like they never had any empowerment in what they'd like to see in their Community. The City hadn't put any resources into that Community.

Even if you go today, you can go and look on the sidewalk, and the sidewalk will say 1946. It's the last time there was any infrastructure invested just in the sidewalks alone. If you are in a wheelchair there's no ramps on any of these sidewalks. And so leadership at the time was like, oh we are just going to bring a developer they are going to tear everything down and they are going to pay for the sidewalks, they are going to pay for all that stuff anyway.

In those three months we engaged the community we brought everyone together, we visioned "what would you like to see?" At the same time, Dawn was working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and within those three months, they actually named us one of the eleven most endangered historic sites in America at that time. Because of that, our story was picked up by AP, we were in the New York Times, the LA Times, the History Channel did a whole thing on us. And we were at the time asking people well, write letters to the City Council. And it was the largest letter-writing campaign that the City Council had ever seen.

They were receiving letters from the Philippines and all over the world basically saying we have to honor this history. So a huge amount of political pressure brought on. The other thing that happened was because the story got picked up there were developers from San Diego who are involved in the Redevelopment of the Gaslamp Quarter. Who saw the Redevelopment of downtown San Diego using adaptive reuse, smart growth values as actually as a way to make a lot of money and more money than just a strip mall in.

So they actually approached us and said that, you know, we're developers and you know obviously we would like to make money. But we actually believe that preservation and kind of reusing these buildings rather than just building a strip mall, but really creating kind of a destination place. You know strip malls at the time were like weeds in every city and basically you could find the same stores and all that kinda stuff, laughter.. And he said but you have history here you have culture and there's so much you can build upon that.

I mean, that's the reason why people go into downtowns. And so they actually saw it as a big way to make money. But at that time all Stockton knew about was strip malls, big box stores all that kind of stuff. No one was doing mixed use in Stockton at the time or building in empty lots. No one knew about that at the  time.

But because we had folks who had just graduated college who just, you know, learn about this stuff. They taught us to talk to the community and the community said, yeah, I think that would be a great place to live. If we did do like retail on the first floor and then had a community that could actually access that retail it would actually be more sustainable.

So we have this plan. Of course, we had caveats with the developers. No use of eminent domain unless. There are some absentee landowners in the area who allow certain activities to take place in their buildings. To this day, there's prostitution, there is drug-dealing open in the streets and it's literally three blocks away from the police station. Right, laughter, which kind of goes to the walls that we have in our community. What used to be Main Street over here and kind of that attitude has transferred to the crosstown freeway. The building of that literally a line saying, okay, this is for this people and we're going to maintain it and we're going to take care of it and you look to the South and you see neglect. And I think people in Stockton you just get use to that you just figure that's the way it is.

George: South of the crosstown freeway?

Dillon: Yeah

George: The City and its leaders are morally bankrupt in that it was just an underserved almost abandoned area.

Dillon: Yeah, and it's the leaders but also definitely the developers as well. Part of the marketing of development at the time, you know in the 1960s 70s and on. Was these developers would build on land that use to be Farmland. It was all to the North and so they really changed the perception of upward mobility in Stockton. In that upper mobility and Stockton means you got to live up north. And so a lot of folks who may be grew up and kind of form their idea of community everything in order for them to be considered successful in Stockton, you had to move up north, they had to buy into their property.

And so one of the things that we always talk about is like well, you know, we were kind of misled. We were, rather than building community, we buy into community. And the people in our community who have, well the richest people in our community are the people who created those conditions in Stockton.

It's affected the mindset of our young people. In that, I just need to get out of this place. So constant brain drain from South Stockton to even the other communities or just to north Stockton. That this is a place for the poor. And this is the place for upwardly mobile. And although these folks have profited greatly from it. There has been no reinvestment into the communities that they have hurt the most. Whether it be building affordable housing or building anything new in that area or just donating, laughter, right? And I think that's probably one of the biggest issues that we have.  As we engage with other communities and as a nonprofit we are starting to learn how other nonprofits survive, we don’t have the same culture of philanthropy that other cities do

George: One last question

Dillon: Sure

George: Is there anything about yourself that people don't know about?

Dillon: Is there anything about myself that people don't know about? Laughter... I feel like I put it all out there. Well, yeah, I mean, I’m, It's.. So, ah it's a little crazy. I've been involved. I feel like I'm the Forrest Gump of Stockton to ah certain degree because I've been able to work for the county, I've owned my own small business, I've been on the School Board. I got to work in the State Senate. I was the director of a new Charter School. A Social justice based charter school that was created.

And now I'm working as the Executive Director of Little Manila. So I guess it just all sounds like, oh, I'm a youth Minister as well. It probably sounds like I can't keep a job Laughter.. All that kinda stuff. But I think I've been led on a certain journey, to kind of be able to understand this larger picture that needs to happen in Stockton. And I think I've been put into places, where I can get an understanding of why things are the way they are to a certain degree. I'm extremely grateful for that. It's allowed me to make decisions in my life. You know, when I went from director to this job. It was a really hard decision to make because I have a three-year-old and a six-year-old and basically what it equated to was a $30,000 dollar cut in salary.

I think more than anything being a volunteer youth Minister, if you got to stand up in front of a bunch of kids and you got to tell them that you got to live your life in a certain way. And you are not doing it yourself. If you can't make the decisions those tough decisions in that same manner. That “you're not going to live a market-based life, but rather you're going to live a love-based life.”

You got to be able to make those tough decisions and have the faith that you're going to be alright. And I think we definitely need more of that. But maybe that's the thing that people don't know about me. That although I went into this extremely naive, I am intentional about the decisions that I make nowadays even to the detriment you know of my family in the market world. But can't take the market with you. Laughter....

Episode Outro: That’s, it for this episode of voices of the community. You have been listening to Dillon Dell-vo co-founder and Executive Director of Little Manila Rising who shared his organization’s struggle to preserve three historical buildings as well as develop a temporary museum and continue to grow their grassroots-based advocacy, education, arts and culture services to revitalize the Filipina American community in Stockton.

Little Manila Rising along with the other changemakers you have heard from in our series are working together with Mayor Tubbs to change the long-term economic apartheid of the City of Stockton. Stockton’s economic apartheid is a construct whereby South Stockton and downtown is where the economically disadvantaged people are, and North Stockton is where the economically upwardly mobile people are. The challenge is to bring together the entire community to work on the reinvention of Stockton whereas South Stockton’s success is North Stockton’s success.

Series Outro: Voices of the Community is a labor of love. This documentary series on the City of Stockton’s reinvention is a tribute to my mother, Josephine Koster Wyllie who grew up in South Stockton and passed away during the production of the documentary series. My mom was a first-generation Italian immigrant whose family migrated to Stockton and owned a motel on the old charter way now renamed Martin Luther King Blvd in the heart of South Stockton. Mayor Michael Tubbs also grew up in South Stockton with his single mother Racole Dixon.

Throughout the series you’ll hear voices of community members who are working with Michael Tubbs in both creating new organizations as well as working with fellow community members to reinvent South Stockton as well as the greater Stockton community.

Series Credits: I want to thank my associate producers Eric Estrada and Nick McClendon as well as advising producer Malcolm Cecil. Please go to to check out our next episode of From Bankruptcy to Reinvention - The City of Stockton California documentary series as well as our archived past shows which feature community voices working on solutions to critical issues facing Northern California communities. Please rate us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts and share this story with your friends. Follow us on twitter@georgekoster and email us at  I'm George Koster in San Francisco and thank you for listening.

In memoriam of Jo Koster Wyllie

This has been an Alien Boy Production.


Copyright © 2019 Voices of the Community / Alien Boy Productions All rights reserved.

Voices of the Community transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Descript  This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of Alien Boy Productions’ Voices of the Community’s programming is the audio record.