I am now writing Chapters 9 and 10, which I’m devoting to my character’s unplanned trip to New York.
This would sound glamorous and fun any other time in New York’s history except this was the 1930s. It was the Great Depression and my character, who came from a wealthy family back in the Philippines, was reduced to selling cigarettes on trains just to survive.
I don’t know what it was like for Filipino-Americans in the 1930s as Philippine history books devote little to the lives of immigrants there but here’s what I found:
In the 1930s, Filipinos were laborers in “some of the most exploitative sectors.” They worked back-breaking jobs such as working in lettuce fields for eight to ten hours a day with an hourly wage of 15 cents.Though they came to the U.S. as American nationals, Filipinos were not treated as such.
For Filipino immigrant workers in the 1930s, a life apart from the oppressive laborious jobs was an endeavor they actively sought. They found a life of excitement and culture in the taxi dance halls. At taxi dance halls, Filipinos “developed a dynamic subculture” where they “paid to dance with women in timed, ritualized sequences”. They resisted images of dirty, poor laborers and transformed into suave, charming men who devoutly sported the McIntosh suit. Through the images of the man in the McIntosh suit, who was suave and danced well, Filipino men formed a vibrant masculine identity that not only caught the attention of white women but evoked a strong resentment amongst white men.
The image of the charismatic Filipino immigrant dressed in his expensive McIntosh suit is a typical image associated to Filipino men of the taxi dance halls in the 1930s. The McIntosh suit is “expensive formal attire with padded shoulders and wide lapels worn by some of Hollywood’s most famous men like William Powell”. The Filipinos’ strong desire for a “form-fitted” McIntosh influenced companies like the Calderon Co. to advertise their shops with displays promoting, “custom-built Hollywood clothes”. Filipino men in the 1930s wouldn’t sport any other suit than the McIntosh suit.
“Filipino laborers subverted icons of white-middle class American masculinity” as Filipino identities of “asexual laborers in the dirty, tattered overalls,” transformed through their chic dress.”
So like they say, be careful what you wish for. This is the rabbit hole that I got myself into!
p.s. on the technical side of writing, I have been watching a lot of YouTube videos on the various aspects of writing a novel and, more specifically, historical fiction.
“Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense.”