Exhibition honors ‘Standard Oil’ Filipino fathers

Exhibition honors ‘Standard Oil’ Filipino fathers
All images contributed.

By Kathy Chouteau

The latest exhibition in El Sol Mexican Restaurant’s rotating art gallery particularly hits home for the eatery’s owner.

The restaurant hosts many Arts of Point Richmond exhibitions in its dining area, but its current one, “Filipino Fathers,” has a direct connection to owner Josephine Orozco. Her father, Nicasio (Nick) Abida Calvan, emigrated from the Philippines to eventually work as a chief steward on ships from Standard Oil, a predecessor company to Chevron Richmond. The current exhibition runs now through June 8 and shares Calvan’s story and those of others like him at the Linda Lee Drake Memorial Gallery at El Sol in Point Richmond.

The exhibition is on display during AAPI heritage month in May.

“We are very proud of them and we wanted to share their story of living the American dream,” said Orozco.

A group of daughters of Filipino refinery men, called “Filipino Families of Standard Oil/Chevron Shipping,” is partnering with the arts organization and restaurant on the new exhibition. 

The exhibition features 10 vibrant banners detailing facets of their fathers’ lives stemming from their time working for Standard Oil and living in Richmond. The exhibit was the brainchild and design of Orozco, with help from her sisters, Mary Ruiz and Linda Lee Drake (via writings preceding her death), friend, Isabelle Murphy and other group members.

Exhibition at El Sol Restaurant.

Ruiz told the Standard that the project has been really fun “because every time we keep digging, we find out more about our father.” She said her father, Calvan, first arrived in the U.S. from the Philippines when he was 19 years old and that the exhibition honors him for coming to America at such a young age and having a successful family with a wife, five daughters and one son. 

In the 30s and 40s, Calvan and some of his fellow Filipino countrymen were recruited by the U.S. Government to relocate to the U.S. to serve in the military.

Calvan joined the Merchant Marines, and following many stops along the way, landed in Richmond preceding WWII and found employment at Standard Oil. Calvin quickly created a community with many of his fellow Filipino transplants in the city, and they married and raised their children together like one big, collective family.

Today, the daughters of these native Filipino men have carried on their fathers’ legacy by creating their own community through the group, Filipino Families of Standard Oil/Chevron Shipping. Some of them grew up together socializing at places like the Richmond Rod & Gun Club, while others are newfound friends. Ruiz said that the group is continually growing and that they meet every other month.

The group, which has compiled information about their fathers and families in unpublished books, has been contacted by U.C. Berkeley for a meeting in May due to interest in sharing their local history in its library.

El Sol Mexican Restaurant is located at 101 Park Place in Point Richmond.