“with a Malong on my shoulder”

Caroline Cabading small

Energy & Sustainability Program Specialist/ Graphic & Web content developer for the Federal Government
R& B Vocalist, Addison Street Band
Percussionist & Dancer, Kapwa
Percussionist & Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble

“I am 4th generation US-born Pilipino American. My family came to the US in 1904 from Cebu and La Union. My grandfather was a member of the S.F. Hotel and Restaurant Union and established a strong support for unions. Progressive politics and support for human rights is a part of my family heritage.  As one of the few Filipino families around during the “Manong” era, my grandparents’ home was also the home base for many San Francisco bachelors working in San Francisco, especially the migratory workers.

“We had a very strong sense of San Francisco being the home where we absolutely belonged and I grew up always knowing this. I grew up in the Western Addition or Lower Fillmore. Most people lived, worked, and raised their family here. Nowadays, it seems like I meet more and more people who work here but don’t live here – or only live here until they want to raise families and then move away. There were many families similar to mine, who all came to SF in the early 1900s or 1940s. It was wonderful growing up with my cousins and neighborhood kids from Latino, other Asian and African American families, who we felt were not that different from us. I felt like I belonged to a huge safe community.


“Singing is closest to my heart. My father used to say that I sung in my diapers. I sung from jazz to R & B as well as Indie Pinoy rock band, Autonomous Region. I feel that my singing― particularly the nature of improvisation in jazz singing―is everything that is American about me. My family came to the US to do something different, to discover something new, to innovate and to live spontaneously; which is what jazz music is. Singing is my personal expression: with spontaneity, full innovation, and elaboration of my uniqueness.

“My grandmother, Caroline Tormes Ubungen, the family’s matriarch, was also a singer. My grandfather first saw my grandmother when she was singing at the Club Fugazi in San Francisco.


“The challenge for all immigrants is remembering where we came from. I began exploring tribal art in college. Now I’m a kulintang musician, pangalay dancer, and a student in Kalinga laga weaving. It keeps me grounded and connected to Philippine culture. Otherwise I would just feel like a generic American. I am drawn to tribal art because there is this innate feeling of familiarity and memory, although I have never done any of it before. For me, the practice of tribal art is to honor protocol and respect the study of something ancient; understanding the rules, its beauty, and the relationship to the culture it comes from. I am a little tribal and a little modern.


“Without a doubt I am American and without a doubt I am Pilipino. My cultural identity is Pilipino but my national identity is American.

“The reality is that even if we wanted to, my family could not be part of the mainstream. We were isolated by the American society as different. We struggled with our identity as American.  In response, we became closer and held on to our cultural identity. I definitely identify as a Pilipino. It was constantly emphasized in the way we lived, the type of food we ate, the mixed language we spoke,  certain beliefs and ethics. Funny thing about my family is that all of the US born women on my mother’s side married immigrant men, as I have. I feel this keeps us connected to the Philippines of today.

“What exactly is ‘Pilipino’? Until we were colonized, we were different tribes of free nations, much like the Native Americans. To me, what it means to be a Pilipino is cultural. I’m a good example because I am a mix of predominantly Cebuano, Ilocano, and a little bit of Tagalog, while my husband is Kapampangan. So within this mix, we can only be Pilipino persons.

“I am living in a town I love and doing what I want to do. Recently, I came to realize that I’m not a tribal person and no matter how long I learn and practice the tribal art forms, I will always be a visitor. I am from the Pilipino American community. I used to be embarrassed about that and felt I had to run to tribes but realized the Pilipino American community is unique and has its own particular story to tell. Even as I love the tribal work, the next half of my life will be devoted to connecting and deepening the Pilipino-American part of me.”

Kodakan explores the many “faces” of the San Francisco Pilipino community, both past and present. But each individual also has many “faces” both literal and figurative. Along the atrium, we profile four individuals with complex and multi-layered public personas. Pictures for this panel were taken by Wilfred Galila, video stills by Peggy Peralta.

Caroline’s family has a long history in San Francisco. See a candid snap of her grandparents Fred and Caroline Tormes Ubungen enjoying a snack at the Manila Town café, used as our vintage inspiration in the “Gallivanting Dandies” section. 

One thought on “Personality Caroline Cabading-Canlas

  1. […] never shared the stage with these folks,” says Autonomous Region vocalist Caroline Cabading, a veteran jazz and R&B belter who also spent two decades touring and performing with the […]

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