(First or 3 parts)

CALIFORNIA, USA -- Wherever Filipino immigrants are, they'd always tinker with creative ideas that would somehow allow them to survive the dog-eat-dog competition in their adopted land.

And it is no wonder why many are considered survivalists. Secret in their veins? Of course, self-reliance, not to discount their innate gift of having an enterprising creativity which they may have developed after going through the ups and downs of life.

In fact, it is manifested in this multi-diverse community, less than an hour drive from downtown Los Angeles, where patches of business activities have become prominent signs of progress, especially in the heart of the city where the real business pulse is. Intriguing as they are to the ordinary mortals, the sprouting of ubiquitous food outlets can never be ignored. Most of all, they are booming, too.

And credit goes to enterprising Filipinos who lord it over against the other ethnic groups that comprise the business community here.

As always, the question is: Why do Filipino-owned businesses thrive despite the stiff competition in the market? Notably, this small bastion, whose local politics has been polarized over the years, is surrounded by more prosperous cities within the Los Angeles County. Despite its geographical size, it has become the beehive of various events and business activities in Southern California.

Many of the local businesses that sprouted over time are owned by Filipinos themselves. But what makes them tick? In a cosmopolitan place where almost all types of nationalities are represented, competition has been a tough nut to crack.

But with a bit of luck, those who ventured into the restaurant and food distribution businesses have survived through the years. As a first hand observation, the prevalence of Asians, led by Filipinos, who are the captive consumers for Asian cuisines and other food commodities may have been the reason why businesses are still doing well.

As reflected in the census by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, at least 47 percent of the population in the city are from the Philippines. Other nationalities share the rest of the population. In Los Angeles County, this is one of the places in California where Filipinos are the dominant population.

As gleaned from this, it is not surprising at all why the first Filipino candidate for mayor in the person of Atty. Pete Fajardo was declared victorious when he first ran for public office here many years ago. He is now a businessman, and owner of the Carson Adult Day Care Center, one of the biggest facilities providing recreational past-time to the elderly population within the city and the surrounding areas.

Even former city mayor Jim Dear, a white guy, owed his victory from the Filipinos who supported his candidacy until his recall several months ago, while he was serving as the city clerk. But he is coming back to reclaim that former glory, supporters familiar to his plans said. Mind you, some of these political plans were even hatched at some popular Filipino restaurants.

At that time, Filipinos were united in their support for a kababayan candidate. Unlike now, it's a bit different, and many of the voters have changed their priorities and concerns.

"Filipinos are emotional and sensitive when it comes to politics. But at the end of the day, their taste for food is the same which is the number one reason why the food business never runs out of customers," insists Toks Catahimican, a pensioner who sources out his food supplies from the Filipino-owned super markets.

He pointed out that Filipino-owned businesses continue to thrive as many Filipino consumers patronize Philippine-made products. And despite the competition, Filipino customers keep coming back over and over again.

"They just wanted to savor products from the Philippines," explains Allan Gutierrez, an independent contractor and a regular customer at the Pinoy stores. "Of course, others just wanted to hang out, while looking for their favorite food commodities," he added.

However, they both agreed that the number one reason why Filipino-owned establishments survive is because Filipinos like good food which brings back unforgettable memories back home. These memories come out as they share their stories while in the process of eating their favorite recipes inside a restaurant.

It is no wonder why the city of Carson is home to a variety of businesses. Most of them are into food distribution and restaurants. Among the popular ones are the Manila Lechon Restaurant, Manila Sunrise Restaurant, Chow Fun, Chow King, Red Ribbon Bakeshop, Goldilocks, Luisa and Sons Cafe, Bahay Kainan, Aling Celia's Restaurant, Vigan Restaurant, Nita's Restaurant, Handugan Restaurant, Jollibee, Delia's Restaurant, Bibingkahan and Restaurant, V Tropical Bakeshop, Ma Jing's Restaurant, Joy's Bakery, and many others.

Biggest distributors of seafood and other Asian commodities are Seafood City Supermarket, where the bust statue of our national hero--Dr. Jose Rizal-- bears witness to the droves of customers who come here on a daily basis; Tambuli Seafood Market, Seafood Ranch Market, and Unimart Seafood Market. All these establishments are Filipino-owned.

Competition is great that each supermarket has always to come up with colorful advertisements where prices of the goods are indicated. In this way, consumers may know at once which place has the most discounted prices in the market.

In the supermarket business, competition is always an issue that is to be dealt with properly. Competing with other big supermarkets close by is really a big concern. "We leave it all up to God to help us," Mr. Francis Lau of Tambuli Market, said in an interview, as he was busy tinkering with paper works.

But why would customers come to Tambuli Market? "Honestly, our veggies are much cheaper compared to other stores," Mr. Lauadded. And, perhaps, "that's the reason why they come to us."

Another advantage that Tambuli Market, a brick-and-mortar grocery store as well as a virtual supermarket, is proud to share is that most of its officers are always at the forefront of the business operation. "We make it sure that we're always here so that we can immediately address complaints of customers," Mr. Lau said. "At other supermarkets, only workers are around." (Randy Altarejos/PNA)


(This is the first installment of a three-part feature series of Randy Altarejos, former editor of the Philippine News Agency who is now based in the United States.)