The Alayu Family: Immigrants Helping Immigrants

Throughout the month of August, we are focusing our attention on immigration and the role immigrants have played in making Illinois what it is today. Follow along here on our blog and on our social media to learn about famous immigrants and immigrant experiences.

The Alayu Family Papers are a collection of personal papers that document the lives of an immigrant Filipino family in Chicago during the twentieth century. Francisco P. Alayu came to the United States as a student in 1919, at first settling in Sunnyside, Washington to attend high school. After he graduated in May of 1920, he moved to Illinois, briefly attending the University of Illinois in Urbana, though did not graduate. He settled in Chicago and lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood that was popular among Filipino immigrants to the city. Francisco, also called “Frank” by friends and family, eventually found employment at the University of Chicago library. In the meantime, he was joined by his wife, Melchora, who he had married while still in the Philippines. The couple became one of the first Filipino-Filipina couples in the city. The Alayus had three daughters – Jane (also called Juana), Ethel, and Frances – and created a comfortable life for their family in Chicago. 

Francisco Alayu, circa 1960s
Francisco Alayu, circa 1960s

The Alayu Family Papers shows that Francisco and Melchora were frequently in contact with family and friends back in the Philippines. Filipino immigrants often maintained close ties with loved ones from their homelands, as well as fellow immigrants they connected with in the United States. These ties became more important than ever as the Philippines gained their independence from American colonial control in 1946, and Filipinos were no longer considered American nationals. This change, along with immigration quotas, complicated immigration from the Philippines and made returning to visit family much harder. Frank and Melchora became naturalized citizens of the United States in February 1947, choosing to remain in the country that had become home.

The Alayus became even more closely involved in the Filipino community in Chicago. They welcomed several Filipino students into their home in the 1940s, acting as their “foster family” in America. During this time, Melchora also acted as co-director of the Filipino Community Center in Chicago, helping connect new immigrants with housing, financial assistance, food, and education resources.

Letter to Francisco Alayu, November 7, 1967
Letter to Francisco Alayu asking for help in finding sponsorship for employment, November 7, 1967.

With their connections in Chicago, the Alayus also became central figures in helping other family members come to the United States and providing them with aid once they arrived. Francisco and Melchora’s nephew Deo, for instance, wrote to them from Syracuse, New York on October 17, 1967, asking for a place to stay while he looked for a job in the Chicago area. He expressed that his hopes after immigrating had not yet been met, writing:

I came to America with the assurance that I will get a good job easily. I was made to believe that America is a land of opportunity. So far I still have [yet] to see and experience that opportunity.

A letter from Francisco to Gaspar Guiab on January 18, 1968, reveals that the Alayus helped Deo to find opportunity, including a home and work as a chemical engineer in the suburbs of Chicago.

Letter from Francisco Alayu to Gaspar Guiab, January 18, 1968
News of Deo’s employment, January 18, 1968.

Guiab himself had written in December 1967, requesting advice on coming to the US to work as a doctor, writing to his “Uncle Frank and Auntie Olang”:

You know, I am truly determined to leave for the United States and do my level best in order to get out of this place where the smoke of politics is so much so that I no longer can stomack. I have persuaded Sabel that she permits me to go not only to earn but to augment or upgrade my knowledge in medicine and surgery. If it is possible, I would just stay thereat for two solid years. I believe that short stint is good enough considering my little experience and practice in the Philippines.

Guiab’s sentiments were not uncommon. Many Filipinos came to the United States with the hope that more education and experience would provide them with better opportunities either in America or in their homeland.  It is not clear what happened to Guiab, though other letters suggest that he hadn’t yet come to the United States as of 1970.

The Alayus are just one of many examples of families and communities of immigrants that relied on one another for advice and support, especially in tackling the challenges of starting life in a new land. To learn more about the Alayu Family and their family experiences, explore IHLC’s Alayu Family Papers, 1889-2010 (MS 955).  Also check out our digital exhibit Home: Illinois Immigration Stories for more on the Alayus and other immigrant families.

IHLC Resources

Alamar, Estrella Ravelo and Willi Red Buhay. Filipinos in Chicago. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2001.

Posadas, Barbara Mercedes. The Filipino Americans. Wesport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Other Resources

Posadas, Barbara M. “Transnationalism and Higher Education: Four Filipino Chicago Case Studies.” Journal of American Ethnic History, 32, no. 2. 2013.


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