SAN DIEGO — "It's hard work, it's dedication, it's passion," said Fina Surdilla, owner of Fina's Fashion Boutique and Alterations in National City.
Fina’s passion for fashion is what drove her to start her own alterations and traditional Filipino clothing business.
"It’s a dream for me, really, to be in the United States because of opportunities of course. Life in the Philippines is so hard it made me have a dream," said Surdilla.
Her dream began with just one sewing machine, a table and very little cash. Twelve years later, she uses the same sewing machine.
"Since I came here, since I'm new here in America, and I don’t have anything, there was a lady who helped me. She bought a sewing machine and I paid every month $20 to afford it," said Surdilla.
Her sewing machine has never let her down and neither have her loyal customers.
"Look at this store! I love it!" said long time customer, Florida Casino.
"Fina provides excellent customer service. It's exceptional. It will be ready to the next day. Wherever she moves, I'm following her. She's awesome," said another loyal customer.
"One time I forgot my wallet. She let me take the stuff and said 'pay me later.' I appreciate her help," said another long time customer.
Not too far away in National City is a popular Filipino restaurant, Goldilocks.
The bakery chain based in the Philippines started by two sisters in 1966 has a full Filipino menu including cakes, steam buns, and more.
The store manager worked in the Philippines before immigrating here.
"It's a better opportunity. It's my dream since I was really young," said Goldilocks store manager, Imelda Tan.
Now, she’s worked there for nearly 20 years, yet she says the food never gets old.
Another local restaurant also started by Filipino immigrants is Manila Sunset. It first opened on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles. It has now been in National City for 30 years.
"Sometimes we have celebrities. We had Jo Koy here," said the Manila Sunset General Manger of three decades, Gabriel Wisco.
Celebrities and families come for their Philippine cake, Babinka and a summertime dessert, Halo-Halo. Wisco works there with his daughter.
"He's my dad, so we argue but I am so happy to be able to be around him more often," said Caitlynn Wisco, Gabriel's daughter who has worked at Manila Sunset for the last 3 years.
"You'll learn the culture and variety of foods. You'll learn how people interact with each other and show a lot of respect and party everyday. It's Christmas here everyday," laughs Gabriel Wisco.
"This is a Filipino restaurant and my very first job in America," said the Manila Sunset supervisor, Meschielyn Vierling.
And she never left, she’s worked there the past 12 years.
These three successful Filipino businesses survived the pandemic through passion and hard work in a community that at one point felt under represented.
"Representation is a huge thing. Filipino culture is important and it's important to share our culture more with the world. We can share our food and community. We want to share with other people," said Caitlynn Wisco.
According to a 2019 Pew Research study, San Diego has the fifth largest Filipino population and it continues to grow.
And nothing is stopping them from their continued success.
"We are able to survive because of dedication. I can't live without sewing!" says Surdilla.
"The sky is the limit for us," said Gabriel Wisco.
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