Estrella Alamar

Estrella Ravelo Alamar, a dedicated archivist and cataloguer of Filipino American history and well-loved member of the Hyde Park community, died on Oct. 23 at the age of 86. 

She was born to Florentino Ravelo and Ambrosia Galutera in 1936 on the West Side of Chicago, and in 1940, the family moved to Hyde Park. The oldest of four sisters, Alamar has been in the neighborhood ever since. 

A second-generation Filipino American, Alamar attended Hyde Park High School and DePaul University. She went on to teach primary education in Chicago Public Schools, retiring after 30 years. 

Alamar is well-known for her dedication to preserving and protecting Filipino American history over the years. She recorded her family’s history dating back to her parents’ birthplace of the Philippines, and did the same for other community members. 

Following this lifelong passion, in 1986 she founded the Filipino American Historical Society of Chicago, and later co-founded the Filipino American National History Society Midwest Chapter, where she served as a vice president from 1990-1992. In 1999, she opened the FAHSC Museum of Filipino American History and Heritage in Chicago; it was co-founded with her late husband, Justo O. Alamar, who passed away before its opening in 1998.

Because the museum was self-funded, it was closed three years later; The entire collection was moved to their house, where it remains to this day.

According to Tito Ruben, Executive Director of the Filipino American Historical Society of Chicago, Alamar’s archival interest came from her father, who emigrated in the early 1900s. He worked in various locations on farms and railroads before deciding to settle in Chicago. There, he started to collect photographs and to write about their history. 

In a 2018 interview, Alamar said of growing up in Chicago in the mid-20th century: “We were a minority within a minority… There’s very little known about the Philippines, and because of the extent of history that we have through the pictures and the papers that my parents collected, we have the foundation of what our history is here in Chicago.” 

“Who would get to know about this history if someone did not start to show it,” she continued. In the video background, there were high-stacked boxes containing photos and documents said to date back to the 1920s. 

In 2001, she co-authored the book “Images of America: Filipinos in Chicago,” a pictorial book depicting everyday Filipino Americans in the city along with notable figures. It inspired many books by the same name in other cities across the U.S., such as “Filipinos in Los Angeles” and “Filipinos in Stockton”. 

Prior to her death, she was working on a second edition of the book with Ruben, which spanned the period after the 1960s.  

Throughout her adult life, Alamar was also a frequent presence at the events of cultural institutions in the city, like the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Chinese American Museum. She was an active member of Chicago Cultural connections and the Chicago Cultural Alliance. 

On Oct. 9, Alamar celebrated her 86th birthday at a Polish Museum of America event celebrating “The Taste of Two Cultures,” co-sponsored by the Chicago Cultural Alliance and FAHSC. 

A lifelong Hyde Parker with a love of history, Alamar was also involved in the Hyde Park Historical Society as a docent and member of the oral history committee, according to the society’s vice president Michal Safar. 

Her deep commitment to community service and staying involved in the community extended widely, and she was well-known within these organizations. 

Despite spending the last year of her life in declining health, battling both diabetes and cancer diagnoses, Alamar remained remarkably involved in the community. She would “actively participate and even go (to) in-person meetings,” Ruben said, and had also been attending St. Thomas the Apostle Church, even though she was in a wheelchair. 

She is remembered by her sisters Flora White, Pearl Snoddy and the late Gloria Vaillancourt; her stepchildren Robin, Keith and the late Todd, and many more family and community members. 

Ruben, Alamar’s power of attorney, said that in her will, she expressed her desire to have the Historical Society turn her collection of Filipino American archival materials into a physical museum, or to put them online. 

A one hour visitation and wake will be held tomorrow, Oct. 28th, from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., with an hour-long Mass from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, 5472 S. Kimbark Ave. Internment will take place immediately following the Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, 87th Street and S. Hamlin Ave. All are open to the public.  

In lieu of flowers, they are asking for contributions to be made to the Filipino American Historical Society of Chicago’s Estrella Alamar Museum Fund. More information can be found here.   

staff writer

Zoe Pharo is a graduate of Carleton College. She was recently an editorial intern for In These Times, and has also written for Little Village and Chapel Hill Magazine. 

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