The Stockton Police Department in California said Wednesday it was investigating who might have vandalized a community center during Filipino American History Month.
Police responding to the Little Manila Center Monday night in downtown Stockton, a city of roughly 307,000 in California, found posters torn down and graffiti scrawled on a window, officer Joe Silva told NBC News.
The words, some of them misspelled, included “you,” “prop,” “whittie,” “brain,” “washed,” and “biggots,” Silva said.
Dillon Delvo, the executive director of the Little Manila Foundation, told NBC News their initial reaction was that it might’ve been a hate crime.
“Someone was destroying our historical photos that we’re really proud of during Filipino American History Month,” he said.
Silva said police as of Wednesday classified the incident as an act of vandalism, not a hate crime.
Some Filipino immigrants who arrived in the United States in the ’20s and ’30s settled in the Stockton area that became known as Little Manila, according to the Little Manila Foundation. The group said that, between the 1920s and 1960s, Stockton reportedly had the largest population of Filipinos in the world outside of the Philippines.
But Filipinos openly faced discrimination. Main Street, where the three-year-old center sits today, served as the dividing line for people of color, according to the foundation, which advocates for preserving the Little Manila Historic Site in Stockton.
Delvo said students, from second grade to college, who participate in the center’s after-school program were the ones who discovered the vandalism.
“They were distraught,” he said. “They didn’t understand why something like this would happen.”
The ripped-down posters and banners showcase contributions made by Filipino Americans. They include an image of a World War II Filipino-American veteran, a field worker, and a Filipino woman at the time, among others, according to Delvo.
They also display the words “community,” “culture,” “empowerment,” “arts,” “history,” and “heritage.”
Police said they were looking into whether businesses in the area were similarly vandalized. They were also interviewing people who may have witnessed what happened at the Little Manila Center, Silva said.
As of Wednesday, Delvo said they were leaving the outside of the center the way it was found by students two days earlier — defaced windows and all.
“We have a really great community of young people and parents and activists who are really passionate,” Delvo said.
“And so for them, it was kind of like, their reaction was, wow, this is a reflection of what’s happening nationally at a local level,” he added.