California Freemason: Brick by Brick

Culture Club


By Tony Pierucci

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare famously asked, “What’s in a name?” Back then, the suggestion was: not much. It’s the quality of the thing that counts. (“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”) Don’t tell that to the founding members of Gat José Rizal Lodge № 882 in Menifee. Because for them, their lodge moniker is a badge they’re proud to wear.

Of course, Rizal № 882 takes its appellation from José Rizal, the poet, writer, and national hero of the Philippines, who was, like many of the most famous figures of Filipino independence, a Freemason. As a writer and journalist, Rizal became a figurehead of resistance to the Spanish occupation of the islands in the late 19th century. In 1896, he was arrested and sentenced to death. His martyrdom became a rallying cry for the rebellion that finally earned Filipinos their freedom. After his death, Rizal was given the title gatdula (abbreviated as “gat”), meaning “honorable.”

To the Filipino American Masons behind the new lodge, the inspiration for their name was never in doubt. “It’s a way of honoring our culture and saying to the world that we’re proud Filipinos,” explains J.P. Cariaga, the first master of the lodge.

For the large and growing share of Fil-Am Masons in California, groups like Rizal № 882, which received its dispensation in 2021 and was formally constituted a year later, are a welcome sight. It’s estimated that as many as a third of all new members in California have roots in the Philippines. And while several lodges throughout the state have significant Filipino membership, it’s only recently that lodges have emerged to specifically honor that heritage.

That development comes against a backdrop of increasing diversity within the fraternity, as well as an eagerness to recognize and build lodges around various ethnic subcultures. In recent years, that has included the formation of lodges like Pilares del Rey Salomon № 886 in Long Beach, Raven’s Rock № 870 in Burbank, and La France № 885 in Santa Monica. Those lodges cater to Spanish, Armenian, and French speakers, respectively. Of course, there’s also MW Manuel Luis Quezon № 874 in San Diego, Andres Bonifacio № 879 in Long Beach, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur № 853 in Sacramento—all of which have significant Filipino memberships and take their names, like Rizal, from historical figures of importance to the islands.

“I think Filipinos are drawn to Freemasonry because our culture values camaraderie and fellowship,” says Cariaga, who is also past master of Hemet San Jacinto № 338, another lodge with a large Filipino American membership. It’s also true that the fraternity counts a sizable share of current and former military men among its Filipino contingent. (Since the early 1900s, Filipino men have been eligible to serve in the U.S. Navy, and for many years that was the surest path to American citizenship. Today, there are more than 15,000 Filipino American servicemen in the Navy.) Cariaga notes that those members doubly cherish their membership in the fraternity.

Above: Members of the new lodge gather at the Menifee Valley Masonic Temple in Riverside County.

A New Lodge in the Making

After a conversation in 2020 with district inspector Mark Nielson, Cariaga began talking within his own network of Filipino Masons to gauge interest in starting a new lodge in Riverside County. The response was universally positive. “I definitely saw the potential,” Cariaga says.

What he didn’t see—at least then—was how it would work. “The first big challenge was finding a home—and finances, of course,” Cariaga says. The group was able to solve the former problem when nearby Menifee Valley № 289 offered its space to the new lodge, though it meant adjusting each lodge’s schedule around the other’s.

There was also the matter of building a distinct lodge character—something that Cariaga and others acknowledge takes time. “I think all of us charter members saw this as a chance to develop a lodge with a unique culture that we all wanted,” says Vonn DeGuzman, who is now the lodge’s junior warden. Angelo Alano, another charter member, who is now serving as senior warden, echoes that sentiment. “We sometimes have trouble distinguishing ourselves from Menifee Valley Lodge in terms of how the public sees us,” he says. “When we meet in a lodge with a name that’s not our own, how are we supposed to differentiate ourselves?”

Both say that a lodge’s culture is always changing. However, their group’s shared ancestry and deep commitment to being family-centered remain at the heart of the lodge character. “Our heritage means a lot to us and binds us together,” Cariaga says. “But at the end of the day, we’re also Masons and that matters just as much.” 

Members are quick to point out that while the lodge is proudly Filipino, members aren’t required to be. “We welcome all Masons,” Cariaga says. The true prerequisite is for prospects to be willing and able to pitch in and help with the considerable effort of building a lodge from scratch. After all, there’s still plenty of work to do. 

A Pan-Pacific Connection

One of the biggest ways the lodge has aimed to make its name is through philanthropy. Despite having been constituted for less than two years, it has already achieved 100 percent officer giving to the California Masonic Foundation in support of public education and senior care. 

Rizal № 882 has also made an effort to get its name out in the surrounding community, underwriting scholarships for local students and collecting donations for a nearby food pantry. Last year the lodge was even able to extend its philanthropy across the Pacific to the Philippines. “We had an opportunity to work with an elementary school there to donate clothes and other essential items,” Alano explains. It was a galvanizing effort that he says brought the lodge closer together. 

That kind of work requires dedication and planning—and sacrifice. “Since we don’t have a savings account to pull from for our efforts, every cent we spend has to be raised either through our dues or fundraisers,” Cariaga says. That means new members come in with the expectation that charity will be a top priority; the lodge holds four annual fundraisers to facilitate its growing relief program. 

And although members say it’s been hard work getting the lodge established, each of them agrees that it’s worth the effort. “At the end of the day, we’re building something important,” Cariaga says. Indeed, it was Rizal himself who said, “It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great ideal.”

Above: Amorsolo Ledina (center), master of Gat Jose Rizal Nº 882 with senior warden Angelo Alano (left) and junior warden Vonn DeGuzman.


Photograph by:
Matthew Reamer

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