October is Filipino American History Month

Though the month of October is often associated with pumpkins and costumes, October in the United States is also celebrated as Filipino American History Month (FAHM). The first annual Filipino American History Month commenced in October 1992, spearheaded by the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) the previous year. October celebrates and remembers the first Filipinos who arrived in Morro Bay, California on October 18, 1587. FAHM is widely celebrated in California and Hawaii.

The first documented presence of Filipinos in North America goes back to October 1587, when they arrived in Morro Bay. Mass migration from the Philippines to America was popular especially after the Treaty of Paris in 1898, when for a brief period the Philippines was a territory of the United States. On July 4, 1946, Philippine independence was granted by the U.S. Despite this, the number of immigrants from the Philippines increased, especially with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

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Today, Filipino immigrants are one of the largest American immigrant groups, with over 40,000 Filipinos having arrived since 1979. The Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of 2003 allowed Filipino Americans to receive dual citizenship in the U.S. and the Philippines. By 2005, about 6,000 Filipino Americans received dual citizenship under this act. The wave of hopeful Filipino immigrants continues; as of 2016, more than 380,000 Filipinos were on the visa wait list, second to Mexico. Because of the large number of Filipino Americans present in the U.S., Filipinos have the longest waiting times for family reunification visas.

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In American politics, Filipinos have been vastly underrepresented. The first Filipino-American elected to office was Peter Aduja. Another prominent Filipino politician is former governor of Hawaii, Ben Cayetano, the first American governor of Filipino descent. The only Filipino American to have been a member of the U.S. Senate was Senator John Ensign. In addition, Thelma Buchholdt was the first female Filipino American legislator in the U.S., and the first Filipino American to be elected to a United States legislative body, Alaska, that constituted less than 3% Asian Americans and less than 1% Filipino Americans. The FANHS recognizes inspirational Filipina Americans such as Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova, Victoria Manalo Draves, Dr. Felicisima Serafica, Thelma Buchholdt, and Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon.

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This brief history on Filipino Americans, immigrants, and politicians shows how Filipino American history is vastly underrepresented in government and media. Just like all other racial and ethnic groups existing in the U.S., Filipinos have their own unique and inspirational history. It is important to recognize and remember Filipino immigrants as symbols of strength and endurance, fighters of racial discrimination and unequal workplace rights.

As a Filipino-American myself, I am embarassingly ignorant of Filipino American history, as well as my own family’s history. However, researching and learning about Filipino Americans in history inspires me not only to educate myself further, but also to become part of that history myself as an inspiration to others, even just to my family and friends. The diversity present in all of our racial and ethnic histories is too beautiful to be forgotten or erased. Our ethnic and racial histories should be told with pride and continued through our own actions.