Happy Filipino American History Month!

As I grew up, it because blaringly obvious that many elementary, middle and high school curriculums omit crucial details of American history. We are all familiar with the names Christopher Columbus, George Washington and Henry Ford, but because of the American education system, we never learned about the lives of many men and women who dedicated their lives to this country.

As of 2009, the U.S. Congress officially declared October Filipino American History Month. Growing up Filipino-American in Tennessee, I did not learn a ton about Filipino-American history. Although the United States and the Philippines have an extensive history with one another, history books often only mentioned the Philippines during the topic of Magellan’s final voyage, where he ultimately perished in Mactan at the hands of Lapu-Lapu. However, the Philippines and Filipino-Americans play a much larger role in the nation’s history than the general American education system leads students to believe. Because my textbooks never taught me, I ultimately learned more about Filipino-American history in my free time from YouTube videos, occasional Zoom seminars and online articles than I did in school.

Today, as I discover these hidden histories, I feel more connected to my Filipino-American identity than ever before. The Filipinos and Filipino Americans that came before me are part of the reason why I have many of the opportunities I have today.

In honor of Filipino American History Month, I want to share with you some of the stories of those whose voices should not be forgotten.

  1. 1. Early Filipino presence in North America

    Long before the Founding Fathers and the birth of the United States of America, Filipinos already arrived on North American soil. On October 18, 1587, the first Filipinos arrived in North America at what is now Morro Bay, California, aboard the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Esperanza. Working as sailors on the ship, the three Filipinos known as the Luzones Indios were the first documented Asians in the United States. In honor of these three men that marked the beginning of the rich history in the U.S., October is Filipino American History Month.

    The first Filipino settlement in the United States was Saint-Malo, which was located in the Louisiana marshlands. In 1763, about 25 miles southeast of New Orleans, several Filipinos escaped from a Spanish ship and fled to what is now St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana. Only one documented account exists about Saint-Malo: an article in Harper’s Weekly from 1883. In the article, the author includes details about the remote village. Saint-Malo housed approximately 150 fishermen in stilted houses made of wood and palmetto fronts, similar to several housing styles in the Philippines. These fishermen, who ultimately became known as Manilamen, pioneered the technique for drying shrimp in Louisiana, aiding in the state’s future economic growth in the shrimp industry. Unfortunately, the New Orleans Hurricane of 1915 destroyed the settlement, and there was no trace of it left behind. To keep the memory of the Manilamen alive, the Philippine-Louisiana Historical Society dedicated a historical marker to the settlement at the Los Isleños Museum Complex in St. Bernard Parish.

  2. 2. 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and the 1905 Coney Island Human Zoo

    Following the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War, the United States acquired the Philippines as a U.S. territory. However, many were skeptical of America’s so-called “benevolent colonialism” after ridding the Philippines of Spain’s long-term rule. To demonstrate that many Filipino inhabitants were “unfit for self-government” according to President William McKinley, numerous indigenous Filipinos were brought to the United States as propaganda for the American public to witness.

    In 1904, St. Louis held the World’s Fair to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. At the fair, there were many spectacles and inventions for the public to view, such as early fax machines and private automobiles. Alongside these exhibits that showcased America’s advancement, there was The Filipino Experience, which displayed thousands of indigenous Filipinos living in mock villages that were meant to replicate their homes in the Philippines.

    This isn’t the only instance of humans being on display like this in the U.S., though. One of the most infamous American human zoos was Coney Island’s in 1905. Like the one in St. Louis, Coney Island featured a mock indigenous village. The man that brought the Filipinos to the exhibit was Dr. Truman Hunt, who served as a doctor in hospitals littered with cholera during the Spanish-American War. He brought numerous Igorot, indigenous Filipinos from northern Luzon, with the promise of $15 a month for each person that volunteered.

    Although the Filipino exhibit was meant to realistically depict the Igorots’ lives in the Philippines, the exhibit was essentially a live reality TV show – minus the reality. Many of the headhunts and several tribal dances that occurred in the exhibit are rare in Igorot culture. The display made it seem like the Igorots’ regularly consumed dogs, which was also a sham. The consumption is ceremonial and not a part of daily life. Regardless of the facts, Truman arranged that numerous dogs from New York pounds were delivered, cooked in a pot and fed to the Igorot. To the American public, this was an absolute scandal, which further instilled the idea that Filipinos were foreign savages.

  3. 3. Little Manila in Stockton, California

    Following the Philippine-American War, numerous Filipino immigrants began working as migrant workers known as sakadas throughout the West Coast in hopes of sending money back home to their families in the Philippines. Throughout the year, they traveled from region to region in search of work in the form of manual labor, including Alaska’s fish canneries, California’s grape vineyards and Hawaii’s sugarcane plantations.

    Because of California’s abundance of farm labor throughout the year, Stockton became the heart of Filipino California. With the influx of migrant workers, a neighborhood community called Little Manila formed from Lafayette Street to El Dorado, consisting of barbers, shoe shiners, union halls, pool halls, taxi dance halls and restaurants. As immigration laws eased in the ‘60s, many Filipino immigrants began to settle in larger cities in pursuit of work in the city instead of migrant work. As a result, Little Manila slowly began to diminish, and the city began demolishing many of its buildings in favor of chain restaurants and other projects.

    However, San Francisco State Associate Professor Dawn Mabalon is determined to keep the heart of Little Manila alive. She founded the Little Manila Foundation and preserved three of the neighborhood’s original buildings. Today, Little Manila is marked as a historic site so that we can continue to honor the history of the Filipino men and women who helped build this country.

  4. 4. Oahu Sugar Strike

    Hawaii’s sugarcane plantations heavily utilized sakadas for manual labor. By 1920, approximately 10,000 Filipinos were working on Hawaiian sugarcane plantations, which was about half of the total Filipino population in the state. Most of these workers were single men with little education, professional skills and English skills. Throughout the workday, they would carry heavy bundles of sugarcane for 10 hours, and they lived with five other male workers in 10 square-foot barracks. They made 77 cents per day and received a “bonus” if they consecutively worked 720 days in 3 years.

    Along with Filipino labor, the plantations employed Japanese migrant workers who received better treatment than their Filipino counterparts. As a result, there was some tension between the two groups, but by 1920, they decided that their differences shied in comparison to the treatment they received from their employers. On January 18, Filipino workers walked out of an Oahu plantation, and two weeks later, the Japanese workers followed. They demanded that the Hawaii Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA) raise their pay from 77 cents per day to $1.25 per day and implement eight-hour workdays as opposed to 10 hours. However, their attempts were futile because the HSPA refused to meet any of their demands, and the strike ended within six months after the HSPA defamed the Filipino and Japanese labor leaders.

  5. 5. Larry Itliong and the ‘60s American Labor Movement

    In California, many of the Filipino farmworkers were referred to as manongs, meaning elders in the Ilocano Filipino dialect, because many of them were older. Throughout the West Coast, former farmworker turned labor organizer Larry Itliong was involved with several different movements on the behalf of Filipino migrant workers. In the 1930s and ’40s, he helped organize a worker’s union in Alaska, led lettuce strikes in Salinas, California, and asparagus strikes in Stockton.

    The famous Delano Grape Strike was inspired by a strike that Itliong led in Coachella Valley in May 1965. The Filipino strikers demanded 15 cents per hour raise, and growers met the demand, so the strike lasted for only a week. During the Delano Grape Strike, when Itliong and other Filipino laborers were boycotting the fields, Itliong urged César Chávez and the Mexican laborers to do the same. At first, Chávez wanted to delay the strike another two to three years. However, Itliong convinced him that the strike had to happen sooner because many of the manongs were already growing old, and they could not afford to wait. On September 8, 1965, Filipino and Mexican farmworkers walked to protest unfair wages and work conditions. The Delano Grape Strike was an official partnership between Filipino and Mexican migrant workers at a time when it was common for farm owners to pit them against one another, which led to the groups competing for work when the other decided to strike and making demands for change more difficult. The strike lasted approximately five years, and farmworkers were granted fair wages, healthcare benefits and protection from pesticides.

    Today, we still remember and honor Itliong and Chávez’s work for the rights of those whose voices were stifled by society.

How UF is celebrating Filipino American History Month

Although the Filipino Student Association’s celebration of Filipino American Heritage Month looks different this year because of COVID-19, the Pinoy pride is still resilient and events have moved online. Throughout October, FSA will be holding several events.

1.  To incorporate October’s vibe as the spookiest month of the year, FSA will be holding a horror night on October 12, where they will watch a Filipino horror movie together.

2. Lastly, on October 23, FSA will be holding a closing ceremony where it will be celebrating with music, dance and Filipino food.

For more details and updates, be sure to follow FSA on Facebook at the UF Filipino Student Association page and on Instagram @uffsa.