Filipino American History Month

Published Brownsville Herald Sept. 27 2010

October is “Filipino American History Month” .
I have lived and worked in the Philippines and married one of these wonderful people. I found that most were very family oriented and genuinely decent folks.
Here in the Rio Grande Valley there is a substantial community of “Filipinos” contributing to Valley progress.
The Filipino-American History like the appearance of the people, is very similar to their cousins in the rest of “Spanish” America especially Mexico. I would like to submit a few snap-shots of the Filipino-American History.
Unknown to many people, Filipino American history began on October
18,1587 with a landing party consisting of Filipino seamen, sent to the California shore to claim the land for the Spanish king. They arrived in an area known as Morro Bay, California. It is also recorded in the ship manifests that there may have been Japanese and Chinese passengers on board as well.
From 1565 to 1815, during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, Filipinos were forced to work as sailors and navigators on board Spanish Galleons and were probably the first Asians to cross the Pacific Ocean, fifty years before the first English settlement of Jamestown was established. I wonder if there is a Filipino community in Acapulco.
In 1763, Filipinos made their first permanent settlement in the bayous and marshes of Louisiana. As sailors and navigators on board Spanish galleons,
Spanish-speaking Filipinos-jumped ship to escape the brutality of their Spanish-masters. They built houses on stilts along the gulf ports of New Orleans and were the first in the United States to introduce the sun-drying process of shrimp.
In 1781, Antonio Miranda Rodriguez Poblador, a Filipino, along with 44 other individuals were sent by the Spanish government from Mexico to establish what is now known as the city of Los Angeles. During the War of 1812, Filipinos from Manila Village (near New Orleans) were among the “Batarians” who fought against the British with Jean Lafitte in the Battle of New Orleans.
For over 300 years, Spain had colonized the Philippines using Manila Bay as their great seaport, trading silver and rich spices with other countries surrounding Southeast Asia and the rest of the world. The Spaniards gave Filipinos Christianity and were called Filipinos after King Philip II of Spain. This is why they have Spanish surnames like Garcia, Lopez, Lucio, and Escobido.
I wonder if any of our Filipinos have local resident relatives?
The Spanish connection came to an end after the Spanish-American War in 1898 when Spain sold the Philippines to the United States for $20 million, thus ending over 300 years of Spanish colonization.
Though Filipinos celebrated their independence from Spain on June 12, 1898, and declared Emilio Aguinaldo as president the people of the Philippines, however, were not truly free. In fact, they never were!
America was its new ruler!
The Filipino American War was America’s first true overseas war. The War lasted from 1898 to 1902, and in those 3 years as many as 70,000 Americans died and close to 2 million Filipinos were killed.
William Howard Taft, who later became President of the United States, became governor of the Philippines and American school teachers came to Philippines to establish a public school system similar to the American public schools.
American educators brought the American version of education and added the English language to the thousands of other languages commonly spoken in the there and today english is probably still more widely spoken in the Philippines than any other single language.
In the early 1900’s, other Filipinos came to Hawaii to work on sugar cane plantations and to seek a better life in America. Filipinos came to the West Coast of the U.S., where they worked many long hours on farms and in the agricultural fields picking grapes, asparagus, lettuce and other fruits and vegetables in places like Hayward, Salinas, Stockton, El Centro, and Escondido. In Alaska they worked in the fish canneries.
If they were not working in the fields, then they were working as dishwashers, waiters, and bus boys. Many of these Filipinos did not plan to reside permanently in the United States. All they wanted was to accumulate as much wealth as possible within as short a time as possible and return to the islands. But due to the low-paying jobs the migrants obtained, a trip home became more and more remote.
Even though Filipinos have been a part of “American History” since history began here, ignorance and bigotism has also plagued them as with other “foreigners”.
In the 1920’s and ’30’s, the ratio of men to women was 20 to 1. In some places it was 40 to 1. Because they were Filipino, they were not allowed to marry white women. In the state of California, the local authorities imposed anti-miscegenation laws on Filipinos so they had to go out of state in order to marry a white woman. Also, during this time, and particularly during the Great Depression, white Americans claimed that Filipinos “brought down the standard of living because they worked for low wages”.
Does that not sound familiar?
Filipinos had now joined nearly all the other pioneer groups who “brought down the standard of living” like the Irish, Italians, Blacks, and Hispanics. However the Filipinos earned an even higher distinction; the passing of the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, which limited Filipino immigration to the U.S. to 50 per year. Its main purpose was to exclude Filipinos because they were perceived as a social problem, disease carriers, and an economic threat.
This all changed with the onset of World War II when Filipinos from the Philippines joined the U.S. Navy to fight against the Japanese.
Filipinos were allowed to join the navy because they were so-called “Nationals”! They were not U.S. citizens, nor were they “illegal or undocumented aliens”. But despite their status, Filipinos fought side by side with American soldiers for freedom against the Japanese.
More recently, the Immigration Act of 1965 allowed the entry of as many as 20,000 immigrants annually. This most recent immigration of Filipinos, which consisted mainly of professionals: doctors, nurses, computer programmers, teachers, and engineers still continues.
Who are some of the Filipinos and what have they contributed to America:
The late, Larry Dulay Itliong, labor organizer (1965 grapes strike
leader), a 1st Vice-President of the United Farm Workers union.
The late, Philip Veracruz, co-founder of the United Farm Workers
Agapito Flores who in the early 1940’s invented the fluorescent light, thus the name fluor-res-cent.
Edwardo San Juan, a Filipino, who in 1969 worked for Lockheed
Corporation and was the conceptual designer of the Lunar Rover or the Moon Buggy.
In 1948, Olympic gold medalist, Vicky Manolo Draves, was the first
woman to win high and low diving events.
Bobby Balcena in 1957 was the outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds;
Roman Gabriel, quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams (1962-1973). He was the 1969 NFL MVP and Player of the Year;
Ernie Reyes, Jr., martial arts expert, movie actor and director;
Ben Cayetano, governor of Hawaii for many years from 1994.
Loida Nicolas Lewis, CEO of the largest African-American owned
corporation, TLC Beatrice;
Judge Lilian Lim, 1st Filipina judge in the U.S., appointed in 1988 and also from San Diego.
Tamilyn Tomita, from the “Karate Kid II” and the “Joy Luck Club”;
Tia Carrere, from “Wayne’s World I & II”, “Rising Sun”, & “True
Rob Schneider, who you all know from Saturday Night Live, the
movie “Judge Dredd”, “Demolition Man”, and “Down Periscope”;
Emilio Estevez, from the movie “Young Guns I & II”, “Men at Work”,
& “The Mighty Ducks I & II”;
Charlie Sheen, from “Major League I & II”, “Hot Shots”, and “Navy
Victoria Principal and so many more.
You may say that some of the people mentioned are part Black, White, or Asian, but deep down they are also part Pinoy, therefore, Filipino American.
Here in the Valley you will find excellent Filipino teachers, doctors, nurses, store owners, retailers, maquiladora managers, mechanics and just really fine people.
They, like any other Americans, will continue to live their lives in these United States of America, proud of their heritage and proud to tell their own story.


  1. says:

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post! It is the little changes
    that produce the most important changes. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Fred says:

    Yana, my comment was related to my friends. Having been a Customs Officer for 30 plus years, I was also aware of some that did come in from Mexico by foot, etc overstayed visas, and a variety of other illegal means. Though the Country is a half a globe away the drive to seek a better life is no less strong than other migrants. A favorite is to migrate to Canada first then immigrate to the U.S. as a Canadian.

  3. yana says:

    No, they can’t swim, sneak in by foot, climb fences, dig holes, etc. because they need to fly in. The country is half a globe away – ergo, they come here legally.

  4. Fred says:

    Most of them migrated legally though there were some that overstayed and waited in the US to return home and immigrate when the visa arrived. Still, there is a considerable difference in ease of travel into the U.S. Many arrived via Canada which has open immigration for Filipino professionals.
    Yes, I could have rubbed it in and even added that there is a strong movement that still exists to be a State, the large number that are in the U.S. military, and emphasized the fact that most speak English among other languages. How about the numbers of Mexicans in Southern California and Acapulco that are really Filipinos.

    Thanks for the comment

  5. Randy says:

    Did your Filipino friends immigrate legally or illegally? I think if you would have pointed that out you could have made an additional statement with your op/ed.