Filipino American History

Article submitted by the
Coalition of Collegiate Pilipino American Organizations

According to the U.S. census, there are approximately 9 million people living in America who are of Asian descent. Twenty-three percent of that are of Chinese ancestry; 20% are Filipino; 12% are Asian Indian; and Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese each share about 10%.

It is expected, that by the year 2000 Filipinos will be the largest Asian Pacific Islander group. In the state of California, there are more Filipinos than there are of Chinese.

In San Diego County, Filipino Americans are the largest Asian Pacific Islander group. Yet as Filipino Americans, we are invisible to mainstream society. How often do you see Filipinos in books, in magazines, on television, or on the radio?

We are hidden in the shadows of our Pacific Islander brothers and sisters. It seems that the only thing people know about us is that our youths have the highest suicide rate in the county.

Is that the only thing known about Filipino Americans? Is this what we want our fellow Americans, our fellow Asian Americans, and our fellow shipmates to know? No, of course not. If possible, we would like to be able to tell our friends and neighbors that there is more to being Filipino than just lumpia and pancit. We want to be able to tell our friends and family that we have a unique Asian Pacific Islander heritage. A heritage that reflects our Filipinoness. A heritage that goes deep into the hearts of all Pinoys, whether we speak English or Tagalog, whether we were born in America or the Philippines, or whether we eat "kare-kare" and "pinakbet", or hamburgers and French fries.

We want to be able to tell our friends and fellow shipmates that, "Our history is no mystery." Indeed, as Filipino Americans, we need to tell our story and when our story began. Unknown to many people, Filipino American history began on October 18, 1587. Filipinos were the first Asians to cross the Pacific Ocean as early as 1587, fifty years before the first English settlement of Jamestown was established. From 1565 to 1815, during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, Filipinos were forced to work as sailors and navigators on board Spanish Galleons.

They arrived in as Morro Bay, California. A landing party consisting of Filipino seamen, namely "Luzon Indios ("Luzon Indians"), were sent to the California shore to claim the land for the Spanish king.

In 1763, Filipinos made their first permanent settlement in the bayous and marshes of Louisiana. As sailors and navigators on board Spanish galleons, Filipinos -- also known as "Manilamen" or 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 was 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.

This was just the beginning of the first wave of Filipino immigration into the United States. The second wave began from 1906 to 1934 with a heavy concentration going into California and Hawaii.

Between these waves of immigration, it is through the "colonization of our native land", the Philippines, that brought us here. 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. In exchange for gold, the Spaniards gave Filipinos Christianity. We were called Filipinos after King Philip II of Spain. This is why we have Spanish surnames like Bautista, Calderon, Marquez, and Santos.

Our Spanish connection came to an end after the Spanish-American War in 1898 when America wanted to control the Philippines. Unknown to Filipinos, through the Treaty of Paris (April 11, 1899), Spain sold the Philippines to the United States for $20 million, thus ending over 300 years of Spanish colonization.

Filipinos celebrated their independence from Spain on June 12, 1898, and declared Emilio Aguinaldo as president. However, the people of the Philippines were not truly free. In fact, they never were. America was its new ruler and had cheated the Filipinos in believing that they were free. Thus, the Filipino American War began shortly after U.S. colonization. Known in U.S. history books as the "Philippine Insurrection", it was a bloody precurser to Vietnam. 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. American soldiers were ordered to shoot and kill every one over age 10. Filipinos over ten were considered "Criminals because they were born ten years before [America] we took the Philippines."

There was even a special gun designed to kill Filipinos, the Colt.45 1902 "Philippine Model", where only 4,600 were made. This is the real American history that historians, academicians, and scholars forgot to tell us. Soon after the War, William Howard Taft, who later became President of the United States, became governor of the Philippines. American school teachers, called 'Thomasites', came to the Philippines to establish a public school system similar to American public schools.

American educators taught Filipinos that "Aguinaldo and friends" were the enemy. They were taught American songs, and world history through American eyes. This is why so many of us speak such good English. The elite class of rich Filipinos also known as "pensionados" were allowed to come to America to learn in American universities. In November 1903, 103 pensionados became the first Filipino students in American Universities and campuses.

It was here in San Diego at State Normal School, now known as San Diego State University (SDSU), where the School Registrar's records show that there were a few Filipino students, ages 16- 25, who had attended SDSU, proof that we have been here in San Diego since 1903.

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. 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 even in 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 at the Hotel Del Coronado, some at the "Casa de Manana" in La Jolla, or at the Rome Hotel on Market Street.

These Filipino pioneers were known as the "manong generation" since most of them came from Ilokos Sur, Iloilo, and Cavite in the Philippines. "Many of them [Filipinos] did not plan to reside permanently in the United States. All they wanted was to accumulate as much wealth as possible within a short time and return to the islands as rich men. "But due to the low-paying jobs the migrants obtained, a trip home became more and more remote as the years went by" (excerpt from Adelaida Castillo-Tsuchida's "Filipino Migrants in San Diego: 1900-1946" p.56). Back 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. Filipinos had to drive out of state in order to marry white women.

And during this time, particularly during the Great Depression, white Americans claimed that Filipinos "brought down the standard of living because they worked for low wages."

Filipinos had to compete against other ethnic groups to earn a living. Tensions grew between white Americans and Filipinos. White Americans blamed Filipinos for taking their women and their jobs. For this reason, many hotels, restaurants, and even swimming pools had signs that read "POSITIVELY NO FILIPINOS ALLOWED!" Sometimes they read, "NO DOGS ALLOWED!"

This eventually lead to 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 economical threat. American attitude toward Filipinos changed with the onset of World War II. This began the 3rd wave of Filipino immigration (1945-1965). 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 aliens. In the navy, many Filipinos were given the label of "Designated TN", which many of you know stood for "Stewardsman".

As stewards, Filipinos in the U.S. Navy cooked, cleaned, shined, washed, and swabbed the decks of naval ships and naval bases across America and the entire world. Despite their status, Filipinos fought side-by-side with American soldiers for freedom against the Japanese.

The 4th wave of Filipino Immigration began after the passing of the Immigration Act of 1965 and continues to the present day. This allowed the entry of as many as 20,000 immigrants annually.

This wave of Filipinos was also called the "brain drain". It consisted mainly of professionals: doctors, lawyers, nurses, engineers, as well as the military, Filipinos who continued to join the navy off Sangeley Point in Cavite City, Philippines. From the first to the fourth wave of Filipino Immigration, evidently Filipinos have been in America for quite some time, yet one must persistently ask who are the Filipino Americans? Who are they and what they have done? Perhaps it would be better to ask: What is it about Filipino-Americans that make them appear different, yet one and the same? The answer may lie with the younger generation, our youth, young 2nd or 3rd-generation Filipino Americans, for some of you, your sons and daughters. Many of them do not see themselves in the American mainstream or in the community, and because of this "invisibility" they lack a certain voice that would remind them that they too are Filipino. Perhaps, this might be one of the reasons why they act more American than Filipino. What many of them do not know is that there are people like the following to look up to.

AGAPITO FLORES, who in the early 1940's invented the FLOURESCENT LIGHT, thus the name FLUOR-RES-CENT;

EDWARDO SAN JUAN, a Filipino, who in 1969 worked for Lockheed Corporation and was the conceptional 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;

LIZ MASAKAYAN, pro beach Volleyball champion player who lives in San Diego;

ERNIE REYES JR., martial arts expert, movie actor and director;

BEN CAYETANO, governor of Hawaii since 1994, the highest ranking Filipino American in U.S. government;

TESS SANTIAGO, Mayor of the city of Delano, California's first Filipina Mayor since November 1994;

ANDY BUMATAI, standup comedian from Hawaii;

AOIDA NICOLAS LEWIS, CEO of the largest African-American owned corporation, TLC Beatrice;

The late, LARRY DULAY ITLIONG, labor organizer (1965 grapes strike leader), 1st vice-president of the United Farm Workers union;

The late, PHILIP VERACRUZ, cofounder of the United Farm Workers union;

DANNY MODELO, the first Filipino American animal trainer at Sea World in the United States, a Filipino who grew up in South San Diego;

Judge LILIAN LIM, 1st Filipina judge in the U.S., appointed in 1988 and also from San Diego;

VELMA VELORIA, 1st Filipina American and Asian American woman elected to the Washington state legislature;

ROBIN TULAO MANGARIN, the 1st Filipina American television news anchorperson in San Diego history;

JOEL DELA FUENTE, TV actor who plays the character of Paul Wang on "Space Above and Beyond";

NIA PEEPLES, from the "North Shore", & star of the former TV show, "Party Machine"; also in the TC series "Fame";

TAMILYN TOMITA, from the "Karate Kid II" and the "Joy Luck Club";

TIA CARRERE, from "Wayne's World I & II", "Rising Sun", & "True Lies";

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 Seals";

LOU DIAMOND PHIILLIPS, from "La Bamba", "Courage Under Fire", "Young Guns";

DEE DEE MAGNO, performed in "Miss Saigon" and "The Mickey Mouse Club" and "Sister Act 2". In the group, The Party;

JENNIFER KWAN, performed in "Miss Saigon" and the TV Show, "California Dreams";

JOCELYN ENRIQUEZ, pop artist. Albums: "Jocelyn" and "Jocelyn Enriquez" Songs: "Do You Miss Me?" and "A Little Bit of Ecstasy";

BUFFY, pop artist. Song: "Give Me a Reason" and "First Love";

JOSIE NATORI, Founder and president of Natori Inc., the label in known for its classy lingerie;

PIA MANALO, appears in "Barney and Friends";

JESSICA HAGEDORN, author of "Dogeaters" and Editor of the anthology, "Charlie Chan Is Dead";

Then you got that one guy formerly known as PRINCE. Where do you think he gets his rhythm?

You may say that some of the people that I have mentioned are part Black, White, or Asian, but deep down they are also part Pinoy, therefore, Filipino American. Each and every one of them reflects a certain Asianness, but more so a Filipinoness. They, like any other Filipino American, will continue to live their lives in these United States of America, proud of their heritage and proud to tell their own story.