Mabuhay to Our Community! October is Filipino American History Month
Did you know that Filipinos were the first Asians to visit North America? It will come as a surprise as to how far back it happened. As part of the Manila Galleons that was a trade route Spanish ships would take to and from the Philippines and Mexico (both countries then considered part of New Spain), Filipinos worked as sailors for Spanish trade explorers. The trade route linked Asia to the new world from 1565 to 1815. Manila and Acapulco were major ports.
Under the command of Spanish explorer Pedro de Unamuno, a crew that included Filipino sailors were on the ship Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza (Our Lady of Hope) which landed in Morro Bay, California, on Oct. 18, 1587, according to the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS).
Upon landing, the crew claimed that site for Spain which was customary during that time. About two weeks later, the crew were attacked by Native Americans that resulted in the death of one Filipino sailor. Arguably this attack on the crew and death of a Filipino perhaps made chronicling the landing more conspicuous and a reason why historians know about it. Today there is a historical marker in Morro Bay in observance of this historic event.
To give you an idea of how early this event was. Remember the Pilgrims left England aboard the Mayflower and landed in New England on Nov. 11, 1620.
The FANHS also recognizes the year 1763 as the date of the first permanent Filipino settlement at St. Malo Parish in Louisiana, US. It is considered the first settlement of Asians in the US.
Month of Observance
In observance of Filipinos’ first landing on North America on October, the National Historical Society (FANHA) established in 1992 that month as National Filipino American History Month. Then it became official in 2009 when both the US Senate and House passed resolutions making the same recognition. Some states and counties have since followed FANHA and Congress.
It’s an exciting time for our Filipino American community all across the nation. Filipino student clubs at universities and colleges, Filipino civic and professional organizations, leaders and staff at Filipino community centers and supporters of cultural institutions like museums and libraries are just a few groups that will be holding virtual or small activities (due to the pandemic) this entire month to celebrate our presence and history in the US.
Besides camaraderie, it has also become a perfect time to educate both members in our community (especially our youth) and the community-at-large of some of our progress, significant contributions and influential roles our leaders have played in making our country a better place for all.
According to Pew Research Center, there are more than 4 million Filipinos that live in the US, most of whom contribute to our national economy as workers and consumers in practically all sectors of society. Among Asians, Filipinos are ranked third in population behind Chinese and Asian Indian Americans, according to the 2020 Census. Asian Indian Americans overtook Filipino Americans that formerly held the number two spot.
Filipinos are the largest ethnic group in the state of Hawaii. In California, it is the third-largest minority group behind Latinos and African Americans. Besides California and Hawaii (both rank first and second, respectively), there are large Filipino communities in Texas, Washington state, Florida, Illinois and New York (in that order). The top five US cities where Filipinos live are in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, New York, and San Diego.
Filipino Americans have the fourth-highest (at $100,273) Median Household Income in the US by ancestry based on the American Community Survey 2021, United States Census Bureau. We are behind Asian Indian Americans, Taiwanese Americans and Australian Americans, respectively.
We have a “Little Manila” in New York City, in Woodside, Queens where there is a large concentration of Filipino businesses. In Los Angeles, there is the Historic Filipino town.
Historically, Filipinos played a major role in the early twentieth century when American industry grew rapidly and agriculture became a large enterprise and its mass production was much needed. Filipinos worked on large farms and plantations in Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington. In Alaska, we were recruited to work at canning factories. Filipino migrant workers were critical in helping to keep Americans and other parts of the world fed.
Today, Filipinos are in business, STEM fields, media, government, tourism, entertainment, education, labor, transportation, the arts, service and retail.
Outstanding Filipino Americans (to name only a few)
There have been innumerable Filipinos who have made an impact in the US, some are/were very famous while others are known mostly within the industries they have excelled.
Just a few notable Filipino Americans: Ben Cayetano (governor of Hawaii), Bobby Scott (congress member, Virginia), Byron Acohido (journalist, 1997 Pulitzer Prize winner), Cheryl Diaz Meyer (photojournalist 2004, Pulitzer Prize winner) Jose Antonio Vargas (journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner, 2008), Dado Banatao (tech giant, venture capitalist and philanthropist), Loida Nicholas-Lewis (CEO, TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Inc.), Robert Lopez (songwriter for musicals who achieved the very rare status of “EGOT” that stands for a winner of an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and Tony Award), Josie Natori (fashion designer and CEO and founder of the Natori Company), Bruno Mars (award-winning pop and R&B singer), Nicole Scherzinger (singer, actress), Lou Diamond Phillips (actor), Tom Cunanan (chef, winner of the James Beard Award, highest honor for the culinary arts), and many more.
Enjoy this month of pride, celebration, education and unity in our Filipino community. We hope our youth will participate in any one of the ongoing events or independently learn about our history as Americans. We also encourage non-Filipinos to join in our month-long celebration. Mabuhay to all our fellow Filipino Americans!