Finding the Filipino in Asian Pacific American Heritage Month | Inquirer
Emil Amok!

Finding the Filipino in Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

/ 08:20 AM April 30, 2020

It’s the question every year at this time. Are we really Asian American? Or are we Pinoys! Hold on to your powerlessness, pare.

Filipinos are under 5 million or so in America? No wonder the Census is important. And Asian Americans are 23 million plus when we’re all together?


Remember when they were invincible, how the Golden State Warriors use to say, “Strength in numbers”? It’s true.

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So as we approach May,  Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is around the corner. Let’s hope most us will still be practicing sane public health practices and denying the virus by sheltering in place.

As I mused a few weeks ago, APA Heritage Month doesn’t have to be canceled. Not when we have the technology to overcome it all!

I urge you all to participate in my little Zoom experiment on Friday, May 1 at 11:00 a.m. PDT, 2 pm EDT. I’ll have an APA Heritage Month “Emil Amok’s Takeout” with a few people to talk about the state of Asian America.

Email me and I’ll get you an invite. It’s not a summit or a big to-do. It’s not an official anything.

In the ‘60s, they may have called it a be-in, which is below a teach-in. In 2020, it’s a Zoom-in, check-in to see how we’re all doing.  Just  taking a pulse, and through the sneeze plate that is Zoom, protecting ourselves and practicing social distancing.

And remembering our heritage. Our history. Think of the zoom as a good glass ceiling.


In this week leading up to APA Heritage Month, there was a ton of history that framed my Filipino heritage.

April 25 was the anniversary of the formal declaration of the Spanish American War in 1898. Admiral Dewey sailed into Manila Bay on April 30.

Without the Spanish American War, the Philippines would never have become the first colony of America. You’ll recall the real war was the adjunct, the U.S.-Philippine War, where the Filipinos revolted under General Emilio Aguinaldo and declared the first Republic of the Philippines.

The U.S. ultimately defeated the Filipinos, but not before the country was ravaged and by some accounts more than one million Filipino civilians died.

No one likes to talk about that war in the U.S., but it is a frame for Filipino American lives. With that defeat, Filipino America begins with colonization.

My father was born under the U.S. flag and came to America, not seeking wealth or riches. Just seeking a life after the U.S. had raped and pillaged the countryside. Were it not for both wars, he most likely would have stayed.

The second date, April 27, marks the day Lapu-Lapu defeated Magellan in the Battle of Mactan in 1521. But according to Professor Daniel Phil Gonzales of the Asian American Studies Department at San Francisco State, there are several competing narratives. Did the Philippine warrior cut off the head of Magellan, or is that mere fantasy? Gonzales told me it may have been more of a composite warrior considering the nature of battle versus a single surgical slice from the sword of the chieftain, Lapu-Lapu. Gonzalez said it’s all open to interpretation as Magellan’s body was never recovered, leaving some scholars suggesting that Magellan was eaten by the natives. (Listen for it in a future “Emil Amok’s Takeout.”) Not me. I’m vegan.

The third date worth recalling is April 30, 1904. On this date, the Filipinos from indigenous Filipino tribes were exhibited at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

Human zoos? Yep. And they went to Coney Island afterwards. I wrote about it here. Was this an early form of compassion? The opposite of xenophobia is to embrace one as an “other”?

It all frames the Filipino American experience. The Asian American experience for all our groups have similar stories.

Check-In / Zoom-In

I did a little “checking in” on Sunday with a group at the Filipino American National Historical Society Museum. It was our little “oahu,” a gathering. We told our stories that linked us to history and community. Shared our arrival stories. And before we left, we shared the real stories of Covid.

It’s a strange time. Isolation is great for racists. You don’t have to see us now. Social distancing is the great cover. But the violence and harassment Asian Americans are experiencing harkens back to the yellow peril days. We all get our turn at exclusion.

The mandatory mask wearing is strange too. We are forced to look into each other’s eyes. We even look alike masked. That’s masked. Not hooded.

It was fun to meet, but it’s hard not to end on a somber note. One of our community leaders, 90-plus years of history and who lives alone, was in the hospital. She fell on Wednesday, but was on the floor of her apartment and not discovered until Friday.

Another community member’s mother had died last week. She died alone because of Covid restrictions.

Don’t let anyone tell you our community isn’t impacted. From instances of xenophobic harassment that I’ve written about in this space, to these ordinary made extraordinary moments by the virus.

By coming together and sharing, we make our own history.

So join in my live Zoom call, the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month edition of “Emil Amok’s Takeout” on Friday, May 1 at 11:00 am Pacific, 2 pm Eastern. It will document the moment. And if not, watch it on my Facebook page, Emil Guillermo Media.

In ten years when they wonder how Asian Americans fared in May of 2020, there’ll be a record. We didn’t succumb. We gathered. We shared. We celebrated our resilience and found our Filipinoness in our broader Asian American community.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist, commentator, and humorist. He writes a column for the’s North American Bureau. Twitter @emilamok. Listen on Apple Podcasts.

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TAGS: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Filipino American history, Philippine history, VIRTUAL REALITY
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