October is Fil-Am History Month, Seattle shows the way

October is Fil-Am History Month, Seattle shows the way

12:16 PM October 05, 2021

Filipino American History Month. It’s not because it’s my birthday month, but good stuff happened this month for Filipinos in America.

Like how about discovering the place? Too bombastic? Ok, we were just first to step foot on this land,  given of course that the indigenous by virtue of indigeneity were here first absolutely.


But Filipinos were the first foreign feet on what is now America.  Or, at least California.  And small footprint.

In 2017, I wrote an essay where I asked the question, “If Filipinos were here first, shouldn’t this be the United States of the Philippines?”

Historical records show the Filipinos were part of a three-day landing party in what was Morro Bay, California on Oct. 18, 1587.

That’s 20 years before the Jamestown colony. And 33 years before Plymouth Rock. Of course, the indigenous natives were here first to greet them all.

But on the west coast, the Filipinos were first.

That’s why in October, the Filipino National Historical Society commemorates the month as “Filipino History Month.” We don’t get to name the whole country. But in what is now the continental U.S., we were the first non-natives to step foot in California. And now there’s a rock in Morro Bay, California that is worth its weight in history.


See the Unity Weekend Story slam winners here (I’m at 23 minutes in).

I’ll have more about this throughout the month when I will be celebrating my Filipino-ness. And you should too.


Meanwhile, the gatherings have begun. And there’s some news!

Seattle comes in with the history

So how do we make sure all this stuff is passed on? Give people links and subscriptions to the Inquirer.net? Let people know they can go to www.amok.com anytime?

There has to be a better way. Like history lessons over shared lumpia over a back yard fire pit? No better.

Real education. With pulutan? Maybe. But definitely in Zoom or in person. It’s got to be in our schools.

And now it is in Seattle, thanks to Devin Cabinilla, head project manager for the city of Seattle Public Schools. He got Filipino American history into the ethnic studies proposal that was approved this week as a separate course in the Seattle public school system.

No shared history. Just us. And it starts as early as middle school.

“You don’t have to wait until you’re 20 years old to find out about Filipino American history in Seattle,” Devin told a group of Filipino American National Historical Society members last Sunday.

In school, I remember getting one paragraph about how Emilio Aguinaldo rose up against the U.S. in what was called the “Philippine Insurrection.” But what became the Philippine American War,  one of the most undertaught and forgotten American wars, and one in which more than a million Filipino civilians died.

That’s why it’s not taught in U.S. schools much. One paragraph.

But as Filipino American history, it’s all fair game now in Seattle, with the hope of having it spread throughout Washington.

If it works, it’s a model for communities around the country.

But that’s not all. Cabanilla was able to get Tagalog and Ilocano recognized as world languages in the schools. Now you don’t have to be limited to French, German, Spanish, Japanese, in conjunction with the Filipino Center in Seattle, public school can be Pilipino school.

Fitting that it happens in Seattle, where FANHS has declared the “birthplace of Filipino Americanism.” What? Not Daly City?

I’ll have more on that in another October column this Filipino American History Month.

A Filipino American story at Harvard

Recently I performed a true story in a spoken word slam contest at the Unity Weekend celebrating Harvard Alumni of Color. That meeting was historic in itself, with 2,000 alums meeting virtually.

The story I told was about how my 18-year-old self  got crushed by my freshman crush in college. White woman, Filipino guy.  What a concept in 1973, right?

But getting rejected  was enough to allow self-doubt to creep in  and destroy my confidence. How did I overcome it?

It wasn’t easy. History helped.  I took a course in Asian history and convinced a visiting  professor to let me study Asian American immigration,  specifically Filipino Americans.

There were no text books. I had to go deep into the library stacks to find unpublished theses written by visiting Philippine scholars in the 1950s. I discovered how thousands of Filipino men like my father were allowed to come to America as colonized nationals. Not slaves. But not citizens either. They were let in to be a labor force. Not start families.

There were few Filipino women allowed to enter.  And that became a problem as anti-miscegenation laws prevented any race mixing with whites. The law mostly  targeted black and white unions, but among Asians it was the gregarious Filipinos who drew the most ire and jealousy. In the ‘20s and ‘30s, Filipinos seen with white women were violently beaten, some even lynched and murdered. It was a history most people still don’t know. At the time, even I wasn’t aware how It took courage to be a Filipino in America.

That’s the history behind my story. You can see me tell the story below with the other tellers.

But here’s where history makes the news. Our history.

The week I performed my story as one of the winners of the alumni slam contest, Harvard coincidentally announced it was expanding its Asian American history offerings significantly with $45 million in foundational support.

It’s money primarily from 1990’s era Asian American alums from the college and business school. They’re people for whom contributing to a $39 billion endowment makes sense. Harvard could have funded it if it chose to. But it took  alums who’ve made a mint to take a leadership role to fund Asian American history programs and full professorships.

Someone had to do it.

When Asian Americans are around 25 percent of the Harvard student population, it’s a disgrace when our history is not taken seriously as an academic pursuit.

Consider that Asian American studies has thrived for more than 50 years in higher ed, first at San Francisco State and its College of Ethnic Studies, and then throughout the University of California system. It was about time.

A friend of mine on the Harvard faculty told me Harvard was like a big elephant that moves slowly, if at all.

Last week, with a major push from Asian American donors, the school made history with our history.

All it took was feeding the elephant a little cash. And then the  elephant moved forward. He might even find a little Filipino American history.

And see me talk  about this column and more on my micro-talk show for AAPI, on my emilguillermo.media page on Facebook, and on Facebook Watch;

Also on my YouTube channel. M-F, Live at 2p Pacific.

Catch show recordings on http://www.amok.com. 

Emil Guillermo is a journalist, commentator, performance artist, humorist. He writes a column for the North American bureau.

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TAGS: Filipino American history, Filipino American studies
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