Did you know that October is Filipino American History Month? It is celebrated in October because the first recorded Filipinos landed on U.S soil on October 18, 1587. Yes, they arrived on the west coast before Christopher Columbus saw any portion of the Americas. You didn’t know? That’s why you should celebrate Filipino American History Month.
Who Came First
The Manila Galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza commanded by Pedro de Unamuno sent a landing party to the area of the coast now known as Morro Bay, California. They claimed the area for Spain and marked it with a cross made of branches. Native indians attacked the group two days later. Unamuno and his crew gave up exploring the coast any further.
First Permanent Settlement
History is often murky. But we know that the Manila Galleon Trade thrived and connected Asia, the Americas and Europe for over two centuries. Luzones Indios, natives from the Philippine island Luzon, were among the sailors and indentured servants vital to that network.
During those two hundred years many Luzones Indios escaped to Mexico and parts of the US. In Louisiana, they became known as the Manilamen.
The oldest documentation of Filipinos in St Malo, Louisiana was a Harpers Weekly magazine article from 1883. The author of the article thought they’d been there for at least fifty years. Oral tradition puts them there a hundred years earlier. They were fishermen, privateers in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, and fought in the War of 1812.
Sadly the historic St. Malo suffers from destruction by hurricanes and the changing climate. One day that historic site may vanish from sight.
Manilatown, San Francisco
From the 1920s to the late 1970s, Manilatown in San Francisco thrived. A Filipino American neighborhood, a five block stretch near Chinatown.
California Alien Land Law forbade Filipinos from owning land or businesses. This meant they had to be transient. Live in rooming houses, hotels, or work camps. In San Francisco’s Manilatown, the International Hotel (the I-Hotel) was one of the places Filipinos called home. It was a low-income residential hotel.
The I-Hotel came to national attention in the 1970s when the urban renewal project in San Francisco threatened the hotel’s existence. The project bought buildings and evicted people who were poor, old, black, and brown.
In the 1970s, the building housed nearly 150 Filipino and Chinese seniors, three community groups, an art workshop, a radical bookstore and three Asian newspapers.Manilatown.org
By that time the financial district’s slow take over the area, had reduced Manilatown to the one block the I-Hotel stood on.
Landlords wanted to evict the residents of the I-Hotel. They planned to put a parking lot there.
For almost a decade (1968-1977), a “mass-based, multiracial alliance which included students, unions and churches, fought the eviction.” At 3 a.m. on August 4, 1977, 3000 people fought hundreds of club-wielding riot police at the I-Hotel. The eviction was successful.
The Rest of the Story
The building stood empty until it was demolished in 1979. Then the lot remained a vacant hole until local neighborhood groups succeeded in their efforts. Rebuilt in 2005, the I-Hotel houses 104 low-income seniors and the International Hotel Manilatown Center.
Want to know more? Check out Wikipedia’s List of Filipino Americans.
Learn More and Celebrate
The stories above are only a tiny slice of Filipino American history. There are “little manilas” in many major cities across America, yet little if any Filipino American history makes it into our history books and schools. America is a melting pot that historically ignores nonwhite contributions to our history. Please help change that. Share any Filipino history you know in the comments below and celebrate Filipino American History Month.
Image Credits: Top: Images of the flags and the words October is Filipino American History Month by Lynette M Burrows using images of the flags of the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America by Clker Free Vector Images of Pixabay.com. Second Photo Morro Bay historical marker by Harry Cutts, CC BY-SA 4.0. Third photo images of protestors in front of the International Hotel by Nancy Wong, CC BY-SA 4.0