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October is Filipino American History Month. Here's why. | Race and Culture

Filipino American History Month is celebrated in October each year to commemorate the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the continental U.S.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — October is National Filipino American History Month. It’s all about celebrating the history, heritage, culture and achievements of Filipino Americans.

The celebration of Filipino American History Month in October each year is significant. It commemorates the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the continental United States.

During the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade era, from 1565 to 1815, Spanish galleons crossed the pacific between the Philippines and Mexico. On Oct. 18, 1587, the Manila Galleon Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza (Our Lady of Hope) landed in now-Morro Bay, California from Macao, China. Spanish explorer Pedro de Unamuno acted as the commander. The landing party also included indigenous Filipino men who worked as sailors on board the Spanish trading ship.

According to the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), an organization that promotes the history and culture of Filipino Americans, the landing party took official possession of the area for Spain by putting up a cross made of branches. Two days later, Native Americans attacked the group, resulting in the killing of one Filipino person.

Credit: Filipino American National Historical Society

Unamuno, along with the crew, gave up further exploration of the area. To this date, the event is remembered as the first time that people of Asian descent were in modern day California and the continental U.S. On Oct. 21, 1995, the FANHS-California Central Coast Chapter placed a Landing of the First Filipinos historical marker in Morro Bay in recognition of the significant event. The FANHS also recognizes the year of 1763 as the date of the first permanent Filipino settlement in the U.S. in St. Malo Parrish, Louisiana.

Now, more than 4 million Filipinos live in the U.S., according to a report from the Pew Research Center. It shows Filipino Americans are the second-largest Asian American group in the nation and the third-largest ethnic group in California after Latinos and African Americans.

Each year, Filipino American History Month is recognized with a special theme. The 2021 theme is “50 Years Since the First Young Filipino People's Far West Convention.” More than 300 young Filipino Americans participated in the first Young Filipino People's Far West Convention at Seattle University in 1971, sparking the beginning of the Filipino American Movement.

Credit: Filipino American National Historical Society

The first convention theme was "A Quest for Emergence." It was hosted primarily by the Filipino Youth Activities, Inc. (FYA) under the leadership of then-FYA Youth Director, Dorothy Laigo Cordova and convention chair, Anthony Ogilvie. The meeting resulted in a series of conferences that would later become known as the Filipino (or Pilipino) People's Far West Conventions (FWCs). The conventions were held annually between 1971 and 1982, in places like Seattle, Los Angeles, Stockton and Berkeley.

The Filipino Far West Conventions were an organizing space for community and youth activists that helped bring issues, like Filipino farmworker rights and anti-martial law, to the forefront of the Filipino American Movement. The FWC also served as the impetus for annual student-led conferences now held across the country. Many scholar-activists consider the FWCs to be the impetus of Filipino American Studies.

U.S. Congress first recognized October as Filipino American History Month in 2009. This year, across the nation, FANHS Chapters, colleges and universities, museums, and community groups will be commemorating Filipino American History Month with various activities and events to bring awareness of the significant role Filipinos have played in American history.

FANHS is also encouraging the public to participate in the following educational activities below in celebration of the "50 Years Since First Young Filipino People's Far West Convention:"

  • Organize teach-in's about the Far West Conventions. Invite FWC participants to speak and share their oral histories.
  • Teach about the histories of Filipino American college student organizations (SFSU PACE, UCLA Samahang, Columbia Liga Filipina, UIUC Philippine Student Association, UMich FASA), regional umbrella student groups (FIND, SCPASA, MAFA), or youth organizations (FYA, PEP, PinoyTeach).
  • Highlight the history and development of Filipino American Studies/ Filipino American curriculum in your region/state. 
  • Interview Filipino American community leaders of various generations to talk about their experiences with youth organizing.
  • Learn about the pensionados, or government-sponsored students who attended U.S. universities in the early 1900s.
  • Curate a panel of Filipino American artists to describe their contributions to the arts (e.g., music, dance, theater, hip hop).
  • Conduct oral histories with Filipino American elders who can share perspectives about the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s in your city or state.
  • Organize a children's book reading for Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong by Dawn Bohulano Mabalon & Gayle Romasanta.
  • Host a panel or workshop on the anti-martial law movement and the KDP (many who attended the FWCs).
  • Begin dialogues on how to advocate for Filipino American Studies in your K-12 systems or colleges/universities, and more.

To learn more about Filipino American History Month or to find other ways to celebrate Filipino American people, history and culture year-round, visit the FANHS website.


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