On October 18, 1587, the first Filipinos landed on the shores of what is today Morro Bay, California in the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza, the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the United States. In 1883, Lafcadio Hearn wrote an article for Harper’s Weekly on a remote village in present day St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, what is thought to be the first Filipino settlement in the United States founded in 1763.
These historic firsts are just a drop in the bucket of the rich history of Filipino Americans and the basis for the 2009 Congressional recognition of October as Filipino American History Month. In commemoration of this year’s Filipino American History Month, President Biden highlighted the contributions of Filipino Americans in the field of nursing, who have been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 and, despite only accounting for 4% of nurses in the United States, represent over a third of the nursing deaths during the pandemic.
Across California, where Filipinos make up the 3rd
largest ethnic population in the state, the historic and contemporary contributions of Filipino Americans were celebrated. In San Francisco’s Filipino Cultural Heritage District 300 banners celebrating residents, artists, and small businesses were installed to draw positive attention to the historic community in the face of continued discrimination and economic hardship exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The district will hold the 19th annual San Francisco Parol Lantern Festival on December 11, 2021 (more information can be found on the SF Parol Lantern Fest Facebook page). Presented by SOMA Pilipinas and Kultivate Labs, the lantern festival celebrates the theme "Light Tomorrow with Today / Tanglawin ang Bukas sa Kasalukuyan."
This October also marked the first ever San Diego Filipino Film Festival, with 40 films shown in person and another 30 online.
Ketchikan, Alaska, home to the first Filipino community club in the state, held its first Filipino American Festival this October to celebrate the rich history of Alaska’s large Filipino American population. Many of whose ancestors first came to Alaska to work in the canneries when the Philippines was still a US colony. Nearly 10% of Ketchikan’s own population has Filipino heritage, one of the highest concentrations in Alaska. Though the community club is gone, upcoming programs at the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition and with the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council plan to carry on the tradition of bringing the Filipino community together, from providing healthcare resources to making parol, traditional bamboo lanterns.
Virginia Beach, Virginia, home to the largest Filipino population in the Hampton Roads area, held its 7th annual Fil Fest USA celebrating Filipino culture from food and dance to comedy and history. Hampton Roads, the 2nd largest Filipino community on the entire East Coast, was once home to one of the two largest US naval bases; the other was in the Philippines. Through a US-Philippines agreement that allowed for direct Filipino enlistment in the US Navy and subsequent legislation that allowed for the naturalization of Filipino armed service members, the Filipino population of Virginia continued to grow. In celebration of the impact Filipino Americans have had in the US Navy, in September 2021 a historical marker entitled “Filipinos in the U.S. Navy”, one of a series commemorating Asian American and Pacific Islander Virginians, was placed in Hampton Roads.
Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.