This year the United States will turn 241 years old. And for more than 241 years, Filipinx immigrants have integrated, acclimated, and assimilated themselves in America throughout this country’s History, from pre-colonial America to the modern day. What follows is an overview of this almost-forgotten and rarely mentioned relationship.
The earliest anecdotal accounts of the Filipinx people in North America come from the Manila Galleon Trade route between Manila and Acapulco, Mexico between 1565-1815. This trade route introduced the first Filipinxs along the California coast in Morro Bay (Nuestra Señora de Esperanza, 1587) and Point Reyes (San Agustin, 1595) as well as the first long-term settlement of Filipnx people in the continental US, established in Saint Malo, Louisiana in 1763.
In 1781, Antonio Miranda Rodriguez enlisted to be one of the twelve settlers that were to found the City of Los Angeles; however, Rodriguez relocated to the presidio at Santa Barbara, California where he worked as a skilled gunsmith. Rodriguez died in 1784 as a ranking Spanish soldier making him the oldest known Filipinx officially documented (and buried) in California.
After the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the Filipinx people of Saint Malo should have became the first naturalized U.S. citizens of Filipinx descent; however, the Naturalization Act of 1790 only applied to “free white persons”. Regardless of their citizenship, Jean Baptiste Lafitte enlisted Filipinx fighters in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 under the Major-General (and future president) Andrew Jackson.
In 1898, Spain relinquished the Philippines to the United States under the Treaty of Paris. Although the war ended after the capture of Emilio Aguinaldo in 1903, the Moro resistance continued until 1913. The lessons of the counterinsurgency conducted by the US Marines in the Philippines from 1899 to 1901 laid the foundation of how US Marines would conduct future "small wars," and how the US Marines would apply those same lessons of pacification, counterinsurgency, and military operations during its longest wars in Vietnam (1965-1971), Iraq (2003-2010), and Afghanistan (2001-2013).
A steady increase in cheap Filipinx laborers from 1907 to 1935 yielded overwhelming prejudice against Filipinx people in the late 1920s and early 1930s. With the arrival of the Great Depression in 1929, the California legislature passed a resolution calling for Congressional action to restrict Filipinx immigration. In response, in 1935, the US Congress passed 2-part legislation: the Tydings-McDuffiie Law (restricting new immigration of Filipinx people) and the Repatriation Act (deporting Filipinx residents already living in the US). In seeming contradiction due to anticipation of World War II, Congress signed into law the Nationality Act of 1940, which allowed Filipinx people to serve in the US military to fight against Japan.
Larry Itliong led the first organized farmers strike in Coachella, California in May of 1965; then continued to lead a strike in Delano, California in September of the same year. The efforts of Itliong and his workers’ rights organization --the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee-- was recognized by the National Farm Workers Association, a workers’ rights organization led by Cesar Chavez. The merger of the two organizations in August 1966 created the United Farm Workers of America, a recognized national labor union for farmworkers.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ended the immigration-quota system and adopted a dual immigration system that was more selective of the immigrants’ skill set, and the relation to other US citizens. The new occupational immigration clause resulted in the exodus of professionals (more specifically, doctors, nurses, and caretakers) from the Philippines to America. Simultaneously, the selective-relative immigration clause allowed for naturalized citizens to petition for their whole families to migrate to the U.S.
The number of Filipinx residents according to the U.S. Census jumped from an estimated 185,000 in 1970 to 1,918,000 in 2015, making Filipinx people the largest Asian immigration population up until 2013. The population growth of Filipinxs in America grew drastically due to the dual immigration system post-1965.
To exclude Filipinx people from American history would be erroneous since Filipinx people have been in North America before there was an America. We arrived off the shores of California 40 years before the establishment of the Jamestown settlement in 1607. By the time France and the United States agreed on the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Filipinos already established a fishing village for over 40 years in the marshlands of Louisiana. Antonio Miranda Rodriguez had already lived a full life pioneering the west coast as a founder for the City of Los Angeles and a ranking Spanish soldier for the Presidio at Santa Barbara some 20 years prior to any discussion of America moving out west.
We have overcome every prejudice and act of racism that time has thrown at us. When physical violence and altercations during the Watsonville Race Riots in 1930 could not get rid of us, lawmakers pass legislations to erase us from history. We organize, we adapt, we fight to make a stance because we exist. And even past the bigotry and bullshit, in your deepest time of need, some of us will still help you because it is in our nature to help others who can not help themselves.
Our existence is real and substantial; we are not just the femme slapstick comedy the media quite often portrays us to be. We are founders, we are doctors, we are leaders and organizers here to be the vanguard of an idea that our existence is not circumstantial to American history, because Filipinx history is American history.
No history, no self; know history, know self.
Send questions and comments on this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.