October brings hidden history of Filipino Americans to the forefront

Filipino Youth Association
A performance by the Filipino Youth Association, a program run by the Filipino American National Historical Society to increase awareness about Filipino culture among youth. (Photo courtesy of Canopic on Flickr)

Despite more than 3 million Filipinos living in the United States, Filipinos and Filipino Americans are often the invisible minority in America. October is Filipino American History Month, which is a chance to celebrate Filipino American contributions to the United States. 

“Many Americans have slight or no knowledge about Filipinos, and not surprisingly enough it is arguable that Filipinos do not know themselves,” said Third Andresen, the director of the University of Washington’s Philippines Study Abroad program and a part-time lecturer.

Filipino American History Month focuses on the long history between the Philippines and the United States. For Filipinos, this month is a call to recognize their role in building American society.

Filipinos participated in the War of 1812 against the British. Filipino farm workers led the Delano Grape Strike in 1965 that formed the United Farm Workers of America.

Those are just a few of the contributions that Filipinos have made in American society, says Bob Flor, member of the Filipino American National History Society.

“You don’t learn much about it in American history,”  said Flor, who also is a poet and playwright. Flor uses his plays and poetry to bring awareness to the history and struggles of Filipinos, especially those who faced racism and oppression immigrating to the United States..

The Filipino American National History Society was one of the first organizations to recognize Filipino American National History Month. The idea for a commemorative month was introduced in 1992 but not officially recognized by Congress until 17 years later in 2009.

It also recognizes the countries’ colonial ties. From 1898 to 1946, the Philippines was under American rule. American officials took the approach of “benevolent assimilation,” where they referred to Filipinos as America’s “little brown brothers and used education as a tool of colonization instead of brute force.

“Filipino American History Month also deconstructs the notion that to be ‘American’ is to be white based on historical and contemporary standards,” Andresen said. It distinguishes the achievements by non-white Americans often left out of American textbooks.

A political caricature first appearing in Puck magazine in 1899 that depicts Uncle Sam teaching a lesson. (Photo courtesy of United States Library of Congress)
A political caricature by Louis Dalrymple first appearing in Puck magazine in 1899 that depicts Uncle Sam teaching a lesson. (Photo courtesy of United States Library of Congress)

This annual celebration comes this year at a conflicted time in relations between the Philippines and the United States. This relationship has been tested after this year’s election of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who recently called for an end to joint combat exercises with the United States military and to announced that he would cut ties with the U.S. in favor of China.

Some Filipino Americans welcome the possibility of severing that military tie.

“It’s about time,” Andresen said.

WTO Philippines Protest
A protest on U.S. military involvement in the Philippines by the activist group Anakbayan. (Photo courtesy of Buhay Manggagawa on YouTube)

Correction: This story has been updated to clarify Third Andresen’s position at the University of Washington.