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Filipinos in the US

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - July 3, 2010 - 12:00am

During the galleon trade era, many Filipinos stayed in Mexico to the extent that in San Lucas, north of Acapulco, the Filipino community grew so large that the authorities had a plan to resettle the entire Filipino community to Texas. Mexico, then, was called Nueva Espana and the name they gave the territory that would become Texas was Nuevas Filipinas. History has many interested sidelights and sometimes what could have been is more interesting than what actually happened.

One of the more known old Filipino settlements in the United States is the community that formed near New Orleans that exists to this day. The first known mention appeared in Harper’s Weekly article on March 31, 1883 called “St. Malo: A Lacustrine Village in Louisiana” by Lafcadio Hearn. The most prominent work on the community was “Filipinos in Louisiana” by Marina E. Espina of Cebu.

Floro L. Mercene wrote and published Manila Men in the New World a few years ago. It is a treasure trove of information on the Philippine diaspora and Filipinos in the New World. One interesting point that he brings up is that Filipinos fought in the American Civil War. The Civil War ran from 1861-1865. “Nestor Palugod Enriquez…has discovered that Filipinos had fought in the American Civil War. Enriquez has traced the names of about 31 Filipinos that enlisted in the US Navy and merchant marine and the US Cavalry in the eastern seaboard at the outbreak of the Civil War.” It turns out that the men may have been sailors who were recruited to serve on US whaling ships in the 1850s. As Robert MacMicking pointed out in his work Recollections (written in 1850) ‘Manilla men’ were often superior sailors to their American, British and Scottish counterparts because of their comparatively better level of education.

In the Filipiniana Book Guild edition of Recollections, M.J. Netzorg includes this quote from Austin Craig in his annotations: “Filipinos were usually the steersmen, or quartermasters, on American ships in the Pacific and had early colonies in New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Boston the first settlement of which still exists as a shrimp fishers’ settlement. Also from the steersmen of American ships General Frederick Townsend Ward…recruited his bodyguard of half a thousand Filipinos when he organized his Ever-Victorious Army.” Townsend Ward was a well-known 19th century American mercenary who fought on behalf of Imperial China in stamping down insurrections.

Today, one of the largest concentrations of Filipinos outside of the United States is in California. The relationship though extends much further back. Much like what would become eventually Texas, in the 18th century Pedro Enriquez Calderon, a judge who served in Manila, proposed that an expedition be mounted from the Philippines to colonize California. “From the Philippines 300 men of all trades can be conveyed on a frigate which can be built there, or bought at slight cost, with all the nails, locks, tools and everything necessary to found a town at once . . .” Filipinos in California even showed up in the 16th century. According to Floro Mercene: “Henry R. Wagner, a noted California historian . . . documented the landing of a small expedition in California in 1587. Wagner’s account is significant because it is the first recorded account of the landing of Filipino sailors in America . . . ” In 1594, the San Agustin (a 200 ton ship out of Manila) was shipwrecked during a storm along the California coast. Among the survivors were Filipinos. In fact, the wreckage in Drake’s Bay, near San Francisco, has actually been found.

Though, we no longer share an independence day, July 4 remains, in effect, Philippine-American Friendship Day. To the United States we wish them a Happy Independence Day.

A LACUSTRINE VILLAGE AMERICAN AMERICAN CIVIL WAR AS ROBERT AUSTIN CRAIG BRITISH AND SCOTTISH CIVIL WAR FILIPINOS NEW ORLEANS NEW WORLD UNITED STATES
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