By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly
Halloween has some competition. The Washington State Senate unanimously voted earlier this month to recognize October as Filipino National History Month.
Senate Resolution 8668 was made in light of the 13th Biennial National Conference of the Filipino American National Historical Society, which is coming to Seattle in July. Senators Margarita Prentice (D-Renton) and Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside), along with 12 other entities, sponsored the bill.
“There’s a lot more to the Filipino community than I think we are even aware of,” Prentice said at the senate floor debate on March 3. “They came here to work and they brought a work ethic with them, and it’s one of the best things we overlook because that’s much a part of what I call ‘the genius’ of this country, where people from all over the world come and we learn from each other. That’s why we are the U.S.”
The state senate recognized Oct. 18, 1587, as the first documented Filipino presence in the continental United States. This is why October is Filipino National History Month. After that, many immigrants from the Philippines came in search of work. In the Pacific Northwest, most entered the fishing and logging industries, canning salmon and cutting timber. The first known Filipino employee left Manila and worked at the world’s largest lumber mill at Fort Blakely in 1888. Today, there is a strong Filipino presence in the health care industry, from adult homes to hospitals.
However, in the past, working and living conditions were far from perfect. Filipinos faced segregation and union busting. More than 250,000 served in the U.S. Military during World War II, but many were denied veterans benefits. The 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Law provided for the Philippines’ independence, but it also limited Filipino immigration to the United States to 50 visas per year.
Immigration issues still linger in the Filipino American community — visa backlogs, overstays, and what advocates, city officials, and state officials call a “broken immigration system,” which keep families from reuniting and thriving.
Fred Cordova, founding president of the Filipino American Historic Society (FANHS), said Filipinos have a long history in the United States, though he thinks Filipino American heritage should be discussed more often. More attention is given to colonization of the Philippines, while Filipino American progress remains untouched.
“That’s a lot of years,” he said, noting Filipinos’ arrival to the United States in 1587. “We should know, ‘What’s our contribution? What did we do that’s notable?’ ”
Rey Pascua, president of the Filipino American Community of Yakima Valley, said the resolution sheds light not only on the Filipinos’ past, but also their future.
“It’s a nice reminder of two things: It was a struggle to have Filipinos win their rights to live in this state, and it shows the value of our diverse community to join together to celebrate and learn about each other.”
Pascua said he plans to distribute the resolution to community organizations by May and meet with Filipino American leaders throughout the state to brainstorm History Month activities as October approaches.
Among the resolution’s aims are to give Filipino American youth a better sense of Filipino history in the United States and to shed light on Filipinos that could be looked up to as role models. Also encouraged is recognition of current events in the community.
“Let young people be proud of being Filipino,” Cordova said.
What remains, however, is the one-year stipulation pinned to the resolution. October will be Filipino National History month, but as of right now, only in 2010. California passed SCR 48 last September, which states the measure “would designate the month of October 2009, and every October thereafter, as Filipino American History Month.”
The same “thereafter” was sought in Washington.
“There’s pressure to put an imposition on the next legislature,” Cordova said. “I thought [the resolution] was a token thing.”
There is still opportunity for Filipino American History Month to continue past its inaugural year. As a resolution that incurs no direct government spending, yet represents bipartisan interests, it stands a chance for debate during the next legislative session.
“It’s a warm and fuzzy thing Olympia does,” Honeyford said. “Hopefully, it’ll increase awareness of the Filipino culture, community, and contributions they make.” ♦
Vivian Luu can be reached at email@example.com.