Many think that Asian American history is only 200 years old, putting first the Chinese immigrants who arrived in 1820 to be menial laborers or miners in the Gold Rush.
However, often overlooked in Asian American history are the Filipinos, who are the second largest Asian American group after the Chinese, and who have a history spanning back to before the 13 colonies declared their independence and became the United States.
According to Floro Mercene’s book, “Manila Men in the New World: Filipino Migration to Mexico and the Americans from the Sixteenth Century,” the earliest recorded presence of Filipinos in what is today the United States occurred in October 1587. And according to Sucheng Chan’s “Asian Americans: An Interpretive History,” the first recorded settlement of Filipinos in America was in 1763 in New Orleans.
So what does this mean?
Often times, Asian Americans may be pressured to feel that they lack legitimacy in this country, that they are “less American” than white Americans. This can be attributed to the fact that the bulk of Asian Americans are recent immigrants who are about one or two generations established in the United States.
Because of this, we start thinking that our history is a recent one. We forget that we have had a presence here since the very beginning.
For Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’d like to remind everyone that we are not “less American.”
We should never use this as an excuse to not strive for the best. In Publisher Ng’s blog this week, she talked about how she wasn’t satisfied that an Asian American was a dean at the University of Washington. She wanted an Asian American in one of the very top administrative posts. At the time she requested this, many probably thought she was being arrogant in asking.
But what is wrong with asking? What is wrong with wanting people who share your racial or ethnic background to succeed? We are hundreds of years established in this country, and not only has progress — in terms of racial and social equality — always been slow, but people are complacent. Too many think that living in a post-racial America means that we don’t have to worry about diversity anymore because that work is done.
Well, the work is never done. But don’t let that discourage you. North Seattle Community College just appointed an Asian American president this week — amazing news! And it goes to show that our efforts are not in vain.
As Dr. David McLauren, an Indian American and diversity specialist, said in a May newsletter, “Diversity is here to stay, and it is a gold mine. One-third of all customers in North America are minorities, and by 2042, it will be one-half. Many would say education and training are expensive, but I say the cost can never come close to the cost of ignorance. Talking about diversity is not a one-time thing, rather it is an ongoing and continuous education.”
It’s time for us to educate others and reeducate ourselves on the value of diversity. Asian Pacific Heritage Month is a good time to start. ♦