By Ador Pereda Yano
Northwest Asian Weekly
For the first time, the White House marked the presidential recognition of the month of October as Filipino American History Month. On October 2nd, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders sponsored an event in Washington DC to celebrate the history of Filipino Americans and their various contributions to this country’s development.
October commemorates the anniversary of the first documented presence of Filipinos in America. On October 18, 1587, Filipino members of a Spanish expedition led by Pedro de Unamuno landed on an island off the coast of what is now Morro Bay, California. Based on this historical research, the celebration of October as Filipino American History Month was initiated in 1991 by the late Dr. Fred Cordova, Co-Founder of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) whose national office and archives are located in Seattle. His wife Dr. Dorothy Cordova, also co-Founder and currently Executive Director of FANHS, attended the celebration at the nation’s capital and read a message from President Barack Obama during the event.
In his message, President Obama joins the celebrants “in reflecting on the struggles and victories of the many Filipino Americans who have shaped our Nation. Generations of Filipino Americans have lent their unique voices to the vibrant diversity of origins, cultures, and communities that make America what it is.” The president especially honored the thousands of Filipino Americans in the military who have fought for the United States and the Filipino American farm workers in Delano, California who helped change the labor movement in this country.
This year, FANHS is celebrating three fifty-year anniversaries that signify key “tipping points” in the history of Filipino Americans. During the event, FANHS Board of Trustees President Mel Orpilla mentioned three historical markers: the Immigration & Nationality Act of 1965 which ushered the largest wave of Filipino immigration to the US; second, the start of the Delano Grape Strike of Filipino American farm workers led by Larry Itliong that was later joined by Cesar Chavez and Mexican farm workers to form the United Farm Workers union; and finally, the Vietnam War that was also fought by young Filipino Americans during a traumatic period in US history.
During the White House celebration, Jason Tengco, the Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, acted as the master of ceremony. Speakers included Nani Coloretti, the Deputy Secretary of US Housing and Urban Development and the highest ranking Filipino American in the Obama administration. Other administration officials also speaking at the event were Maria Contreras-Sweet, the Administrator of the US Small Business Administration; Leon Rodriguez, the Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services; and Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, the US Surgeon General.
Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, the only Asian American in the US Senate, also attended the celebration. She has co-sponsored, along with Congressman Mike Honda of California, a bicameral resolution in the US Congress to recognize October as Filipino American History Month.
A panel of Filipino American trailblazers shared their perspectives during the event. Moderator Billy Dec, a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders led a discussion with Cristeta Comerford, the White House Executive Chef; Apl.de.ap, co-founder of Black Eyed Peas group; singer Cassie; Geena Rocero, transgender model and founder of Gender Proud;
actor comedian Jo Koy; and Ronnie del Carmen, Director at Pixar Animation Studios.
Performances by the Filharmonics and Pilipino American Cultural Arts Society were featured during the event.
Apl.de.ap and Jessica Reynoso provided the musical finale to the celebration. (end)
Ador Pereda Yano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.