Updated: Oct 6, 2022
Photo of Filipino Multicultural Dance Group leader Emma Tayson speaking while cohost Jonah Konop spolights her during our past APCC Filipino-American History Celebration. Photo by APCC.
Happy Filipino-American History Month! This month is about celebrating unity in community, of our shared "bayanihan spirit" as we call it in Tagalog (Filipino), that has been a part of this North American continent for over 400 years and the contributions of the Filipino-American community since that moment we first arrived to the building up of the United States of America we all know today.
On October 18th, 1587, the first Filipinos landed in Morro Bay California as indentured servants, belonging to Spanish colonizers. Spain colonized the Philippines for over 377 years (from 1521 to 1898), and is why Filipinos and people who identify as Hispanic have so much in common; there are often similarities in last names, food, language, and more!
For example, our original Philippine Constitution was written in Spanish, the Founding Fathers of the Philippines (Dr. Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo) as well as the "Mother of the Philippine Revolution" (Gabriela Silang) all spoke and wrote their iconic essays/books in Spanish. And it is very timely that Filipino-American History Month falls within Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15), as Filipinos are Asian with influences of shared Hispanic heritage that should be celebrated together.
Photo from our past Asia Pacific Cultural Center Filipino-American History Month Celebration where our Filipino community is wearing Spanish influenced "Maria Clara" style clothing while carrying an indigenous "bahay kubo" (small home made of bamboo) that symbolizes our "kapwa" (community) coming together to build a new home for someone who is new to our village. This expression is encapsulated in our Filipino value called "bayanihan" where our kapwa comes together to assist our community. The bahay kubo was prepared by the Filipino Community Alliance. Photo by APCC.
October is Filipino-American History Month because it is the first recorded history of Filipinos setting foot in North America, becoming the first Asians to set foot in the North American continent. Since that moment, Filipinos have been essential and continue to be integral in the building up of the United States of America. For example, Filipino-American Larry Itliong whose birthday is on October 20th, “began labor rights organizing 30 years before Cesar Chavez,” stated by Rey Pascua who was a former farm worker who still holds onto his union card signed by both Cesar Chavez and Larry Itliong as they fought for justice all those years ago.
In the 1930s Itliong helped organize a lettuce strike in Monroe, Washington. He was also active in the Alaska Cannery Workers Union (popularly known as Local 37, the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union). Cesar Chavez started organizing in the 1960s and in 1962 Dalores Huerta and Cesar Chavez co-founded the United Farm Workers Union together.
Julio Hernandez (left), Larry Itliong (center), and Cesar Chavez (right) at the Huelga Day March in San Francisco, 1966.
Gerald L French/Corbis/Getty Images
For context, the "Delano Manongs" as Itliong and the Filipino farm workers were referred as, were mostly comprised of single men from the Philippines. When Filipinos were once more allowed to migrate to the United States, a majority of those who migrated were single men only. And due to a ban on interracial marriages, they remained single for their entire farm working careers with "some finding creative ways to find love such as having interracial relationships with Native Americans in Alaska as well as establishing the Filipino Community Center of Seattle to host events to facilitate acquaintances with women of color," says Lou Vargas who serves as President of the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations of the Pacific Northwest (NAFAA PNW).
In large, their bachelor lifestyles, allowed them to travel with the seasons from Alaska to work the canaries, to Washington to work the apple orchards, and to California to work the grape fields. This movement was possible because they "didn't have the most basic human privilege of finding love," says Vargas. Without that love holding them down to remain in the area like was the experience for many Mexican workers who often stayed their entire careers in one state and established their families there, Filipinos moved from state to state with each revolving season.
Filipino workers were mainly seasonal farm workers while Mexican workers were more permanent based in their communities. However they worked alongside one another towards the same goals thanks to their community leaders like Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez.
This national movement around the USA also exposed the Delano Manongs to different working conditions, showing them the big picture and to dream of what could be possible for workers if they had better working conditions. As the Delano Manongs aged, they also grew more impatient and began to voice their concerns for benefits like retirement plans, a raise, and better working conditions as they grew older. Impatient and with a visionary leader like Itliong, the Delano Manongs were ready to strike.
Leading up to that first successful Delano Grape Stike, Itliong had notified Chavez of their upcoming strike and asked him to organize the Mexican farm workers to join them, but Chavez balked and asked the Filipinos to pause as he felt it would take 2 to 3 years to organize. However, the Filipinos could not wait, and Itliong told Chavez that if the Mexican farm workers did not join the Filipino-led grape strike, the Filipinos would not join their Mexican-led strikes in the future as retribution. This led Chavez to concede and he joined the Filipinos in that first grape strike all those years ago.
Local Washington leader, Rey Pascua, who was monumental in Filipino-American History Month being recognized, photographed below, and is preparing a biography on Larry Itliong that will become out soon! It will detail more about Larry's leadership, and the unfortunate falling out between Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez. Source: Reynaldo Pascua | Political Science | Western Washington University (wwu.edu)
The tensions did not end between Chavez and Itliong, and when the details were being done for benefits, there were more benefits (for example, for retirement) given to permanent workers (who were majority Mexican) rather than seasonal workers (who were a majority Filipino). Faced with these heartbreaking terms of agreement after decades of work, Itliong resigned from the United Farm Workers Union.
Although Itliong resigned, he would continue to organize behind the scenes for labor rights in California, Alaska, and Washington alongside Filipino, Mexican, and other migrant farm workers - standing united for the cause of a fair and just equitable system for all, and not just for some.
Today, although Cesar Chavez is remembered more than Larry Itliong, the combined fruits of their labor live on in the fact that all Americans benefit from these hard fought labor rights to this day.
And that is why we should remember Larry Itliong and the contributions of Filipinos in the building up of America because theirs is a story of the power of how working together leads to a fairer and more equitable world for us all.
Source: NPR, website here: Grapes Of Wrath: The Forgotten Filipinos Who Led A Farmworker Revolution : The Salt : NPR
Itliong's victory during the 1970s Delano Grape Strike was so monumental as the first major victory for the labor rights movement, that the Kennedys even came down to celebrate it! It was a major victory for labor rights as well as for civil rights, and in particular justice achieved for our Filipino-American community who had suffered at the hands of white rioters during the Watsonville Riots on January 13, 1930, that attacked dozens of Filipino-American laborers. At the time, the white rioters had grown angry with Filipinos stealing their jobs and their women. As a response, California led the US in reducing immigration of Filipinos to only 50 people per year, instead of seeking justice for the Filipinos who were killed.
Filipino-American leadership in the labor movement, and the movement to remember our Filipino-American History has been made possible because of incredible efforts of local historians like Filipino-American Dorothy and Fred Cordova who established the Filipino-American National Historical Society for the nation right here in Washington State in 1982. We must remember the history of Filipino-Americans in America because it is American history and tells a valiant story for justice, reconciliation, and recognizing the immigrant identity we hold near and dear as a proud Nation of Immigrants in the United States of America.
Source: Asian American Life, website: (22) Asian American Life on Twitter: "Why is Filipino American History Month in October.? Watch and learn the history as we pay tribute to Dr. Dorothy Cordova, co-founder of @fanhs_national #fahm https://t.co/MqL597Bpez" / Twitter
It was Dorothy and Fred who discovered shipping logs that showed Filipinos were aboard the Spanish galleons that landed all those years ago, in 1587. And in 1992, they proposed October be recognized as Filipino-American History Month. Remembering our history and our heritage is essential in knowing who we are. Decades later after Larry Itliong’s victory with the Grape Strike, Rey Pascua, one of his mentees, in a 9 year one man effort (traveling from Yakima Valley to the Olympia, and beyond) to advocate for Filipino-American History to be recognized, in April 2019, Filipino-American History Month was finally recognized on the State level in Washington.
And today, Filipino-American History has been approved to be taught in Seattle Public Schools and we have our Filipino-American National Historical (FANHS) Greater Puget Sound's American Kapwa Youth & Community Summit happening at Clover Park High School this October 22nd!
(See Poster for Details)
Filipino-American history is being made everyday, and we would also like to congratulate R’Bonney from Texas who recently became the second Filipina-American (after 60 years) to ever win Miss USA with her advocacy for sustainable fashion and women empowerment as a sustainable fashion designer herself.
Filipino-American History is American History. From labor rights, the arts, and beyond, Filipinos continue to serve an integral role in our communities and for the fight for progress in the United States of America and across the world. Especially through the Bayanihan initiative being led by the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) here in Washington headed by State Director Jenilee Policarpio to assist our "kababayan" (fellow countrymen) recover from damage caused by typhoons that hit the Philippines.
Just like our Delano Manongs who came before us, when we work together through pursuing unity in community, through giving without asking for anything in return but the betterment of our community as a whole, we rise.
We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, of our leaders who have gone before us and who continue to stand with us for recognizing Filipino-American History. Every day, history is being made, and here at APCC we are proud to honor that history and to celebrate it together with our Filipino-American community this 2022 Filipino-American History Month.
Photo of volunteers for the Filipino-American Fashion Show held at Asia Pacific Cultural Center for a past Filipino-American History Month Celebration. Photo by APCC.
Happy Filipino American History Month! Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! Mabuhay!
Maricres Valdez Castro
Outreach Coordinator | Asia Pacific Cultural Center
Commissioner | City of Tacoma, Commission for Immigrant & Refugee Affairs