Tracing history: When and how Filipino-American History Month started

by Rian Mendiola /AJPress

FILIPINO-American History Month is celebrated in the United States every October. The significance of the month is attached to  the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the United States. It was on October 18, 1587 when the “Luzones Indios” came ashore from the Manila-built Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza under the command of Spanish Captain Pedro de Unamuno and set foot in what is now Morro Bay, California.

The late Dr. Fred Cordova, along with his wife, Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Founder Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova, first introduced October as Filipino-American History Month in 1992 with a resolution from the FANHS National Board of Trustees.

The Filipino American History Month was first recognized statewide in California in 2006 when the California Department of Education placed it on its  calendar. California State Senator Leland Yee introduced a resolution, which passed the California State Assembly and was submitted to the California Secretary of State, that recognizes October as Filipino-American History Month.

In November 2009, both the United States House of Representatives and Senate passed resolutions — House Resolution 780 and Senate Resolution 298, respectively — officially recognizing the month of October as Filipino-American History Month in the United States.

Filipino-American History Month is widely celebrated in various states, counties and cities in the United States especially in California and Hawaii, where a large number of Fil-Ams currently reside.

Commemorating 70 years of PH-US military bases agreement

This year, the FANHS is commemorating the 70th anniversary of the 1947 Military Bases Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.  Along with it is acknowledging the monumental effect it had on U.S.-Philippine relations and the Filipino community.

The history of the alliance between the two countries indicated an opposition toward the first attempts at establishing U.S. military bases in the Philippines. The Filipino opposition to the bases started when the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, overriding a veto by President Herbert Hoover, on January 17, 1933.

The law promised Philippine independence after 10 years but reserved several military and naval bases for the United States, as well as imposing tariffs and quotas on Philippine imports.

The Philippine Commonwealth Legislature and the Filipinos opposed the act at the insistence of then Philippine Commonwealth Senate President Manuel L. Quezon, who advocated for the passage of the Tydings-Mcduffie Act instead. This act eliminated objectionable provisions of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act and provided authority for naval reservations in the Philippines, giving the U.S. president only the authority to negotiate within the Philippine government for that purpose. It was passed on March 24, 1934 and the Philippines was finally granted independence on July 4, 1946.

When World War II broke out, the U.S. sought to maintain its military presence in the Philippines. The Military Bases Agreement, signed in 1947, provided basing rights of U.S. forces in the Philippines for 99 years. It also gave the United States the right to recruit citizens of the Philippines for voluntary enlistment into the US armed forces, according to Article 27.

From the Bases Agreement to 1992, when the Philippine Congress voted to end the bases agreement.  The country closed the bases, with more than 35,000 Filipinos having served in the U.S. Navy.

Thousands of Filipino men enlisted to Sangley Point Naval Base, the Naval headquarters in the Philippines, due to the declining economic and political environment.  The Navy offered higher pay than any other occupation in the Philippines, and additional incentives included traveling the world and the potential opportunity to obtain U.S. citizenship.

During their service and upon retirement, these servicemen became American citizens, created families in the U.S. and petitioned for the immigration of their other family members. Because of this, they and their families created large Fil-Am communities in different states such as Chicago, Illinois; Providence and Newport, Rhode Island; Long Beach, San Diego, Oakland and Vallejo, California; Jacksonville, Pensacola and Key West, Florida; Kitsap and Seattle, Washington; Charleston, South Carolina; Honolulu, Hawaii.

As a result of Military Bases Agreement, thousands of Fil-Ames trace their roots back to the Filipinos who served in the military and chose to settle in the United States upon retirement.

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