Why Filipino American History Month is celebrated in October

Buddy Gomez — Cyberbuddy

Posted at Oct 02 2020 06:33 PM | Updated as of Oct 09 2020 06:12 PM

The United States officially observes and recognizes October every year as the Filipino American History Month.

This has been so since 2009 when the 111th US Congress, the US Senate and the House of representatives, passed respective resolutions officially recognizing October as Filipino American History Month. 

Earlier in 2006, California first recognized Filipino American History Month statewide, enrolling the annual event in California’s Department of Education ‘celebrations calendar.’ 

This was followed in 2008 by the Hawai’i Legislature unanimously passing a bill, signed into law, designating October as Filipino-American History Month “to commemorate the contributions of Filipino-Americans to Hawaii and the United States.” 

The very first observance was in October 1992, following a resolution of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) passed a year earlier.

This singular advent is the indelible fruit of efforts initiated and undertaken by FANHS under the leadership of founding couple Fred Cordova (late) and Dorothy Laigo Cordova. Fred and Dorothy are truly outstanding icons and incomparable exemplars of “the Filipino in America.” Both are American born of Filipino immigrant parents, admired and respected members of their community, tireless activists in pursuit of beneficial objectives not only for fellow ethnics but for all minorities in society at large. Both have earned academic doctorates. Dorothy continues to be the moving spirit and a source of inspiration for FANHS, serving as its Executive Director.

The organization was founded in 1982 and was first State-chartered in 1985 in Seattle, Washington where FANHS remains headquartered. As a community-based organization, its mission is “to promote understanding, education, enlightenment, appreciation, and enrichment through the identification, gathering, preservation, and dissemination of the history and culture of Filipino Americans in the United States” with the goal “...to preserve, document, and present Filipino American history and to support scholarly research and artistic works which reflect that rich past...”

FANHS now has 38 chapters all over the US. They take turns hosting the Biennial National Conference. But for the Covid-19 pandemic, Hawaii would have been the venue for this year’s conference. The next one in 2022 (date tba) will be hosted by the Houston Chapter.

Please look up “Filipino American National Historical Society” in the internet and consider joining and supporting its objectives. (Disclosure: I am a Life Member. I served as a Trustee, upon invitation of the late Dr. Fred Cordova.)
 
I first met Fred and Dorothy in New Orleans during the 1988 Biennial National Conference which I attended in the company of then-Ambassador to the US Emmanuel Pelaez. During that event I had the opportunity to visit St. Malo, out in the Lousiana bayous, the original village site of “Manila Men/ indios” traced to have settled since 1760s! 

I wish to characterize this October recognition and observance as an accolade to the Filipino diaspora in the United States for finally exercising their inherent human right to assert their presence, dignity, achievements and capacity to participate and contribute in their adopted country. 

FANHS’ sponsorship of the Filipino American History Month is not simply about “Heritage,” as the observance has been interchangeably referred to also as “Heritage Month.” FANHS officially points out that the observance is properly focused on “history” instead of “heritage.” “History includes the events, experiences, and lives of people and their impact on society, "heritage" is solely about cultural traditions handed down from the past. 

Why October? 

FANHS literature says: “The celebration of Filipino American History Month (FAHM) in October commemorates the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the continental United States, which occurred on October 18, 1587, when ‘Luzones Indios’ came ashore from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza and landed at what is now Morro Bay, California.”

We are speaking of a time long before the existence of an American nation (the USA) within “the continental United States,” then still the unoccupied and colonially unpartitioned “North America,” the name and geographic designation first used by cartographer of the New World Gerardus Mercator in 1538. We of course know that the original thirteen British colonies became the United States of America in July 4, 1776, long after Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620) were first settled. 

Therefore, the native inhabitants of what was to become the Philippines, then still designated by Europeans as “indios” ( for indigenous folks and before they became known as Filipinos) were in fact the very first Asians and Pacific Islanders to have stepped on American soil! 

But not in 1587 and neither at that California spot known today as Morro Bay. 

History tells us that the Royal mandate for the Legazpi expedition was the immediate search and recording of the return route, retraversing the Pacific, back to Acapulco in Nueva Espana. That epoch-making first successful “torna viaje” left Cebu on June 1, 1565 on board the Galleon San Pedro, with Fr. Andres de Urdaneta in command. Thus commenced the Manila-Acapulco the Galleon Trade which was to serve world commerce for the succeeding 250 years. 

According to the logbook of Rodrigo de Espinosa, San Pedro’s pilot, “the Indians….serving as sailors we have on board …. say there is a passage through…..about two leagues beyond the coast of the island Felipina.” (Villalobos named Samar and Leyte “Las Islas Filipinas” in 1542.) They landed in Acapulco on October 8, 1565. Those sailors were Visayan ‘indios.’ 

Thereafter, no galleon has ever sailed from Las Islas Filipinas without the service of Filipino sailors and deckhands. Many never returned, settling in New Spain (Mexico). Filipinos were indeed the first Asians/Pacific Islanders to have landed, sojourned and settled in America! 

October 8, 2020, Thursday next, the Filipino marks 455 years such presence and participation. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.