A historical highway marker right outside the Philippine Cultural Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach was recently unveiled to honor the lives and service of Filipino American sailors.
"The US Navy has a very long and storied history of Filipino service members among their ranks serving [the US]. And today, we are taking time to acknowledge the immense contributions of those service members," Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer said during the unveiling.
Filipinos have served in the US Navy as early as the Civil War and began enlisting in larger numbers after America took over the Philippines following the Spanish-American war.
When the Philippines gained independence in 1946, an agreement was negotiated to allow the Navy to recruit more Filipinos.
"Filipino Americans have always answered the call to serve even when listed opportunities were severely limited for Filipino nationals. They generally serve as stewards and often face discrimination and disrespect from those they serve and protect," Virginia's Third District Representative Bobby Scott noted.
By the 1970s, Filipinos were eligible to serve in all enlisted and officer positions. This led to the formation of Filipino American communities near naval bases. One of the largest is in Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Dyer asserted, "we are proud that so many of our Filipino brothers and sisters have made Virginia Beach their home."
Naval Supply Systems Command Deputy Commander Rear Admiral Alan Reyes is among Fil-Ams whose father also served in the US Navy.
"My father served 30 years of active duty in the Navy and mother as a Navy spouse. My parents both left their homes and their families in the Philippines, my dad from Marikina, Rizal, and my mom from Lucban, Quezon province, to build lives in the U.S., to raise a family, and to make lives better for us all," Reyes shared.
For Reyes, he wouldn’t be where he is if not for the Fil-Am sailors who served before him.
"As we say in the Sailor's Creed, 'I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and those who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world'," he said. "I know that my own service in the Navy, especially as a flag officer, would not be possible without the courageous service of those who have served before me."
He added, "Filipinos have served in the Navy for decades and we will continue to be an important part of our Navy and all of our services."
The unveiling and dedication of the historical marker was led by the Filipino American National Historical Society - Hampton Roads Chapter and the Council of United Filipino Organizations of Tidewater.
The historical marker was selected by the Office of the Governor of Virginia in 2021 as one of the five historical markers that highlighted the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the state of Virginia and the entire nation.