The history of Filipinos serving in the US Navy goes back as far as the 1800s during the Spanish-American war.
When the US occupied the Philippines, more Filipinos were recruited into the US Navy. In 1946, the Philippines became independent and even more Filipinos enlisted, resulting in about 35,000 Filipinos serving the US Navy during the next four decades.
Through the years, Filipinos went from getting hired as stewards to getting officer positions and higher-ranking roles within the US Navy. Among them is Negros Occidental native Isidro or Sid Barrera who began a lengthy and highly successful naval service career in 1962. He started as a cook and steward, serving meals, shining shoes, and cleaning the officers' living quarters. Through his hard work and continued pursuit for higher education, he kept earning accelerated positions from Steward 3rd Class Petty Officer in 1965 to Lieutenant Commander in 1984.
"I was in the Navy for 26 years. It has been a memorable and very satisfying service to the country that I love," Barrera says.
When Barrera retired after 26 years of service, he devoted his free time serving the Filipino American community. He became the first administrator and chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Philippine Cultural Center of Virginia or PCC in 2006. He also became President of the Filipino-American Veterans of Hampton Roads.
Recently, the Virginia Board of Historic Resources approved the Historical Highway Marker to commemorate the history of U.S. Naval service by Filipinos and Filipino Americans. The historical marker is being considered to be placed in the city of Virginia Beach close to PCC.
"The Fil-Ams deserve the historical marker because they have sacrificed so much. We have also have gained a lot of prestige in this community because of our contributions to the country after we have served the armed forces," Barrera asserts.
For Dr. Cynthia Romero, chairman of the Philippine Cultural Center, "having [the historical marker] would be a historic moment."
Virginia is home to one of the largest Filipino communities in the East Coast and the largest in the entire United States in proximity to the naval base, Naval Station Norfolk. It is the world's largest naval station, with the largest concentration of U.S. Navy forces which includes Filipino sailors. As of 2020, over 110,000 Filipinos live in the state of Virginia.