As we approach the end of Filipino American History Month (FAHM), I can attest that October has been busy for the Filipino American community. I bounced from one event to another - attending forums, receptions, happy hours, and installation ceremonies. I even hosted a conference for Fil-Am young professionals. It is exciting and fulfilling to see different Fil-Am groups celebrating their growth and achievements.
So why is FAHM celebrated in October? October 18, 1587 marks the arrival of the first Filipinos to the United States. They landed in what is now Morro Bay, California and were the first AAPIs to immigrate to the U.S! Also, the birthday of Larry Itliong, a labor union organizer, takes place in October. Itliong is described as one of the fathers of the “West Coast labor movement,” having served as an early leader in the United Farmers Workers and continued to support labor movements throughout his life. He fought for Filipino immigrant rights when Filipino workers weren’t given fair wages and led a strike with over one thousand Filipino workers. He also formed an alliance with Cesar Chavez during a time when Mexicans and Filipinos were pitted against each other.
FAHM has been celebrated since 1988 but was officially recognized by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate in 2009. The first time I truly celebrated FAHM was when I first moved to Washington, DC in October of 2016. I remember sitting in the White House in a room full of Fil-Ams as we watched apl.d.ap, from the Black Eyed Peas, perform every Filipinos’ favorite song. I unashamedly snuck out to get a blurry selfie with him later. I had never seen Filipinos celebrated like this before. As one of the early experiences during a major move in my life, I was thrilled to see our history and accomplishments being brought to the forefront. I found pride in my Filipino American identity.
While I learned to embrace my identity, I found the Fil-Am community in DC to be my home away from home. I became involved with organizations such as Filipino Young Professionals (FYP-DC), volunteered for groups like Kaya, and worked alongside the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). I saw the lack of Fil-Am representation in different areas such as business or in elected positions and a need for us to build coalitions and support each other. I saw the need for mentorship. The need to guide each other’s success in areas we have never ventured into before. Fil-Am entrepreneurs came together to build their own networks; lawyers united to provide pro-bono help for our immigrant community; volunteers organized to support Fil-Am candidates like Gina Ortiz-Jones. I would be remiss not to mention the Filipino food scene that has erupted all over the DMV area. Filipino American chefs are putting their love for their culture, artistry, and creativity into the dishes they want to share with the world. Our cuisine is being appreciated more than ever and, as the late-great Anthony Bourdain stated, Filipino food is America’s next favorite cuisine.
Last year, I sat in the Capitol Hill Visitor Center looking on as Paul Ryan recognized the Filipino-American WWII veterans across the U.S. and the Philippines for their wartime service. 250,000 Filipinos fought alongside Americans with the promise of citizenship, military benefits, and the honor one earns for risking life and limb for your country. These veterans had also endured the infamous Bataan Death March, where the Imperial Japanese Army forced 80,000 Filipino and American soldiers to walk over 60 miles with no food. 57,000 Fil-Ams lost their lives in that war and the rest were awarded hollow promises. 75 years later, with the help of countless passionate community advocates, our Fil-Am WWII veterans finally received the recognition they had earned: the congressional gold medal, the highest award bestowed by the United States. I remember watching as these WWII veterans, some over 100 years old, wore their military uniforms with pride. Many family members and next of kin attended in place of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. I couldn’t help but admire our Fil-Am community for its patience and perseverance as it continually fought for what was promised to them. Throughout their entire lives, they waited while they continued their lives in the U.S., raised their children, and never lost hope in a country that had once forgotten them.
The Filipino Veterans and Education Recognition Project (FilVetRep) celebrated the one year anniversary of this achievement this year, and the event was still as impactful as ever. FilVetRep awarded seven veterans for their service who were unable to attend the ceremony last year. The Filipino and American veterans who answered the call to serve in WWII is arguably one of the greatest contributions that the FilAm community has made to the U.S. This is a story that needs to be shared again and again, and this celebration reminded me that it is up to the younger generation to carry on their legacy.
Yes, this month was busy but it isn’t over yet. We can still stop and reflect on our Filipino American history and we can plan for the history not yet made. Only half of Fil-Ams who are eligible to vote actually voted in the 2016 election. We can increase representation through more civic participation and become an united force regardless of where we live or when we immigrated to the U.S. There are endless ways to become involved and help ensure a better future for our community.
I will always be indebted to the Ates, Kuyas, Titas and Titos that adopted me into their family since I’ve moved to DC. My second family. Born in DC, now spread throughout the country. I cannot wait to see the progress we will make and the future Fil-Am leaders that will rise up in the years to come. The achievements we have celebrated this month have been great, but I am confident that the ones we will celebrate in the future will be greater. Happy Filipino American Heritage Month!
OCA National Chapter and Membership Manager
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