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Kapwa: Filipino American history month

Kapwa is an indigenous Filipino ideology meaning togetherness and that we navigate through spaces with a community rather than alone. The idea of Kapwa is to recognize our identities as well as extending itself to other people in our community with the understanding that we all embody differences yet always together.

For Kapwa, this month is prevalent as we honor Filipino American History Month. October commemorates the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the United States. Filipinos first arrived in Morro Bay, California on October 18, 1587, when “Luzones Indios” came. This moment also marks the first Asian Americans to arrive in the United States. The first Filipinos to arrive were forced into enslavement during the Spanish galleon trade, which they then escaped and established settlements across the Louisiana bayou, then eventually spreading out throughout the country.

There is very little written about the history of the Philippines or of Filipino Americans in the United States even though there has been a long history of Philippines during the Philippine-American war and much of World War II. This shows that Filipinos have been left out of the conversation over the decades. It was not until 2009, that the United States Congress finally first acknowledged October as Filipino American History Month in the United States.

2006 was the pivotal year where the state of California was the first to recognize Filipino American History Month statewide. Many states, counties and cities in the United States have finally established proclamations and resolutions to declare the observance of Filipino American History Month. October was recognized by President Obama and Congress, and also commemorates the many ways that Filipino Americans have contributed significantly to American history during World War II, in addition to strengthening the labor movement. As one of the largest immigrant groups in the United States, Filipin Americans want our history to be recognized and stories to be told.

Immigration from the Philippines to the United States between 1900 to 1934 was big. During this time, Filipino workers fulfilled the demand for cheap labor in agriculture, cannery and domestic industries; therefore, the United States recognized Filipinos as U.S. Nationals in efforts to benefit from the large labor force they created. This generation is referred to as the Manong generation. The harsh racial discrimination they faced promoted changes in the United States immigration policies, anti-miscegenation laws and oppressive labor laws that kept wages low.

This led to a group of workers to go on strike and hold demonstrations, which was led by Larry Itliong, who was known as “The Godfather” of the labor revolution that made a large impact on Filipino American activism. The events of the martial law era in the Philippines is definitely present for Filipinos in the United States. As we move forward into the present day, during a time when the world is combating a global pandemic, in addition to global protests against racial injustices, the historical events that sparked the martial law era in the Philippines is definitely a current reality for Filipino Americans.

Filipino Americans are reminded daily that progress is not a constant climb. Living with the persistent threat of tyranny, combined with the loss of freedom and civil liberties, is a part of living with the ups and downs of Filipino American life. The need to participate in activism has never been more urgent, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately affect the front line health care personnel and essential workers.

This year’s theme for Filipino American History Month throughout the United States is “The History of Filipino-American Activism”. The concept of the theme was chosen in an effort to bring awareness to the pervasiveness of the oppression that Filipino Americans endure over the decades, and to bring awareness to people. In 2020, October’s celebration month will be used to reflect upon how the Filipino American community has been involved in social justice movements throughout the years. This Filipino American History Month allows Filipino Americans the opportunity to fully analyze and examine their community’s close relationship to social justice and political activism.

Kapwa has dedicated this month to creating spaces to educate, learn, discuss and celebrate Filipino American History month by holding events on Filipino Activism: Past and Present (Oct. 6), Anti-Blackness in Filipino & Asian American Communities (Oct. 15) and Pre-Colonial Philippines (Oct. 20).