[PARTNER] A National Museum of Filipino American History Opens in Stockton, California

Singgalot panels that tell the narrative of the Filipino American timeline of immigration. (Photo courtesy of FANHS)

Singgalot panels that tell the narrative of the Filipino American timeline of immigration. (Photo courtesy of FANHS)

The first Filipinos known to set foot on American soil came ashore from a Spanish Galleon at Morro Bay, California, on October 18, 1587. The Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) commemorates their arrival by celebrating October as Filipino American History Month, honoring those long ago Pinoys while simultaneously delineating the span of our history in America.

Now another important Filipino History Month event is about to occur: On October 29, 2016, 429 years after the coming of those first Filipinos, FANHS will open a National Museum of Filipino American history in Stockton, California. In 1994 the FANHS founders and trustees voted to found a national museum and specified it should be in Stockton because this was the one city to which all Filipino immigrants arriving in the western US during the early to mid-20th century had ties. During that period more Filipinos lived in and around Stockton than anywhere outside of the Philippines, and thousands who did not reside there fulltime worked seasonally in the area’s fields, packing sheds, and canneries. Nearly all who lived in the city stayed in the neighborhood now designated Stockton’s Little Manila Historic Site, and those who dwelt outside of town would head to that Pinoy oasis to socialize, worship, and shop for goods and services in its stores, restaurants, barber shops, pool parlors, gambling dens, sororal and fraternal clubs, dance halls, and churches.

FANHS founders and trustees in Seattle approved the idea of a national museum in 1994 and over the next two decades FANHS Chapter members in Stockton made it happen. The Stocktonians raised the money (largely through efforts of Mel LaGasca), collected the historical materials, and finally rented the space for the museum, shouldering the responsibility for planning an institution hoped to eventually represent all of FANHS’s 34 chapters and our nation’s 3.4 million Filipino Americans. All Stockton personnel involved in past and present efforts to open the Museum are volunteers, there are no paid staff in Stockton. Those who have worked the longest and hardest making ready for the grand opening are Beverly Engkabo, Terri Torres, Mel & Gail LaGasca, Anita N. Bautista, Leatrice Perez, Elena Mangahas, and Buster Villa.

Soft opening crowd (Photo courtesy of FANHS)

Soft opening crowd (Photo courtesy of FANHS)

The centerpiece exhibit for the opening is the Smithsonian Institution’s captivating and educational Singgalot photographic depiction of Filipino American history. FANHS CEO Dorothy Cordova acquired the Singgalot on loan from Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum. Other exhibits set up for the opening illustrate history of Filipino American boxers and martial artists, motorcyclist fraternal organizations, agricultural workers, religious organizations, and public figures.

The purpose of the FANHS Museum is to educate the public about the history of Filipino Americans. Singgalot and other of the museum’s exhibits cover the following and more:

  • Migration and dispersal of Filipinos to America from Spanish colonial times to the present

  • The Filipino American War and American colonization of the Philippines

  • Early 20th century recruitment of colonized Filipinos as cheap labor to work in fields and plantations of Hawaii and the western US

  • Anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited Filipinos from marrying whites

  • Anti-Filipino movements in the US

  • WW2 Filipino American regiments and war brides

  • Filipino American agricultural workers and unions

  • 1960’s influx of Filipino professionals

  • Filipino sororal, fraternal, social, and professional organizations

  • The profound diversity of occupations, professions, interests, and outlooks held by present day Filipino Americans

While we 21st century Filipinos can celebrate the historic landing of our 16th century predecessors, for them it was a grim and deadly event. Those first Filipinos, who probably were slaves, were accompanying a party of Spaniards going ashore to plant a cross claiming the land for Spain and souls of its human inhabitants for the Roman Catholic Church. But the land and souls already belonged to Chumash Native Americans, who understandably responded by attacking the landing party, resulting in the death of one of the Filipinos. Those unfortunate and unidentified Filipinos live on today in the minds and self-images of contemporary Filipino Americans.

On October 1, 2016, President Barack Obama wrote: “I am pleased to join in celebrating Filipino American History Month and in recognizing Filipino Americans across our country for the many ways they have enriched our society.” Thank you President Obama! We’ve come a ways from the era when President William McKinley confessed not knowing where the Philippines were, when General Joseph Wheeler called Filipinos “…treacherous and bloodthirsty hybrid Malays,” when General Joseph Smith ordered his troops to kill all Filipino males over ten years old, when General Henry Lawton said “the only good Filipinos are the dead ones,” and when an editorial in the San Francisco Argonaut newspaper said “the more of them (Filipinos) killed the better.”

In recognizing Filipino American History Month, President Obama went on to write: “As we mark this special month, we celebrate ways Filipino Americans have lent their unique voices and talents to changing our country for the better. “ Perfect, because educating the public about the history of our unique voices, talents, and contributions to the American Nation is exactly what the FANHS Museum is meant to do.

The FANHS Museum needs your help. It took Stockton FANHS two decades of golf tournaments and other fund-raising activities to build the $90,000 bank account that finally emboldened its officers to step out onto a limb and rent space for the Museum. We’ve dreamt big on little money. At the rate of expenditure for rent and other expenses, the money will run out on March 31, 2018. If funding is not acquired by then the experiment will be over, the Museum will close, some of our history will be swept back under the rug.

Please consider contributing to keep the dream alive as the Museum works its way onto solider turf. Now that it is up and running the Museum will begin applying for grants; but it also sorely needs your donations.

You can send a donation via Paypal at the Museum website http://www.fanhsstockton.com/fanhs_museum

Or mail your check to FANHS Museum, P.O. Box 4616, Stockton, CA 95204.

Richard Tenaza, Ph.D., is president of FANHS Stockton Chapter and Professor Emeritus University of the Pacific.