By Philippines News Agency
MANILA — More than a century before a wave of migration brought Filipino workers or sakadas to sugarcane and pineapple plantations in Hawaii.
Filipinos had established little villages in the bayous of Louisiana and made significant impact on the local dried shrimp and fishing industry.
To retrace the earliest known settlements of Filipinos in the U.S. mainland and draw lessons for the present and future generation of Filipino Americans from a long history of Filipino migration and integration into American society, Consuls General Generoso D.G. Calonge and Gina A. Jamoralin, from Chicago and Hawaii respectively, partnered with Honorary Consul to Louisiana Roberto Romero and the Philippine-Louisiana Historical Society to hold a first of its kind Filipino-American History Month celebration in New Orleans.
A symposium focusing on patterns of Filipino migration into the U.S. and as well as significant highlights of Philippine-American history, particularly during the commonwealth period, was held at the Xavier University in Louisiana (XULA).
Calonge joined Honorary Consul Romero and XULA Provost Dr. Anne McCall in welcoming the participants. He echoed the imperatives of celebrating Filipino-American history and embracing the rich ethnicity and value of Filipino heritage.
Though Filipinos working on Spanish galleons that plied the Manila-Acapulco trade (1565 – 1815) first set foot on the continent in October 1587.
Some Filipinos found their way to Louisiana along the Gulf of Mexico and settled as early as 1763 in St. Malo, New Orleans and “Manila Village,” which is now located in a town called Jean Lafitte.
According to Dr. Randy Gonzales, a professor from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, who traces his paternal lineage to a pensionado, Dr. Sharon Delmendo, also of Filipino descent, from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY, was a featured speaker who presented her research findings on the “Manilaners,” around 1,300 Jews who were saved from the Holocaust by President Manuel L. Quezon.
She pointed out that President Quezon had a bold plan that would have been the largest rescue of Jews if not for the outbreak of WWII in the Philippines.
She also gave a presentation on the “Balikbayan Bell” that the U.S. Military Academy in West Point returned to the Catholic Church in Bauang, La Union early this year.
One of the highlights of the symposium was the unveiling of a historical mural done by seven Filipino artists, namely, Leonardo Aguinaldo, Darby Alcoseba, Emmanuel Garibay, Florentino Impas Jr., Orley Ipon, Jason Moss and Othoniel Neri, who call themselves the “Durian Collective.”
Their collaborative work, depicting the life of the Filipino pioneers in Louisiana, was commissioned for the occasion by Dr. Almira Gilles, a Filipino American research associate at the Field Museum in Chicago, and the Filipino National Historical Society (FANHS) in the Midwest.
Ms. Jelly Carandang and Princess Emraida Kiram of FANHS then gave a presentation on “Filipinos in the Heartland of America” tracing the imprint of Filipino migration in the U.S. Midwest.
Jamoralin gave a presentation on the history and growth of the Filipino diaspora in Hawaii that began with the arrival of the first 15 sakadas in 1906 and reached milestones with Filipino Americans being elected into various government offices, and a state legislation designating Dec. 20 as “Sakada Day” in honor of the sakadas’ great sacrifices and contributions to the economy, culture and heritage of Hawaii.
She also led a panel discussion on the Filipino community’s growth and triumphs in their integral role as the state’s largest minority group with the participation of community leader Rev. Alex Vergara, Ms. Clemen Montero from the Center for Philippine Studies at the University of Hawaii, and Mr. Lester Hael from the Academia School of Languages in Honolulu.
The glimpse into the past was made more concrete with the presence of Ms. Darla Rojas Kerner, wife of the incumbent Mayor of the town of Jean Lafitte who traces her roots to Juan “Johnny” Rojas, one of the builders of “Manila Village,” and Ms. Ronda Richoux, who descended from Felipe Madriaga a Filipino who settled in St. Malo, Louisiana.
Dr. Alvaro Alcazar, Filipino American Professor of Languages and Culture at the Loyola University in New Orleans, facilitated a discussion about life in the first Filipino settlements.
Additional knowledge and insights were shared by Dr. Carmelo Astilla, a retired Filipino American Professor of History from Southern University at New Orleans, and former Ambassador Ruth Limjoco, who once served as Consul General in New Orleans.
Enriching discussions on contemporary developments, challenges and successes of the Filipino diaspora, particularly in Louisiana, a panel discussion that included a Filipino American lawyer, doctor, educator and community leader was moderated by Dr. Gonzales.
The symposium also included proclamations supporting the celebration of Filipino American History Month from the office of Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans and Mayor Tim Kerner of Jean Lafitte.
Dr. Jose Bautista, Filipino American Professor of Economics at Xavier University in Louisiana, the only black Catholic institution of higher education in the U.S., served as emcee and program host.
The day ended with a gala night where officials, scholars, guests from the Consular Corps of New Orleans and participants in the symposium had a wonderful chance to meet and mingle with the Filipino community in Louisiana and to celebrate in song and dance the nexus of history and cultural heritage of Filipinos in the U.S.