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15 Memorable Facts About Filipino-American History You Should Know

"Forgotten Asian Americans" no longer.

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To celebrate Filipino-American heritage in honor of AAPI Heritage Month, I asked Fil-Ams from all over the country to share what they want the world to know about Filipino-Americans — what makes them memorable rather than forgotten.

1. Filipino-Americans are the second largest Asian-American group in the United States.

Courtesy of Liz Casasola

There are over 3.4 million Filipino-Americans in the country, the 2010 U.S. Census reported. That's about 20% of all Asian-Americans in the country!

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2. Filipino-Americans are the largest Asian-American group in 11 out of the 50 states.

Courtesy of Greg Cendana

Filipino-Americans are the second largest Asian American group nationally, but they're the largest Asian-American group in 11 states, including California (which has the largest total population of Asian-Americans).

4. Filipinos were the first documented Asian people to arrive in the United States.

Courtesy of EJ David

The first Filipinos landed in Morro Bay, California, in 1587, three decades before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. These Filipino men escaped Spanish galleon ships en route to Spain. Some Filipinos migrated in similar ways and settled in the bayous of Louisiana in 1763, giving Filipinos deep roots in the U.S.

5. The Philippines is the only country in Asia to have been fully colonized by the United States.

Courtesy of Jessica Petalio

After the Philippines gained independence from Spain on June 12, 1898, it was then colonized by the United States. The country did not regain its independence until July 4, 1946. As a result, American English is the second national language of the Philippines, and the U.S. has since maintained a military presence in the country.

6. A quarter of a million Filipino-Americans are veterans of World War II.

Courtesy of Ben de Guzman

More than 250,000 Filipino soldiers fought under the American flag in World War II. They agreed to fight in the U.S. military on the promise that the government would grant these soldiers American citizenship and full veteran benefits. However, these promises were not granted until President Obama took office in 2009, and hundreds of thousands of Filipinos did not receive the benefits they were promised.

Today, activists are working for Filipino-American veterans to be recognized with the Congressional Medal, as they are the only ethnic group who served in World War II yet to receive this honor.

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7. Filipino-Americans contributed significantly to the American labor movement, particularly with the United Farm Workers movement in the 1960s.

Courtesy of Johanna Hester

While Cesar Chavez and Mexican farmworkers are often credited with leading the Delano grape strike of 1965, Filipino-American farmworkers were the first to strike. Filipino-American leaders Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz reached out to Cesar Chavez to fortify the union.

While internal power struggles resulted in Filipino-Americans distancing themselves from the United Farm Workers, many historians and activists like Dolores Huerta credit Filipinos with being the first to strike.

8. Filipino-Americans have been a part of many advocacy movements throughout U.S. history.

Courtesy of Allyson Tintiango-Cuballes

In the late ’60s, Filipino-Americans were at the forefront of the fight for ethnic studies in San Francisco. In 2015, Filipino-Americans fought for the Alvarado Middle School to be renamed the Itliong-Veracruz Middle School after the Filipino-American labor leaders. The school was the first school in the country to be named after a Filipino-American. In 2016, Filipino-Americans successfully attained historical recognition for the South of Market (SoMa) district of San Francisco to be renamed SoMa Pilipinas.

9. Filipino-Americans have a significant presence in the arts and in hip-hop culture.

Courtesy of DJ Neil Armstrong

Lea Salonga was the first Filipina to win a Tony Award. Filipino-American musicians include Bruno Mars, Vanessa Hudgens, and Apl.de.ap of the Black Eyed Peas. In hip-hop, many Filipino-Americans have excelled as DJs and beatmakers, like DJ Neil Armstrong, DJ Q-Bert, DJ Icy Ice, as well as b-boys and dance crews — including members of groups featured on America’s Best Dance Crew like the Jabbawockeez, Super CR3W, and Quest Crew.

10. Filipino-Americans are more likely than other Asian-American groups to marry outside of their race.

Courtesy of EJ David

Contemporary studies find that racial identity may influence Filipino-Americans who are in interracial and interethnic romantic relationships, in that those who are married to non-Filipino Asian-Americans tend to identify more as Asian-American, whereas those who are married to black Americans or Latinos are more likely to view Filipino-Americans as a distinct ethnic group and feel more connected with black and Latino communities.

11. One-fifth of the Filipino-American population is multiracial.

Courtesy of Stephanie Chrispin

Nearly 22% of Filipino-Americans identify as biracial or multiracial — much higher than the 8% of the entire Asian-American population who are multiracial. This phenomenon, scholars have argued, may be due to shared histories of colonialism, experiences with colorism and racial discrimination shared with black Americans, and shared American values, customs, and language with white Americans.

12. Filipino-Americans identify as members of many different religions.

Courtesy of Edgar Hopida

About 90% of people in the Philippines identify as Catholic, thanks to Spanish colonialism. Four to five percent practice another form of Christianity, and another 4–5% percent identify as Muslim.

13. Many Filipino-Americans also choose not to identify as Asian or Asian-American, often due to a history of exclusion.

Courtesy of Anthony Ocampo

Research supports the idea that many Filipino-Americans do not identify as Asian or Asian-American. Potential reasons for this include having a darker skin color (or identifying as “brown”), having similar experiences with racism, or feeling excluded or marginalized in the larger Asian-American community.

Scholars have described how Filipino-Americans have historically felt marginalized in pan-ethnic Asian-American organizations, particularly given their lack of representation or leadership opportunities in these groups. Other researchers have found that many Filipinos identify more with Latinos than with East Asian-Americans.

14. Filipino-Americans have unique experiences with racism.

Courtesy of Anthony Ocampo

Studies have revealed that Filipino-Americans experience a range of racial microaggressions, including that they are misperceived to be members of other racial groups like Latino, multiracial, black, or Pacific Islander. Further, many Filipinos report being told that they are not “Asian enough” — by both Asian-Americans and non-Asian people.

Discrimination from other Asian-Americans results in a unique racial and ethnic Filipino identity: Filipino-Americans might reject a pan-ethnic Asian-American identity and develop a strong, ethnocentric, purely Filipino-American identity.

15. And while May is Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, October is Filipino-American History Month!

Photo by Isabella Villacampa

Because of the unique experiences of the Filipino-Americans, Fred and Dorothy Cordova of the Filipino American National Historical Society declared October as Filipino-American History Month in 1988. In 2009, both the U.S. Senate and Congress declared October as Filipino-American History Month. In 2015, President Obama recognized the month at a celebration at the White House.

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