celebrating pahm... for the culture!
In 1992, the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) founder Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova, along with her husband, Dr. Fred Cordova, jointly announced the celebration of October as the Pilipino-American History Month (PAHM). In 2009, PAHM was officially recognized by the United States Congress. According to FANHS, the goal of PAHM is to "commemorate the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the continental United States." Broadly speaking, this month also aims to celebrate our continued presence, contributions, and excellence as a community in the U.S.
But some might ask, why have an entire month to celebrate Pilipino-Americans? What's so important about it?
Contrary to popular belief, our ancestors were the first Asian migrant groups to set foot in U.S. soil. In 1565, Pilipino sailors (though most were also slaves, prisoners, and refugees) landed in California and Louisiana as a part of the Manila Galleons under the Spanish empire; by the time the Founding Fathers declared independence from British rule, Pilipino sailors at Louisiana had already established a colony. Though we were a small but growing community, it wasn't until after the Philippines became an American colony in the 1900s that Pilipinos began to migrate to the U.S. in great numbers.
Since then, the Pilipino-American community has grown considerably. We are now the third largest ethnic group in the country, and the fastest growing Asian American group. As social workers, health practitioners, educators, scholars, activists, engineers, laborers, etc., the work our ancestors have done throughout the centuries helped build the American society as we know it today. The manongs of the 1920s immigrated to work as farmers and fishermen; in 1945, Pilipinos both in the U.S. and in the Philippines fought with and served for the U.S. during WWII; and in the 1970s to this day, hundreds of thousands of Pilipino professionals immigrated to aid the U.S.'s growing need for highly skilled workers.
But despite our ever-growing community and centuries of history and contributions to the country, our presence remains invisible and our needs are persistently unmet. For instance, though many Pilipinos immigrated from the Philippines with a bachelor's degree or higher, most are stuck working entry-level jobs that are oftentimes unrelated to their field of interest. More so, in taking these jobs, our community was often discriminated against (there were "No Filipinos Allowed" signs on business establishments during the 1930s) and met with racism (anti-miscegenation laws were passed in the 1930s, preventing Filipino marriage with Caucasians). Our youth continue to have some of the highest high school and higher education drop-out rates in the country. And while we no longer face such blatant racism and discrimination as we did before, we do continue to struggle against a plethora of micro-aggressions and institutionalized oppression, whether it's within the educational system or beyond. Perhaps most importantly, very little (if any at all) of our history are made known to us considering our presence and contribution are often glazed over when talking about American history.
So, PAHM is important because it gives us the space to celebrate centuries of our forgotten history and provides us the visibility that we have long been deprived of. Our identity is intimately tied to our history, and our history is greatly validated by our visibility in the spaces we partake in. In celebrating PAHM, we celebrate ourselves, our community, and the history that we continue to carry in our hearts every day.