Filipino American History Coming Full Circle

October is Filipino American History Month and Jaki Joanino reflects on what this time means to her and shares the legacies of Filipinos in the United States. She is part of the next generation carrying the torch in the continued fight for civil rights and social justice.

Filipino American History Month is a product of Filipino America’s efforts to value the culture and legacies of Filipinos in the United States. 

In California, where Filipinos are the largest Asian ethnic group and nearly half a million Filipinos residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, this movement for recognition is in full swing.

Learning Filipino American History empowered me to claim my heritage. I learned why I ended up in the United States and about the great things Filipinos are capable of. Learning this history seemed to give me answers about myself and my heritage that were subtlety asked of me everyday as a brown person, but never showed up on any graded test.

Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve been missing - in books and conversations around our dinner tables.

Filipinos were in the forefront of the housing movement when 50 mostly poor and elderly Filipino men were violently evicted overnight from the I-Hotel in former Manilatown in San Francisco on Kearny St. in 1977.

Today’s soaring real estate prices and redevelopment is driving displacement in the South of Market (SOMA) neighborhood, a diverse neighborhood comprised of 80% renters, home of 2,200 Filipinos, and many beloved Filipino community assets.

The SOMA community is pushing hard to prevent displacement, preserve affordable housing, and promote the expansion of permanently affordable housing stock in the San Francisco Community Land Trust. As a product of fierce community activism, San Francisco’s newest cultural district, SOMA Pilipinas was formed in April 2016.

2015 brought the first school in the United States to be named after Filipino Americans, Itliong-Vera Cruz Middle School in Union City and the establishment of Larry Itliong Day in California. Both these actions honored great Filipino American labor organizers who lead the Great Delano Grape Strike of 1965The strike was impetus to the founding of the United Farm Workers and the farm labor movement which created basic labor protections many appreciate today. In 2013, the first Filipino American California State Assemblymember, Rob Bonta, made it his first bill to put this history in California textbooks and classrooms.

Community organizers from Filipino Advocates for Justice and Pilipino Workers Center have continued this work. Their leadership was key to passing the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in 2014 and 2016.

While 150,000 Filipinos lived in the United States by the end of WWII, they were no longer considered nationals and they weren’t recognized as citizens. In this limbo, they were classified as aliens.

In 1946, the Luce Celler Act began to reverse Filipino exclusion. It provided a pathway to citizenship, allowing them to unite with their families and marry, the right to own land. It finally granted Filipinos in the US the right to vote.

In 2011, Mountain View-raised Jose Antonio Vargas came out with his undocumented status in The New York Times Magazine. He chronicled his struggles, many of them not different from those Filipino elders. In the continued fight for comprehensive immigration reform, in 2014 the Santa Clara County Filipino American Community Alliance for Immigrant Advancement was formed.

In June 2016, a Supreme Court tie blocked President Obama executive actions allowing Deferred Action to Parents of Americans (DAPA) and lifting the age cap on Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA), segregating many Filipinos to this limbo once again.

This month provides me the opportunity to honor my specific experiences as a Filipino American. I can celebrate steppingstones that have been laid by my predecessors for my civil rights. It reminds me of gaps in the continued fight for these civil rights and social justice.

At the end of this Filipino American History Month 2016, the National Museum of Filipino American History in Stockton will open its doors to the public for the first time. Soon after, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos will be exercising their right to vote, 70 years after the Luce Celler Act was passed.

History can be perceived as being in the past, but it’s not left behind. Sometimes it even does a 360°. And the next generation has been passed the torch.



Image by Quynh-Mai Nguyen


Jaki Joanino is a member of Filipino American National Historical Society - Santa Clara Valley Chapter (FANHS-SCV).


On October 18th FANHS-SCV will be hosting “1946 and 2016: A Turning Point” in San Jose’s Japantown at Empire 7 Studios. Enjoy a night of contemporary and traditional entertainment, art, food, drinks, and a worthwhile discussion lead by professor emeritus at San Jose State University and activist Dr. Estella Habal. All are welcome. To learn more check out our website:


Related Media:
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The Cannery: A Historical Community os San Jose Arts and Culture Prepares to Say Goodbye

Stories and Struggles of Migrant Women in the South Bay

This article is part of the categories: Arts & Culture  / Community  / Economy  / Immigration  / Law & Justice  / Politics  / San Jose//South Bay 
This article is part of the tags: Delano Grape Strike  / Filipino American History Month  / Filipino Americans  / Filipino History  / I-Hotel  / Jose Antonio Vargas  / Larry Itliong  / Manilatown SF  / National Museum of Filipino American History  / Philip Vera Cruz  / SOMA Pilipinas 


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