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Filipino History Timeline

by Stacey Anne Baterina Salinas

1521: Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan is funded by the Spanish Crown to establish a trade route to Asia. Magellan angers the indigenous inhabitants of the Philippines by taking their resources and trying to forcibly convert them to Christianity. Magellan’s treatment of Filipinos leads to his death at their hands. 

1572: The 7,641 islands comprising the Philippines are claimed by the Spanish Empire when the Spanish take Manila. 

1565-1815: The Manila galleon trade route between the Philippines and Mexico commences in 1565, making two round trips per year for over two centuries. Filipino men were coerced into becoming sailors on these tradeships, and as such often became the first Southeast Asians to settle in the New World.  Many of these Filipino sailors jumped ship and settled in Louisiana’s New Orleans, making their own communities along the water in the seventeenth century and marrying local Native American women.  

1587: The Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Esperanza lands in Morro Bay, California, marking the first presence of Filipinos in North America. Spanish traders often used Filipino sailors to assist them in bartering with Native Americans.    

1763: On the eve of the Seven Years’ War, Filipino men (known as Manila Men) settle land near New Orleans, later establishing a village there called St. Malo. Many of the Filipino sailors married Native American women in the region. In 1883 journalist Lafcadio Hearn writes about these men and their endeavours in Harper’s Weekly, a popular national magazine at the time. A distinct Filipino creole community can be seen in this region of Louisiana up until the 1940s. 

1848: California’s Gold Rush attracted men from all across the nation, including some of the Manila Men who had settled in in Louisiana in 1763. Filipinos established one of the earliest gold mining camps in Mariposa county. 

1898: The Spanish-American War breaks out, resulting in the U.S. acquiring the Philippines.   

1899: The Philippine-American War commences in the wake of the Spanish-American War. Though it officially lasts three years, fighting continues in the Philippines until 1913.  Many African Americas fighting for the U.S. abandon their posts to side with Filipino revolutionaries, finding solidarity in combating the injustices of American colonialism and racism.   

1901: President William McKinley signs an executive order allowing for the Navy to enlist 500 Filipinos. In the coming decades, Filipino participation in the U.S. Navy increases, though they were generally limited to working as musicians, cooks, or stewards. Many Filipinos who joined the Navy would use their service to become U.S. citizens and bring their families over to the United States. 

1903: The United States Congress passes the Pensionado Act, which established a scholarship program for Filipinos to attend school in the United States. It ended in 1943, but not before the program provided education to around 14,000 Filipinos. 

1904: The World’s Fair is held in St. Louis, Missouri. It housed a Philippines Exhibit that displayed replicas, architectural reproductions, and archaeological material, along with over 1,000 “imported” Filipinas/os hired from different Philippine ethnic and language groups. They were ordered to “act as they would naturally in their villages and native homes.” Filipinas/os dressed in their cultural attire, with some groups being more covered than others due to the diverse climate and environments of the Philippine Islands. Their clothing, or lack thereof in some cases, drew large crowds, especially on days when Filipinas/os performed cultural dances. The purpose of the Philippines Exhibit was to provide “exotic” amusement, and to allow white American audiences the opportunity to gawk at how “native” Filipina/o culture was. This proved to many Americans that Filipinos needed American intervention to become properly civilized.  

1907 - 1908: Filipino laborers are recruited to work on farms in Hawaii and the United States in order to fill the high demand for low wage agrarian work as Japanese immigration was cut short under the Gentlemen’s Agreement. This act prevented Japanese laborers, particularly those looking for unskilled agrarian positions in the U.S.A., from applying and receiving the legal paperwork to immigrate to Hawai’i and the mainland. 

1910-1930: The number of Filipinos working in Alaskan canneries doubles. Known as “Alaskeros,” they came to make up the majority of all workers at Alaskan canneries by the mid-1930s. During the winter months Alaskeros would migrate to Washington and California, where they suffered from immense discrimination from white Americans. In 1933 Alaskeros created the Cannery Workers and Farm Laborer Union (CWFLU) in Seattle. 

August 1919: The Filipino Labor Union was established in Hawai’i with Philippine-born laborer Pablo Manlapit appointed as its president.

1920: The Filipino Labor Union of Hawai’i joins Japanese plantation workers on Oahu in striking for better wages and breaks during the work day.  

1920-1930s:  Filipinos begin appearing in Hollywood Films, mainly fulfilling roles as supposed “aborigines” or “natives.” 

1924: Filipino plantation workers in Hawai’i protest from April to September against sugar growers.  Many Filipino strikers are assaulted, harassed, and eventually blacklisted during the strike.  

1930: The Filipino Women’s Club (FWC) is founded in Salinas, California. 

January 1930: Watsonville Race Riot. Filipino migrant farm laborers throughout the Central Coast are violently harassed by white vigilantes in both public spaces (streets, taxi dance halls) as well as in labor camps. White protestors and vigilantes during this era were especially upset about white women dancing with Filipino men, and Filipino immigrants “taking American jobs.” Ensuing race riots resulted in the murder of 20 year old Filipino farm laborer, Fermin Tobera, who was shot through the heart while at his bunkhouse in a Filipino labor camp.  

1931: Filipinos, who by this point had been serving in the U.S. military for years, finally become eligible for U.S. citizenship. 

1933: The 1933 court case Salvador Roldan v Los Angeles County allows for Roldan, an Ilocano born Filipino, to marry his white fiance.  Soon after, however, xenophobic hysteria about racial blending influenced California lawmakers to create anti-miscegenation laws that defined Filipinos as non-white, and thus ineligible for blended marriages. As was previously stipulated in an anti-miscegenation law from 1880, “Mongolians” were not allowed to marry “white” partners.  Filipinos in 1930 were defined racially as “Malay,” which whites then contested in 1933. Those against Filipino nationals marrying white partners argued that Filipinos were actually a subset of the “Mongolian” racial category. This set into motion the creation of the 1933 anti-miscegenation law in California, which targeted Filipino migrant laborers and barred them from marrying any person deemed “white.”  

1934: The Tydings-McDuffie Act assigns an annual quota allowing for 50 Filipinos to enter the United States per year. It also promised that the United States would grant the Philippines its independence after 10 years. 

1934: Salinas Lettuce Strike. The Filipino Labor Union in Salinas organizes a lettuce strike to demand 40 cents/hour wages for Filipino farmworkers. Filipino strikers are violently harassed in both the town of Salinas and at the Filipino labor camps along the town’s outskirts. Ultimately, the FLU won two of their demands—they were recognized as an official union by growers, and they ensured that Filipino farmworkers received an increase in wage earnings. Violence against immigrant workers continued to escalate despite the FLU’s victory.  

1938 - 1939: The Filipino Agricultural Labor Association is formed by Stockton asparagus farm workers. After becoming recognized as an official union by asparagus growers, they negotiate for wage increases for Filipino farm laborers.  

1941-1945: During World War II the 1st and 2nd Filipino Regiments form to fight for the United States in exchange for their citizenship. They worked primarily as translators and soldiers in the Pacific Theater. 

1946: President Truman passes the Rescission Act of 1946, which annulls all benefits  (American citizenship, $200 million compensation, and American veterans’ benefits) promised to Filipina/o soldiers who fought for the United States during World War II.   

1945-1948: After World War II the United States passes the War Brides Act, allowing Filipino men and women who fought for the United States and acquired citizenship to bring their spouses and children to the U.S. 

1950-1953: Filipino Americans contribute massively to the Korean War. 

1955: Filipina American Rose Bamberger works with her queer and lesbian friends in the San Francisco area to create a space (typically inside her friends’ homes) where queer folx can meet without having to fear police raids and tourist gawkers. Her organizing eventually led to the creation of the first American lesbian club known as Daughters of Bilitis.  

1956: Larry Itliong founds the Filipino Farm Labor Union in Stockton.  

1959: The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee is established by Philip Vera Cruz, Pete Velasco, and Larry Itliong.  

October 3rd, 1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, causing the Filipino population to grow in the United States. Filipino migration to the United States during this period is often described as a “brain drain,” as the U.S. provided incentives for skilled and educated Filipinos to come over and work there. 

September 8th, 1965: On September 8th, Filipino farmworkers strike against growers in Delano in an effort to increase their wages. This initiates the Farmworkers Movement, which would ultimately change the lives of California farmworkers forever.  

September 16th, 1965: Mexican farmworkers of the National Farm Workers’ Association (NFWA) join Filipino farmworkers of the Agricultural Workers’ Organizing Committee (AWOC) in their strike against California growers. Mexican-Filipino solidarity was not a given; for years, Mexicans refused to join Filipinos in their efforts. Their combined movement against growers would lead to a nationwide boycott.

July 27th, 1966: The National Farm Workers’ Association (NFWA) headed by Cesar Chavez, and the Agricultural Workers’ Organizing Committee (AWOC) headed by Larry Itliong, merge to form a single union; the United Farm Workers’ Organizing Committee (UFWOC).

1970: Five years years after the start of the Delano Grape Strike, the grape growers of Delano finally give into the demands of the United Farm Workers union, ending the nationwide boycott and allowing for farmworkers to begin collective bargaining.  

October 1971: Larry Itliong resigns as assistant director of the United Farm Workers over differences with Cesar Chavez and the administration of the UFW. This upsets many Filipinos in the union, causing them to question whether the UFW was ever really serving their interests.

June 21st, 1974: The UFW opens Agbayani Village, with Filipino hero Philip Vera Cruz being instrumental in its construction. Named after Paulo Agbayani—a Filipino Farmworker who died of a heart attack while serving in the pickett line in 1966—the village was supposed to symbolize the UFW’s commitment to address the needs of Filipino farmworkers within the union. 

August 4th, 1977: Filipino American residents are forcibly removed from San Francisco’s International Hotel (or I-Hotel) as part of a larger urban development project launched by the city’s Planning and Housing Association. The chairman of the company that owned the hotel, Walter Shorenstein, argued that he was “getting rid of a slum.” 

1970s: Gil Mangaoang and other Filipino American grassroots organizers from the LGBTQIA+ community lead demonstrations to protect the I-Hotel from demolition.  Mangaoang also organized at San Francisco City College for the implementation of Ethnic Studies, Tagalog language courses, and Filipino History in their curriculum.    

1970s: Fil-Am LGBTQIA+ also rally for recognition in the broader Asian American Movement.  After experiencing prejudice based on their sexual orientation from Asian American communities, many queer Filipinx folx splintered off to form or join other anti-racist and anti-imperialist coalitions such as Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino  & Kalayaan Collective, both of which sought to liberate Filipinx peoples from the Philippine president Marcos’ regime.     

August 26th, 1977: Philip Vera Cruz, architect of the plan to open Agbayani Village, announces his resignation from the United Farm Workers at their National Convention. He cites differences with Cesar Chavez and the UFW’s administration as the primary reasons for his departure. 

1978: Bruce Lee’s film, Game of Death, showcases Filipino martial arts known as eskrima.  

1980s: The People’s Power Movement draws international notice as Filipinas/os challenge the Marcos Regime; Filipina/o Americans also rally behind the movement in the United States as a declaration of Filipinx solidarity.  

1980s: Filipino American National Historical Society founded

1980s: Filipino nurses became part of the front lines of medical professionals treating the HIV epidemic

1988: The Filipino Task Force on AIDS (FTFA) is established with the goal of ending the risk of HIV/AIDS in the Filipino community. Located in San Francisco, it offered a comprehensive range of HIV/AIDS-related services to Filipinos and Asian-Pacific Islanders. The communities they worked with included gay, bisexual, and transgender Filipinx populations. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, the organization was forced to shut down in 2005.  

1990s: Filipino Americans from the West Coast become major influencers in the DJ, RnB, and Hip Hop scenes. Examples include Kai, One Voice, and Jocelyn Enriquez, all of whom meld Filipino ballads with acoustic vocals and pop and RnB undertones. 

1990s: Nikki Calma, also known as Tita Aida, is a San Francisco-based Filipinx American HIV/AIDS activist and mentor who helped advocate for HIV awareness and de-stigmatization programs during the 1990s. Tita Aida also promoted transgender initiatives.  The many organizations, health centers, and annual events she helped to establish include the San Francisco Community Health Center, TRANS:THRIVE, National Transgender HIV Testing Day, and Trans March SF, to name a few.  

2001: The first Filipino American film, The Debut, releases. It highlights Filipino American pop culture and explores issues related to immigration, such as intergenerational cultural conflict, assimilation, and the core values behind Filipino American family formation.   

2002: Los Angeles’ Filipinotown district becomes an official historic site.  

2008: The Filipino Veterans Fairness Act is reintroduced to Congress to help grant citizenship to Filipinos who had been enlisted in the American Armed Forces, especially those whose World War II service had previously been ignored. 

2009: Congress declares October “Filipino American History Month.”

2009: President Obama ratifies the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund, which authorizes the release of a one-time, lump-sum payment to eligible World War II Philippine Veterans.  

2013: Assemblymember Rob Bonta advocates for the history of Filipino farm workers to be included in K-12 curriculum.  

2014: Stockton’s Little Manila town becomes an official historical site. 

September 2018: Bulosan Center of Filipinx Studies is established by Dr. Robyn M. Rodriguez at UC Davis.  

August 2019: President Trump ends the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program. Under the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole program, veterans’ family members were given an expedited process of immigrating to the United States, particularly to provide immediate support and care for their veteran elders. As a result, the visa waiting period for Filipino-American families can now extend past 20 years.

Created by Stacey Anne Salinas and Nick Garcia