Collecting HERstory: Honoring Pinays in Women’s History (Exhibit)


Collecting HERstory: Honoring Pinays in Women’s History (Exhibit)


Women's history month essay/photograph exhibit detailing the accomplishments of Philippine and Filipina Americans


Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, UC Davis


February-March 2019


Exhibit photographs were used and digitized in accordance to fair use procedures as dictated in the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, Section 107. Fair use is a provision in copyright law that allows the limited use of copyright materials without permission of the copyright holder for noncommercial teaching, research, scholarship & news reporting purposes.

The Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies and the UC Davis Asian American Studies department holds intellectual control of the textual information. Usage is restricted for educational purposes only.


English, Tagalog, Ilocano



Document Text

Honoring Pinays in Women’s History

Throughout the centuries, Filipinas have played an integral part in fighting for the freedom of others. Whether it be through organizing in the grape fields or fighting in the battlefields, pinays (women of Filipino descent) have remained resilient in fighting for themselves and others. Pinays are unique in the way they’ve challenged traditional western gender roles. They are not only mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. They are writers, advocates, fighters, and warriors who continue to inspire others today.

This biographical exhibit showcases some of the many Filipinas in the past and present who have made a significant impact within their communities.

Gabriela Silang
Silang was a Filipino revolutionary leader during Spain’s colonial hold over the Philippines. Born in Ilocos Sur, Silang found herself absorbed by the Filipino Independence Movement aiming to oust Spanish control. She married another fellow revolutionary, Diego Silang, in 1757. Together they amassed a grassroots military force (over 2000 recruits), large enough to begin a revolt in 1762.
Silang took over the reins of the Ilocos-bred independence movement after her husband was assassinated in 1763 by a coalition of Filipino-Spanish loyalists and Spanish officials. She was known for her ferocity and effective military leadership, winning the hearts of the people in neighboring cities of Ilocos Sur. As her popularity grew, the people of Ilocos gave her the title of “Henerala” (a woman general), as she was known to fight alongside her Ilocano comrades in battle on horseback with her bolo sword in hand.
The Spanish colonial military would lose to Gabriela Silang’s revolt in her hometown of Santa, Ilocos Sur. Their multiple defeats at the hands of a Philippine woman spurred the Spanish colonial government to exercise all means to capture and shut down sentiments of Filipina/o resistance as Silang’s military base expanded and news of her achievements began to reach the towns of northern Luzon. One of her most famous military efforts include her siege on Vigan. Unfortunately, her forces were overwhelmed by the Spanish retaliation at the siege, forcing Silang to go into hiding.
Silang and her compatriots were eventually captured in the mountain town of Abra. At the age of 32, she was executed by public hanging under the colonial government of the Spanish East Indies on September 20, 1763. Today, Gabriela Silang is still honored and remembered for her military victories and role in planting some of the first seeds of Philippine cultural pride and nationalism.

The Philippine Underground Resistance was composed of guerrilla fighters who successfully undermined the control of the Imperial Japanese Army over the Philippines throughout the entire duration of the war. What is less well-known, however, are the efforts of Filipina warriors who joined the resistance movement by taking up arms, working as spies in Japanese industry, distributing Allied propaganda, healing the sick, wounded, and starving as nurses and doctors, and mapping out battle strategies to raid POW camps and Japanese military centers on the islands. These women were known as guerrilleras: female guerrilla soldiers.

Colonel Yay Panlilio
One of these guerrilleras was Yay Panlilio. Born in the United States to an Irish American father and a Filipina mother, Panlilio left the USA as a young adult to live in the Philippines to reconnect with her Filipina/o heritage and to find a collective space to hone her writing as a journalist with other like-minded women of color. She would become a radio jockey and news correspondent in the years leading up to the invasion of the Philippine Islands by the Imperial Japanese Army. Once the Imperial Japanese had taken Manila, forcing the Allied Filipino and American troops into hiding following the Bataan Death March, Panlilio became a spy sending out crypted messages to the Filipino resistance for the Allies at a Japanese controlled Filipino radio station in Manila. Her broadcasts with KZRH station were so complex and cryptic that even MacArthur was unsure of whether she remained loyal to the goal of liberating the Philippines.
Upon hearing about her allegiance to the Allies, Panlilio was forced to flee Manila as the Japanese Imperial Army zeroed in on her whereabouts. She escaped to the forests and contracted malaria, but would recover and join the Underground Resistance, eventually becoming a colonel in the Markings’ Guerrilla branch in Luzon, east of Manila. Whether she was operating as a journalist, camp nurse, military strategist, leading men into espionage missions, building resistance networks from province to province, or raiding Japanese military warehouses and reconnaissance centers, Panlilio was a headstrong, stalwart, and plucky guerrilla leader in the Pacific Theater. She became one amongst only a handful of women who received the high rank of colonel or general along with the United States Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm. She would eventually write of her courageous war experience in her memoir, The Crucible: An Autobiography By Colonel Yay, Filipina American Guerrilla. She passed away in 1978.

Lourdes Poblete
From a young age, Lourdes Poblete was raised on Philippine American military bases. When the Japanese Imperial Army invaded and took control of American bases in Luzon, her family was forced to leave after her father was taken hostage. Soon after, she was recruited as a teenager to operate as a guerrilla informant. Poblete’s main tasks involved carrying Allied propaganda and coded messages, sometimes folded into newspapers or hidden in cigarette boxes. She was eventually caught by Filipino makapili (Filipinos loyal to the Imperial Japanese regime) and Japanese informants and was imprisoned for two years at Fort Santiago. Poblete was constantly anxious and afraid that the Japanese soldiers would use her as a comfort woman. She and another inmate, a fellow Filipina guerrillera, were able to band together for moral support in an uncertain and life threatening environment. Forced to work as cleaners of fort tunnels converted into POW jails, the women lived in filthy conditions, vulnerable to body lice and disease that regularly spread from prisoner to prisoner. Once the Underground Resistance and Allied forces began to make headway in taking back the Philippines from the Japanese, Poblete managed to escape after she was transferred to Manila. She traveled from Manila to her hometown of Pasig by foot. During the grueling 15 mile trek, she was extremely malnourished and too afraid to ask passerbys for help, as they too might be informants for the Japanese Imperial Army. As the Allies and Filipina/o guerrillas began to liberate the main island of Luzon, Poblete again volunteered her services to the resistance effort as a nurse and caregiver to the injured soldiers. After the war, she became an informant and key witness aiding in the war crime trials investigation led by the International Military Tribunal of the Far East. She eventually immigrated to the United States and worked as a medical personnel and caregiver in the Bay Area. Still alive and in her late nineties, Poblete is currently retired and lives in the famous International Hotel (I-Hotel) for Asian American senior citizens. She remains active in promoting Filipina/o American World War II history to local youth.

Serapia Estojero Aremas
Serapia Estojero Aremas was only a college student when she heard the sirens and bells ring on her campus, warning students that war had broken out and that they had to leave the university immediately to go home to their families. Soon after, she was recruited as a guerrillera to watch over an affluent Filipino family who had ties to the Philippine Guerrilla Forces stationed in Samar. Once the family was assassinated by Japanese soldiers, Serapia traveled back to her home province on Leyte. There she participated in the guerrilla communication networks that warned nearby villagers if Japanese Imperial soldiers were nearby through bamboo “telephone” poles (An older Filipino communication system that required knocking on bamboo stalks to produce a loud hollow echo. By following certain rhythms or taps, similar to morse code, villagers were able to relay different signals and messages to one another over long distances). Towards the last stretch of the war, Serapia volunteered to help pack and distribute both medical supplies and food rations to local families. Her volunteer work with the United States Armed Forces of the Far East (USAFFE) and Red Cross restored morale and stability to the ravaged communities on Leyte.
After completing fashion and design school in Manila, Aremas and her husband, a Filipino American sergeant, left the Philippines for the United States. Her husband Ricardo, part of the famous manong generation, returned to working as a farm laborer on the Central Coast in the Salinas Valley, eventually settling in Salinas and working at Fort Ord. Serapia would become a homemaker, professional seamstress, designer, beautician, and cake designer, to name a few of her trades, and together with her husband helped to support the Filipina/o American community of Salinas. Still a devoted club member to the Salinas Filipino Women’s Club, Serapia is enjoying retirement and recently celebrated her 99th birthday.

Pinay Legacies of World War II
The ratio of guerrilleras—women guerrillas—to male guerrillas was 1:10 in the underground resistance. Pinay guerrilleras’ presence and heroic feats in a male dominated warzone opened the conversation of women’s capabilities outside the traditional labor assignments given to women in war as nurses, typists, or secretaries. The accomplishments of women like Panlilio, Aremas, and Poblete broke traditional gender molds and serve as prime examples of the modern pinay warrior. Pinay Guerrilleras would not be recognized for their services in the war until President Barack Obama’s signing of the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2016. Nearly 42,000 other applicants by the end of 2016 were acknowledged and awarded medals of recognition and veterans’ benefits both at the state capital and again in San Francisco’s City Hall.
For more information, see Pinay Guerrilleras: The Unsung Heroics of the Filipina Resistance Fighters during the Pacific War by Bulosan Center Historian Stacey Anne Salinas. The book can be purchased at

Lorraine Agtang
Lorraine Agtang was born in a labor camp near Delano, California on 1952. Lorraine is of Mexican and Filipino descent. Her mother, Lorenza Agtang, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. Her father, Platon Agtang, was a migrant worker from Cavite Province in the Philippines, who worked at the sugar fields in Hawaii, canneries in Alaska, and the farmworker circuits throughout Central California. Lorraine’s exposure to farm labor activism occurred at an early age, as Agtang and her family left the fields of Chamorro Farms in support of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee during the 1965 Delano Grape Strike.
As Lorraine grew older, she became increasingly involved with the United Farmworkers (UFW), first working at the hospital clinic at the UFW’s 40 Acres facility. After the completion of the Agbayani Village retirement home, she served as the facility’s first manager. While working at Agbayani Village, Agtang interacted and befriended several Filipino veterans of the 1965 strike, including Willie Barrientos, Sebastian Sahagun and former UFW Vice President Philip Vera Cruz. During the 1973 Strike, she served as a UFW organizer in Northern and Central California.
Today, Lorraine continues to advocate for the history of Filipino Americans in the United Farmworkers, often giving speeches about the accomplishments of Manongs (An Ilocano word for “Older Brother,” typically attributed to the original 1965 Filipino strikers). Her image is depicted in the Chavez memorial at Sacramento’s Cesar Chavez Park.
For more information on Lorraine, please view her oral histoy interview and photograph collection at the Welga Digital Archive

Cynthia Bonta
Cynthia Bonta is a scholar and social justice advocate known for her community service work and her involvement with the Christian ministry. Born at Laguna, Philippines, Cynthia received her BS in Zoology in 1958, before moving to the United States in 1965 as a Ecumenical Scholar for the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. She became involved with the school’s Social Justice Committee, which worked with the farm worker activists in the Central Valley. Through the 1970s, she devoted more time towards the farmworker movement, eventually relocating to the United Farm Workers La Paz Headquarters at Keene, California. She became involved with Philippine and Filipino American issues during the 1970s, becoming an activists for the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP).
Additionally, she co-founded the Outstanding Filipino Youth Awards
Program in 1990 as a project of the Philippine National Day Association, held several leadership positions for the Council of Asian Pacific Islanders Together for Advocacy and Leadership (CAPITAL), and in 2004 she was named a KVIE Local Hero during the 2004 Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
For more information on Cynthia, please view her oral histoy interview at the Welga Digital Archive

Lillian Galedo
Lillian Galedo was born in Stockton, California in 1948 to parents who emigrated from Bohol, the Philippines. Lillian entered UC Davis in 1968, at a time when the United Farm Workers rallied strike supporters throughout the country and when the Third World Movement recruited college students to the ethnic studies cause. Lillian was instrumental in organizing the Stockton Filipino Research Project, which documented the city’s Filipino Community and researched the history of Little Manila’s demolished buildings.
During the late 1970s, Lillian joined the Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino (KDP) and helped organize the Far West Convention at Seattle, Washington. After graduating from UC Davis, Lilian joined several social justice and civil rights causes, as she advocated against the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill (see photo), co-founded the Filipino Civil Rights Advocates, and joined Filipino Advocates for Justice. She has held staff positions at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Davis and has been a research assistant with the Migrant and Farmworker Research Project for the state Department of Labor. In recognition of her involvement, Lillian was chosen by both the city of Berkeley and by Filipinas Magazine as a 1994 Outstanding Woman of the Bay Area. In 2017, Lillian retired as the Executive Director for Filipino Advocates for Justice.
For more information on Lillian, please view her oral histoy interview at the Welga Digital Archive

Dawn Bohulano Mabalon
From her humble beginnings as a young woman from South Stockton, Dawn rose to become a tenured professor of history at San Francisco State University, a National Trustee and National Scholar for the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and one of the key figures of the Asian American Pacific Islanders in Historic Preservation among many other distinctions. One of Dawn’s most notable accomplishments was the preservation of Stockton’s Little Manila neighborhood, which was continually threatened with “urban renewal efforts” throughout the 20th century. Along with her lifelong friend Dillon Delvo, Dawn established the Little Manila Foundation, which ensures Stockton’s Filipino heritage is preserved and promoted through after school education programs, cultural dance programs, and preservation initiatives.
Dawn’s work is a testament to the importance of encouraging and supporting scholarship amongst minoritized communities. As she wrote: “We have lost much of our community’s history because of the assumption that our past is not history, that is it not an American experience worthy of interpretation and analysis.” Yet, Mabalon’s single-minded passion and commitment to her community’s past allowed her to excavate a history that, by the time of her research, was practically decimated. The rich texture and sites of U.S. immigration history can so easily disappear without the efforts of scholar-activists like Mabalon. Her work is an important contribution to FilipinoAmerican history, Asian American history, and, more broadly, U.S. immigration history.
Dawn passed away on August 10, 2018 at Kauai, Hawaii. On the day of her passing, Dawn and co-author Gayle Romasanta submitted the final draft for Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong. This children’s book is available at, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), Little Manila Rising, and Pin@y Educational Partnerships (PEP).

Date Added
March 7, 2019
Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies files
Item Type
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“Collecting HERstory: Honoring Pinays in Women’s History (Exhibit),” Welga Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, accessed May 28, 2024,