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Filipino American History Month – October 2023

Categories: News

Seattle, WA — The Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) is pleased to share the Filipino American History Month 2023 theme: 

1898: Recognizing 125 Years of Philippine-American History

The year 2023 marks the 125th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris – an agreement between Spain and the United States that ended the Spanish American War and led to the U.S. annexation of the Philippines. With the signing of the treaty, Cuba was also granted independence from Spain, while Puerto Rico and Guam were ceded to the US. Notably, the Philippines was purchased for $20 million. 

As a result of the Treaty of Paris, Filipino people gained access to the U.S. during an era when other Asian countries were prohibited from doing so. First, while federal immigration laws severely restricted the immigration of people from Asian countries from 1882 to 1965, Filipino migrants were considered US Nationals – allowing them to migrate to the U.S. (and its territories) without restrictions. This made them an attractive (and cheap) labor force to American agricultural corporations in Hawai’i and the west coast of the United States. Second, the Pensionado Act of 1903 also allowed for many pensionados (or Filipino students) to attend prestigious American universities between 1903 and 1943; while many students returned to the Philippines to apply their degrees in the new infrastructures created by the US government, some pensionados settled in the U.S. Third, American curricula and educational systems were introduced to the Philippines, resulting in English proficiency among its citizens and the recruitment of Filipino nurses, teachers, and other professionals to the U.S. Finally, Filipinos were also encouraged to enlist in the U.S Military – especially the U.S. Navy – creating pathways to citizenship for thousands of Filipino families. 

The year 1898 also marks an important year in Philippine history. After centuries of Filipinos fighting against Spanish colonizers – with the most successful uprising being the Philippine Revolution (1896-1898) – the people of the Philippines declared their independence on June 12, 1898. However, both Spain and the US ignored this declaration and signed the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898 – without including any representation from the Philippines in the negotiation. In fact, Filipino diplomat Felipe Agoncillo traveled to Paris but was not allowed into the negotiating room. 

Because the Treaty of Paris meant transferring control of the archipelago from one colonial power to another – completely ignoring the efforts of the Philippine Revolution – Philippine insurrectionists continued to fight the U.S., unsuccessfully, in what would later be referred to as the Philippine American War.  This uprising is historically documented as transpiring from 1899-1902, though regional efforts (like the Battle of Bud Bagsak) endured until 1913. The Philippines did not become a fully independent nation until the end of World War II in 1946. 

President William McKinley justified the colonization of the Philippines as an exercise in  “benevolent assimilation” – or the notion that the nation was in need of civilization and that it was the American government’s responsibility to colonize its people. William Taft (who served as Governor-General of the Philippines from 1901-1904 and later as President of the U.S. from 1909-1913) referred to the Philippines as their “little brown brothers”, and American propaganda portrayed the Philippines and other colonized nations as children in need of being saved.

Given all these factors, we acknowledge 1898 as a watershed year for both the Philippines and the United States — as well as for Filipino Americans and Filipinos across the diaspora. Of note, we are conscious of our usage of words like “recognize”, “observe” or “commemorate” (instead of terms like “celebrate”), as we are intentional to not promote the celebration or glorification of American colonialism. Yet, we recognize that this history was integral to our trajectories as Filipino Americans, and we encourage critical thinking about the impact of 1898 specifically, and American colonialism generally, in our lives. 

Possible activities to consider regarding our FAHM 2023 theme: 

  • Engage in “Filipina/x/o American imaginations” regarding 1898. Speculate what life would be like if U.S. colonialism never occurred in the Philippines, in Hawai`i, and in the United States. Would your family have migrated to the US? What would the Philippines be like without this history? What would the Filipino American community be like today without this history?
  • Conduct and share oral histories that highlight how 1898 affected people’s life trajectories. For instance, how did immigrants make the decision to come to the US and how might their motives have been influenced by American colonialism and capitalism? How were specific regions influenced differently by 1898?
  • Have a critical discussion of what the Philippines and Filipinos have gained and lost since 1898. Given the American influence on the Philippine government, education system, language, business practices, military, food, sports, visual arts, performing arts, and others, were there any benefits of benevolent assimilation?
  • Curate panels that analyze how other ethnic groups (e.g., Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Chamorros, Native Hawaiians) were affected by 1898. Critically discuss the similarities and differences between the historical influences and ramifications on the groups.
  • Read and analyze the text of the 1898 Treaty of Paris, as well as President McKinley’s Benevolent Assimilation proclamation. Describe how these documents influenced the American government – particularly related to systemic racism and other foreign policies.
  • Host screenings of Nurse Unseen, Delano Manongs, Lingua Franca, or other films that depict the diverse reasons for migration from the Philippines, and how American colonialism influenced these motivations.
  • Watch Here Lies Love on Broadway (the first Broadway show with an all-Filipino cast) or other media depicting anti-martial law movements. Discuss how American colonialism influenced political corruption in the Philippines and beyond.
  • Read U.S. propaganda from 1898 and beyond. For example, consider political cartoons from Harper’s Weekly or Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” and anti-imperial works like Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer.” Discuss the influence of this media on people’s justification of colonialism and stereotypes of Filipino people. Explore how such depictions may have influenced colonial mentality for Filipino Americans – back then and even today.

With the recent public threats to ban Ethnic Studies and to challenge Critical Race Theory, the month could be used to advocate for more accurate inclusion of Philippine and Filipino American history into higher education and K-12 schools. Both educators and students can question why Philippine-American relations are often erased when they are so integral to U.S. History. Relatedly, advocates can reflect on ways to advocate for an increased formalized Filipino American curriculum. For example, the state of Hawai’i and the city of Seattle have recently passed legislation that includes Filipino American Studies classes as required courses in high schools. Perhaps other cities and states can follow suit as a way to promote and preserve Filipino American history.

For more information, please visit www.fanhs-national.org or visit us on Instagram at @fanhs_national.



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