Know History, Know Self

I grew up in the Los Angeles area, in a predominantly Latino American community.  While my neighborhood had 10 Pilipino American families, my parents spoke Pilipino at home, I ate Pilipino food, etc., I never learned about the history of Pilipinos in the United States from textbooks or lectures in the classroom.   I identified closely with my Latino brothers and sisters, but I felt like there was something missing in my understanding of self.  It wasn’t until I went to college and became involved with Pilipino American student organizations that I truly appreciated my identity and my culture.

From my peers and the few Pilipina professors on campus, I began to learn about the issues and struggles affecting our community.  I learned that the first Pilipino settlement was established at St. Malo Parish, Louisiana, in 1763. I learned that the United Farm Workers movement began when Pilipino farmworkers, like Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong, walked off grape farms in Delano.  I learned that thousands of Pilipinos served in the United States military during World War II and were denied the benefits that other veterans received.  I learned that using “Pilipino” instead of “Filipino” was a political statement in an effort to move toward the decolonization of our culture and our community.  Most importantly, I learned that my personal history and experiences as a Pilipina American are valid, important, and necessary.

Last year, thanks to the efforts of the Filipino American National Historical Society, the California State Congress officially declared the month of October as Pilipino American History Month.  For the state government, the declaration represented the acknowledgement of the many contributions of Pilipino Americans in the development of California and the United States.  For me personally, PAHM has become both a reminder of past struggles and an inspiration for me to work toward justice for my community.

To learn more about the Pilipino American community in the Bay Area and how you can get involved, check out the following organizations:

Filipino American National Historical Society
Filipino Advocates for Justice
Pilipino American Alliance at UC Berkeley
Filipino/American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity
Kaya: Filipinos for Progress

Laurie Bailon is an intern for Heal the Streets.  She is in her last semester at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is majoring in Peace & Conflict Studies and minoring in Global Poverty & Practice. She has been actively involved in the Pilipino American community in the Bay Area for the past three years.