Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Story by Zoya Zia
From the first boats that landed ashore in Morro Bay, California in 1587 to the intricate and diverse realities that exist today, the Filipino American community has contributed to the overall fabric of the United States. As the first Asians to arrive in the country, this community has lived a unique experience that deserves to be recognized by all. Since October 1992, the month of October has been formally celebrated as Filipino American History Month.
Filipino Americans have a long, complex history in the United States. Over the centuries, they have built legacies as parts of American society. While grappling with racism and xenophobia, they worked to build livelihoods for themselves and their families. At the same time, many Filipino Americans participated in social and political advocacy movements. For example, Larry Dulay Itliong is among the most prominent organizers in the fight for labor rights. His birth month, October, is rightfully dedicated to the lasting contributions of his community.
It is also important to recognize that the Filipino American community was directly impacted by American colonization of their homeland. From 1898 to 1946, the United States ruled over the Philippines, influencing every level of social, political and economic life on the islands. Not only did the government deny Filipinos their right to govern, but it also sent a message that they were inferior to Americans. Even after the Philippines gained independence, it has taken decades for some to unlearn what they internalized. Meanwhile, Filipino Americans struggled with their own identity and faced obstacles in assimilating and creating their own livelihoods.
Despite being denied access to the “American Dream,” Filipino Americans have persistently challenged the status quo and overcome obstacles. They compose one of the largest Asian American communities in the United States and continue to influence the country. To learn more about their history, visit the Filipino American National Historical Society’s website.
To close off, here are five Filipino artists, activists, and politicians today that deserve recognition for their amazing works. Happy Filipino American History Month!
Jake Zyrus, grew to fame at a young age, pursuing his career on many different different platforms that included competition shows, tv shows, and live performances. Jake, formerly known as Charice, came out as a transgender man to the public about a year ago. Jake underwent this transition and period of self-discovery in the public eye, making it difficult to accept himself for who he was. Jake wasn't held back by his past, instead he decided to come back stronger than ever, doing what he loved-- creating music, and becoming an advocate for transgender rights in the Philippines.
Mich Dulce, a Filipina fashion designer, milliner, feminist activist, actress, artist, and vocalists of the bands Death By Tampon, Us-2 Evil-0 and The Male Gaze, is simply a badass. Along with her accomplished career, Mich started Grrrl Gang, a collective, located in Manila, aimed to use art, activism, and education to create a safe space for feminism in the Philippines. Through girl meets, art exhibits, and music concerts Grrrl Gang aims not only to empower women but to encourage real tangible social change. A link to Grrrl gang is Dulce’s band Male gaze, a full on feminist band that uses their platform to promote conversations and discussion of politics, and aims to shed light on situations of injustice and inequality happening around the world. Dulce has stated that the goal for her collective is to encourage women all over the world to start communities, and to show that change is possible.
Risa Hontiveros is a social activist, politician, and journalist, who was a representative of the Akbayan people in the house of representatives, and currently serves as a senator. Currently Hontiveros is working up a storm in the senate, fighting for women empowerment, LBGTQ+ equality, healthcare, anti-discrimination, and women and gender equality. Senator Hontiveros, has passed and it still fighting for many landmark legislations such as longer maternity leave, anti-discrimination bills, students rights, mental health programs, equal rights, especially for women and LGBTQ+, and so many more. She has built her platform for equality and justice for all, inspiring younger generations, women, and men all around the world.
Samantha Lee is a Filipino female filmmaker who has been active in the film industry since the early 2010s. Her first film, Baka Bukas, features a love story between a girl and her best friend. Baka Bukas went onto many acclaimed film festivals such as the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, the Osaka Asian Film Festival, and Outfest in LA, the latter in which she won an award for Best Emerging Talent. Samantha currently has a new film out titled Billie and Emma. Check out her projects and support her here!
Shireen Seno is a Filipino artist and filmmaker. She was born in Japan and spent the majority of her childhood there. Her films and projects deal with the idea of home and family. Her latest film, Nervous Translation (2018), premiered at the Hivos Tiger Competition at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Her film won many illustrious awards such as the NETPAC Award for Best Asian Film, Olhar de Cinema. In addition, this film also made rounds to the Curitiba International and Shanghai International Film Festival, where it won the Critics’ Prize, as well as the Asian New Talent Award for Best Script Writer. Nervous Translation also screened at MoMA and Film Society of Lincoln Center as part of New Directors/New Films and at Tate Modern as part of their Fall 2018 Artists’ Cinema program. Check out her blog and support her work here!
Illustrations by Alyssa Lumanog. Short bios by Kelly Miau.