Celebrating Filipino American History Month


To all my fellow Filipinos out there, Happy Filipino American History Month! Break out the lechon, lumpia, and sinigang; bring out the karaoke and your best Celine imitation, and let’s celebrate Filipino American History Month! If you aren’t Filipino, come one, come all. You have a seat at our table.

Did You Know…

  • The US Congress officially recognized October as Filipino American History Month in 2009.
  • The first documented Filipinos arrived in what is now called Morro Bay, California, on October 18, 1587.
  • According to Pew Research, as of 2015, there are over 3.9 million Filipinos in the USA, making them the third-largest Asian group in the US. (According to more research I’ve done, it seems as though Filipinos are hovering between third largest and second-largest since.)
  • The Philippines is the only Asian country in which Christianity (Roman Catholicism) is the national religion.
  • According to a study done in 2007, the Philippines was the leading nation for sending nurses to work abroad.

Growing Up Filipino American

If I were to sum up what being “Filipino American” meant to me, I would say three words: family and hard work.

Filipinos are very family-oriented. Everyone is a cousin, and everyone is invited. At the house of a Filipino, there is always room at the table for you. Growing up, I would ask my mom who all were coming to our house for whatever holiday party, and she’d spout off some relatives and then some folks I didn’t know. I’d always ask who the unknowns were, and she’d say, “Oh, that’s your great-auntie’s sister’s best friend’s daughter from Canada. Don’t you remember Tita so-and-so from when you were little?”

Pro Tip: Be prepared for an Auntie to force a to-go box in your hand so you can bring food home. And make sure you fill up your plates because it’s an insult if you decline.

Growing up, my parents pushed for my brother and me to do well in school. (You can check out my post about how my dad encouraged me to be a reader.) I’ll be honest– back then, it was incredibly frustrating when I didn’t achieve his overarching goals of academic success. However, looking back, I realize that the only reason he pushed us so hard is that he wanted us to live out the “American Dream” that he and my mom fought so hard for. Both of my parents sacrificed a lot when they immigrated to the United States in the late 1980s. I know now that all they wanted was for my brother and me to have an easier childhood than they did in the Philippines.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.

What I Want My Kids to Know About Being Filipino American

I want my daughters to know that being Filipino means more the color of our skin. It’s more than just being a nurse/doctor/engineer/lawyer. It’s more than the constant family parties filled with lechon, lumpia, and halo-halo. It’s more than being able to say that everyone is related to you.

Being Filipino means incorporating the strong work-ethic our families from past generations instilled in us. It means embracing and being hospitable to all people to be a blessing. It means to always remember that family and “framily” are important and that we always take care of our own. It’s looking back at those who came before us and being grateful for those who overcame obstacles to achieve the American Dream.

A family gathering circa 1991. I’m the baby, and this is one of the very few photos I have with both of my grandparents.
As the years have gone by, the family has just gotten bigger! Come one, come all. You have a seat at our table. (Christmas 2019)

Since it’s Filipino American History Month, I wanted to give some shout outs to some incredible Filipinas. Growing up, I longed to see myself represented in books, media, history, or public figures. I think the only Filipino I knew of was Lea Salonga, who voiced the singing voices of Princess Jasmine and Mulan.

Notable Filipinas

As I mentioned above, Lea Salonga is best known as the singing voice of Princess Jasmine and Mulan. I’m fairly certain this is the only reason my mom bought the VHS of Aladdin. If you haven’t seen this reunion of Lea Salonga and Brad Kane performing “A Whole New World,” you should!

  • Melissa de la Cruz is a New York Times best-selling author who has an impressive resume. Several of her works have been adapted for film, and you may have seen some of her books-to-television on the Hallmark Channel or Lifetime. One of de la Cruz’s novels, Something in Between, was inspired by her personal experience being a Filipino immigrant.
  • Donna Benedicto is an actor from Vancouver, BC. Donna just booked her first lead role in a movie! This is a huge deal as she is leading the way to bring more Filipino representation to the film industry. You can hear more about her story on the Hallmark Podcast (available on YouTube, iTunes). If you are a Hallmark movie fan, you may recognize Donna from Love in Forecast, Matching Hearts, and Christmas on My Mind, to name a few. If you aren’t a Hallmark movie watcher, you may recognize Donna from Supergirl as Agent Reiff, or from A Million Little Things as Kendra.
  • Christine Gambito is a YouTube comedian who depicts her life as a Filipino-American through humor and storytelling. She is a one-person act as she portrays every person in her family. I discovered Christine forever ago and felt immediately connected to her. I felt as though I were watching my own friends and “framily.”
  • To be completely honest, I had never heard of Helen Agcaoili Summers Brown AKA Auntie Helen until doing some research for this article. I’m shocked that I’ve never heard of this remarkable woman! Helen was the first known Filipina-American to graduate from UCLA in 1937. She founded the Pilipino American Reading Room and Library in 1985, which was later renamed the Filipino American Library. This became the largest collection of Filipino literature and resources. Before her death in 2011, Helen dedicated her life to promoting and preserving the Filipino-American history and culture.
  • In 2012, Honorable Lorna G. Schofield became the first Filipino American in the history of the United States to serve as an Article III federal judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Hon. Schofield has an impressive resume having practiced law for over twenty years. Her most notable case was her successful defense of Rosie O’Donnell against O’Donnell’s former publisher Gruner + Jahr. Here is an interesting discussion Hon. Schofield has on the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network about “Making the Most of Mentorship.”
  • Anna Gomez is a novelist who has written several YA books. Recently, two of her recent books, Eight Goodbyes and In This Life won awards. Keep an eye out for Anna’s newest project, Moments Like This, a cozy romance novel that she co-wrote with actor Kristoffer Polaha (Wonder Woman: 1984, Jurrasic World: Dominion).
  • Victoria “Vicki” Manalo Draves, a competitive diver, was the first Asian American Olympic gold medalist earning this title in 1948. The crazy thing is that Vicki didn’t take swimming lessons until she was 10, and she didn’t begin diving until she was 16. Vicki passed away at the age of 85 in 2010.

I could go on for hours about being Filipino American, but for now I’ll leave you with this:

Representation matters.

Representation shows our next generation of Filipino Americans that they can go for their dreams and achieve great things despite being a minority.

And for everyone else, representation shows the stories of Filipinos no one otherwise would have heard of.

I am proud of m y family, my history, my heritage, and my people. I am proud to be Filipino American.

Happy Filipino American History Month!



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