ANCHORAGE - The tiny little state of New Hampshire is one up on mighty California. With less than a hundred Pinoys, it has elected a Pinoy state assemblyman which California, with over two million Pinoys, has never quite been able to accomplish. The state rep, Baldwin Domingo, 81 years young, is serving his third term in the New Hampshire State Assembly.
I met up with Democratic State Rep. Domingo at the national conference of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) held at the Anchorage Hilton on July 3-5, 2008. Baldwin told me that he was born and raised in Maui, Hawaii and that he moved to the state of “Live Free or Die” (the state motto) more than 45 years ago.
Because of the pivotal position of New Hampshire in the US presidential primaries (the second primary state after the Iowa caucuses), Baldwin has had the opportunity to have virtually every Democratic presidential candidate visit his home to obtain his support. He actively backed John Kerry four years ago and he now supports Barack Obama whom he says is a “homeboy from Maui just like me.”
I also hooked up at the conference with former FANHS national president Marina Espina, the University of New Orleans Librarian Emerita who wrote the landmark book, “Filipinos in Louisiana” about the “Manila men” who settled in the Louisiana bayous of Barataria Bay in the 1760s.
Before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, I had the opportunity to visit Marina in her home which was conveniently a few blocks from the University of New Orleans (UNO) where she worked. But it was also only a few blocks from Lake Pontchartrain which overflowed when the levees broke during Katrina.
When I visited Marina at her New Orleans home, she showed me photocopiers of documents and photos that she=2 0had taken in Mexico where she pored over old records in Mexican archives to document the early Filipinos who settled in Mexico. Marina was particularly interested in the large colony of Filipinos in Acapulco who came as crewmen on board the galleon ships that plied the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade from 1565 to 1815.
Because it would take the crew about nine months to traverse the treacherous Pacific Ocean from Manila to Acapulco, most, if not all, of the “Luzon Indio” crew would refuse to return back to Manila fearful that they may not be as lucky. In Acapulco, they retained their identities as natives of the Philippine islands even as they integrated themselves into the local communties. Marina tracked down records of a number of these Filipinos crossing over the Gulf of Mexico from Vera Cruz over to Barataria Bay in Louisiana and setting up Philippine-style fishing villages there.
Armed with a Fullbright scholarship in 1983 and support from the University of New Orleans which gave her two sabbaticals and using her own savings, Marina presented her research findings to university audiences and was profiled in metropolitan newspapers and by the BBC.
But when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Marina and her family joined hundreds of thousands of residents who fled the city for their safety. When she returned to her home a week later, Marina saw her life’s work washed down the drain as water had risen up to 11 feet in Marina s home. Her worst fears were realized when she saw virtually all of her research papers and photos completely drenched
As Lydia Lum wrote: “For years, Espina went up and down the bayous and deltas of Louisiana, using word-of-mouth referrals to track down descendants of the Manilamen. She coaxed people into sharing family photos, birth certificates, documents and stories of their elders. All the while, she was making copies of whatever she could to piece together the broader history.”
After word of Katrina’s devastation of Marina’s research reached the FANHS national office in Seattle, a statement was released: “We as Filipino-Americans share h er loss. Espina's research was the foundation of Filipino-American history."
Marina and her husband have moved to higher ground, to Lafayette, some 200 miles east of New Orleans and about 100 miles past Baton Rouge, the Louisiana state capital. She is now starting from scratch to try to put the pieces of our history back together again.
At the conference, I also met Dr. Patricia Espiritu Halagao, a professor at the University of Hawaii who developed the “ijeepney.com, your online vehicle for Filipino American curriculum”. It is a phenomenal piece of work intended to guide Filipino American students and teachers to better understand and appreciate Filipino American history. The innovative curriculum includes about 25 downloadable lesson plans and a site for dialogue and offers a teacher’s kit of posters, DVDs and books.
When she was working on her PhD at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1996, Patricia and community activist Tim Cordova developed "Pinoy Teach" to provide a multicultural approach to incorporating Filipino American history and culture into the mainstream education curriculum.
If you want your kids to learn about Filipino American history, log on to www.ijeepney.com now. Learn about it first and then tell them to log on too.