Friday, November 20, 2009

Fil-Am History Month

If you google "Chinese American History Month" or "Japanese American History Month", the search engines will all direct you to "Asian Pacific American Heritage Month" which, you will be informed, was enacted on October 28, 1992 to honor the achievements of Asian/Pacific Americans and to recognize their contributions to the United States.

All 30 or so Asian ethnic groups in the US were lumped together as “Asian Pacific Americans” and given one month – May – to celebrate our collective and individual cultures, histories and heritage in the United States. May was selected because the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843 and the transcontinental railroad, which employed hundreds of Chinese immigrant laborers, was completed on May 10, 1869.

The month actually started stated out as “Asian Pacific American Heritage Week” when Pres. Jimmy Carter signed the Joint Resolution on October 2, 1978. It became a month-long celebration in 1992 when Pres. George H.W. Bush signed the law permanently designating May of each year as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

As a publicly elected official in San Francisco for 18 years, I regularly attended the annual kick-off celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in San Francisco’s City Hall since 1992. It would always be awkward for me when Japanese Americans would recount the day in May of 1843 when the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the US and when Chinese Americans would recall the day in May of 1869 when the Chinese-built transcontinental railroad was completed and I couldn't very well reminisce about that day in May of 1898 when Commodore George Dewey destroyed the Spanish Fleet which later resulted in the US invasion and colonization of the Philippines.

For years since its founding in Seattle, Washington in 1982, it was always the goal of the Filipino American National History Society (FANHS) for Filipino Americans to be given our very own month to celebrate our history and culture in the United States.

At its biennial national conference in 1988, FANHS members unanimously passed a resolution to "establish Filipino American History Month to be observed annually and nationally throughout the United States and its Territories during the Month of October commencing in the Year 1992 to mark the 405th Anniversary of the Presence of Filipinos in the Continental United States.”

The resolution also expressed the belief that such a month long celebration would be “a significant time to study the advancement of Filipino Americans in the history of the United States, as a favorable time of celebration, remembrance, reflection and motivation, and as a relevant time to renew more efforts toward research, examination and promulgation of Filipino American history and culture in order to provide an opportunity for all Americans to learn and appreciate more about Filipino Americans and their historic contributions to our nation, these United States of America.”

Just as Japanese Americans could celebrate the day the first Japanese immigrants landed in California in May of 1843, Filipino Americans could now also proudly commemorate the day the first Filipinos (“Luzon Indios”) landed in California on October 18, 1587, more than 33 years before the first English Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620.

After the FANHS resolution was publicized, Filipino Americans began celebrating October as Filipino American History Month with celebrations and festivities throughout the US. Various states, aside from California and Hawaii, would routinely pass resolutions as Michigan Governor Jennifer Granhom did when she proclaimed “October 2006, as Filipino American Heritage Month in Michigan, and I encourage all citizens to recognize, applaud and participate in this celebration of the many contributions made by Filipino Americans that enhance the quality of life in Michigan.”

But the celebration in various states somehow just wasn’t enough. As the Wikipedia entry on this subject noted, “October as Filipino American History Month has not yet attained the prestige of other similar minority celebrations, such as the Black History Month in February, Women's History Month in March, and the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May. This is evidenced by the fact that no United States Congress has ever resolved to recognize Filipino American History Month.”

The Wikipedia entry now needs to be updated.

On November 3, 2009, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Massachusetts) stood up on the House floor to announce that on October 29, 2009, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had unanimously approved House Resolution (H.R.) 780 celebrating October as Filipino American History Month. It was originally sponsored by Rep. Bob Filner (D-California) with over 50 members of the House signing on as co-sponsors, he said. Rep. Lynch also announced that the US Senate had unanimously passed a similarly worded resolution (S. 298) on October 1, 2009. He asked for the unanimous consent of the House to make the bill into law.

Before the vote could take place, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R- North Carolina) stood up and deplored the lack of substantive resolutions being passed by the House but joined Rep. Lynch in asking for the unanimous consent of the House for HR 780.

When the call was made for the vote, it passed unanimously. October is now Filipino American History Month in the United States! Hurray!

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