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Untold Filipino history began with military service, included discrimination

By Mary Tablante

Capital News Service

LAST UPDATED: 03:38 p.m. HST, Mar 01, 2013

ANNAPOLIS » Leo Toribio, 87, remembers the discrimination he faced when he first arrived in Annapolis as a U.S. Navy steward in the 1940s.

As a Filipino immigrant, sitting in the back of the bus, walking across the street to make room for white passersby, and not being allowed in the same places whites frequented, was commonplace.

Toribio was 19 when he joined the U.S. Navy because he wanted to earn money. As a steward, he was transferred around the country, spending a little more than a year in Annapolis. His experience is one of the many untold stories of Filipino immigrants on the East Coast.

University of Maryland graduate student Kathrina Aben decided to examine these histories in Annapolis and put together an oral history project, which she will present at conferences throughout the coming months.

The university’s archaeology students have spent years excavating historically African-American sites in Annapolis, but only recently explored evidence of another ethnic group, Filipinos, whose presence in the city had mostly been forgotten.

Filipino men came to Annapolis as a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898, when the Philippines became a U.S. territory, to serve with the U.S. Naval Academy. The Philippines gained full independence in 1946.

The men worked as laborers—messmen, stewards, construction workers, firefighters and desk interns.

Like African-Americans, Filipinos were not allowed in white establishments and had to create places to have social gatherings of their own. Filipinos opened places for themselves in the city, such as restaurants, and formed groups like the Filipino-American Friendly Association and invited everyone to attend.

“You can definitely see Filipinos were isolated socially and legally, but it didn’t mean they wanted to stay isolated,” Aben said. “They wanted to become part of Annapolis and become part of the community through these venues and spaces, trying to find socialization between them and others.”

Aben’s research also looks at the relationships between Filipinos and African-Americans. They interacted closely and intermarried, but they also had tense relations at some points.

The Navy’s preference to hire Filipinos resulted in some African-Americans losing their jobs, causing rifts. The competition for work between the two minorities occasionally led to violence.

After leaving the Navy, Toribio, now of Cobb Island, Md., struggled to find jobs due to discrimination. Toribio made several changes to adapt to American life and made the decision to not teach his children Tagalog, the national language of thePhilippines, to assimilate to American culture.

“Because of the discrimination in our culture, dad never taught us how to speak Tagalog because he wanted to fit in,” said Toribio’s daughter, Nila Toribio-Straka. “Back then, he didn’t want that to be holding us back or used against us. I think sometimes that happens in cultures where those parts of history get lost.”

Linking history to the present, the pattern of Filipino immigration in the early 20th century is similar to today’s immigration patterns because in both time periods, Filipinos have addressed a particular labor need, Aben said.

In the early 1900s, Filipinos came to the U.S. as laborers, but the new wave of Filipino immigrants, from 1965 to the present, are addressing a labor need as professionals, typically in the medical field as doctors and nurses.

Mark Leone, an anthropology professor at the University of Maryland, has been head of the Archaeology in Annapolis field school since 1981. One of the program’s goals is to examine histories that are underrepresented, such as women’s history.

“We do our archaeology by asking descendant communities what they want to know about themselves,” he said. “The historical community doesn’t ask what people want to know, (but) we do.”

Previous archaeological excavations have taken place involving Filipino and African-American biracial families on Pinkney Street and East Street in Annapolis. Aben spent the past summer interviewing Filipinos both from the original generation and their descendants about their experiences in Annapolis in the early- to mid-20th century.

Aben hopes her research will help the larger population understand the significance of Filipino-American history.

“Filipinos are actually the second largest Asian-American population in the U.S., and for that large of population that has had basically a century of presence and relationship with the U.S., they deserve the representation and recognition in history,” she said.

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StephanieJ wrote:
Filmmakers Stephanie J. Castillo and Noel M. Izon made a film in 2002 that went to National PBS prime time in 2003 and ran for four years on every Memorial Day in May. AN UNTOLD TRIUMPH told the story of the 1st & 2nd Filipino Infantry, U.S. Army and its critical role in helping Gen. MacArthur retake the Philippines from the occupying Japanese forces. castillosj@aol.com and sonnyzon@aol.com for more info.
on March 2,2013 | 02:46AM
sayer wrote:
I think as individuals and as a society, we need to be constantly introspective and checking out attitudes and practices; it's easy to see when other people were discriminatory in the past - but what about today? Right now? We have to take an active role in stopping and preventing ALL kinds of discrimination.
on March 2,2013 | 05:14AM
serious wrote:
Agreed and it should start at the top. Obama is--no question--the biggest force in dividing this country by race and class. Why we haven't had the race riots we had in the 60's is beyond me. He divides the haves and have-nots--puts people on welfare when they should be educated and productive. The media handles him with silk gloves, because, he is "of color".
on March 2,2013 | 07:54AM
honopic wrote:
"No question" that President Obama is "the biggest force in dividing this country by race?" Get serious, serious. We haven't had race riots because the president's race is only an issue to people like you, who have to find any excuse to bad-mouth him and blame him for all the problems this country faces. "They should be educate and productive" sounds bigoted and racist, and judging by your past posts, is indicative of your own prejudice.
on March 2,2013 | 08:32AM
loio wrote:
i'm a haole who was born and raised in the Philippines, as were my parents. the best thing that ever happened to Filipinos was their "come to America experience". but the "grievance society" has no appreciation for the upsides to anything. it's all about whitey being less than ideal. gimme a break. how about a story on how good America has been for Filipinos who immigrated, and their offspring, compared to what would've been otherwise. been to the Philippines recently?
on March 2,2013 | 05:48AM
Peacenik wrote:
There was a story on youtube, where a man goes to various KFC's in the cities, bring back scrapes to the barrios and his children. Everyone is so excited in eating the scrapes. Not to put down Phil. but it seems the poverty there is quite prevalent still. So despite of discriminatory pasts transgression our Kupunas suffered, still better for their descendents lucky to settle here.
on March 2,2013 | 04:29PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
You know you are being discriminated when Faye Hanohano doesn't make racist remarks about your art work.
on March 2,2013 | 06:58AM
cojef wrote:
Biggest mistake immigrants make is to forsake their ethnicity and its rich cultural history. Often times for the worst, by total assimilation of the adopted country's total culture which includes some undersirable traits.. Your heritage and legacy is very personal and should be cherished and honored. Loyalty is another matter, it should be given 100%, for that is your committment to your adopted country. On the other hand some immigrants come with the intent of returning to their homeland with the fruits of their labor. Got no problem with that if it is clearly stated upon entering the partnership with the host country.
on March 2,2013 | 07:39AM
awahana wrote:
Wow. Get a life people. You go from a story on Filipino history in 1898 to Obama?!
Go back to school. Take some history for starters.
I shouldn't be even trolling you right wing numb nuts, but BOOM, there it is.
on March 2,2013 | 11:07AM
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