ESSAY: The Filipino History That’s Overseas – And That’s Missing (Part Two)

IT was documented that in 1587, Filipinos went to North America and arrived in Morro Bay, California, USA on board the galleon ship Nuestra Señora de Esperanza. They were even called “Luzonians,” the “Luzones Indios,” or the Manila Men. There were even Filipino permanent settlers in the United States as early as 1763 when some Filipinos were spotted near Barataria Bay in Southern Louisiana (Floro Mercene, 2007).

Filipinos are currently the leading group of seafarers in the world. The historical trace to such can be linked to the 1700s, when Filipinos were in demand as crew members of ships owned by Western traders and seafarers. In 1720, Pampanga’s Gaspar Molina oversaw the construction of the ship El Triunfo de la Cruz in California (Floro Mercene, 2007; Villy Cabuag, 2003).

Yet since 1668, natives from the Philippines have been going to the Mariana Islands.

In Augusto de Viana’s book In the Far Islands, he wrote that the history and culture of both the Philippines and the Mariana Islands are closely linked. Mariana Islands even became a province of the Philippines, and then ecclesiastically part of the Diocese of Cebu (Augusto de Viana, 2004).

Filipinos played a role in the Christianization and colonization of the Mariana Islands, even as Filipinos became immigrants during the 18th century and deportees during the 19th century.

[W]hat comes as a thrill to read is the work of Sydney, Australia-based Filipino historian Renato Perdon, titled Brown Americans of Asia.

Filipinos, Perdon wrote, were recorded to be in Australia when a certain Maximo Gomez was executed on 21 June 1880 by Queensland prison authorities. He was executed for murdering William Clarke of Possession Island in Australia’s Torres Strait, that sprang forth from a drinking quarrel.

But it is because of diving, and of divers, that the first Filipinos went to Australia.

As early as 1874, Filipinos and other Pacific Island nationals were recruited as divers for Sydney operators to collect pearl shells. An island called Thursday Island even had records that there were 147 Filipinos in the Island in 1885. In Australia’s pearl industry (Renato Perdon, 1998), Filipinos were crew members, divers, supervisors and employers of fishing fleets.

The fascinating story did not end there.

Perdon writes: “It was only in 1892 that Filipino women and children started to appear in the annual population statistics of Thursday Island. Eight Filipino women and 30 children were known living on the island that year.”

While now a sixth of Filipinos’ overseas migration is female, I think the [Filipino women] on Thursday Island show the first facets of the feminization of Filipinos’ overseas migration.

As early as that time, Filipino divers in Australia were considered “the most skilful of all divers …and exceedingly careful” (Renato Perdon, 1998) –similar to how foreigners in host countries think of Filipino workers.

Perhaps the most popular overseas migration story during the 19th century was the overseas journeys of Dr. Jose Rizal. Looking at Eufronio Alip’s 1961 book I Traced Rial’s Footsteps in Foreign Lands, Rizal went to Spain, France, Greece, Austria, Italy, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Hong Kong.

Dr. Trinidad Parde de Tavvera wrote in 1918 in a material titled The Character of Rizal on why he thinks the national hero went to Europe:

“Rizal desired to go to Europe in order to educate himself, impelled by his desire to learn, to perfect himself, to become more useful to his people. He was not moved by the wish to have a good time and enjoy life” (Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, in Esteban de Ocampo, 1956: page 36).

[But w]hen it comes to documenting the history of Filipinos’ overseas migration, the United States is the most documented.

Take note of the year 1906, when 15 Ilocano sugar workers were recruited by the Hawai’i Sugar Planters Association to go to Hawai’i—thus staring the historical links between Ilocos Norte and the American island-state.

[G]iven the works of de Viana (for the Marianas Islands) and of Perdon (for Australia), the emigration of these Ilocano sugar workers to Hawai’i is perhaps not the first recorded overseas migration by Filipinos in the 20th century.#

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