The start of October officially marked the beginning of Filipino American History Month, a month-long recognition of Filipino American events, experiences, and people who have made contributions to American society.
The first recorded presence of Filipinos in the continental United States occurred on October 18, 1587, when “Luzones Indios” came ashore from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza and landed at what is now Morro Bay, California. Since then, the number of Filipinos in America has risen substantially, becoming the second-largest Asian American group in the nation. As part of the growing movement, this month-long celebration, designated by the Filipino American National Historical Society in 1992, aims to promote the history of Filipino Americans, but what exactly does that mean?
For Regina San Andres, a sophomore studying cognitive science, the purpose of FAHM goes far beyond the promotion of Filipino culture in the U.S. San Andres serves as the Troy Philippines co-chair for community and culture.
“I think we definitely emphasize that there is a reason why it’s called Filipino American History month instead of Filipino American Heritage Month,” San Andres said. “Obviously heritage has a lot to do with it, as things like culture play a large role in our community, but the goal of this month is really to emphasize that we are celebrating our history, as a lot of Filipino-American history often goes unnoticed or even suffers being erased forever.”
Andres hopes that the month gives the Filipino community an opportunity to share its stories to a wider audience.
“We are trying to tell the stories these people who made large impacts on our community and this month helps to commemorate those strives in our community,” San Andres said.
Johannah Suegay, a sophomore studying communication who serves as the other Troy Philippines chair for community and culture, said FAHM helps students reclaim their background and identity. This reclamation of identity stems from the cultural erasure that the Philippines faced under nearly 400 years of colonial rule by both the Spanish and the U.S.
“I think it's like reclaiming our stories, that narrative of how those people have impacted us and how we can share that with others,” Suegay said. “A saying that we say a lot in Troy Phi is ‘no history, no self’ and so then, that really means that you can't really discover who you are without knowing what your history is.”
Suegay said that the struggle for many Filipino Americans is trying to understand their history and culture in a rapidly westernizing world. For Suegay, who had immigrated to America when she was 10 years old, the idea of keeping up with her Filipino identity was all too complex.
“I felt like I had to choose between being Filipino and being American,” Seguary said. “So coming here I thought ‘Oh, I'm here now, I want to be American’. I think subconsciously I drifted towards this idea of being just like all my white friends. And I think that a lot of that has to do with the fact that in the Philippines there's just that colonial mentality that everyone who's fair skin is associated with upper society, upper-class. I really tried to associate myself with them.”
Suegay’s identity struggles as a child, according to San Andres, accurately represents the struggle of many other Filipino Americans in the U.S. and at USC. In the face of these challenges, many students drift towards supportive networks and groups hosted by the university.
Troy Philippines, “a student-led organization that seeks to provide its members with an open space that fosters personal growth, self-discovery, and cultural celebration,” is a source of community for many Filipino American students, as well as students interested in Filipino American history and culture.
At USC, less than 1% of students from the class of 2023 identify as Pacific Islander. Though this number is just a fraction of the University community, which stands at around 20,000 undergraduates, the Filipino American community on campus remains strong. Through Troy Phi, Filipino American students are given the opportunity to further discuss and share their stories on what it means to identify as Filipino American.
San Andres said Troy Phi plays an important role in representing the Filipino American community at USC.
“If you had an experience like me where growing up you didn’t have a lot of people that looked like you, the greatest joy that you can feel, which USC has given me, is the ability to not feel so much like a minority anymore,” San Andres said. “Even if Filipinos are still viewed as a minority within the entire Asian population, since again we don’t look a lot like the other East Asian or Asian groups here on campus, I think what makes Troy Phi really special is that we can all collect here and relate and share our stories together”.
To commemorate FAHM, the group has come together to put on a series of events. These activities explore culture through food and the discussion of identity through shared experiences. Troy Phillippines is hosting a Pilipino American Culture Festival at the USC Caruso Catholic Center on Oct. 27 in honor of the month.
“Of course we want to focus on celebrating our culture, but we also like to foster a lot of personal growth,” Suegay said. “And so self-discovery happens through our conversations and through meaningful interactions with other people. I think our club definitely goes deeper in helping each other connect with our culture and history”.
Most importantly, however, the group works to cultivate a strong connection between Filipino American students and even those who are just interested in Filipino American culture.
“What I appreciate about like Troy Phi is we do like we do explore that Filipino culture but it’s not just for Filipinos — the conversation can reach so much, so many more people,” Suegay said. “A focus that we all share is the Filipino value of being hospitable and being very family-oriented. And I think we definitely have fostered that within the club.”
The month of October for Filipino-Americans spotlights for Filipino American history, a topic that continues to face erasure as a result of increasing westernization. Here at USC, Troy Philippines works to combat this by promoting the history and heritage of Filipino Americans through community-based discussions on identity.