Troy Philippines brings Pilipinx American History Month to life

The Pilipinx student organization hosted several events to commemorate and advocate for their community.

Three people each holding a photo of a victim of Philippines President Robert Duterte's war on drugs in one hand and a candle in the other.

Pilipinx students at USC are making their presence known on campus by celebrating their histories, exploring their identities and advocating for their communities.

On Oct. 18, approximately 50 students, faculty and community members held candles at the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street to honor more than 30,000 victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s regime in the Philippines.

This event was just one of many this month hosted by Troy Philippines, USC’s Pilipinx student organization. The U.S. Congress officially recognized October as Pilipinx American History Month in 2009, but Pilipinx Americans began celebrating in 1992.

Pilipinx American History Month, introduced by the Filipino American National Historical Society, commemorates the first recorded presence of Pilipinx immigrants in the United States. The “Luzones Indios,” or natives of Luzon, came as workers to what is now Morro Bay on Oct. 18, 1587.

“Our people have been here for a long time and are part of American society, part of this country, part of our communities,” said Alex Montances, an administrative assistant at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies. “It doesn’t matter if we’re U.S. citizens or residents or undocumented people. We are building this country.”

As of 2020, the Philippines is the fourth-largest origin country for immigrants to the U.S., according to the Migration Policy Institute. However, according to the Asian Pacific American Student Services office, the ethnic group makes up less than 1% of USC’s student body.

“It just means that I always have family in strangers,” said Matthew Campos, one of the directors for Pilipinx American Culture Night at Troy Philippines. “When I see a face like mine on the street, I know that there is something of a shared experience between us, and that’s always comforting to have.”

Despite today’s small numbers, Filipinos have a long history at USC. U.S. Congress passed the Pensionado Act in 1903, which granted people from the Philippines funds to study in the U.S., with the expectation of returning to work in the American administrative jobs that emerged from the U.S.’s colonial presence in the country. Back then, pensionados like Benicio Catapusan came to study at institutions like UCLA and USC, even forming a Filipino Trojan Club.

A photo of a group of 12 Filipino men in suits standing on steps outside of a brick building.

Troy Philippines is now the only Pilipinx organization on campus, but they make sure that their community is heard. This month, they partnered with Anakbayan Los Angeles, Kabataan Alliance, Migrante Los Angeles, the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns and the Philippine Human Rights Act campaign team in District 37, the latter of which Montances is also part of. Together, the community successfully urged Congresswoman Karen Bass to endorse the Philippine Human Rights Act that would halt U.S. security assistance to the Philippines under Duterte’s regime.

“This was a collective win,” Montances said. “The Filipinos at USC don’t just exist in a vacuum. They come from Los Angeles and the surrounding community. They care about the things that are going on around them.”

When Campos first joined the organization, he was looking for fun and friends. However, he came away with much more than that.

“There were such strong opinions of how we can, as Filipino Americans, help shape society and change society,” Campos said. “It inspires me so much that there are people that I know, and that these people are inspiring me to go out there and change the world.”

Fittingly, the theme for this year’s Pilipinx American History Month is “50 Years Since the First Young Filipino People’s Far West Convention.” The convention is widely recognized as the beginning of the Filipino American Movement, which was intertwined with advocacy for farmworkers rights and anti-martial law.

An online flier promoting October as Filipino American History Month. The flier states that the theme is, "50 Years Since the First Young Filipino People's Far West Convention."

Above all, the Pilipinx community at USC wants their community recognized and these powerful histories remembered beyond the month of October. “We have an amazing and beautiful Filipino community, and our cultures are very diverse,” Montances said. “It’s not just food or dance or entertainment, but also the contributions of our workers and our fight for social justice.”

That being said, “We make so much food,” said Campos. “We make so much food, so please come and join us.”

Anyone is welcome at Troy Philippines’ next event about Pilipinx myths and deities on Oct. 28. Follow their Instagram at @usctroyphi for more information.