Ateneo De Naga high school 1980

Those who do not remember history are bound to live through it again.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The first Filipinos in America?

A few articles ago, I wrote about a Filipino who served as a soldier for the Union army during the American civil war. In that article, I mentioned about the “Manila Men” that were recruited by French buccaneer Jean Baptiste Lafitte and fought alongside with the American troops under the command of Major General Andrew Jackson in the war of 1812.

After posting that article in the blog, I began to wonder if there is any recorded history that tells about when the first Filipinos arrived in United States. Filipino historians had written articles about the Filipinos that arrived in North America for the first time during the 18th century (1700s) riding the Manila galleon ships. These Filipino seafarers settled in the bayous of Louisiana and became fishermen. Though historical evidence points to early Filipino settlers in Louisiana, I felt that there are Filipinos who arrived in North America prior to the 1700s.

About 250 miles north from my house is the city of Morro Bay. On the entrance of Morro bay is a large volcanic rock formation called Morro Rock. This 581-foot rock was called “El Morro” in 1542 by Portuguese navigator Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo because it resembled a turban worn by the north African people. Near Morro Rock is a small bronze memorial plaque containing this inscription:

During the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade era from 1565 to 1815 Spanish galleons crossed the pacific between the Philippines and Mexico.

On October 18, 1587, the Manila Galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza commanded by Pedro de Unamuno entered Morro Bay near here. A landing party was sent to shore which included Luzon Indios, marking the first landing of Filipinos in the continental United States. The land
ing party took official possession of the area for Spain by putting up a cross made of branches. The group was attacked by native Indians two days later, and one of the Filipinos was killed. Unamuno and his crew gave up further exploration of this part of the coast.



There are two things in the inscription that caught my attention—October 18, 1587 and the words, “Luzon Indios”. If the historical claim on the plaque is indeed accurate, this means that Filipinos arrived in North America before the pilgrims. Though the plaque was unveiled by the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), there are a few historians that question its accuracy.

As an amateur historian, I have observed that accuracy becomes harder to attain as historians research further and further back in time. Written accounts left by our forefathers who witnessed significant historical events sometimes does not match physical evidence to validate its accuracy. As I write this article, I am hoping that new physical evidence will be unearthed that would sweep away any doubts regarding the exact date of the arrival of the first Filipinos in America. Until that happens, the available record of the first journey of Filipinos to America happened in 1587.

In 1586, two Spanish ships left the port of Manila under the command of Pedro De Unamuno. The ships were bound for Acapulco. Before the ship’s departure, the Spanish authorities instructed Captain Unamuno not to go to China per the instruction of Mexico Archbishop Pedro Moya De Contreras. The archbishop gave this instruction because the church authorities in Manila were worried that if the merchants in Acapulco establish a direct trade route to China, they would no longer go to Manila to pick up Chinese goods. If this happens, the Spanish post in Manila would be abandoned.

After Captain Unamuno left the Manila port, he disobeyed the instructions given to him by the archbishop of Acapulco and sailed to China. When the Portuguese officials saw Unamuno’s ship in China, they confiscated both ships and reported the incident to the Spanish authorities in Manila. Captain Juan De Argumedo was dispatched from Manila to China to arrest Captain Unamuno for defying direct orders from the Spanish church authorities.

Captain Unamuno and his men avoided capture and later met two Franciscan priests: Fr. Martin Ignacio De Loyola and Fr. Francisco De Noguera. Fr. De Loyola is the grand nephew of Ignatius De Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

Fr. Martin Ignacio de Loyola was the first person to circumnavigate the world twice during his missionary efforts in China. He was later imprisoned then expelled forcing him to move back to the Portuguese outpost in Macau.

Fr. De Loyola loaned money to Captain Unamuno to purchase a small Portuguese made merchant ship which he named Nuestra Senora De Buena Esperanza. Using the funds given to him by the Acapulco merchants, Captain Unamuno loaded the ship with Chinese goods. His crew consisted of Spanish soldiers, two Franciscan priests and Luzon Indios. On July 12, 1587, the Nuestra Senora De Buena Esperanza set sail to Acapulco, Mexico.

While sailing to Acapulco, the mast of the ship broke forcing Unamuno to seek land to repair and resupply his ship. In October 18, 1587, they spotted land and entered a bay whom he named Puerto De San Lucas. This land Unamuno found would later be called the state of California.

A council met in the ship and it was decided that a landing party be sent to shore to explore and take the port in the name of King Philip. Two groups were sent to shore: The first group of 12 Spanish soldiers was lead by Captain Unamuno. The second group of unknown number of Luzon Indios was lead by Fr. Martin De Loyola. The Luzon Indios were armed with swords and shields while Fr. De Loyola carried a cross.

While exploring the land, two of the Indios saw five Indians, two of which were carrying babies on their backs. They tried to make contact with the Indians but the Indians ran up the hill leaving behind the explorers. Fr. De Loyola later erected a cross.

On October 19th, Captain Unamuno came to shore with soldiers and the Indios was lead by Fr. De Noguera. They discovered an empty camp, foot prints, seventeen dugouts and other evidences that people live in the area.

On October 20th, the landing party were attacked by the Indians. Three of the soldiers were wounded while one was killed. A Luzon Indio was killed when he failed to cover himself with his shield when a javelin was thrown to him by an Indian attacker. More Indians started pouring down the hill to attack the landing party. Fortunately, reinforcements came from the ship and they were able to repulse the attack with one additional soldier being wounded. As the darkness started to roll in, the Indians withdrew. That evening, Captain Unamuno decided to continue their voyage to Acapulco.

Eight years after the first landing of Luzon Indios in California, another Spanish galleon ship named San Agustin with a crew of Luzon Indios landed in Point Reyes near the San Francisco Bay area on November 6, 1595. The Spaniards named the place “La Bahia de San Francisco” (The bay of San Francisco).

I found this article that was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 14, 1995 written by Carl Nolte.

“The San Agustin, which was probably a small warship in the Spanish navy, was commanded by Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno and had a crew of Spanish officers and Filipino sailors, according to historian Raymond Aker, who has studied the ship and its voyage. The expedition turned out badly: The San Agustin was the first ship known to be wrecked on the California coast.

The San Agustin’s voyage began in the summer of 1595 when it sailed from Manila to Acapulco with a cargo of 130 tons of Ming Dynasty porcelain, silk and other trade goods from China bound for Spain. It was part of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade that would dominate the economy of the Philippine colony from 1565 to 1815. On occasion, a galleon ship would also carry gold and silver, extracted from Philippine mines. This was the case with the Santa Ana, a galleon ship that left Manila the year after Pedro de Unamuno’s voyage, in 1588. It was hijacked by English pirates off the coast of Mexico.


When the San Agustin landed in Point Reyes, the ship’s Spanish officers wanted to quickly resume the voyage to Acapulco but Captain Cermeno wanted to explore the land. By then the ship had made contact with the local natives, the Coast Miwoks, who lived in about 6 villages in the area. Cermeno gave them cloths and other gifts while the Miwoks gave them seeds and a banner of black feathers.

At Cermeno’s direction, the Filipino sailors “assembled a small launch on the beach for exploring the shallow waters nearby. They stayed at the bay for three weeks, in gentle fall weather.” Unfortunately, a storm came which pulled the ship’s anchor up and blew the ship to the rocks, killing a dozen men including a priest. What happened to the cargo of the San Agustin? According to Nolte, “the Miwoks picked up the cargo, slept on the silk meant for the royalty of Europe, ate from the priceless blue porcelain of the Wan Li period of the Ming Dynasty.”

Captain Cermeno and his crew of Filipino sailors and a dog then built a larger launch from the materials they could find in Point Reyes and sailed out to Acapulco, which they reached without losing a man. They did lose the dog, though, which the Filipino crew and their Spanish captain ate to survive.”

The first Filipinos who landed in America were not immigrants but were members of an exploration team. Being explorers, they did not need any visas. The Filipino seafarer who deserted the Spanish galleons and established the Saint Malo settlement in the marshlands of Louisiana were the first Filipino illegal aliens in America. These Filipino T.N.Ts (Tago-Nang-Tago) who lived in the bayous of Louisiana kept away from mainstream society. Their existence was only known after a journalist named Lafcadio Hearn wrote an article about the Filipinos in America and published it in the American political magazine “Harper’s Weekly” in 1883
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3 Comments:

Blogger nestor1988 said...

As Filipino immigrant here in America, this article gives us a glimpse on how our first "kababayans" set foot in this foreign soil long before some of the white settlers set theirs. As always, well researched Ivan. One of my Navajo basketball buddies who is a history teacher here in the reservation also told me that there were really Filipinos along with other Chinese settlers who came here long before the discovery of America.

6:19 AM  
Blogger A Gem said...

WOW! Amazing what we can uncover once we start digging! Thank you for sharing. With your permission, I would like to print your blogs to share at our Filipino American History Month Celebration here in Idaho. I won't be mass manufacturing...just one print for people to read.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Narratives of a Novice said...

Hi A Gem :-) You are welcome to share any information that is in this blog. I wrote the articles in this blog to share to the world for free. I love writing historical articles and would like to share our rich Filipino history to the world. You can reproduce this article as much as you want as long as you share it to others for free.

6:02 PM  

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