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Friday, February 8, 2019

February 8, 2019: The Philippine American War: Filipino Americans

[On February 4th, 1899 Filipino rebels launched an attack on American troops in Manila, the opening salvo in what would become the Philippine American War (or Philippine Insurrection—see Thursday’s post for more on that distinction). So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of contexts for that largely forgotten, brutal turn of the 20th century conflict, leading up to a weekend post on the war’s legacies for 20th and 21st century histories!]
On a few complex yet inspiring examples of wartime and post-war Filipino American stories (along with the great Carlos Bulosan).
1)      Vicente Lim: In 1910, a 22-year old immigrant named Vicente Lim entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; although he faced significant prejudice, illustrated most succinctly by the nickname “Cannibal” bestowed upon him by his classmates, Lim would in 1914 become the first Filipino American West Point graduate. Upon graduation he was commissioned as the first Filipino officer for the Philippine Scouts, a U.S. military branch organized in the islands; through the Scouts Lim would be assigned to one of the three Filipino brigades mobilized during World War I, would pursue further military education over the next two decades, and during World War II would serve heroically as a Brigadier General in the Philippine Army during multiple conflicts with the Japanese. After the islands fell to the Japanese Lim helped lead the Filipino resistance until his capture in 1944; he died while imprisoned by the Japanese. Lim was posthumously awarded both the Legion of Merit and a Purple Heart by the U.S. Army, in recognition of the crucial wartime contributions of this pioneering Filipino American officer.
2)      Medal Winners: During the same years that Lim was attending West Point, two other Philippine Scouts received their own groundbreaking, distinguished service medals from the U.S. Army. In February 1913 José Balitón Nísperos became the first Asian American to receive the Medal of Honor; the honor was awarded for his courageous service during the Moro Rebellion (on which see yesterday’s post). And in April 1915 Telesforo de la Crux Trinidad became the first Asian American sailor to receive the Medal of Honor; his was awarded for heroic actions during a January 1915 boiler explosion and fire onboard the U.S.S. San Diego in Mexican waters. Nísperos received his medal in the Philippines and lived there for the remainder of his life; Trinidad received his in the U.S., the nation for which he subsequently fought in both World War I and World War II. Those divergent stories, as well as the fact that Nísperos was fighting against fellow Filipinos, illustrate the different sides to Filipino and Filipino American communities in this complex early 20th century period.
3)      The Filipino Association of Philadelphia: In 1912, Agripino M. Jaucian, a Filipino immigrant and former naval sailor living in Philadelphia, organized 200 fellow discharged U.S. Navy men into the Filipino Association of Philadelphia, Inc. (FAAPI). Jaucian had experienced exclusionary racism, and believed that such a communal association could both offer solidarity for members of the community and help them become a more thriving part of American society. After a few years of meeting informally in Jaucian’s home, in 1917 FAAPI drafted a constitution and applied successfully for formal incorporation; the following year, it performed some of its most significant and heroic work, as Jaucian and his wife Florence (a registered nurse) provided free medical supplies to Philadelphia residents fighting the devastating Influenza Epidemic of 1918. One hundred years after that moment, FAAPI remains in operation, the longest continually operating Filipino American organization; its work on the 2010 Smithsonian Exhibition Singgalot, the Ties that Bind—Filipinos in America, From Colonial Subjects to Citizens illustrates the group’s commitment to preserving and strengthening collective memories of Filipino and Filipino American history across the centuries.
Next war context tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?

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