[March 11th marks the 80th anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur’s famous departure from the Philippines. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied that moment and four other aspects of the war’s Pacific Theater, leading up to this special post on the U.S.-Filipino relationship!]
On what we should better remember about three stages of a defining international dynamic.
1) Origins: One of my favorite historical facts to share with audiences of all types is that the first nation in the world to recognize the new United States during the Revolution wasn’t France, or any other European nation we might expect, but Morocco—one main reason why the Moroccan American community became a defining one about a decade later. Those specific details can help open up our sense of the Revolutionary and Early Republic periods as defined by international dynamics and multi-national communities outside of the familiar ones, and the same can certainly be said for the Philippines in general and the Filipino American community in Louisiana in particular. When Americans think about the Philippines at all, I believe they see that relationship as beginning with the Spanish American War and the U.S. occupation of the islands—but by that time the Filipino American community was a century old, a vital fact which reframes that occupation and much else besides.
2) Occupation: It’s certainly true that that 50-year occupation was a defining moment in the evolving relationship between the two nations, and thus for the Filipino American community on every level. And it’s even more true, and even more vital to remember, that said occupation began with a 15-year war between U.S. forces and Filipino rebels, perhaps the nation’s longest military conflict until the recently concluded war in Afghanistan. But better remembering that early 20th century war is only half the battle, as early 20th century America was also shaped by a series of impressive and inspiring Filipino American lives, from individuals like Vicente Lim to families to like Agripino and Florence Jaucian to entire communities like the pensionados who studied in the U.S. as part of this evolving international relationship. Although Congress worked hard over subsequent decades to define Filipinos as “aliens” in the U.S., these and many other stories make clear how integral they were (as they had always been) to the nation.
3) 21st Century: My point here is a quicker but no less significant one: that better remembering these centuries of histories and interconnections can help us think about 21st century Filipino Americans as an equally defining American community. I’ll be more specific: José Antonio Vargas isn’t just one of our moment’s most impressive and inspiring journalists and writers, advocates and activists; he’s also a profoundly exemplary representation of this originating, evolving, foundationally American community. Am I saying Vargas is more American than Douglas MacArthur? I’m not—but he’s at least as American, and more fully representative of the best of our histories and stories!
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think?