Filipino American History Month in the District of Columbia: Recognizing Service in the Service of Recognition

The Filipino American National Historical Society first recognized October as Filipino American History Month in 1992, thanks to the vision of FANHS founder, the late Dr. Fred Cordova, and the FANHS Board of Trustees. In the intervening years, observances large and small have lifted up the contributions Filipinos in the United States have made throughout every facet of public life. From California and Hawaii, to Minnesota and the City of New York, official proclamations throughout the month celebrate the community's role in the American family. As we prepare to close out the month, we recall how this came to be and its particular importance this year.

At the federal level, resolutions have been passed in the House and Senate have recognized Filipino American History Month since 2009. But there has never been an official government event specifically for Filipino American History Month in the nation's capital, until this year. At the beginning of the month, members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus held a press conference to kick off Filipino American History Month and later that week, the White House hosted its first ever Filipino American History Month observation. To close out the month, the District of Columbia, in partnership with the Office of Veterans Affairs of the Philippine Embassy and the Gen. Douglas MacArthur/ Vincente Lim VFW Post 5471, held a Filipino American History Month celebration for local residents (in the interest of full disclosure, I had the honor of emceeing that event).

It's no mistake that this is the first year that Washington, DC is taking its first opportunity to celebrate Filipino American History Month, and this is in large part, thanks to our Filipino WWII veterans. For the Filipino American community and our friends and allies, their selfless service to the United States and their struggle for recognition are not new. Their journey towards equal treatment after having their status as U.S. veterans summarily rescinded by the U.S. government shortly after the war ended has been part of my journey from my first days as a District resident and an active member of the Filipino American community here.

This year, we stand at a fork in the road, and this year's Filipino American History Month celebrations have been an opportunity to make a particular call to action for our community with renewed urgency. Earlier this year, President Obama, in response to ongoing pressure from the community, announced his intent to provide Filipino WWII veterans to reunite with their families, including their adult children, and the White House Filipino American History Month event recommitted his administration to this promise. This past June, members of Congress from both the House and the Senate on both sides of the aisle introduced the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2015. After a number of other WWII veterans from different communities have received this honor, including the Tuskegee Airmen, the Navajo Code Talkers, the Japanese American Nisei military units, and the Puerto Rican Infantry Regiment, the Filipino soldiers who fought in some of the most horrendous conditions of World War II, including the infamous Bataan Death March, have yet to be similarly recognized.

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Representatives from Washington, DC Mayor Bowser's administration sought to correct this oversight at the District's Filipino American History Month this week. Joining Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba, Chair of the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project, David Do, from the Mayor's Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, and Tammy Lambert, from the Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs, called on event participants to contact their members of Congress to pass this legislation with all due haste. Noting the advanced age of these veterans and the rate at which they are leaving us, General Taguba "gave us our marching orders" and challenged us to ensure their lasting legacy through passage of this legislation.
I closed the event invoking Dr. Fred Cordova's reminder that as we recognize Filipino American History this month, while we may celebrate heritage, we make history, and with a Congressional Gold Medal on the line, we have an opportunity to make history one more time.