Searching For The Presence Of Filipinos In The Americas Prior To 1620
(Originally presented at the Museum of American History, Smithsonian =
Institute, October 1994. A version was published in the October 1995 =
issue of Filipinas Magazine)
By Alex S. Fabros, Jr.
B.S., M.A., Ph.D. (gonna be)
Bull Shitting, Mad Assed, Pilipino having Delusions
On 27 April 1521, on the island of Mactan, Magellan became the first
European tourist mugged in the Philippines. Alvaro de Saavedra in 1527
and Ruy Lopez de Villabolos in 1541 followed him unsuccessfully. It was
not until 27 April 1565 when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi reached Cebu that
Spain established a permanent Spanish presence in the Philippines.
With Fr. Andres de Urdaneta as the navigator, the San Pablo under the
command of Legazpi's grandson, Felipe de Salcedo, departed the
Philippines in June 1565 to search for a return route to Mexico. The
route went north east from the Philippines to the east coast of Japan
and then east to an area off the Mendocino coast of California and then
followed the coast southward to Acapulco. The Manila galleons used the
"Urdaneta" passage for the next 250 years to bring the riches of Asia
to Europe through Mexico. It is along this route that the first of the
los Indios de Las Filipinas arrived in America.
Who were these Indios? They were not Filipinos, for that was a term
reserved only for a Spaniard of pure blood born in the islands. They
had many names. The term Bisayans is an appropriate name to call them
since the Spaniards brought these Indios to the new world as slaves.
According to Dr. Juan Francisco, visiting Fulbright scholar at San
Francisco State University, the pre-Hispanic name referred to the area
as the islands of the slaves, Bisayas.
The Spaniards needed these Bisayans to sail their ships to Acapulco.
The average sized galleon required a crew of over 200 men. The typical
ratio was 5 Indios to 1 Spaniard. Francisco Leandro de Viana said,
"They can teach many of the Spanish seamen who sail in those seas."
After over 50 years of rule in the New World, the Spaniards reduced the
native populations to the point where they had to bring in replacement
labor from outside the America's, such as Africa and Las Filipinas.
In addition to the precious cargo of spices and silks from the
Philippines, these galleons also carried deep within their holds
Bisayans. The trade in human suffering continued until 1615 when the
King of Spain decreed the end of the selling of his subject Indios from
the Philippines in the New World. The trade in Indias, slave women, had
ended in 1608.
Upon the galleon's arrival at Acapulco, the cargo was sold and shipped
overland to Mexico City and then on to Vera Cruz. From there, the cargo
was loaded on the great Spanish galleons. Bisayans and crew members not
needed to sail the galleon back to the Philippines carried the cargo.
Many of these Bisayans and sailors died before they arrived in the New
World. Others would escape from the galleons before the ship's arrival
at Acapulco. If they were unlucky and arrived at Acapulco, they were
sold into slavery to work in the silver mines or farms of Mexico.
Others would end their lives working on plantations in Cuba. Many went
on to help settle the frontiers of the New World.
Spain began the serious exploration of Nueva Mexico in the late 1580's.
Some of the adventurers were Spaniards who had arrived from the
Philippines with their Indio servants. There are records of slaves
being taken north to help settle the new land.
Since the Spaniards' exploration took them west to the Colorado River
and the Grand Canyon, north to the Black Hills, and east to the banks
of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, could Filipinos have been
In the early 1600's, the Native Americans attacked the Spaniards and
drove them out of New Mexico. Many of the Indios were left behind. What
happened to them? If they were not killed by the Indians, what tribes
were they "adopted" into?
Compare the dress of a Pueblo Indian woman in traditional dress with
that of a Filipina native from the remote regions of the Philippines.
The resemblance in the colors and patterns on the dress, and the way
the hair is worn cannot be ignored.
At the same time that the Philippines was being conquered, the
Spaniards began their exploration of Florida. In 1565, St. Augustin was
founded to act as a buffer against the French settlements in what is
now Southeastern Georgia. After the defeat of the French in 1570, Spain
built a series of missions from St. Augustin west to Mobile, Alabama,
and north along the southeast coast of Georgia and the Carolinas. Spain
established a few military forts in Southern Virginia by 1605. The
literature mentions the importation of skilled Indios who helped to
build the fortress.
Since surplus Indios were sold at auctions, it is possible the Bisayans
were scattered throughout the Caribbean area and could have been at St.
Augustin as early as the 1570's. From there they would have followed
the settlers and soldiers to the mission settlements.
Since these Indios could have retained a strong desire for freedom, it
is possible that they escaped into the swamps surrounding St. Augustin
and the missions and later intermarried with the Native Americans. The
Seminole Indians of Florida are the only Indians who wear a turban
style headgear and tight, sleeveless jackets that resemble the dress of
the Moro's of the Philippines. Is there a relationship?
Further research could support the presence of Bisayans in Southern
Virginia prior to 1600. England established their first settlements in
the Continental U.S. around Jamestown in 1605. The first African slaves
were sold at Jamestown in 1619, 20 years after the Bisayans were there.
Perhaps there could be grounds for redress along the lines received by
the Japanese Americans. The African Americans demands for redress
include 40 acres and a mule. Would we be eligible for a rice paddy and
Fred Cordova, the grandfather of community based Filipino historians
and author of Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans, defines a Pinoy as
any individual with at least one drop of "bagoong" in their veins.
Could these early Filipinos have escaped northward from their Spanish
captors? Could they have intermarried with the Native American women
and produced mixed blood children that passed on portions of their
"bagoong" to the next generation?
How many of you have been told by Euro-Americans to go back to where
you came from because their ancestors were here first? How many
Euro-Americans have told you that their ancestors came over on the
Mayflower in 1620 and landed at Plymouth Rock?
Do not stand there quiet and ashamed. The "bagoong" of these Bisayans
flows through your veins. Look them straight in the eye and tell them
proudly, "My ancestors were there to greet them!"
Those early Bisayans probably exhibited the hospitality and generosity
that modern Filipinos are associated with.
Let us take this possibility one step further. Perhaps the Bisayans
were there and they did invite the starving Pilgrims to dinner one cold
November afternoon. The dinner would have consisted of typical island
dishes such as lechon, pinacbet, sinigang, lumpia, and halo-halo. The
only turkeys served were the guests.
Galing sa email na ipinadala ni: Allan Bergano