Emil Guillermo: First means something in October if you're an Asian American Filipino

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I saw all sorts of banners when I was travelling this weekend for Hispanic Heritage Month.

None for Filipino American History Month.

But when we pass Oct. 15, Hispanic Heritage Month, which started Sept.15, officially ends, and the rest of October is now solely dedicated to Filipino American history.

And what an historic time we find ourselves in. The U.S. House of Representatives is without a speaker, incapacitating Congress till further notice.

As a point of Filipino American history, Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia–who for the last 30 years has been the first and only Filipino American to serve in the House—voted no on the first ballot against Trump’s MAGA ally, Rep. Jim Jordan and his bid for the speakership.

Finding the right speaker is important, and until that time, Congress can do nothing to aid in the three biggest stories of the day: 1)Israel’s war against Hamas; 2) Ukraine’s war against Russia’s invasion; and 3) the impending shutdown of the U.S. government.

We find ourselves in this mess (at least for No. 3) because eight MAGA Republicans showed their penchant for dysfunction and chaos by forcing out their very own Republican leader/speaker nearly two weeks ago.

I’ll have more to say about all the other stuff at some time. But for now, let’s revel in the glory of October.

This is the month when Filipinos really made history.

It was on Oct. 18, 1587.


On that very day in 1587, the first Filipinos from Asia landed in America. And they didn’t grab a thing. At least, not for themselves. They even gave the Indians food and clothing, as peace offerings to their fellow “Yndios.”

The Filipinos were just working stiffs for the Spanish colonizers, but please note that 1587 is 33 years before 1620.

That would be the time of the much-ballyhooed Pilgrims, who landed on a rock in Massachusetts and forgot it first belonged to the Indians.

Despite the egregious oversight, we still make much ado of those Mayflower folks in November.

And those first Filipinos? Do you get Filipino food on Thanksgiving? Adobo? Pancit? Vegan lechon? Nope.

In fact, few people know about the Filipinos as being first in anything except maybe in the number of young girl singers in TV song competitions.

But we should make a big deal of Oct. 18, 1587, the day Pedro De Unamuno sailing for Spain landed on Morro Bay, close to San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast of California. For the Filipino American National Historical Society, it’s the main reason October is Filipino American History Month.

While Unamuno, not a Filipino, is only partially obscured in history, the Filipino parts of the story are almost totally eviscerated from memory.

That changed with the original research of Unamuno’s logs published in UCLA’s Amerasia Journal in 1996 by Eloisa Gomez Borah, librarian and a trustee of FANHS. She makes the case for a Filipino presence, telling the story of how Unamuno was part of a Spanish expedition led by Francisco Gali in 1584. When Gali died, Unamuno lost command of the two ships he inherited after taking a side trip to Macao. Stranded in Asia, Unamuno was finally able to buy another boat, described by Borah as “a single-deck three-masted vessel” named Nuestra Senora de Buena Esperanza.

His deckhands and brawn were mostly Filipinos.

On July 12, 1587, Unamuno headed for points east and was at sea until the end of his voyage on November 22, 1587 in Acapulco, Mexico.

But there was a brief three-day land excursion between October 18-20 that turned out to be the northern California coast.

Unamuno sailed with the Franciscan Father Martin Ignacio de Loyola, nephew of the founder of the Jesuit order, a few priests, and soldiers.

The logs also reveal the presence of at least eight Filipinos identified as “Yndios Luzones,” or Luzon Indians from the northern Philippines island of Luzon.

They were jacks-of-all-trade seamen, seen as the brawny manpower of the ship. In an email exchange, Borah told me too often they were left off the logs.

“Filipinos present on these early explorations and trade ships were overlooked in captains’ logs,” Borah said. “Even in Captain Unamuno’s log, which I chose because he did mention “Indios Luzones,” documenting the presence of Filipino natives was inconsistent, as my count in the article provides the proof.”

Borah counted “Yndios” appearing in the logs 42 times total. In 23 times, it was a reference to the native Californians encountered, but 19 times it described the crew.

But they mattered on Sunday, October 18. That’s when Unamuno, after anchoring off the California coast in a place he called Puerto San Lucas, formed a landing party.

It was 12 armed soldiers led by Father Martin Ignacio de Loyola, cross in hand. But even before the cross, up ahead of them all were two Filipinos armed with swords and shields.

It was their typical formation.

On the first day, the expedition climbed two hills, saw no settlements or people, and took possession of the land for the King of Spain.

On the second day, October 19, eight Filipino scouts led a priest and 12 soldiers for further exploration.

It was on the third day, October 20, that the expedition encountered violence. But not before there was an effort from the ship’s barber and some Filipinos to make a peace offering of food and clothing. Borah said it was fine until the Indians tried to kidnap the barber, and that’s when a violent exchange ensued. The log noted one soldier was killed, but so was one unnamed Filipino, by a javelin, his blood spilled on American soil.

Unamuno didn’t stay long. He left for Acapulco by daybreak on October 21.

The significance of three days?

Borah calls it the unique evidence of a Filipino presence that is too often obscured when historians fail to identify or differentiate among non-Europeans in their crew.

When I contacted her this month, she was adamant.

“Filipino natives, among the non-white indios of that era, did not write the logs or the letters to the king or any other contemporary documents,” Borah wrote me in an email exchange. “However, Filipino indios were 4 out of 5 who worked the Spanish galleons (Schurz, 1939) in crossing the Pacific for 250 years, and they were the advance guard in the land expeditions and provided the information evidenced in Captain Unamuno’s log.”

I just came back from a Harvard Asian American alumni gathering and mentioned in passing about 1587.

Not one person I talked to had even heard about it.

And yet of all the Asian Americans, Filipinos were in North America first, and left empty-handed after three October days in 1587 in California.

You want to win a few bar bets this month? Just ask about the first Asians, documented in historical logs, to come to America.

It was the Filipinos. They didn’t stay and create a community. But they stepped foot in North America and spilled blood.

We remember them for arriving on Oct. 18, this Filipino American History Month.

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NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on