October is Filipino American History Month (FAHM)! The month marks the first time Filipinos landed on the Chumash settlement or now known as Morro Bay, California in October 1587. Filipino American History Month dating back to the 14th century reminds us all that American history did not begin when Europeans settled to this country. This country’s history is embedded in the first nations that was here and the immigration circuits that predated American settler colonialism.
In simple terms, as the late, prolific historian Dawn Bohulano Mabalon once said about Filipinos in America, “WE MADE HISTORY. WE HELPED BUILD THIS NATION.”
Aya in front of the SFSU Filipino American mural celebrating FilAm history and heroes.
This FAHM is of utmost importance to me this year as my children are growing into consciousness about themselves, their bodies, their communities and, rightfully so, their his/herstories. Aya and Cy, 3.5 and 1.5 years old respectively, are still quite young but actually it’s important to me that we (my partner, Raul, and I) start to talk to them about their proud history as Filipinos and Filipino Americans at this age.
Its also important to note that any and every child living in the United States of America can benefit from learning about Filipino American history during FAHM. Here are 4 reasons why:
1. Young children are astutely aware of themselves and the people they come from.
Yesterday, when my family and I were at a local Filipino restaurant, Aya said to me, “Everyone here has black hair. And I have black hair. We’re all the same in here.” My partner and I are lucky enough to be raising our children where seeing Filipinos is a daily occurrence, where their preschool and daycare rooms are guaranteed to have (many) Filipino children, where we can pick up a Filipino food favorite at a drop of a dime.
Developmentally, young children are anchoring themselves in the social circles of family, friends and community they see day to day. At ages 3-4, children are quickly understanding themselves and their places in the world. The people who they consider part of their circles give them meaning and affirm them. Storytelling is key to this process. Therefore, a conversation (better yet a story) about Filipino American history with Filipino American children can help them feel secure that their social circles have been here and are here to stay.
Filipinos are one of the largest Asian American groups in California (and most of the Western States) and the oldest Asian American group in the US. In times, where many people in this nation argue about who “belongs” here, FAHM can show Filipino American kids that they are part of a larger community and an even longer history. Thus providing them with a positive self-concept while giving them an opportunity to experience their culture, family history and community in a supportive way.
2. Celebrating FAHM invites children to celebrate their own respective cultures too.
Providing a space for children to claim their Filipino history, culture and heritage can be an invitation to other children to talk, celebrate and learn about their own backgrounds. Aya once said, “Our lumpia has yummy thing in it, what do other people’s lumpias have?”
Filipino American children could share their Fil-Am hero, Larry Itliong, while our Mexican American friends can talk about Cesar Chavez, and how both of them worked hard to uphold the lives of Filipino and Mexican farmworkers. What a great way to invite other children of other cultural backgrounds to learn about their own history and share it with their friends!
Studies have long proven over and again that ethnic studies and multicultural education at an early childhood level can not only help children do better in school and learn about difference in a positive manner but, in fact, realize their similarities and view diversity as integral part of being a part of a whole community.
3. Children love stories. Filipino American history is filled with good stories.
Cover art for Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel book by Tony Robles
Have you heard about Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel? A story of a boy who takes a walk in his neighborhood only to find that a beloved hotel is to be closed in 30 days. A story about fierce resistance in a community facing fast-paced gentrification? Inspired by the fight for the International Hotel, this children’s book was written by Tony Robles, renowned poet and author, son of poet and activist, Al Robles, who was himself involved in the political fight to save the I-hotel.
Girl holding the Beautiful Eyes book by Gayle Romasanta
Have you heard about Beautiful Eyes? A book in English and Tagalog about the popular Filipino game taught to babies about their beautiful body parts. When asked to do “beautiful eyes”, babies blink their eyelashes to the giggles of their Nanays, Tatays, Lolos and Lolas. Written by Gayle Romasanta, founder of Bridge + Delta Publishing, a Stockton-based publishing house, encourages Filipino children to affirm their sense of self through this beautiful book.
Cover art of Journey for Justice by Dawn Mabalon and Gayle Romasanta and art by Andre Sibayan
Have you heard about Journey for Justice? The first children’s book about Larry Itliong, a leader in the farm worker’s movement , who led the 1965 Delano Grape Strike and co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez. Written by Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon with Gayle Romansanta, who have roots and history in the very part of California that Larry Itliong lived, worked and fought for.
Filipino American history is chock-full of inspiring stories that children of any age can appreciate. It is rich with extraordinary people who fought for their communities right to stay, who fought for their communities right to live and thrive. It is rich with the hopes of Filipinos to affirm their bodies, their selves, their futures. It is rich with the many intersections of Filipino American and Filipino migrant stories.
These are our stories. They are good stories. This is our history. They deserved to be told to our children. And in fact, our children might love them. And hopefully, they might learn to see themselves in them.
4. Looking back at Filipino American history encourages children to be part of Filipino American futures.
Right now, and in the foreseeable future, we will need young people’s imagination, creativity and courage to forge a society with equity, sustainability and freedom in mind. Filipino American children are bound to contribute to those futures.
Photo of Filipino parents marching with strollers holding signs that say “Filipinos for Black Resistance”
As Filipino national hero, Jose Rizal, once wrote, “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” “Those who look at where they’ve come from will not reach where they are going.” Teaching Filipino American children where we, as a community, as a people, have been–the struggles we have faced, the trials we survived, the victories we have achieved–is a gift to our children. It is a gift that will enliven them to confront the hardships (and there are many) ahead of them, and hopefully, inspire them to build anew.
What are some of the reasons why you think we should celebrate FAHM with children?
What are your favorite Filipino American stories?