History of Filipino-Americans in Seattle
With an estimated population of 30,000 (in the late 1990s), the Filipino American community forms the largest group of Asian Americans in the Seattle area. Beginning with the first known Filipino resident in 1883, waves of Filipino immigrants arrived in dynamic relationship with the status of the Philippines (from colony to independence). They often faced discrimination and hardship, as described by the Filipino poet and writer Carlos Bulosan (1911?-1956). Filipinos have contributed to the area’s arts, business, and political leadership. In 1979, Delores Sibonga (b. 1931) became the first member of the Seattle City Council of Filipino ancestry. President Bill Clinton appointed Bob Santos (b. 1934) as regional representative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 1992, Velma Veloria won election to the Washington State Legislature from Seattle’s 11th District, making her the highest ranking elected official of Filipino ancestry in the country at the time.
Waves of Immigration According to Fred Cordova, local historian and author of Filipino Americans: Forgotten Asian Americans, Filipinos came to America in four waves:
- First wave: Before 1906
- Second wave: 1906-1945
- Third wave: 1945-1965
- Fourth wave: After 1965
The first known Filipino in the Seattle area worked at the Port Blakely Lumber Mill on Bainbridge Island in Washington Territory around 1883. His name was Manilla, as in the largest city in the Philippines. The Philippines became an American territory in 1898, following the Spanish American War. In November 1903, the United States government passed the Pensionado Act, providing funds for Filipino students to study in America. By 1912, 209 Filipino students had graduated from American college or university programs. The University of Washington enrolled the highest number of Filipinos of any institution in the United States. The “Sakada” system launched the second wave of Filipino immigrants in 1906. Sakadas were plantation workers contracted to work in the sugar and pineapple fields of Hawaii. In the same year, in Seattle, the U.S. government hired 40 Filipinos to work aboard the steamship Burnside to lay cable in the Pacific. When their contract ended, several of these Filipinos decided to stay, thus becoming the first “permanent” Filipino residents of Seattle. The 1910 census recorded 17 Filipino residents in Washington state. These included Rufina Clemente Jenkins, wife of U.S. Army Cavalry Sergeant Francis Jenkens, who in 1909 lived with her family in Fort Lawton in what is now Discovery Park in Seattle. She was the first Filipino war bride to move to the city.