Filipino Americans, for example

Flag of the Philippines

Flag of the Philippines

Multicultural activities can be, fun and feel-good, challenging but insightful, or confrontational and hopefully therapeutic. I’ve facilitated a few activities at all levels and this blog works towards that purpose as well.

Here’s a good exercise you can use to explore race and ethnicity that’s somewhere in that middle category. Ask the group to name heroes in American history, or just prominent figures would work too. You will probably hear the names of plenty of white men as well as names of a few black men and a few white women. Who can list an Asian hero in America’s history? The room may sit quietly waiting for you to tell them, or you may the one sitting quietly. So here’s a spot light on one ethnicity to help.

America and the Philippines have a history together, good and bad. The bulk of the Spanish-American War was fought suppressing the Filipino War of Independence. Emilio Aguinaldo, a Filipino mason, fought to free the 7,000-island chain. He established the first Asian Republic before it was squelched by the Americans, yes by us! Have we recognized the bravery of Filipino soldiers from that same land who later fought for America in World War II? There are some unsung heroes there for sure. But we need names.

In our own land of California, the initial boycotts by farm workers were the result of actions by Filipino-American labor. It was later that they united with the Mexican workers. Filipinos formed a major part of the United Farm Workers (hence the word United), the movement that made Caesar Chavez a household name. But let’s not forget key leader Filipino-American Philip Vera Cruz. Let’s not forget Pablo Manlapit who organized sugar plantation workers in Hawaii decades before. These are two prominent Filipinos in America’s Labor history.

Then there’s the more hidden parts of our past. Victoria Manalo Draves was the first US woman to win gold medals in platform and springboard diving. This was in the 1948 Olympics. Her father was Filipino and her mother was English. She was a native San Franciscan. It’s a testament to her resilience knowing she wasn’t allowed to swim in public pools because she wasn’t white. So there’s a third prominent figure.

Are we recognizing the contributions of everyone? It’s important. No one wants to be denied a chance to tell their story. Do we know that Cristeta Comerford, the first female executive chef in the White House, to both Presidents Bush and Obama, is also a Filipina-American? So there’s another Filipina, a fourth prominent American of Filipino descent.


About Daniel Roddick

Daniel has a B.A. in American History with minors in both Ethnic Studies and Sociology. He also has an M.Ed. in College Administration and Counseling. Daniel has worked in the financial aid industry for over a decade. He has presented all over the country on financial aid issues related to equity, inclusion, and access to education. He is also a writer of poetry, fiction, and this blog, all of which touch on identity.
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