Filipinos in the California Gold Rush

Part of the inspiration for my first book, with a Filipino protagonist, was discovering Filipinos in the California Gold Rush. You can see in the picture here that there were multiple, not many, but still a presence. This census page shows six. I had also heard about the “Tulitos Camp” from the Pinoy Archives referencing a 1934 Stockton Daily newspaper article.

Filipino Manila Men in the California Gold Rush

There were said to be a hundred “Manila Men” from the Philippines, which was still a colony of Spain at the time. Many Filipinos, travelled to the Americas, first on Galleons carrying silver from Potosí in Peru, later to Mexico as laborers. There are instances where Filipinos settled in the Louisiana bayou when it was still under Spanish control. This was before Napoleon. More recently they worked in sugar plantations and the fields of California. Though not an integral part of American history until the 20th century, the appearance of Filipinos over time was always intriguing to me. Perhaps growing up in San Francisco and having many childhood Filipino friends influenced me.

But what was “Filipino” in the 1852 California state census? Back then Filipino referred to whites who had travelled to Manila. Those whites born in the Philippines were labeled criollo. The children of those who married local women were called mestizo. The locals were called indios or labeled by their respective ethnic subgroup: Tagalo, Ilokano, Cebuano, etc. There were a plethora of additional terms based on racial percentages and degree of darkness. The Filipinos in the 1852 census of Mariposa County are unlabeled in the race category. However I believe it’s because the US only had the labels of white, black, Indian, and mulatto readily available. Also, census takers may not have had the vocabulary or wherewithal to know. Thus the Chinese and Filipinos on the census sheet are unlabeled, though later thrown in as white for statistical purposes. The government soon stepped in and by 1860 clearer labels were developed, though still different from today’s.

This census finding and location featured prominently in my novel as a place for my protagonist to further develop his identity around race. Though in the real census, these miners appear to all be from Manila, and were labeled as U.S. citizens! They had surnames like Badilla, Tores, Lopes, Abeline and Dillon. I would argue they were mestizo. I make this claim using peripheral/circumstantial evidence. They were not given the two hash marks denoting ditto or ibid.  So they were not given the white label. Yet they were from Manila and listed as U.S. Citizens. Also, their surnames are not indigenous to the Philippines, though the Spanish assigned Spanish surnames to much of the population. Finally, a native Filipino would likely not have the resources to easily come to the gold rush. It would be a rare instance. Since all six are labeled in the same way, it can support the idea that they were all similar. More research would need to be done to obtain more solid evidence one way or the other.

Finding this record started as a pleasant sidetrack in my own genealogical research. When it marinated with my studies on race and identity, my personal upbringing and environment, it crystalized and grew into my first novel. I doubt the Tulitos camp miners would have imagined that they would spark inspiration in a white man 150 years in the future. This is just more evidence that our lives do not truly end, just because we die.


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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5 Responses to Filipinos in the California Gold Rush

  1. Tom Phillips says:

    I have been doing some research on Tulito and found a number of “manila men” in the Tulito area in the 1870 census. The 1934 article I question where the information was found. More research to be done.

  2. Tom Phillips says:

    Daniel, Could you suggest any other sources concerning Filipinos in the Gold Rush in California?

    • I don’t have a lot of primary sources, but one book I found interesting was “Manila Men in the New World” by Floro Mercene. It mentions Filipinos traveling with the Spanish in California before the Gold Rush (as well as the 1934 article about the Tulitos camp) but that’s about it. It does give a good overview of the Filipino presence in the Americas throughout the centuries. I hope that helps.

  3. Pingback: Four Sparrows | Daniel Roddick

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