SALT LAKE CITY — Modern-day Utah is home to thousands of Filipinos, but not much is known about the state’s early Pinoy history.
“We’re talking about events that occurred a hundred years ago or more,” said Brian Cannon, a history professor at Brigham Young University. “And so it’s something that just has become the victim of historical amnesia.”
According to newspaper archives, Fulgencio Romero may have been the first Filipino to arrive in Utah. As reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, a group of U.S. soldiers brought him to Salt Lake City’s Fort Douglas during the Philippine–American War in 1900.
Seven years later, Sixto Codilla immigrated to the state, as per the 1910 census, possibly becoming the second Pinoy to do so. Like Romero, the 19-year-old lived at Fort Douglas, working for school and board as a servant for a military family.
“Presumably, in a room in the officer’s home would be where he lived,” Cannon said. “He would’ve been involved probably in cooking, probably in cleaning, maybe doing some yard work.”
Cannon said it wasn’t uncommon for American soldiers to bring Filipino servants with them to Fort Douglas after being stationed in the Philippines.
“There are stories of other Filipinos where there was quite a strong connection and some affection between the soldiers and the Filipino servants, so that may have been the case in this particular instance also,” he said.
During the next two decades, as old newspaper clippings suggest, the Pinoy community would continue to grow.
By 1930, 158 Filipinos lived in Utah, the majority of which worked in the agriculture, mining and railroad industries, taking on low-paying jobs and residing in substandard housing.
“Particularly if you have a group of single men who are employed, who are living in a barracks situation, you’re not going to have running water, or you’re probably not going to have electricity in the shack where you’re staying, those types of things,” Cannon said.
Over the next 10 years, the state’s Filipino population would decline, dropping to 54 by 1940.
“Jobs that in the 1920s whites weren’t willing to do, in the 1930s, they’re desperate for work,” Cannon said. “And so they’re willing to do some of that dangerous and difficult work — arduous farm laborer, mine laborer — and so it squeezes immigrants out of the labor force and forces them to leave.”
But starting in the 1960s, Utah’s Pinoy populace would prosper once again, growing from 200 in 1960 to 1,100 in 1980 to 3,100 in 2000. Since that time, it’s more than doubled, rising to 7,300 according to the latest count in 2015.
Presently, the Beehive State’s Filipino community is buzzing with activity, and Pinoy visibility is at an all-time high, thanks in part to Filipinos who’ve found success in various fields, from academia to politics to sports, suggesting that Filipino history in Utah may just be getting started.