SAINT BERNARD, LOUISIANA — This historical marker inside the Los Islenos complex at the Saint Bernard parish now serves as a reminder of the first Filipino settlement in America in the bayou of St. Malo in Louisiana, which began in 1763.
It also marked the very first chapter of Filipino-American history.
Historian Bill Hyland said, based on accounts from early settlers, Filipinos who were on board the ships from the Manila Galleon trade, settled in this small fishing village in southeast Louisiana.
From the mid-18th century to the early 20th century, when it was destroyed by a hurricane, St. Malo was a prosperous community of about 150 Filipino fishermen who lived in huts made of palmetto fronds. These Filipinos became pioneers in fishing and shrimping.
Fil-Am historian Randy Gonzales described how Filipinos found their home in St. Malo.
hey found a place in St Bernard Louisiana, where other people spoke Spanish, where they can fish and make a living, and everyone left them alone, they can have their own little space, and they carved a space for themselves in America,once they did that more Filipinos followed.
At the turn of the 19th century at Barataria Bay, Filipinos built another settlement – the Manila Village.
By starting businesses and marrying across cultures, they wrote letters home to encourage family members to sail for Louisiana, they built community organizations to support recent immigrants.
Gonzales said even then, these Filipino settlers would remit money back to the Philippines – to their families and loved ones.
This historian stressed that it’s important for the stories of these Filipino sailors to be told from the point of view of Filipinos.
The notion that these Filipinos jumped ship, he said, came from the ship owners.
“I don’t like the term jump ship… Because it means that Filipinos didn’t have a choice, they’re being captive life was difficult for them on the ships but the ship was gonna go ashore, they got off, they stayed, they said, I like it here.”
Gonzales said these Filipino men had a choice and they chose to stay and live their American dream in the bayous of Louisiana and make a life in St. Malo — even before there was a concept of immigration, even a decade or so before the birth of the U.S.