Annapolis in the Early 1900s: Filipino Immigrants

This post is written by future Archaeology in Annapolis graduate student Kathrina Aben:

The week spent helping excavate the James Holliday house has been a wonderful opportunity to learn about early 20th century life in Annapolis. At the time, two minority groups lived in the city: African-Americans and Filipino immigrants. They each had their own communities within the larger white society. Despite unique cultural and historical backgrounds, both groups experienced similar forms of social and legal discrimination. Anti-miscegenation laws in Maryland prohibited the cohabitation and marriage of African-Americans and Filipinos (referred in texts as “Malays” or “Mongolians”) to whites. This law was not repealed until 1967. Sharing a common collective minority history, these two groups struggled to make a life for themselves in the city.

As a Filipino-American myself, it is no wonder that I am intrigued by this site. As stated in a previous entry, Eleanor Briscoe, the granddaughter of James Holliday, married a Filipino cook from the U.S. Navy in 1919. I am interested in exploring these Filipino roots of Annapolis. Hopefully, we can piece together the identities and lives of early Filipino immigrants from a combination of archaeology, ethnography, and interviews from descendents. It would be amazing to discover artifacts that display the presence of these early pioneers. However, it brings to mind the question of how you conduct the archaeology of ethnicity. How do you determine what artifacts are Filipino and what are not? What does an archaeologist need to know about Filipino culture? These inquiries point out the requirement of knowledge about Philippines’ history, traditions, and relationship with the U.S.

From 1565 to 1898, Philippines was a Spanish colony. The 333 years of Castilian colonial rule has heavily influenced the culture in the manner of language, dress, religion, surnames, architecture, government, and cultural practices. The domination of the Roman Catholic Church in Spain introduced missionaries to the country with the intent of Christianizing Filipinos, resulting in the national religion becoming Roman Catholic. It is common to find saint figurines and crosses in households, as well as miniature shrines in the garden. Although there are more than 100 different dialects, the national language, Tagalog, incorporates various Spanish words. Their separation from Spain occurred with the Spanish-American War, in which with the help of the U.S., Philippines briefly gained independence. At the turn of the century, it was only newly separated from Spain, indicating that artifacts would still carry a heavy Spanish influence. However, it is still important to consider Philippines’ position with the U.S. and the type of immigrants moving into the country.

In the 1900s, Philippines experienced a unique relationship with the U.S. From 1901 to 1946, it was an American colony until the Filipino-American War. This status instituted a wave of immigration in the form of laborers and government-sponsored students from wealthy families, known as pensionados. In Annapolis, the existing knowledge indicates that the Filipino immigrants residing in the city were laborers affiliated with the Naval Academy. It is important to note that immigrants were male, and in that time period, the country’s obsession with eugenics help explain the origins of the anti-miscegenation laws that were specifically instituted to include Filipinos. The focus on gender indicates that artifacts immigrants may have carried over would cater towards male individuals only. This is important in considering items such as clothing and tools.

The search for answers continues as the excavation closes for the season. However, one thing is certain: With each layer of dirt uncovered and each artifact analyzed, we are closer to finding the truth on who these residents of Annapolis were and how they lived.

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1 Comment
  1. I’m a Filipino-American originally from Texas, and I’m an archaeologist, but I specialise in Neolithic studies in Britain, especially Scotland.

    The work at the James Holliday house is utterly fascinating to me. It is not often that I’ve seen work focused on Filipino-American history in the States. If you publish your work, or intend to show it at a conference, I’d be very glad to read it. Keep it up!

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