Filipinos in Annapolis: Recognizing A Forgotten Past

Last summer, I found myself starting a new journey with Archaeology in Annapolis in exploring the forgotten history of Filipino immigrants in the city. From 1898 to 1946, Philippines was an American territory, allowing a mass exodus of laborers into the country as nationalists. In 1901, the U.S. began recruiting Filipinos into the Navy. Annapolis became a focal point for these U.S. Navy men who helped build the Naval Academy, served officers as stewards, and prepared meals for midshipmen as messmen. Despite this long-term presence, their contributions to the city remained unrecognized.

 

United States Navy men posing for a picture. Photograph supplied by Toribio family.

In the summer of 2012, I decided to answer these questions through my graduate internship. For months, I conducted oral interviews of members from the descendant (pre-1965) and current (post-1965) community. Despite demographic changes from the early to late 20th century – gender, socioeconomic status, and social/legal barriers – the different stories intertwined under the common themes of alienation, struggle, and transformation.As a Filipino-American, this history intrigued me. Who were these men? Where did they live? How did they carve out a life for themselves in a foreign land? What traditions did they continue to practice and what new ones did they create? What is the community like now?

In the early 20th century, Filipinos faced different forms of discrimination. The predominantly male population in Annapolis were often banned from social events, and if allowed, needed to be vouched by a white individual. Segregation appointed where they could and could not sit. Anti-miscegenation laws illegalized marriages between Filipinos and whites. In addition, as a foreign group new to U.S. incorporation, they were often misunderstood and prone to derogatory stereotypes.

To circumvent these barriers, the predominantly male population adapted methods specific to their situation. Perhaps the most interesting is the creation of their own social and cultural spaces. One in particular stood out: a restaurant owned by Peji and Fermina Mariano on 1 Cornhill Street. While Peji worked for the U.S. Navy, Fermina ran the restaurant, welcoming the Filipinos banned or kicked out from other places in the city. The restaurant became a central point for the community, providing Filipino food and socialization among this alienated group.

 

Fermina and Peji Mariano, owners of the Filipino restaurant in 1 Cornhill Street. Photograph supplied by the Toribio family.

 

Half a century later, this cycle of labor and discrimination remained the same. In 1965, immigration bans lifted and welcomed a new influx of Filipinos. This wave consisted of white-collared professionals that worked as health professionals. Both males and females joined this migration to the U.S. Despite the education, social capital, and socioeconomic status of these individuals, they still faced barriers.  Ophelia Jurlano*, the first Filipina gynecologist in the area, remembered how doctors and patients did not trust her because she was a minority and a female. Like the previous generation of immigrants, Ophelia* and others struggled against societal forces in order to build a life for themselves.

From oral narratives and documentation, certain aspects are apparent. First of all, there is a rich potential for the archaeology of Filipino history in Annapolis. Second, there is great demand for the recognition and maintenance of this heritage. This past is claimed not only by Annapolitans, but by the overall Filipino diaspora living in the country, whose families have been part of the same pre-1965 or post-1965 movements.

Katryne Francia, a Filipino-American whose family arrived in the state in 1993, shares her enthusiasm for new developments in uncovering this past. She states: “Considering the rich history of Maryland, I am happy to hear that Filipinos are part of this story… I believe there is a lot to be known of the contributions Filipinos have made to the US, and particularly in Annapolis. It makes me proud knowing that they have made a mark in the state I grew up in. I am excited to learn more and hope to pass on this knowledge to the future generation.”

Like Katryne, I share the same hopes for historical representation and incorporation. Although the oral narratives project started to piece together the stories of early pioneers, these remain unfinished. The other half lies in the archaeology of where Filipinos lived, worked, and socialized. The artifacts left behind will tell us what their descendants cannot. Archaeology in Annapolis recognizes this need, and intends to materialize this past through future archaeological research.

 

*Alias given to interview participant to ensure privacy.

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