Photo Caption: University of Maryland’s Archaeology in Annapolis Field School students Darin Murray, Clio Grillakis, Edward McLaughlin, Brittany Hutchinson, and graduate student Kathrina Aben (front to back) work in the backyard of the James Holliday House, completing the third summer of archaeological investigation at the site. Photo credit: Kathryn Deeley, Archaeology in Annapolis.
Recent archaeological findings are suggesting that Filipino Americans played a surprising role in the Southern conservative town of Annapolis, Maryland as early as the beginning of the 20th century. During this time of pre-Great Depression unemployment and racism, job competition for the ethnic population was high and meant a good deal of thorny and complicated social interactions between them, including several interracial marriages.
At the turn of the last century, the Philippine-American War brought a wave of male migrants to the coastal city of Annapolis. At the time, a third of the city was African American and the new Filipino immigrants found themselves butting heads for jobs at the U.S. Naval Academy. The base preferred Filipinos for labor and steward jobs in the mess hall and kitchen, partially because the Philippines was a U.S. territory and a stereotype had arisen that Filipinos were more obedient, disciplined and amenable. As a result, African Americans were removed—leading to great racial tensions between the two groups.
The untold stories were unearthed starting three years ago by a group of graduate students at the University of Maryland’s College of Archaeology under the supervision of Professor Mark Leone.
“Annapolis has been a third African American since 1750 but their achievement and heritage was not part of the presentation of the town’s history,” said Leone. “I wanted to use archaeology to change that.”
With the sponsorship of the city of Annapolis, the group has excavated the Holliday House, which had been in the hands of African Americans since 1850. About a year and a half ago they discovered that the Hollidays had married Filipinos around 1900.
“That became the opening to approach Filipino descendants in the greater Washington [D.C.] area to ask them if they were interested in their own heritage if it were explored archaeologically,” said Leone.
Even though no material culture has been discovered to indicate there was a Filipino presence, the historical record shows there was around 200 Filipinos in Annapolis by the 1930s.
“This history—whether it’s the intermarriage of Filipinos and African Americans within the city of Annapolis—is not discussed. The history of Annapolis is presented from a wealthy white perspective and the stories of immigrants are not exposed,” said graduate student Kathrina Aben.
Many of the descendants of these early immigrants still live in Annapolis today. Aben is working on completing their oral history to learn more about the lives of the naval workers.
“The [families] always answer with enthusiasm and interest. They understand this is not talked about in newspapers, textbooks, or anything that promotes Annapolis as a whole,” said Aben, who is also of Filipino descent.
Aben is especially interested in the story of Filipino immigrant Cosme Portilla, a cook at the naval base, who married the granddaughter of James Holliday and had three children at a time of “nationwide anti-miscegeny and fears of racial mixing.”
“With the introduction of a new predominately male population, Filipinos were suddenly regarded with fear and mistrust,” said Aben.
Filipinos were seen as a threat to white women and other ethnic women, said Aben. The root of these fears was the lack of employment opportunities, suggested Aben.
“Marriages happened because it gave a stable life to women,” said Aben.
While Filipinos were not paid well, they had stable employment at a time when many African American men were jobless. As a result, Filipino men most commonly married African American women because they offered better prospects at a time of economic recession.
Through interviews with descendants, Aben also discovered a Filipino-owned restaurant and pool hall in Annapolis where many of the naval employees would congregate freely at what they called the “Manila house.”
“The families let me know that up until the mid-1920s Filipinos weren’t generally accepted in social places,” she said. “These Filipinos were looking for other means of living and learning to evolve within American society in their new surroundings.”
“Interracial marriages were a lot more common than we realized between 1910 and 1920,” said Kathryn Deeley, a PhD student also working on the excavations. “The Hollidays were just one of several.”
This is especially unexpected considering that both racial groups were forced to compete for the same jobs, leading to unfair job competition and tension.
“There are some historical newspaper reports that there were brawls that broke out between African Americans and Filipinos on city docks,” said Aben. “But it didn’t reach the escalation that became apparent on the west coast.”
The UMD students are the first in the nation to explore the little-known history of early Filipino American immigrants archaeologically. They plan to continue excavations in search of Filipino artifacts to shed more light on the daily life of the interracial families.