As Asian Americans, we have come a long way with some to go. We stand on the shoulders of our heroes, who paved the way and confronted racism for our benefit. Here is one giant who made national and international waves, impacting countless lives.
Dr. Fred Cordova’s life journey reflected his strong family, economic and social justice, and spiritual values. A charismatic and highly intelligent Visayan with a passionate streak and gentle sense of humor, together with his collaborator and wife Dr. “Auntie” Dorothy Cordova, they prompted the Filipino American identity movement that spurred countless Filipino American leaders and writers.
A father of nine children and a highy successful full time professional and manager during tough racial times, Cordova earned the distinction of becoming venerable because of his volunteer unpaid community work.
Affectionately and respectfully called “Uncle,” in 1957, Uncle Fred co-founded the Filipino Youth Activities of Seattle to educate Filipino immigrant and American-born youth about one’s culture; inculcating pride, community, and excellence while inoculating the youth against the racist propaganda that minorities are inferior. In 1982, he was founding president of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), creating and managing the FANHS National Archives, establishing the facility affectionately called the “Catacombs” in 1987. FANHS grew across the nation punctuated with biennial national conferences. It now has 30 chapters including Alaska and Hawai‘i spawning numerous research projects, displays, educational materials, books and publications.
In 1983, he wrote the book Filipinos: The Forgotten Asian Americans. For the first time, this seminal pictorial essay gave a sweeping overview of Filipino immigration and status covering the period from 1763 to 1982. Uncle Fred in his countless talks and presentations would succinctly describe the Filipino American experience as being a “minority (people of color in America) within a minority (Asian) within a minority (Catholic).” The highly controversial and debated book got the Asian American movement to pay attention to the differences in experience, challenges, and needs of Filipino Americans.
This new understanding of Filipino Americans positively impacted inter-community and mainstream dialogue resulting in a new found respect and support for our realities, challenges, and needs. It also made us Filipino Americans aware of our own colonial “little brown brother” mentality inherited from being a USA commonwealth nation and its impact on the reclamation of our authentic identity.
Besides being an intellectual, teacher, and mentor, Uncle Fred was an extremely active advocate for economic and racial justice in the region as well as in the Catholic Church.
This past September, we worked on the combined events poster for the October 2014 Filipino American History Month. With a smile, Uncle Fred suggested that the theme be “Celebrating 425 years of Filipino American Contributions.” He has been working on a 400-page manuscript entitled “Filipino Americans 425 Years: From Dried Mangos to Sour Milk and Sweet Honey.” “Epoch One” covers 1587 to 1762.
His sentiments are captured in the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project. Paraphrased: Not everybody has to be heroes, not everybody has to be famous … our stories are in our people—in ourselves as people … not just in our accomplishments.
Uncle Deacon Dr. Frederick A. Cordova’s story is both.
Maria Batayola is a long time community activist, cultural advocate and FANHS National Office volunteer.
A viewing will be held for Fred Cordova at Bonney-Watson, 1732 Broadway, Thursday, January 9 from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Friday from noon to 4:00 p.m. Rosary and Vigil Service will be at Immaculate Conception Church on Friday, January 10 at 7:00 p.m. Funeral Mass takes place on Saturday January 11 at Immaculate Conception Church at 10:00 a.m. Interment at Calvary Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to FANHS 810 18TH Ave. or Immaculate Conception Church, 820 18th Ave., both Seattle, WA 98122.