The International Examiner marks 100 years of Filipino immigration to Hawaii with a series of articles, from a special Wing Luke Asian Museum exhibit to an interview with historian Peter Jamero. Celebrate Filipino American History Month for the month of October!

Examiner Contributor

People of Filipino descent comprise the greatest percentage of the Asian population in Washington state. Indeed their history as immigrants and citizens is inextricably entwined with this region’s history. And many are tied to their familial and cultural roots in the Philippines as well as to other Filipino communities located around the world. Pista sa Nayon, the annual Filipino community festival celebrated at Seward Park in conjunction with Seafair, is the biggest of its kind in the United States attracting more than 15,000 people this year.

To highlight the contributions and history of Filipino Americans in the Puget Sound region, the Wing Luke Asian Museum is hosting an exhibit entitled “Voyage of the Barangay: Filipino Currents in King County.” “Barangay” is a derivative from the Malay word “balangay,” which means boat, and in the Philippine dialect Tagalog, it is used to refer to “community.” The boat was integral to Philippine life, and therefore, a symbol of community. This exhibit is about the “barangay” in the Pacific Northwest that created strength and beauty out of hardship.

When confronted with the task of presenting the story of a community that has been his raison d’être, Timoteo Cordova, noted playwright (“Heart of the Son,” “Across Oceans of Dreams,” “Barkada SinDrome,” “Central Soul”), poet, musician and community activist, rolled up his sleeves and dived in, sifting through old photographs that were in the repository of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), as well as those of his own family. As the son of Fred Cordova and Dorothy Laigo Cordova, both longtime activists with a family history that stretches back to the early 1900s, Cordova had lots of resources and inspiration from which to create his presentation.

Many of the older photographs were worn and faded with age. Cordova spent countless hours restoring them, adding touches of color in the process. In figuring how to present the photographs, he eschewed the usual pictures-along-the-wall format, and instead decided to create a montage of the photographs that would tell the story of the Filipino community in a livelier way. He decided to incorporate them into a work of art.

So to the visitor’s surprise, the history lesson is not spread out on walls in the Wing Luke, but is a lone poetic piece standing in the center of the display room. Four large canvas panels – two on each side – are hung back-to-back on a an easel constructed of bamboo, which Cordova chose “because of its humble flexibility and strength.” The easel/canvas construction brings to mind the boat in “balangay,” where the panels symbolize sails. Each panel’s photo montage, which was printed using Cordova’s large format printer, focuses on a different aspect of the history of the Filipino American presence in this region, from the first “Pinoy pioneers” to a historical mural-like rendition of major figures of Filipino descent.

Brief informative text gives newcomers a point of departure for continued research into the history of the Filipino American community, and to those who are already familiar with it, a deep sense of pride. Names and images of eminent Filipinos whose integrity, bravery and commitment to not only the “barangay,” but to the community at large, instills such pride — Dolores Sibonga, who was the first member of the Seattle City Council of Filipino ancestry, Bob Santos, who served as regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Alex Tizon and Byron Acohido, who won Pulitzer Prizes in 1996 for their investigative beat reporting on separate stories, to name but a few.

A list of Filipino organizations, such as the Filipino Student Association at the University of Washington, 1926, the Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union, Local 18257, give testimony to the significant number of Filipino Americans residing in Seattle from the early 1900s to the present, and to the ongoing need to organize in the face of discrimination.

“The Voyage of the Barangay” is a piece that says, ”We are not invisible! We have a proud history that is an engaging story to tell!”

“Voyage of the Barangay: Filipino Currents in King County” is on display at the Wing Luke Asian Museum (407 7th Ave. S.) through Dec. 10.

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