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Asian and Native Intermarriage in the US

16th - 18th Century Filipino Seamen in the South

Starting in the 16th century, the Spanish colonialists pressed Filipino sailors into the service of the Manila galleon trade between the Philippines and the Americas. Between 1565 and 1815, when Mexico revolted against Spain, hundreds of Filipino mariners jumped ship in Mexico to escape the brutality of Spanish masters and some migrated east to Louisiana. Filipino settlements were established in Louisiana as early as 1765.1 The early Filipino population was exclusively male and intermarried with local women, including Indian women.2

19th Century Chinese and Filipino Laborers

During the 19th century, large numbers of Chinese and Filipinos came to the United States to work on plantations and railroads. Modern descendants recount the marriage of Hilario Hongo, a Chinese farm worker who arrived in Louisiana via Cuba in 1867, and Azelie Phillip, an Indian woman.3 Some other Filipino and Chinese laborers who remained in the U.S. were adopted into Indian nations and intermarried with Native women. Their descendants are counted among Indians.

20th Filipino Legacy in Alaska and the Northwest

Filipinos worked as crew members aboard whaling ships which wintered in Alaska in the 1850s. Research from the Alaska Historical Commission reveals the oral tradition of the Inupiat Eskimos to contain words picked up from Filipinos.4

Alaskan fish canneries saw an influx of thousands of Filipino workers during the 1920s and the decades following. Filipino American communities grew in the coastal villages of Southwestern, Southcentral and Southeastern Alaska when some of these cannery workers stayed and married Alaskan Native women. Their children have been among stockholders in the Native corporations established by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Some of these second-generation Pinoys, Filipino-Alaskan Natives, had taken leadership roles in the Native corporations.5

Filipino men came to the West Coast in the 1920s and 1930s, to fill the labor shortage caused by immigration bans against Chinese and Japanese. On Bainbridge Island, WA, many of these immigrants settled down with Native American women. Their descendants celebrate their unique heritage in the annual Bainbridge Island Indipino Festival.6

Notable Asian/Indian families and individuals
Bernie Whitebear

Born Bernie Reyes to a Filipino immigrant father and indigenous Indian mother, Bernie Whitebear grew up in poverty on the Colville Indian Reservation in Eastern Washington, and eventually worked at Boeing as an engineer. His parents later separated and his mother remarried a Chinese American.

Bernie took on the name Whitebear in honor of his maternal grandfather, and became a prominent leader among Seattle's Indians. In 1970, he founded the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation. In the same year, UIATF occupied Fort Lawton in Seattle, which was originally Indian land. This effort received the support of non-Indians, including Filipino American activist Bob Santos.7 UIATF and the city eventually reached an agreement for a 99-year lease on a parcel of land in the former Fort Lawton. The land was used to build an Indian cultural center which also provided educational and social services.

Whitebear passed away in 2000. He was survived by siblings Luana Reyes, Teresa Wong, Laura Wong Whitebear, Lawney Reyes and Harry Wong. For an overview of Whitebear's life and achievements, see AP article Seattle Indian activist dies of colon cancer.

Jeannette and Dale Tiffany

Dale Tiffany, a Flathead Indian from Spokane, became involved in Filipino community activism in the course of his marriage to Jeannette, a member of a pioneer Seattle Filipino family. During the 1970s, the couple were key members of FAYTS, a Filipino American self-help organization which organized initiatives and political campaigns.8

  1. Marina E. Espina, Filipinos in Louisiana, 3
  2. Espina, 58
  3. Lucy M. Cohen, Chinese in the Post-Civil War South - A People Without A History, 156
  4. Cordova, 71
  5. Cordova, 70
  6. "Multiracial Communities Around the World", Mavin, Issue 8
  7. Peter M. Jamero, "The Filipino American Young Turks of Seattle: A Unique Experience in the America Sociopolitical Mainstream", Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity, ed. Maria P.P. Root, 311
  8. Peter M. Jamero, 305