Public awareness of
Louisiana dates from
the late nineteenth century when descriptions of a Philippine
style fishing village on the state's southern coast were published in
the popular press (Hearn 1883; St. Malo 1883). A more romantic
introduction could hardly have been arranged. The immediate
questions were, naturally, how did this group of immigrants come
to settle here and what were their lives like. Subsequently, we
have come to ask how did Louisiana's physical environment change
their lives and how has broadened social contact changed them
from Hearn 1883
According to oral tradition the Filipinos came to Louisiana
during the Manila Galleon trade. Although there is no
documentary substantiation for this belief, it is certainly
plausible. The Louisiana Filipinos, like those in their
homeland, were Hispanic Malayans. That is to say, they had
cultural elements of both Spain and the Pacific islands.
Further, the Spanish Empire made the voyage to Mexico and contact
with trading ships in the Gulf of Mexico physically possible.
Quite importantly, the social conditions in the Philippines would
have made emigration acceptable to some Filipinos.
Spain colonized the Philippines in 1564 when Miguel Lopez de
Legaspi established the first permanent European settlement on
the islands. Early cattle ranching land grants to individuals
were soon sold to the religious orders who established a hacienda
land use pattern similar to that throughout the Spanish Empire.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the haciendas
usurped considerable land from the native populations and
diversified the land grant economic base to include rice, sugar,
and fruit (Roth 1982:136). Labor for these clerical land
holdings was provided by Filipinos residing on the haciendas.
Labor required for the operation of the government fell to the
independent peasants. This could include cutting and
transporting lumber, rough work at the ship yards, or road and
building' maintenance. Skilled construction generally fell to the
Chinese (Roth 1982:138; Schurz 1959:197). The peasant farmers
near Manila were often forced to work a month each year. Due to
numerous exemptions given to the hacienda laborers, the burden of
corvée labor increasingly fell to non-hacienda villages (Roth
1 2:138, 139-140).
Both tenancy and corvée had existed since pre-Hispanic
times in the form of Cacique landlords over Tao farmers (Field
and Field 1931:416-417). Under this arrangement, commoners were
in either of two land owning classes. The mamamhay tumaranpuh
(in Visayan) could marry without consent, owed one
half of his harvest to his landlord and worked one day out of
four on his landlord's land. The guiguilar ayuey (in Visayan)
could only marry with consent, owed less of his harvest to his
overlord, but had to work three out of four days on his
landlord's land (Phelan 1959:20-21).
The double burdens of traditional tenancy and forced labor
for the State away from his family and land were worsened in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the rise of middleman
landlords. The hacienda collected rent in the form of produce.
By having extended loans which were defaulted on or by outright
purchase, an intermediate landlord, usually a Chinese-Filipino
mestizo retail merchant, required a further share of the harvest
(Roth 1982:144-147; Wickberg 1965:28).
Not surprisingly, the land seizures, forced labor, and
tenancy burdens caused a series of revolts by the peasantry between
the 1620's and the late 1800's. In fact, Philippine cooperation in
the Spanish-American War and subsequent revolt against American
occupation can be viewed as continued efforts to overcome these
land tenure problems (Deats 1967:33-34). The dates of these revolts
are important guides to likely periods of emigration in that the
same situation will foster either alternative. The Tagalog revolts
in 1746 and 1841 have particular relevance to Louisiana's Filipino
The role of the Chinese in Filipino society has considerable
relevance to the Filipino American experience. Prior to their
expulsion from the Philippines in 1765, they acted as a trading
partner for both the native peasants and the Spanish community.
Their trade consisted of exchanging Chinese imports for village
products which were in turn traded for silver in the Spanish
community (Wickberg 1965:6). This commerce was adopted by
mestizos, the offspring of Chinese men and indigenous women, in
the eighteenth century. Tending to change in the direction of
assimilated indio rather than toward Spanish or unacculturated
indio models, this group was extremely important to the
establishment of Philippine identity (Wickberg 1965:17-18).
The peasants forced into lumbering or shipyard labor were
participating in the Philippines' primary industry. From 1565 to
1815 one to two galleons per year carried Chinese silk and
Malaccan and Indian spice to Acapulco, returning with Mexican and
Peruvian silver and gold (Schurz 1959:15, 193, 27) . The early
ships carried 60 to 100 crewmen; by the mid-eighteenth century,
they carried 150 to 250 crewmen. Of these fewer than a third
were Spanish. The rest were natives, either experienced mariners
or laborers for interior Luzon impressed into service (Schurz
1959:209-210). Although the pay was relatively good (48 to 60
pecos for natives 100 or more for Spanish in 1697), scurvy,
fever, and dysentery were the norm on the voyage to Mexico
To avoid the similarly rigorous return voyage, escape
impressment, or seek fortune elsewhere, some Filipinos mustered
out or deserted in Acapulco. In 1618, for example, 74 of 75
native seamen left the ship Espiritu Santo, having been hired by
Mexican Indians to teach them how to make wine (Schurz 1959:211).
The more likely occurrence would have had the seamen signing on as
porters for th almaceneros7, the Mexico City merchants, or
1959:384). The same almaceneros who traded at Acapulco for
Chinese goods, traded at Jalapa for Continental manufactured
items and Havana wax (Brading 1971:97, 95).
Although no written evidence of Filipino mariners employed
in the Gulf has been found, the reputation of these sailors and
the availability of ships allows the supposition that Louisiana's
Filipinos came via ship. There was certainly sufficient traffic
to have made the trip possible.
As a French colony, Louisiana was barred from trade by
Spanish authorities. As early as 1703, however, a ship from the
colony was sent to Vera Cruz three times searching for a supply
of food (Surrey 1916:388). The smuggling of gold and silver
coin and dyewood into Louisiana through ships bound from Mexican
ports was a relatively frequent occurrence (Moore 1974:82) . Prior
to Spanish dominion over Louisiana (1768-1803) , the illicit
traffic was from Campeachy, Vera Cruz, and Tampico to Havana via
re)nsicola. This route was far enough north to allow time for a
surreptitious stop at Balise on Louisiana's southern extreme
Practically speaking, the earliest period of easy trade
between New Orleans and Spanish ships was during the 1740s
(Surrey 1916:431-442) when France was at war with England over
the Austrian succession. Obviously, emigration would have been
easy after Spain extended free trade to Louisiana as a colony in
1768 (Clark 1970:222).
In the absence of a specific record, it is a matter of
speculation when the first Filipinos came to Louisiana. The
manila Galleon trade would certainly have brought competent
seamen from the Philippines to the New World. Further, trade in
the Gold of Mexico was active enough to have presented the
opportunity for a settlement in the middle or late eighteenth
century. Following the Louisiana purchase, Filipino immigration
to America was open until Philippine independence in 1935 brought
its citizens under the immigration quota system.
With an idea of how the early Louisiana Filipinos may have come to the
state, we next need to know what their society was
like. They would have brought elements of their culture with
them. Their life in Louisiana would be comprised of those
behaviors which made sense in or could be adapted to their new
environment. Again, the recorded evidence is scant, but
sufficient to give a general knowledge of their Malay and
Hispanic cultural heritage.
The earliest Filipinos would have been Malays, probably from
Luzon, the province in which Manila was founded, or Visayan, on
the Northern coast of Mindinao. Socially, these people organized
themselves into barangays, small kinship units of 30 to 100
families (Phelan 1959:15). The Spanish based their local
colonial government on these patriarchal organizations (Phelan
1959:17). As mentioned previously, a class system cross-cut this
socio-political structure. The Cacique class were, perhaps,
former chiefs and landlords. Everyone else was within the Tao
class which was further sub-divided into two stations (Field and
Field 1931:416-417; Phelan 1959:20-21).
The economy was agricultural with rice and fish as staples,
bananas as the predominant fresh food. Variation in the diet was
achieved by pork, chicken, and sweet potatoes (Field and Field
1931:437). The fish were either trapped in corrals or handthrown
nets (Hart 1954:573). Some shrimp and crab were available
in Visayan (Hart 1954:566).
Settlements were dispersed barangays near the rice patties
(Phelan 1959:73). This pattern persisted despite efforts by the
Spanish religious orders to institute village and town
settlements. The transition to villages occurred due to the
fiesta complex, especially the feasts of Holy Week, Corpus
Christi, and the local patron saint. The parish village, cabecera, and
Sunday houses for fiestas, visitas, poblacions, became barangays and
with the introduction of civil government (Phelan 1959:73, 47-480). The
effectiveness of the barangay kinship structure is evident in the
present day Philippine barrio which remains a similar size and strongly
patriarchal (Field and Field 1931:418).
The houses have remained substantially unchanged for
centuries (Hart 1954:653). They are usually one or two rooms
(occasionally with a third room or open porch) elevated one to
five feet off the ground on wooden posts. The floors are made of
nder, split bamboo laid side by side; the walls are bamboo or
pa palm; the roofs are thatched nipa shingles or grass (Hart
1954:650; Field and Field 1951:418). Nearly every description
mentions rambling pigs and chickens on the ground beneath the
The family was patriarchal, although the women usually manage
the family income. That may be due to their participation in
cottage industries (hat-making, embroidery, and cloth weaving),
frequent ownership of small, local stores, and their role in
tending the fields (Field and Field 1951:421).
The pre-Colonial religious beliefs and practices offered
several elements in common with Hispanic Catholicism, including a
supreme deity, heaven and hell, baptism, ritual cures of
illnesses, and visits to the dieing (Phelan 1959:24, 82).
Pantheism, priestesses, and to a lesser extent ancestor worship
Social observances included dowry, bride price or bride
service. Betrothals, weddings, and funerals were particularly
important occasions with considerable ritual drinking. Alcohol
consumption was noticeably reduced in the seventeenth century as
Catholic ritual replaced indigenous practices (Phelan 1959:23,
Upon the introduction of Hispanic religion, the compadrazgo (god
parents) relationships became important much as they had in
Latin America (Phelan 1959:77). The native were described as
particularly fond of holy water, largely for its curative
properties. The would match the importance of water and bathing
in the pre-Hispanic era (Phelan 1959:75).
Our current ethnographic knowledge is far greater than that
of the nineteenth century when housing and language were nearly the
extent of the awareness of Philippine culture. We have descriptions of
the Louisiana Filipinos mostly because the
architecture of the fishing villages at St. Malo and Manilla
Village struck a romantic cord in the late nineteenth century
imagination. A pair of articles appeared in 1883, carrying the
news of a primitive Philippine-style fishing village in remote
access Louisiana. The shorter, illustrated version by Lafcadio Hearn
appeared in Harper's Weekkly, the Time Magazine of the late nineteenth
century. A fuller version appeared simultaneously in
the New Orleans Times Democrat newspaper.
As one might expect, several characteristics are described
which match Philippine culture. As Maria Espina concludes, the
St. Malo fishing village was basically a barangay except composed
entirely of men (1981:85). The community was led by its eldest
member who acted as arbiter in conflicts (New Orleans Times Democrat
1883:3; Hearn 1883:198). Contemporary reports give a
population figure of 150 men, although 100 may be a more
realistic figure (New Orleans Times-Democralii 1883:3; Espina
1974:19). Except for a black Portugese speaker, a white carpenter, and
a few Chinese, all of the residents were Filipino (Hearn
The languages normally spoken were Spanish, Tagalog, and
French. Little of the vocabulary was reported beyond the following
Tagalog (New Orleans Times Democrat1883:3):
Ta Poosna--I am done
Pari Tune--come here
Cubila--on the other side
Cubila Cubla--from side to side
Hoolug--to fall down
Marame Namouk--plenty mosquitoes Manuk--chicken
Hudlo--I have it not
voodoo or charm
All of the residents were Catholic. Hearn mentions that the
caPenter had baptised some of the men who had no been Christians
upon arrival (1883:198). The inference, here, would be that
these men had emigrated from the southern, Islami Philippine
Islands. Although Catholic in name, the settlments were rarely visited
by priests (Hearn 1883:198). The dead were even reinterred at
the Philippine Union grave site in New Orleans (St. Malo 1883:3).
The men were described as not particularly religious but
superstitious and showing timidity toward omens (St. Malo
1883:3). Since there was a local burial with a cross and subsequent
disinterment (Hearn 1883:199), one would expect Malay and Spanish
popular religious customs to have existed.
Housing and settlement was strikingly Philippine. St. Malo
was initially built of palmetto and woven cane in either the 1840's
or as early as 1825 (St. Malo 1883:3; Espina 1974:119). By the
l880s1 cypress post and boards had been shipped in. The rooms and
balconies on four foot high posts continued to have pigs and
chickens wandering beneath them. The eaves were immense and,
following Philippine structure, hat-like (Hearn 1883:198). In
the 1880s 13 or 14 huge buildings stood about 100 yeards apart on
a 2 to 3 foot bayou bank. Boats docked at the front of each
structure (St. Malo 1883:3). Most of the houses had 2 or 3
rooms which were quite stark. Hearn mentions no furniture but
Spanish moss matresses on tiers, a trunk, an ancient clock,
modern firearms, and monte table and chairs (1883:198). The New Orleans
Times Democrat account is quite good:
The houses were all square, with low
roofs running up with a
concave curve to the top. They were all built on piles, some
nine feet from the water, and the openings were remarkably
scarce, the first object being to keep mosquitoes out rather
than let fresh air in. A gallery projects from the front,
and over it projects the eaves of the roof, so that one has
to stoop to look out on the landscape. A few old barrels or
damaged ice-box form their cisterns. In the whole village
there are but two panes of glass, and they are inserted in
the roof in lieu of two shingles to give light to a little
attic above. Furniture is entirely unknown, not a piece being
found in any of the houses there. Rough benches take the
wooden bunks, built one above the other, are the bedsteads
(St. Malo 1883:3).
The daily life is sparsely described. The diet featured raw
fish in oil and vinegar, maccaroni with grated parmesan cheese
and daube (served by the carpenter to his unexpected house
guests) , rice, beans, and meat once a week (St. Malo 1883:3;
Hearn 1883:199). If weather prevented fishing, food became
scarce within three days (St. Malo 1883:3). Clothing mentioned
included oil skin pants and so'wester hats, although subsequent
descriptions mention pajama-like cuts and Chinese type straw hats
(St. Malo 1883:3; Kane 1943:90).
Both keno and monte are mentioned as leisure-time
activities. Keno is a gambling game similar to lotto or bingo,
played with counters on a board. Monte is a card game in which
players bet that they will match a known card before the dealer
does. At St. Malo the dealer called the cards in Spanish giving
metaphorical names to the numbers.
4--casa del gato (cat's house)
11--dos piquetes en vivero (two pickets to which a fish car is
22--dos patitos en la laguna (two little ducks in a lagoon)
24--dos y cuatro (two and four)
25--buena noce pasado (Christmas)
33--tres con sa pareja, edad de Cristo (three with its like,
the age of Christ)
90--el mas viejo (the most old, referring to the highest card
in the game)
Although the Chinese are said to have introduced shrimp
drying in 1873 (Mysterious 1937:16), St. Malo's economy was based
on fish trade with ice-loaded luggers from New Orleans. The
captain the a fishing vessel owned the seine net. The first
catch was his exclusively. The subsequent casts were shared
equally between him and his four or five crew men. The red fish
or sheephead fish were bunched in threes and sold for 15 cents
each. On a good week crew men could earn $15 to $18. (St. Malo 1883:3).
Alligator skins were traded as well (Hearn 1883:199).
Hearn reports that money was sent to the Philippines to aid
friends wishing to emigrate, stating "such emigrants usually shipped as
seamen on board some Spanish vessel bound for American ports, and
desert at the first opportunity" (Hearn 1883:198). This route
was quite consistent with an account of St. Malo's founding in
the 1840's. In this case, the impetus was to avoid taxes and
conscription, and the emigrants knew of their eventual
destination (St. Malo 1883:3). This foreknowledge gives credence
to Espina's claim that St. Malo had been in operation since at
least the 1820s (Espina 1974:119).
Because of the romantic cord which a Filipine fishing camp
in remote Louisiana struck, perhaps it is not surprising that the
family lives of these men were not described. Hearn does mention
that the families were visited in New Orleans, Proctorville, and
La Chinche where the men traded as well (Hearn 1883:198).
Despite its temporal precedence, St. Malo has left fewer
(J.mages for the contemporary awareness than Manila Village.
Unfortunately, even less of Manila Village's social structure has
been described. The houses were, again, platform with eaves and
balconies reminiscent of Philippine construction. Hung dried
fish, roaming pigs and chickens beneath the floors, and the
absence of women are again mentioned (Fortier 1914:311). The
camp had 13 or 14 buildings. Its population varied with the
shrimp season, 250 from early August to November and a handful
through the winter (Hansen 1971:570). A New Orleans Filipino
benevolent society continued to offer re-interment of the bones
of those who died and were buried at the village (Fortier
The most trustworthy description of the community appeared
in the WPA guide to Louisiana:
The dozen or so red-roofed,
green-painted buildings that make
up the village are built upon stilts at the edge of the
bayou, constituting what is called "the platform." The
sustaining industry is the catching and sun-drying of shrimp.
The freshly caught shrimp are first boiled in huge
rectangular pots, then dumped on open platforms to dry in the
sun...The platforms are built in a series of slopes with
valleys between to drain away the water in rainy weather.
rakes until completely dried; at night and during rains they
are protected by tapaulins. When dried sufficiently the
shrimp are thrown into revolving hoppers which drip shells,
heads, tails, and broken bits onto the floor. This residue,
called "shrimp-bran," is sold as fertilizer and hog feed.
the finished product is packed in barrels averaging 225
pounds in weight and sent to New Orleans for distribution; a
large proportion is exported to China.
The population of Manila Village fluctuates considerably,
averaging 250 at the height of the season--usually between
early August and November--but dropping to a mere handful in
winter, when the shrimpers, becoming trappers, leave for the
muskrat trapping grounds. The town is known throughout the
district as Manila Village, but a sign on the post office
bears the name Cabinash. Most of the inhabitants are
Filipinos, but there is a sprinkling of Mexicans, Spaniards,
and Chinese. (Hansen 1971:569-570).
In contrast to St. Malo, then, Manila Village was a seasonal
shrimping outpost, processing dried shrimp for export to China.
As an industrial camp, the occupations followed innovations
quickly. Rented shrimping boats brought their catch to the ice
boats of their company (Dickson 1934:25). The cast net and seine
for shallow water shrimping were quickly replaced by the patented
ottertrawl in 1915-1918 (Lindner 1936:34). Smaller shrimp were
brought to the village's platform for processing.
Here, the shrimp catch was boiled, complete with heads, in
iron pots until the color changed. They were then wheelbarrows to the
platform for drying (Kane 1943:91). Raked to a uniform
depth of two to three inches and turned every two or three hours,
they were dry after three to four days in the summer and five to
ten in the winter (Mysterious 1937:16). Once dried, the shrimp
were danced. That is, they were shelled by being trod upon by
men whose feet were clad in burlap. A revolving drum eventually
replaced this practice (Kane 1943:92).
Again, the family life of these men was to be found in
Proctorville and New Orleans and received no description. Espina
has given a family history from Manila Village which illustrates
some of the diversity missing from our sources. She mentions
Felipe Madrigal, a New Orleans restaurateur during the civil
war, Baltic Borabod, an overseer at the Wilkinson Plantation at
Myrtle Grove, Hermogenes Ferniz, a boat owner and fleet captain
(18 to 25 men) who worked in sugar refineries in the winter, and
Benito Yabut Martinez, who became a French Quarter tailor (Espina
Accounts of Filipino American immigration in the twentieth
century are almost exclusively devoted to the influx of
agricultural laborers to the West Coast in the 1920s and 1930s.
The U. S. Census reported only 161 Filipinos in 1910, at which
time Louisiana had 84 or more than half the U. S. population
(Marino 1933:18). Beginning about 1915, the Hawaiian Sugar
Planter's Association began bringing Filipino laborers to the
islands to work sugar and pineapple crops (Catapusan 1940:12-15).
In the 1920s 31,000 Filipinos came to California via the
Dollar Steamship and Los Angeles Steamship lines from the
Philippines and Hawaii. The fare for one-way steerage was $87.50
and $45, respectively. (California 1930:15) The Census
enumerated 5,603 Filipinos in 1920 and 45,211 in 1930, with
Louisiana's share being 104 in 1920 and 518 in 1930 (Marino
1933:18). Despite a six-fold increase in Louisiana's population
between 1910 and 1930, the state's share of Filipinos dropped
from more than 50% to 2%.
Immigration quotas were applied from 1934 to the mid-1960s.
The bulk of immigrants during this period were World War II
veterans and their families and the families of resident
Filipinos already in the U. S. (Allen 1977:196). Since the
1970s, most of the Filipino immigrants have been professionals
due to current immigration requirements that admissions be on an
as needed basis (Allen 1977:198).
Curiously, the familial basis of the community in Louisiana
which was left undescribed in accounts of Filipinos here saved
the most recent immigrants from many of the problems encountered
by the community in California. Sociological studies of the
California laborers mention that the immigrants were nearly all
young males out to make their fortune who spent their leisure
time in Chinese gambling houses and at taxi dance halls (Marino
Manila Village began a decline in the 1930s. By 1965, when
Huricane Betsy destroyed the platform, it had been largely
abandoned (Darbey). While it seems likely that it no
longer served the purpose it had been designed for, its abandonment
illustrates one of several questions about the
Filipinos in Louisiana. As they became increasingly assimilated
into the Louisiana social landscape, the very romantic aura which
led to their initial description dissapated, taking them from
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