CHICAGO (jGLi) – Before World War II, Philippine government officials led by Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon would take a beeline to Louisiana to visit the burgeoning Filipino community before proceeding to Washington, D.C.But several decades after the war when Filipinos started immigrating to the United States in droves, they outnumbered the Louisiana Filipinos when most of them settled in California, Hawaii and New York, where visiting Filipino officials would prefer to visit.
Last June 16, Philippine Consul General Leo M. Herrera-Lim of the Midwest, who has jurisdiction over Louisiana, took a rare but high-profile visit to Jean Lafitte, Louisiana, 23 miles south of New Orleans, to unveil a historical marker for the “Manila Village” in Louisiana as part of the Philippine Independence Day celebration and the Bicentennial of Louisiana.
The event was attended by almost 400 people, including about 50 direct descendants (4th to 6th generations removed) from the original group of Filipinos who established the Manila Village in the late 1800’s.
Today, there are 10,200 Filipinos in Louisiana, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, residing mainly in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Lafayette and Lake Charles.
After the unveiling, the attendees were treated to traditional Philippine cuisine and presentations of Filipino songs, dances and costumes.
The event was organized by the Philippine-Louisiana Historical Society led by Robert Romero, President, and Dr. Carmelo Astilla, Vice-President.
Mayor Tim Kerner of the town of Jean Lafitte, Louisiana (who is married to a 4th generation descendant of the original settlers in Manila Village) actively participated in the ceremonies. William de la Cruz, grandson of the founder of the Manila Village, also participated in the unveiling ceremonies with his family.
In his opening remarks, Consul General Herrera-Lim said, “Today marks a highpoint in shared histories between the Filipinos and the people of Louisiana. “Manila Village” no longer remains just as memories for the descendants of the first Filipino settlers in Louisiana. We have put a marker for shared aspirations for the future. Indeed, this is such a great tribute to our community and our heritage to see the project finally comes into fruition.”
In the late 1800s, a group of Filipino fishermen led by Quintin de la Cruz built a few shelters on stilts on top of some oyster reefs at the mouth of Barataria Bay in Southern Louisiana. They called it Manila Village.
The Filipino fishermen of Manila Village is reckoned to be the forerunner of the global operation of shrimp drying that produced thousands of pounds of exports to Asia and Latin America. Manila Village peaked in the 1930s.
Today, only a few pilings remain in the former site of the Manila Village. A massive hurricane in 1947 devastated the complex built by Quintin de la Cruz. In 1965, Hurricane Betsy (one of the worst storms to hit Louisiana) wiped out all of the structures in the Manila Village. Yet, the geographic lexicon is utilized to identify, say the Manila Village Oil Field and the Manila Village Oyster Lease, the area where the original houses/structures on stilts existed.
The Manila Village Historical Marker is situated in front of the town hall of the Town of Jean Lafitte, Louisiana. Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner will soon establish a town museum that will include the Manila Village and the achievements of the Filipinos.
There is also significant interest generated towards developing multi-dimensional research on Manila Village, including the origins of the settlers, their way of life and their legacy for Louisiana.
The Philippine-Louisiana Historical Society, which obtained both State and City approvals for the historical marker, is currently composed of Robert Romero, President; Carmelo Astilla, Vice President; Zeny Bayuga, Cecile Melendez, Joju Bautista, Evelyn Escondo, Zeno Pimentel, Lita Romero, Rosie Catubig, Nelia Astilla, Rick Escondo, Mando Bayuga, Jimmy Melendez, Charing Abad, Lance Harwell, and Bob Grace.
A Louisiana Filipino, Rhonda Lee Richoux, who exchanged emails with this reporter in 2008 said, in order to preserve their Filipino identity and culture like Catholic religion, Filipino women had to marry from among their own fellow Filipino descendants, called endogamy, not another race, which is exogamy.
Ms. Lee Richoux said she may have a French name but she prides herself as a Filipino. She sent this reporter an email after reading his column floating on the Internet since 2006. The column discussed the sloppy account of Marina E. Espina about the “Manilamen of Louisiana” in her book, “The Filipinos of Louisiana” (1988, A.F. La Borde, New Orleans).
Espina’s inclusion of “Bernard Ducusen (sic), the American boxer, who nearly defeated Sugar Ray Robinson,” as a descendant of the Manilamen, drew fire from NaFFAA regional director (now NaFFAA National chair) Ed Navarra of Michigan, who happened to interview Mr. Docusen (pronounced “DUKE-essen”), himself, who provided him a copy of a 100-page journal.
Docusen turned out to be a son of a Philippine Scout, who arrived much later than the Manilamen, and a French mother, who raised him in New Orleans.
Although, the Manilamen were said to have arrived in Louisiana in 1763, Ms. Richoux, a free lance writer and amateur genealogist, was only able to document the arrival of her Filipino ancestor as early as 1860 while her French/Irish ancestor dates back before 1400.
When super typhoon Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, she said, it “changed our lives forever. Most of us lived in the St. Bernard community, outside New Orleans, the entire community was destroyed by the floodwaters of Katrina that rushed in through failed levees.” (firstname.lastname@example.org)
MANILA VILLAGE MARKER UNVEILING:
Philippine Consul General Leo M. Herrera-Lim (extreme left) reacts as the marker of the Manila Village is unveiled last June 16 at the town of Lafitte, Louisiana, 23 miles south of New Orleans as part of the Philippine Independence Day celebration and Bicentennial of Louisiana. Participants to the event were treated to traditional Philippine food and cultural Filipino songs, dances and costumes. (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Consulate)
“NO LONGER MEMORIES:”
Philippine Consul General Leo M. Herrera-Lim said the “Manila Village no longer remains just memories” after the unveiling of the marker of the Manila Village last June 16 at the town of Lafitte, Louisiana, 23 miles south of New Orleans as part of the Philippine Independence Day celebration and Bicentennial of Louisiana. Participants to the event were treated to traditional Philippine food and cultural Filipino songs, dances and costumes. (Photo courtesy of the Philippine Consulate)