Filipino Sailors Created the First Asian American Settlement in Louisiana

Filipino fishermen

The first permanent Asian American settlement was a village in 18th-century Louisiana where Filipino fishermen resided.

What was Saint Malo: The Manilamen were part of a group of people who created the first Filipino and Asian American settlement in North America, according to HistoryTheir settlement — named after Juan San Maló — was a fishing village along the shores of Louisiana’s Lake Borgne. 

  • This area became home to the enslaved people who had escaped the harsh conditions of the Spanish galleon trade in the 1700s, according to Stanford University School of Medicine
  • The galleons were large sailing ships that formed part of the Manila Galleon Trade from 1565 to 1815. As early as the 1500s, Filipino sailors and indentured servants would leave the ships to settle in different parts of the U.S., as well as modern-day Mexico. 
  • The Filipinos who created a community in Louisiana in the late 1700s would later be called Manilamen, after the capital of the Philippines. 
  • The oldest known documentation of Saint Malo is said to be a Harper Bazaar’s article published in 1883 that detailed writer Lafcadio Hearn’s travels there. The settlement seems to have existed at least 50 years before Hearn’s visit. Other settlements similar to Saint Malo had also been established in nearby areas.

The impact of the Manilamen: These Louisiana-based Filipinos contributed in various ways to U.S. history.  

  • They joined the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, which was the final battle of the War of 1812. The victory against the British gave American hope the war would end soon, according to National Geographic.
  • The Manilamen also brought fishing and shrimping traditions with them, including an effective method of drying shrimp.
  • However, these Filipinos were not able to acquire citizenship until after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. The Naturalization Act of 1790 set the country’s naturalization procedures at the time and only applied to white immigrants.
  • By marrying people from other ethnic groups within the region, the Manilamen became a large part of Louisiana’s multicultural society, “challenging” racial stereotypes.

What happened to Saint Malo: The historical village was destroyed in 1915 after a major hurricane caused damage to the New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta region, reported NOAA.

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  • Following the storm, some Manilamen stayed in the remains of their settlement.
  • Hurricane Katrina would eventually destroy all artifacts from Saint Malo and the people who lived there in 2005.
  • The Philippine-Louisiana Historical Society erected a marker for Saint Malo on Nov. 9, 2019, reported AsAmNews

There were over 4.2 million Filipino people in the United States in 2019, according to Pew Research Center.

Featured Image Screenshot via Balitang America

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