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The timing and location of the FANHS conference could have not been better

St Louis FANHS 2004 Conference.  An invitation by Filipino-American National Historical Society.

 

The timing and location of the FANHS 2004 conference could have not been better.  It is the St Louis Expo centennial (1904) and the Louisiana Purchase bicentennial (1803). The later change the anatomy of the US making St Louis the US heartland.  The path to the Columbia River ignited the coast-to-coast dream of the immerging republic. Earlier, the mighty Mississippi River was the west coast of the new nation as the French control of the river from French Canadian explorers. Meandered along the river, St Louis, Louisville, to New Orleans, Louisiana.  Legacies left by King Louis XIV in American geography. In the year of world exploration, the European in the difficult search of Passage to the Pacific and beyond that prompted Magellan to go by southern passage, the edge of the world that brought him to the Philippines.

 

St Malo is an isolated bayou with French name. Where the river water and the Gulf Stream meet becomes marshland and barangay. The real St Malo is located in northern seacoast of France.  Probably the most famous sailor from Saint-Malo, France is Jacques Cartier.  His journey between the gulf and valley of the Saint Lawrence is what we knew of New France.  The Arcadians of Louisiana were exiled in this part of France before they settled in the southeast.

 

In 1784 Jean Saint Malo and his colony of runaway slaves invade the dense swamps east of the city and across Lake Borgne. They obtain weapons from free blacks and fight for their freedom. Saint Malo thrust an ax into a tree and declared,

"Woe to the White who would pass this boundary".

After a series of battles, Spanish troops capture Saint Malo. On June 19, 1784, he was hanged in front of St. Louis Cathedral in what is now Jackson Square. Today, in the southern part of Lake Borgne, you can boat on a waterway named Bayou du Saint Malo.

 

 What happens between the period Lewis and Clark west coast expedition and St Louis exposition was the beginning of the first Filipino-American settlement in this strangest place.   Lafcadio Hearn was commissioned by New Orleans to write about the existence of an amphibian community of Filipino-American.   The companion artist drew the dozen houses sticking out of the water on stick.  Houses with covered front balcony and rear open-air garden almost revealing the Badjao houses of the southern Philippines.  The weather proof style that they brought with them to combat the harsh element of rising tide and wind of the gulf coast.  Killer hurricanes eventually wept the settlement as the people were eventually assimilated in the Saint Bernard and adjoining community. 

 

 Harpers Weekly published the Saint Malo article on March 1883 the same year Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi was came out of the press. His novel, Huckleberry Finn about boy river journey would come out year later. Had the characters went down Lake Borgne I am sure his friend Jim would find peace with the Manila men.  I am not sure if Lafcadio Hearn ever meet Mark Twain in New Orleans but the later would became the greatest American novelist and political advocate. He would became the strongest critic of the Philippine occupation in the beginning of the 20th century

 

. Alex Fabros related to me once about Agustin Feliciano, a Bikol who landed in New Orleans and later served in the American Navy in the war of 1812. Saint Louis exposition in 1904 showcased the indigenous people of the Philippines and the houses they lived were also transplanted in an almost like carnival atmosphere.  Had the fair held earlier and the river flow reversed, the Saint Malo could have floated up in the heartland of America.

 

 It was rumored that the early Filipino fought alongside the French Pirate, Jean Lafitte in the battle of New Orleans.  This might just simply romantic that seduces our historical mind as the life of a pirate. Jean Lafitte is also a native of Saint Malo, famous for being the corsair seaport of France.

 

Civil war almost broke the union. The Asian-American participation is just bleep on the screen.  Most of the Filipinos who joined the conflict were just sailors onboard the Union Ships.  Naval gun battles were engaged mostly on open sea but like most civil war inland and gulf encounters brought riverboats into action. USS ConemauhUSS Conemauh, side-wheel union ship took part in blockading the Mississippi river and onboard this vessel was Joseph Bernardo who enlisted in Philadelphia from New Jersey. Another Philippine born civil veteran, Felix Cornelius Balderry, from Company A, 11th MI Vols. Employed by seafarer Joseph Foster of Leonidas, Michigan, aboard his vessel before the war, Balderry moved to Michigan and worked as a farmhand before enlisting December 7, 1863 at Kalamazoo for 3 years. He served in the western theater, and was sent to hospital at Nashville in June 1864. Discharged in September of that year, he returned to Michigan, where he worked as a tailor. On September 1, 1885 he married 16-year-old Ada May Barns at Constantine, Michigan. Balderry passed away less than ten years before the St Louis Exposition, of tuberculosis, at the age of 49.  He was the only veteran with picture and maybe Dr Virgilio Pilapil has more research as to what happen to his kin.

 

Like the Saint Louis exposition this will be a great time for the Filipino American historians to present the Filipino-American experience in mid land America. The 2006 National Conference in Hawaii is also centennial celebration as in was in 1906 when the first wave of farm workers landed in Hawaii.

 

 

Meet me in St. Louis, Louis.
Meet me at the fair.
Don't tell me the lights are shining
any place but there.

We will dance the hoochie coochie.
I will be your tootsie wootsie
If you will meet me in St. Louis, Louis.
Meet me at the fair.

   --by Kerry Mills and Andrew B. Sterling (1904)

In 1944 the movie musical, Judy Garland sang, “Under the Bamboo Tree.”

 

 

The Filipino American Experience,

 "A Century Hence,

From The St. Louis World's Fair"

  Conference will be on July 21-25, 2004 (Wednesday to Sunday)

 

Sponsored by:

TO: FANHS Midwest Chapter; FANHS Wisconsin Chapter; FANHS St. Louis Chapter; Filipino American Historical Society of Chicago (FAHSC); Springfield, IL-Based Filipino American Historical Society (FilAmHisSo)