New Orleans’ first citizens found their way to the colonial city in 1765. They were sea people from Spanish galleons who had jumped ship in Acapulco, Mexico and who struggled their way northward to escape Spanish law. Many of these deserters eventually fled into the bayous around New Orleans because they feared the long reach of the Spanish Law. Latest research however reveals that most of these sailors were Filipinos from the Atlantic crossings
Since they were all men, they had little choice but to marry the Cajun women already living there. Many Louisianans named Martinez or Mardigal can trace their heritage back at least eight generations to these Mixed-Cajuns, who retained the Spanish-French speech patterns of their ancestors. Other men married Indians, Spanish, and Irish, further expanding the gumbo of ethnic backgrounds. With this mixture of nationalities, the blood of the original fugitives eventually diminished and assimilated into the general population.
· By then at least seven villages had been established deep in the swamps closest to the Gulf, just below the city in Orleans, St Bernard, Jefferson, and Plaquimines parishes. All the communities have long since disappeared under the murky backwater, but a mound of mud still remains where St Malo in St Bernard Parish was once a thriving fishing village. Pilings can still be seen where Jefferson Parish's Village was home to descendants of those early refugees. The last village known as Manila Village or simply the Platform was destroyed by Hurricane Betsy in 1965, and the last few residents moved on.
Sino nga ba ang mga taon ito? Just who were these people and what was the name of the village? The first Filipino colony in the United States was the St Malo village.
From the pages of Passport's Guide to ETHNIC NEW ORLEANS by Martin Hintz
The Manila Galleon started Maritime commercial links between Manila and Mexican ports. These vessels were built on Cavite and Cebu and the crew was composed of Spanish and Filipino sailors. Lousiana in the 17th century was a Spanish colony and New Orleans was the capital city and port.
According to the accounts of Marina Espina, we know that those first Filipinos introduced Louisiana to their tradition of drying shrimp. Historical records note that platforms were built on a field the size of a two football field. diamond about thirty miles southeast of New Orleans in the early 1800's where the Filipinos dried their catches. Manila Village was located in the southern low area of New Orleans but few of the Filipino families were able to send their children to study in New Orleans to become professionals. The Louisiana 1976 teacher of the year was Isabel Walsh who as a child went to spend sometime in the Manila Village. She was of Filipino, French, and Italian heritage. In her research, Marina tracked down the descendants of eight generations of Filipino ancestry. Most of them were proud of the Filipino bloodline that prompted the US's oldest Filipino association in 1870, which is now known as Filipino American Goodwill Society. Marina wrote the book "Filipinos in Louisiana" (1988 Laborde Press) which is unfortunately out of print because of school demand.
I recently visited New Orleans and listened to Marina's oral history that she carefully pieced together from the people of the Manila Village. She is now semi-retired and spends most of her time spend on promoting the heritage she discovered and making known to all what New Orleans means to us. She promised that a marker will be placed in the Manila village to remind us that in 1765 in the bayous of New Orleans our ancestors braved the elements. The next time you go to celebrate Mardi gras in this southern port, you might be lucky enough to catch a valuable doubloon among the many that are tossed to parade watchers. These are rare collectibles commemorating the prize winning Filipino floats that won in 1935, 1937, and 1946 in these annual festivals.
Shrimp Platform in New Orlean at the turn of the century-Courtesy of Marina Espina
Homogenes "Slim" Del Prado was the prime mover . He came from a family of float builders in Manila. Decorations were made mostly from banana stems, bamboo sticks and weeping willows. If you have ever been in Jackson Square in New Orleans you will find Banana trees. Funds were raised by the Penny-a-Vote Pageant and Party. The volunteers worked hard and long before the parade day. On the eve of the parade everything was set, except they needed a long white beard so Jesse Marinelo could portray Uncle Sam. This dilemma worried Slim. He was assured that a white beard would be found and not to worry about it. He slept soundly until the next morning and then he headed towards the parade's starting area. On his way he observed a crowd around a very angry man and a horse. The horse's owner was looking for the culprit who had cut his horse's tail off. When he saw Jesse onboard the float wearing a white beard he realized where the tail had gone. The police were summoned and the first participation of Pinoy Float was in danger. Thanks to some cool heads and strategic compromise, the Filipino Float was allowed to travel in the parade that year.
Jesse a perfect Uncle Sam with giant scissors, fooled paradegoers into thinking that he was the analogy of the US getting ready to cut the chain of a Filipina in bondage. The carnival queen was Agnes Ferniz (Now Mrs. Dominador M Morales of California), a fourth generation Filipina, represented the Philippines with her hands tied as the Philippines was on the brink of being granted its commonwealth status. Around them were about 33 Fil-ams singing and playing guitars to the delight of the Mardi Gras crowd. Slim happily strolled along to slow down watchers trying to pick flowers and decorations off the float as take-home. for souveniers on the side. The float won First Prize that year.
The following year, the floats got even bigger. Chief George Reyer, New Orleans Police Department superintendent, noticed how big the Filipino float was and started asking the volunteers how they were going to pull it through the parade route. These innovative people were happy to point out to the Chief that under the massive decoration was a truck driven by a volunteer. This was the year the first motor driven float showed up in the world's biggest parade. And needless to say, that year, they won again.
Nestor Palugod Enriquez