Because Filipinos had been working for the Japanese American farmers for almost a decade, many saved enough money to purchase their own farms individually and/or collectively. Over 40 farms, some over 20 acres, were owned by Filipinos and their wives throughout the years. Needing help to run their farms, they invited their unmarried “manongs” to live on their property in shacks or converted chicken coops. A few Filipino men were gifted land from Japanese American farmers for tending their farms during their internment.
In 1935, BI Filipino farmers formed the Filipino Growers Association and purchased the old Island Fair Community Hall on 10 acres located on High School Road. Behind the hall was a packing shed where farmers brought their strawberries and raspberries to be picked up by large trucks to take to canneries. The community hall, made of lumber milled at the Port Blakely Mill in the 1870s, was deemed in 1995 worthy of preservation and included on the National Register of Historic Places.
After the war, the Filipino Growers Association incorporated as the Filipino American (Fil-Am) Community of BI and Vicinity and used the hall for both social gatherings and agricultural purposes. In social gatherings at the hall, Ilocano was spoken (therefore keeping the dialect intact,) Filipino food served, and Filipino traditional folk dances performed by Indipino children. In contrast, Indigenous mothers did not converse in their original Coast Salish language nor practice their cultural traditions of drumming and dancing. Indigenous languages were therefore lost and not transmitted to their Indipino children. Most Indipino children were raised with a Filipino/Asian cultural orientation and sometimes encouraged by their parents to not identify as Indian/Indigenous. Berry farming as a living disappeared with the Indipino generation as many sought work in the Bremerton Naval Shipyard having no desire to raise their children in poverty as they were raised. Many Indipino homes had no indoor plumbing, heating, electricity or running water which was an embarrassment to their Indipino children who attended school with mostly upper-class white children.
In the early 1960s, the US Government requested 8.1 acres from the Fil-Am to use as an Army Nike (military) site and the Fil-Am agreed to sell the land. The government later declared the land as surplus, sold it to the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District who named it Strawberry Hill Park.
The genesis of the Indipino Community of Bainbridge Island began when thirty-six Indigenous women from nineteen different tribes in Canada, Washington State and Alaska migrated to Bainbridge Island, Washington to pick berries for Japanese American farmers in late 1930s and early 1940s. There they met and married young Filipino immigrant bachelors and settled on the Puget Sound Island located in the traditional territory of the Suquamish people.
Written by Gina Corpuz, M.Ed., pictured here.
When the Filipino immigrant field bosses went recruiting berry pickers from British Columbia’s lower mainland and Vancouver Island, First Nation families seized the opportunity to cross the US Canadian border and earn some extra cash. Some agreed to go for a temporary escape from social injustices and poverty on their reserves and others were merely seeking an adventure. Because of the Jay Treaty signed in 1794 between Great Britain and the United States, they were entitled to travel freely across the international boundary for purposes of employment.
Most First Nation adults who traveled to Bainbridge Island to harvest berry crops were survivors of Indian Residential Schools. Both the United States and Canadian governments in the 1800s enacted legislation to systematically destroy Indigenous communities by taking their children and isolating them in boarding schools. To help carry out Residential School legislation in Canada’s 1876 Indian Act, the Department of Indian Affairs established government schools run by Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian Churches. The churches were ordered to get rid of the “Indian problem” by forcing Indigenous children to assimilate into mainstream Canadian Society. Beginning in the 1880s and through 1996, approximately 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families as young as age 5 and forced to attend Indian residential schools. Some ran away from school and died while trying to escape and thousands of others never returned home as approximately 3,200 children died from untreated tuberculosis and other diseases. In these schools, children were punished for speaking their native languages and practicing their cultural traditions. Many children were sexually, emotionally and mentally abused and carried this unresolved trauma for their entire lives, passing their trauma on to the next generation.
This taking of children disrupted Indigenous families for generations, severed the ties through which culture is taught and sustained, and contributed to a general loss of language and culture. As a result of their isolation from their families, many children grew up without ever experiencing a nurturing family life and without the knowledge and skills to raise their own families. Those students who survived Indian Residential Schools were released at age 15 with barely a 5th grade education as their instructors were not certified teachers. Education was secondary to maintaining the school and school grounds as children were required to scrub floors, wash clothes, cook and perform outdoor duties as well. Some returned home to their once flourishing, self-sustaining reservations to find their communities now burdened with poverty and alcoholism. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission argued that the Indian Residential School system amounted to cultural genocide. Seven of the original thirty-six Indigenous women who married Filipino immigrants and settled on Bainbridge were from the Nooksack and Lummi tribes in Northern Washington and one woman came from the Yakama tribe in eastern Washington. Another came from as far as the Tlingit Village in Alaska. Other indigenous women and their families were recruited from First Nation reserves in British Columbia, Canada. Of the women who stayed on Bainbridge, five came from Squamish, three from Matsqui, three from Sechelt and six women from Vancouver Island’s Cowichan and Snuneymuxw reserves. Other indigenous women came from British Columbia’s lower mainland reserves, Halalt, Kwikwetlem, Samish, Nlaka’pamux, Semiahmoo, Leq’a:mel, Seabird Island, Skwah, Shxwha:y Village, and Tsawout. Because they were all Coast Salish people from the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, they were ethnically connected and were Salish speaking people.
Their decision to marry a man with non-Indian status (i.e., Filipino immigrant) carried a heavy penalty. Most were removed from their Indian Band list by the government, losing membership in their own tribe. This gender-based (affecting women only) discriminatory legislation was part of a legal process under the 1876 Indian Act. They were allowed to return home to Canada for family visits only but many were banned from participating in traditional ceremonies and cultural events. This ban created both a physical and cultural distance from their indigenous way of life negatively affecting their ability to transfer cultural knowledge on to their Indipino children. Indigenous men, however, were not penalized for marrying a non-status woman. In 1985, sections of the Indian Act were repealed and status was restored to these women through Bill-C31. Therefore, their mixed heritage Indipino children could apply for Indian Status and membership in their bands/tribes after the passing of Bill-C31. Many Bainbridge Indipinos currently hold Indian status in Canada and are voting members of their First Nations and/or their US tribes.
The first known Filipino in the Seattle area worked at the Port Blakely Lumber Mill on Bainbridge Island in Washington Territory around 1883. He was called Manila as in the largest city in the Philippines. When the Philippines became a US Territory in 1898, Filipinos became US Nationals and could enter the US without passports, exempt from immigration restrictions. Although the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 severely curtailed immigration of Chinese and Japanese to the United States, it did not affect Filipinos because of their unique status as nationals rather than aliens. Between 1906 and 1946, the first wave of Filipino immigrants were contract workers called the Sakadas who landed in Hawaii to work on sugar cane plantations. In the 1920s and 1930s, because of a limited US labor pool along the west coast, from Seattle to San Francisco, the Department of Labor recruited Filipinos from rural areas in the Philippines to work in agriculture, primarily fruit and vegetable harvesting. They were ideal recruits because they were accustomed to working from sunrise to sunset in rice fields and promises of monetary success motivated them to immigrate. This second major wave of Filipino immigrants were mostly young male Filipinos with at best an eighth-grade education and dismal economic futures. Because they attended English speaking only American-modeled schools, they thought they were prepared for American life but were rudely awakened when met with racial discrimination and violence in America. Women, children and wives were not allowed to immigrate as they might distract men from their duties in the field. Most men immigrated as bachelors; however, a few married men left their wives and children in the Philippines hoping to earn enough money to send back to them. During World War II, many Filipino men seized the opportunity to become US citizens by enlisting in the US military which allowed their Filipina brides to immigrate with them.
Most Filipino men who settled on Bainbridge Island came from La Union, a province in the Philippines located in the Ilocos Region on the Island of Luzon. Many were from the same family lineage e.g., Corpuz, Almojuela, Oligario, Romero families who owned berry farms and married Indigenous women. They spoke the same Ilocano dialect and called each other “manongs” a term of affection and respect which is best translated as “older brother” as most were really brothers or cousins. Many sailed together to Seattle on the steamship called the Presidenta or the President McKinley. After docking at the Port of Seattle, they pooled their money together to pay for a hotel room in Seattle’s International District. Following harvest seasons, many traveled to Yakima in eastern Washington and others went south to California. In the off season, they worked in the Alaska fish canneries. A few young men, wanting to further their education, worked as house boys (housekeepers) in Everett and earned their high school diploma at Everett High School.
Eventually, Seattle-based Filipinos were recruited by Bainbridge Island Japanese American farmers as berry pickers and field bosses. They lived on the farms staying in bunkhouses and built a strong working relationship with the Japanese American community. The bombing of Pearl Harbor disrupted this working relationship when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 ordering the removal of all Americans of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast and relocating them to concentration camps during WWII. While the Japanese American farmers were interned, Filipino workers cared for their farms. Left on their own, many Filipinos experienced prejudice and hostility from some Islanders who threw rocks at the bunkhouses where Filipinos slept.
Over sixty-five Filipino immigrant men worked on Bainbridge in agriculture during the 1940s and 1950s. Of those sixty-five men, thirty-six married Indigenous women and raised over 150 Indipino children. A few married Caucasian or Mexican women and some went back to the Philippines and returned with Filipina wives. Some Filipinas were second wives when Indigenous mothers left or divorced their Filipino husbands. A few outspoken Filipinas, bringing with them their colonial mentality, resented the Indigenous women and their mixed-race children calling them “injuns” or “half-breeds, making them feel unwelcome in the Filipino Hall. Additionally, Indipino children were targeted by hate groups on Bainbridge Island and suffered from racial slurs and bullying. During the Vietnam War, “Gooks Stink” was spray painted on New Brooklyn Road where many Indipino farms were located.
Indipino children self-identified as Filipino American until they were ready to accept their mixed-race heritage. A strong sense of their Indigenous identity emerged, in addition to a need to honor their Indigenous mothers who endured racism and oppression far beyond their release from Indian Residential Schools. While still lifetime members of the Filipino-American Community of Bainbridge Island, an 80-year-old legacy left by their Filipino immigrant fathers, some Indipinos formed a new non-profit called the “Indipinos of Bainbridge Island and Vicinity” whose purpose is to educate and inform the Island community and beyond of their Indigenous mother’s sacrifice and resiliency and to provide a platform for other mixed-race communities.
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