Virginia Beach to get historical marker honoring Filipinos in the US Navy
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Navy has long drawn thousands of sailors from the Philippines who make Hampton Roads their home, creating a flourishing local Filipino population.
Virginia’s leaders now want to honor that legacy with a historical highway marker in Virginia Beach.
Asian and Pacific Islander communities “have made significant contributions to our commonwealth and our country, but too often their stories remain untold,” Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday in announcing five new historical markers.
They were nominated by students across the commonwealth through a contest focused on Asian American Pacific Islander history. The Virginia Beach marker, dubbed “Filipinos in the U.S. Navy,” was suggested by students in Burke and Chesterfield County — not Hampton Roads.
Filipino members of the U.S. Navy have served in Hampton Roads since at least the Civil War, the governor’s office noted in a news release, and have helped spur one of the largest Filipino communities on the East Coast.
The Philippines-Virginia pathway intensified during the 20th century. Following the Spanish-American War in 1898, the Philippines became a U.S. territory and would remain that way for nearly five decades.
Shortly after the country’s independence in 1946, the Americans reached an agreement that allowed them to recruit Philippine citizens directly into the U.S. Navy, mainly as hospitality stewards, for which there was “an urgent need” during the Korean War, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command website. Soon the agreement was amended to specify that 2,000 Filipino men would enter the Navy each year, and the program continued through the 1990s.
Many Filipino men saw the U.S. military, which had a large naval base in the Philippines’ Subic Bay, as an appealing opportunity to support their families, said Dr. Cynthia Romero, chairman of the Council of United Filipino Organizations of Tidewater.
The 1965 Immigration Act further strengthened the Filipino population by allowing residents to petition for family members back home to join them in the U.S. The law also introduced visas so hospitals could recruit nurses from abroad and give them green cards.
“For much of the 20th century, Hampton Roads and the Philippines held one important thing in common — both were home to the world’s largest bases maintained by the U.S. Navy,” according to an Old Dominion University report on the local Filipino community. “More than any other factor, the Navy has been responsible for bringing Filipino immigrants to Hampton Roads.”
It’s a familiar story to Romero, who was born at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center after her parents immigrated from the Philippines. Her dad was in the Navy, her mother a physician.
As chairman of the council, Romero now helps manage the Philippine Cultural Center on Virginia Beach’s Baxter Road. She said many important events they hold are to honor Filipino American veterans, such as an annual Veterans Day ceremony.
“It’s nice to hear they’re also going to get some recognition with these markers,” Romero said. “That’s fantastic.”
The historical markers still have to be approved by the state Board of Historic Resources at its September meeting. Randy Jones, spokesperson for the historic resources department, said officials will have a more certain location for the Virginia Beach site in mind by that point, but they are considering somewhere near the cultural center.
Romero said she’d be thrilled to see that.
Filipinos have “really embedded ourselves into the fabric of the community,” she said. “There is that common bond because we’re happy to be here.”
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