Bay Area Filipinos Push for New Dewey Monument

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 SAN FRANCISCO – Filipino-American community leaders and historians are hoping they can help tell the little-known events of Philippine-American history that completes the story inscribed on San Francisco’s Dewey Monument .

During the Philippine Independence Day commemoration last June 12 at Union Square, where the Dewey Monument spire stands, the Philippine War Centennial Committee unveiled a proposed new Dewey Monument plaque, which describes a largely “forgotten” war, the Philippine-American War from 1898-1915. Organizers are seeking approval for installation of the plaque at the foot of the national marker, from both the San Francisco’s Parks & Recreation Department and the city’s Arts Commission.

On a daily basis, hundreds of San Franciscans wandering from the glitzy department stores surrounding Union Square may read one of the existing inscriptions --- stating it was erected by their 1901 counterparts - “…by the citizens of San Francisco to commemorate the victory of the American Navy under Commodore George Dewey at Manila Bay.”

Commodore Dewey defeated the Spanish flotilla in May 1898, during the Spanish-American War. But proponents of a new Dewey Monument Plaque say the story doesn’t end there.

At the time, there was already an independence movement being waged by Filipinos against Spanish colonizers. After fighting for two years, revolutionary forces under General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippine Islands on June 12, 1898.

But then American forces occupied the Philippines and the Filipinos fighting for independence had to fight another war. This was the first foreign war waged by the United States, and was one of the longest in its history. The conflict resulted in the deaths of an estimated 600,000 Filipinos and 16,0000 American soldiers.

Rudy Asercion of the Philippine American War Centennial Committee says they want “to make sure that we portray accurately the historical context of what happened to the United States [and the Philippines]. We want to feature the conflict and collaboration between the two countries…because even now there are terrorist elements in Southern Philippines and there is (an) American presence there.”

The Union Square Filipiniana celebration may have been intimate and simple compared to past festivities, but this campaign for the Dewey Monument plaque showed an empowered community asserting its voice, revitalized by the aftermath of a relatively peaceful presidential elections in the Philippines in May.

“Elections mean democracy and freedom,” says Philippine Consul General for San Francisco Marciano Paynor Jr. “One hundred-and- twelve years ago, many of our forebears died for this freedom that we are now able to exercise, both as overseas absentee voters and also as voters here in America.”

Asercion adds, “if this plaque is installed, it will show that we have political clout since it will take an incredible amount of political will, because this is a national monument. So if we can do this, we can show that the Filipinos have arrived.”

One of the community’s allies in this campaign is the president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, David Chiu, who says “the Filipino community has been such an important part of San Francisco. I represent the district that included the former neighborhood of Manilatown and so the history, culture, and what Filipinos have brought to the city really needs to be celebrated... As long as we can get all the relevant historical preservation approvals, this plaque will help all of San Francisco remember the history of this community.”

The Bay Area community’s historical salute to Philippine Independence Day is also joined by a special tribute to the country’s diverse cuisine, founded on a rich indigenous heritage, and influenced by a mixture of its trade with neighboring countries, as well as its colonial past.

The fight for a new Dewey Monument plaque represents only one of the many events taking place in the Bay Area this month to mark Philippine independence.

This whole month of June, the Philippine Food Festival, organized by the Philippine Tourism Office of San Francisco’s Philippine Consulate General, will highlight specialty dishes offered by 15 participating restaurants in Northern California.

They are inviting everyone to learn more about Pinoy food beyond “adobo” (chicken or pork braised in garlic, soy sauce & vinegar) and “lumpia” (spring rolls) to dishes like Arroz de Valenciana, a Filipino version of the Spanish paella; ceviche-style viands called “kinilaw/kilawin”, and the “lechon” (whole roasted suckling pig), just to name a few.

Patrons of the food festival get special promotions and prizes for visiting these restaurants including Bistro Luneta, Tastebuds, Goldilocks, Mana and Ongpin.

Esther Chavez, U.S. Sales Director for news wire is very proud that “Filipino cuisine has come to fore – now, it’s being appreciated by the greater community, other than (just) Filipinos because our restaurants can compete with those from other ethnic groups whether in terms of presentation or ambience, and of course the food itself.”

Over several centuries, Philippine cuisine has evolved from its Malayo-Polynesian origins to a mixed repertoire with many Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, American and other Asian influences, further re-defined by each province’s specific ingredients and styles.

But Chavez stresses, “There’s really a unique Filipino flavor that has developed over the centuries out of all these influences, so we really have our own cuisine.”

Now, community leaders want to educate more Americans about what Filipino food is all about.
Consul-General Paynor says the Philippine Food Festival is the community’s chance to show America and the world “the diversity and creativity of our world-class cuisine.”

And they have, in Supervisor David Chiu, a long-time supporter not only for the Dewey Monument Plaque.

“One of my good friends is a Filipino chef,” he jokes, “so I try to eat as much of it as I can, and I hope everyone else does too.”