The First Filipinos landed in California, USA
The first documented Filipinos landed at Morro Bay in Upper California on October 18, 1587. They were part of the Manila Galleon Trade, the Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza, that came from Portuguese Macao en route to Acapulco, Mexico.
Two years before they arrived, Captain Pedro de Unamuno led the voyage from Manila to Acapulco in 1585. Details of his voyage revealed the Filipino landing in Morro Bay. In 1929, his accounts were translated for the first time in English in Henry Wagner’s Spanish Voyages, published by the California Historical Society.
The “Luzones Indios”
Spanish explorer, Ferdinand Magellan landed at Homonhon Island, the Philippines in 1521. It began the colonization of the country as well as the use of “Indios” (Christian natives of the lowest ranks) as crew for the Spanish exploration.
The Manila galleon is a one or two round-trip trip between the ports of Acapulco and Manila each year. It began sailing in 1565, carrying mostly Chinese goods, shipped from Manila. The goods came from Macao, China, which was leased as a trading post to the Portuguese. Hired as the crew was “Luzones Indios” or local Filipinos from Luzon. [Keat Gin, p537]
Francisco Gali and Pedro de Unamuno
In 1585, Archbishop Pedro Moya de Contreras, colonial administrator of the “New Spain,” commissioned Francisco Gali to survey the Californian coast. However, Gali died in Manila that year. Pedro de Unamuno, also a sailor, was left with the task.
He was told never to detour in a Portuguese-Chinese territory. However, merchants in Acapulco gave him money to buy goods in China via Macao, China, and forced to detour. [SWHQ, 1918]
Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza
The Portuguese authorities in Macao seized his two ships, leaving him and his crew trapped in China. The Real Audiencia of Manila sought the arrest of Unamuno for disobedience. Fortunately, two Franciscans priests wanted to return to Mexico.
The priests loaned Captain Unamuno money to buy a small Portuguese-built ship in Macao, christened Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza (Our Lady of Good Hope). One of the priests was Martín Ignacio de Loyola, nephew of Ignatius of Loyola. They left Macao for Acapulco in mid-July.
Landing at Morro Bay
The ship had problems, forced to land at Morro Bay. The first to meet the natives were Captain Unamuno, with a dozen soldiers. The next day, it was Father Loyola who carried a “cross” with the “Indios Luzones” (local Filipino crew) armed with swords and shields. The initial attempts to make contact with the local Chumash people (natives of California) were unsuccessful. [Aguilar p26]
After a second landing the next day, Native Americans tried to seize Father Loyola. A Spaniard and a Filipino were killed, others injured. The Galleon left October 21 to continue its voyage to Acapulco, Mexico.
The next documented landing of Filipino in California was in November 1595. The Manila Galleon San Agustin wrecked at Point Reyes, along the California coast. In the latter half of the 18th century, Filipinos began to settle in what would become part of the continental United States. [Coast of Dreams, p158]
Historical landmark in Morro Bay
In 1929, Captain Unamuno’s voyage from Manila to Acapulco and of his discovery of California was translated in English in Henry Wagner’s Spanish Voyages, published by the California Historical Society.
On 21 October 1995, a stone monument was placed at Coleman Park, Morro Bay to commemorate the events of 1587. As a result, the Filipino American History Month of October is celebrated. The resolution was passed by the US House of Representatives (Resolution 780) on September 29, 2010, and the US Senate (Resolution 298) on October 5, 2011.