First US landing of Filipinos in 1587


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, from Portuguese Macao en route to Acapulco, Mexico.

Two years before they arrived, Captain Pedro de Unamuno led Manila’s voyage 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 into 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 and the use of “Indios” (Christian natives of the lowest ranks) as crew for the Spanish exploration.

The Manila galleon takes one or two round trips yearly between the Acapulco and Manila ports. It began sailing in 1565, mainly carrying Chinese goods shipped from Manila.

The goods came from Macao, China, which was leased as a trading post to the Portuguese. “Luzones Indios,” or local Filipinos from Luzon, were hired as the crew. [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 into a Portuguese-Chinese territory. However, merchants in Acapulco gave him money to buy goods in China via Macao, China, and forced him to detour. [SWHQ, 1918]


A replica of a Spanish Galleon ship, the Andalucia, used in trading from Manila to Mexico, docks in Manila in 2010.

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 Franciscan priests wanted to return to Mexico.

The priests loaned Captain Unamuno money to buy a small Portuguese-built Macao ship 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 was 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 contact 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, and others were injured. The Galleon left on 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] 


california plaque

Historical landmark in Morro Bay

In 1929, Captain Unamuno’s voyage from Manila to Acapulco and his discovery of California were translated into English in Henry Wagner’s Spanish Voyages, published by the California Historical Society.

On October 21, 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.


Filipino Americans are considered the largest population in California.


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