In 2011, about thirty years after the ethnic studies movement at San Francisco State University (SFSU), Bing Aradanas guest lectured an SFSU ethnic studies class on the Philippine-American War.
In the 1968 SFSU ethnic studies movement, the student body went on strike for five months, demanding that ethnic studies classes be incorporated into their education. They felt there was a critical need for students to learn and understand the history and culture of different people.
This need for knowledge about unknown history is exactly why Aradanas gave his lecture on the Philippine-American War, something most people know little to nothing about.
Aradanas called his 2011 lecture a “major seed planting.” He said the reactions it elicited from Filipino students inspired him to continue meeting with them.
“This was radical because nobody wanted to talk about [the Philippine-American War] for so long. It’s one of the most disturbing chapters in American history,” Aradanas said.
Aradanas compared Americans’ treatment of Filipinos during the war to that of Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
In 2012, Aradanas relocated from the San Francisco Bay Area to Lompoc, California. When Aradanas left SFSU, the momentum he created to spread awareness on the war fizzled out. Later, he inspired Filipino-American students to raise awareness on the war at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Cal Poly, where he taught in the ethnic studies department. Currently, he is on a leave of absence.
Today, Aradanas continues to educate the public on the war through museum work, art, publishing anthropology research, teaching and activism. He believes the war has been buried so deep in history that neither Americans nor Filipinos know about it.
It wasn’t until Aradanas was 33 that he learned about the war, something critical to understanding his own Filipino-American identity. Aradanas made this discovery while at an anti-death penalty rally in Seattle.
“An elderly white gentleman marching at my side casually mentioned the war to me,” Aradanas said. “First, I thought he was delusional, but then upon his suggestion, I read Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States’ and I was shocked.”
The Philippine-American war was complex, from its origin to conclusion. In May 1898, American forces arrived in Manila Bay in the Philippines as the Spanish-American War was escalating. The United States saw an opportunity to capitalize on the Filipinos’ war of independence against Spain. The Filipinos were on the verge of victory when U.S. Admiral George Dewey promised Philippine revolutionary General Emilio Aguinaldo that if Filipino rebels helped America fight Spain, Philippine independence would be recognized. However, instead of granting them independence, the U.S. annexed the Philippines without consent of the Philippine government. When the Filipinos refused to recognize American rule, the U.S. initiated a war of conquest against them.
What is omitted from most history books, however, is that the U.S. spent the next 14 years mass murdering and torturing Filipinos. Families were separated and starvation was commonplace.
Documented records suggest that anywhere between 200,000 and 600,000 Filipinos were murdered during this time. But Aradanas said those numbers only account for the island of Luzon. Accounts from first-hand participants and their descendants suggest that a more accurate number of deaths is closer to one million. Aradanas said that most civilians were killed in concentration camps.
“[The war] was not even a battle, it was a massacre of civilians,” Aradanas said.
According to Aradanas, next to the Afghan War, the Philippine-American war is the longest combat-war in American history, but almost no one knows this. Part of the lack of awareness is a result of the U.S.’s resistance to call the conflict a war. Historians instead referred to it as an uprising or insurrection. Because of this, it’s uncertain when the war actually ended.
Although many believe the war only lasted three years, Aradanas said the Battle of Bud Bagsak in 1913 indicates the war lasted 14 years.
The social movement
While researching the Philippine-American war, Aradanas was surprised to learn that a San Francisco street he once associated with his free-spirited youth was named after one of the cruelest American officers in the war, Frederick Funston.
“Shock, which turned into that sinking feeling in your stomach, which turned into outrage, which turned into an intense but beautiful phase in my life of insatiable research,” Aradanas said.
Colonel Frederick Funston fought 19 battles in the Philippines and was a leader in an operation that captured Aguinaldo. He was awarded a medal of honor and considered a national hero. In 1902, Funston traveled America to gain support for the Philippine-American war. Funston is also credited with helping extinguish fires from San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake.
“I first learned of Funston Avenue back in 1984. I was 21 living in San Francisco with my girlfriend and we were invited to a party at the intersection of Funston and Aloha, which we thought was a cool-sounding intersection,” Aradanas said.
Fort Funston is also named after Funston. Dewey Boulevard in San Francisco is named after Dewey and Lawton Street is named after General Henry Lawton, both officers in the war.
Aradanas was first motivated to change the name of Funston Avenue when he learned the, “details about the perverse delight this man took in raping Filipina women, torturing Filipino civilians and executing Filipino prisoners of war.”
On April 22, 1899, Kansas City Journal published a letter that Funston wrote to the editor. It read:
“I am afraid that some people at home will lie awake [at] night worrying about the ethics of this war, thinking that our enemy is fighting for the right to self-government … [The Filipinos] have a certain number of educated leaders – educated, however, about the same way a parrot is. They are, as a rule, an illiterate, semi-savage people who are waging war not against tyranny, but against Anglo-Saxon order and decency…”
On March 10, 1902, The Sun of New York cited Funston in a piece called “Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines.” It read:
“I personally strung up 35 Filipinos without trial, so what was all the fuss over Wallers ‘dispatching’ a few ‘treacherous savages?’ If there had been more Smiths and Wallers, the war would have been over long ago. Impromptu domestic hanging might also hasten the end of the war. For starters, all Americans who had recently petitioned Congress to sue for peace in the Philippines should be dragged out of their homes and lynched.”
Aradanas thinks that the U.S. has consciously buried the war from history by excluding it from textbooks. The history of the war is also unknown in Filipino schools, as their curriculum is based on that in the U.S.’s and is taught in English.
“Does the mass suffering of innocent Filipino civilians in brutal concentration camps under the U.S. Army matter less to U.S. historians than the mass suffering of those in brutal concentration camps under the Nazis?” Aradanas said. “That’s racist ‘Oppression Olympics’ bullshit and those authors should be ashamed of themselves. It’s 2017.”
Oscar Penaranda helped create curriculum for the Filipino-American studies courses at SFSU where he taught for 15 years. He is currently in the Philippines spreading awareness of this topic.
Penaranda is a Filipino activist. He refers to his work as an educational, cultural and artistic analysis of lifestyles and events with an eye for Filipino-Americans.
“Any significant, comprehensive, or serious discussion of Filipinos in the United States cannot be complete without an essential understanding of the U.S.-Philippines War,” Penaranda said in his piece, “The U.S.-Philippines War.” “The modern Filipino situation in the United States must be anchored in solid, basic fundamental knowledge of this War.”
According to Penaranda, street names such as Funston and Lawton deify racism, miseducation and partial truths from the victors. He also thinks those ideas reinforce the cruel and violent treatment of Filipino-Americans from the 1920s until today. Along with these names, there are streets in San Francisco named after Filipino heroes.
In the past, Penaranda has taken initiatives to change the names of several edifices and monuments, but he was not involved with Funston Avenue and Lawton Street.
Aradanas believes that changing the street names of Funston and Lawton would involve a concerted effort to overcome long established misconceptions of history.
Land surveyor Adrian VerHagen for San Francisco Public Work’s Bureau of Streets Use and Mapping said that changing street names is a strenuous process that involves the majority of property owners on a given street to approve a name change.
“Efforts to change street names for various reasons are not uncommon,” VerHagen said in an e-mail to Mustang News. “However, due to the complications of changing a street name, which has been long-standing and, for which a myriad of related public and private documentation has been related to, such street name changes are typically made in only the most necessary cases.”
Though changing the street names may be a long time coming, Aradanas wants to start by creating a conversation and getting people involved and knowledgeable.
“Creatively starting a buzz is key,” Aradanas said. “Then San Francisco residents would need to do conventional legwork, like leafleting door-to-door, collecting signatures, joining coalitions, petitioning city supervisors, writing letters to the editor, attending city council meetings, etc.”
Aradanas said that one of his activism goals is gaining traction in the media, something that would lead to increased public support on the issue.
“Like the Filipino Youth Coalition (FYC) once rallied and decried, ‘know history, know self; no history, no self.’ That’s why this is important,” Penaranda said.