By Lito Katigbak
WASHINGTON – Five years after launching a search for Filipinos who may have passed through Ellis Island just off the tip of Manhattan, New York, from 1892 to 1954 on their way to carve a new life in America, historians have drawn a blank.
“Because the Philippines was an American Commonwealth, immigrants did not have to come through Ellis Island and the most likely possibility for interviews connected with the history of the island is finding Filipinos who worked as crew members aboard the ships that brought other immigrants here,” Dr. Janet Levine, oral historian of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, told The Manila Mail.
Levine launched the search for Filipinos in 2004 and renewed her appeal recently with the help of the Philippine embassy in Washington DC.
The embassy issued a news release on Aug. 24 urging Filipinos with first-hand experience on Ellis Island to step forward and be part of the oral interview.
Many members of the Filipino community, however, believe few if any candidates are likely to appear. Because of the timeline many are probably dead.
Of an estimated 16 million immigrants who arrived in the US from 1892 to 1954, 12 million of them passed through the federal immigration station in Ellis Island, then the major gateway to America.
Levine said the Ellis Island Oral History Collection was looking for people who could talk about their memories and their lives.
“Currently we do not have any Filipinos in the collection and we would like to have them represented. Since many Filipinos worked as crew members on ships bringing immigrants to this country, their stories would be a welcome addition,” Levine said.
She commended amateur Filipino-American historian Maria Elizabeth Del Valle Embry for her “incredible persistence in working on this.”
“It is common knowledge that in the early 1900s, many Filipinos came to the Hawaiian and Alaskan territories, as well as to California, Washington and Oregon to work in the agricultural and fishing industries,” said Embry in an article published in the spring issue of Heritage Matters, a National Parks Service newsletter of the US Interior Department.
“However, the entry of many Filipinos through Ellis Island, our nation’s symbol of liberty and inclusion, remains largely unknown,” she said.
She said she went through ships’ manifests provided by the Oral History Collection and was able to identify many Filipinos “processed” at Ellis Island, including two future presidents of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmena, students, businessmen and World War I servicemen who served in the US military.
In her website, Embry has listed other Filipinos said to have been processed at Ellis Island and passed them on to Levine in April 2008.
Levine said interviews are voluntary.
“We do not have lists from which we contact people. I know that crew members are listed on the ship’s manifests, but we only have the ships’ manifests up until 1924 here. Maria did compile some lists of crew members, but we do not have the staff to track down people,” she told *The* *STAR*.
In an open letter to President Arroyo last July, Embry requested assistance in the hunt for Filipinos who may be willing to take part in the Ellis Island oral interview.
Embry said among the Filipinos processed at Ellis were Manuel Matute, stepfather of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, and Juan Sumulong, maternal grandfather of President Cory Aquino.