The Filipino-American community recently lost a steward.
Fred Cordova, historian, teacher, activist, tireless advocate for Filipino-American rights, and co-founder of the Filipino American National Historical Society, died on Dec. 21, 2013. He was 82.
Cordova was born on June 3, 1931, in Selma, Calif., to Filipino migrants. He had an itinerant childhood, moving across California’s farming regions with his adoptive parents.
He moved to Seattle in 1948 and attended Seattle University. After graduation he became a newspaperman, working for the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the Catholic Northwest Progress. Later he became Seattle University’s public information officer. He held a similar position at the University of Washington from 1974 until 2000, when he retired. He also taught Filipino-American history and culture at the University of Washington.
In 1982 he co-founded, with his wife Dorothy Cordova, the Filipino American National Historical Society, an organization with branches all over the U.S. that aims to preserve and promote the legacy of Filipino Americans. He also was FANHS’ first president.
His picture book, “Filipinos: Forgotten Asian Americans,” came out in 1983 and details, through 250 images, the plight of Filipinos in America from 1763 to 1963.
In 1998 Cordova received an honorary doctorate from Seattle University for his research and work promoting Fil-Am history.
In his later years, Cordova remained active at FANHS activities and continued his work on behalf of the Fil-Am community, in the process becoming a father figure and mentor to many generations of Fil-Am scholars and advocates.
Another leader of the community, Oscar Penaranda, paid tribute to FANHS after Cordova’s death.
“There are so many consequences of FANHS and what that vision inspired,” he said. “It would be difficult to enumerate all or even half of them. It spans through the categories of the youth, education, consciousness of generations then and yet to come and (touches) the nerve of Filipinos in the Philippines (who) heretofore had no clue or interest in the history and accomplishments of Filipinos in the U.S.”
Historian Peter Jamero hailed Cordova as the “quintessential Bridge Generation Filipino American,” referring to Filipinos born in the U.S. before World War II to Filipino migrants who overcame great racial prejudice to become successful members of mainstream American society.
A greater tribute came perhaps when a huge crowd of family, friends, colleagues, fellow bridge generation Filipino-Americans, and former students and wards filled Seattle’s Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Jan. 11, 2014, for Cordova’s memorial services.
Jamero, who attended the memorial that was led by Dorothy and Cordova’s eight children, said, “It was truly a Cordova production that their father would have been most proud of—alternately inspirational, intimate, humorous, entertaining, and always informative.”
When Fil-Ams celebrate October as Filipino American History Month, they are unknowingly paying homage to Cordova, who was behind the effort to have the month designated as such by the U.S. Congress.
For more information on Fred Cordova, visit the FANHS website.
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