Focusing on one achievement a decade. Who/what are your Fil-Am picks each decade?

100 Years of Filipino American Achievements in 10 Stories

Filipino Americans have long been making achievements in America since the end of the Philippine-American war in 1902.  Here’s a list of some notable Filipino-American achievements from the last 100 years.  

NOTE: The list below isn't a ranking or our top pick per decade. Rather, it highlights a story or individual that made an impact out of many. If you have your own stories, feel free to use our iBakitWhy section to submit your stories/heroes!

1913 - 1923: Just being a few years after the end of the Philippine-American War that made the Philippines an independent country, the Filipino-American identity was still being formed.  On June 15, 2013, the four day Battle of Bud Bagsak took place between the Philippine’s Moro rebels and the United States led by the U.S. General Pershing.  A few years after in 1917, the Philippine National Guard was created by the Philippine Assembly to serve in Europe during World War I under General Pershing.  When World War I ended in November 1918, many Filipinos found jobs as “sakadas” or contract workers and laborers.  By the early 1920s, many organized strikes and unions lead by Filipino labor leaders started to pop up with hopes of improving work and living conditions for Filipino workers.  Other fortunate Filipinos came to America as “pensionados” to study under the American educational system.  Many decades after, Filipino-Americans have been making many contributions and achievements in the United States in education, entrepreneurship, medicine, arts, culinary, and more.


1923 - 1933:  Pedro Flores - The man responsible for yo-yos in the United States.

Pedro Flores is considered to be the man responsible for the invention of the yo-yo.  Born in Vintar, Ilocos Norte, Philippines, Flores came to the United States in 1915 where he attended the High School of Commerce in San Francisco.  After graduating high school, he went on to study law at the University of California, Berkeley and the Hastings College of Law.  Flores decided to drop out of school and moved to Santa Barbara, California where he eventually started his life as an inventor of the yo-yo.  While working as a bellboy, Flores came across and an article about a self-made millionaire who profited off selling a ball attached to a rubber band which reminded Flores’ of the badalore, a toy that has been played for hundreds of years in the Philippines.  Flores saw the market opportunity in the US and between the years 1929 and 1932, he started and ran the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara, California before selling the company and trademark to Donald F. Duncan, Sr.  He continued working with Duncan for many years later.


1933 - 1943: Fe del Mundo - The first Asian and first female student to attend Harvard Medical University.
Manila born Fe Del Mundo decided she wanted to become a doctor when her older sister died from appendicitis at the age of 11.  After earning her medical degree from the University of the Philippines as valedictorian of her class in 1933, Philippine’s president of the time, Manuel Quezon, offered her a full scholarship to study any medical field of her choice at any school in the United States.  Mundo became the first ever woman to be admitted into Harvard Medical School in 1936 where she studied pediatrics, many years before Harvard began accepting female students in 1944. Although she was admitted under the administrators’ mistake of her gender, they decided not to turn her away due to her strong records.  She also attended the University of Chicago and completed her Master’s degree in bacteriology at the Boston University School of Medicine before returning to the Philippines.  Mundo had many more achievements after Harvard which include being the first woman named National Scientist of the Philippines in 1980 and founding the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines.


1943 - 1953: Jose Calugas - Received the Medal of Honor from United States Army General George Marshall.

Jose Calugas was a Philippine native as well as a World War II hero.  Born in Leon, Iloilo, Philippines and left without a mother at the age of ten, he left high school to support his family.  Calugas enlisted in the United States Army in 1930 and began basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  He then did additional training to become and artilleryman and was later assigned to the 24th Artillery Regiment of the Philippine Scouts at Fort Stotsenburg, Pampanga before being moved to the 88th Field Artillery Regiment of the Philippine Scouts.

Calugas was the only Filipino to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II in 1945 and was presented the award by General George Marshall.  Calugas voluntarily ran 1,000 yards to a newly enemy bombed and shelled battery gun position to organize a volunteer squad and place the gun back into commission all while being shot at by Japanese artillery.  Because of his actions, Calugas earned his Medal of Honor as a Mess Sergeant with the 88th Field Artillery in the Philippine Scouts and was the only Filipino to do so.


1953 - 1963: Sugar Pie DeSanto (Umpeylia Marsema Balinton) - Famous Rhythm & Blues singer.

Born on October 1935 in Brooklyn, New York to a Filipino father and a African-American concert pianist mother, Sugar Pie DeSanto (Umpeylia Marsema Balinton) grew up to become a famous R&B singer with many of her songs landing on the Billboard’s Hot R&B chart.  At a very young age, DeSanto moved to San Francisco, California with her family where she and the famous American singer Etta James became childhood friends.  DeSanto started her career by entering talent contests in San Francisco before being asked to stop entering due to her many wins.  She decided to enter a talent content in Los Angeles, California where she was scouted by the famous bandleader Johnny Otis.  Otis eventually gave DeSanto her stage name, Little Miss Sugar Pie.

DeSanto went on to touring with The Johnny Otis Revue and then with The James Brown Revue.  One of her singles, I Want to Know, reached number four on the Billboard’s Hot R&B chart.  She wrote, performed, and did collaborations with many other artists including her ex-husband Pee Wee Kingsley and with her childhood friend Etta James with whom she placed more singles on the Billboard Hot R&B chart.  DeSanto also participated in many other tours including the American Folk Blues Festival tour of Europe in 1964.   She was also given a number of awards including the Bay Area Music Award in 1999 for best female blues singer, the Pioneer Award in September 2008 by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, and a lifetime achievement award in November 2009 from the Goldie Awards.


1963 - 1973: Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz - Social activists, civil right movement leaders, and pioneers.

Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong were both Filipino American farm workers, leaders in the Asian American civil rights movement, and pioneers of the 1965 Grape Strike and Boycott.  
Vera Cruz was born in Ilocos Sur, Philippines and came to the United States in 1926 working on farms, restaurants, and canneries like many Filipino immigrants at the time before moving to California where he found his place in activism.  In 1960, Vera Cruz formed the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, the majority of whom were Filipino, which participated in many agricultural strikes in Coachella and Delano in California, before merging with the United Farm Workers under the famous activist Cesar Chavez.

Larry Itliong was born in the Pangasinan Province in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States at the age of 15 and participated in his first strike a year after.  Despite moving to the U.S. just after completing the sixth grade to work as a child laborer, Itliong was intelligent and knew many Filipino languages as well as Spanish, Japanese, and Cantonese.  Itliong worked on farms in Seattle, Washington as a child and later on worked in Alaskan salmon canneries before moving to California in the 1930s where he founded the Filipino Labor Union which participated in a lettuce strike.  In 1956, Itliong founded the Filipino Farm Labor Union and then served as the organizer for the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee.  Itliong also worked with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers and was part of the winning contract that raised the wages of the Delano farm workers.  No longer liking what the UFW had become, he quit and continued to live in Delano and work with the Filipino Service Center, helping retired Filipino farm workers.  He also served as the President American Political Association and attended the Democratic National Convention as a delegate.


1973 - 1983: Thelma Buchholdt - First female Filipino-American legislator in the United States of America.
Thelma Garcia Buchholdt was a Filipino-American community activist, historian, public speaker, author, as well as the first female Filipino-American legislator in the United States and first Filipino-American elected to a United States legislative body in which the constituency was less than 3% Asian American.

Buchholdt was born in August 1934 in the province of Cagayan, Philippines and moved to the United States at the age of 15 where she attended and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Zoology in 1956 from Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles, California with the help of one of her uncles.  She continued to go to school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and later on at the District of Columbia School of Law in Washington, D.C where she earned her Juris Doctor along with her husband.

Buchholdt’s political career started in the late 1960s when she became a member of the Ad Hoc Committee of Young Democrats.  In 1969, she attended a conference by the Brooking Institution in Washington, D.C.  Her political career really started to move forward when 1972 Democratic Party presidential nominee George McGovern hired her to be the Alaska coordinator for his presidential campaign.  In 1974, Buchholdt was elected as an Ad Hoc Democrat to the Alaska House of Representatives and continued to be re-elected to the Alaskan legislature until 1980.


1983 - 1993: Emil Guillermo - First Asian-American male, and first Filipino-American, to host a regularly scheduled national news broadcast.

Emil Guillermo is an award-winning commentator and journalist and was the first Asian-American male, as well as the first Filipino-American to host a regularly scheduled national news broadcast.  The San Francisco born journalist went to Lowell High School and went on to study film and history at Harvard University where he was a member of the Harvard Lampoon and was elected Ivy Orator for his humor, a position shared by other Lampoon members and comedians Conan O’Brien and James Downey.

From 1989-1991, Guillermo hosted NPR’s All Things Considered, making him the program’s first non-caucasian host and the first Filipino-American and first Asian-American male to host a regular news broadcast program.  He wrote the most widely read column called “Amok” on Asian-American issues in AsianWeek for nearly 16 years.  His book Amok:  Essays from an Asian American Perspective won an American Book Award.  Guillermo now writes for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and continues to blog about “race, politics, diversity… and everything else” at www.amok.com.


1993 - 2003: Van Partible - Animator and creator of the classic cartoon series, Johnny Bravo.

Philippine-born Van Partible is an animator, writer, and producer best known for creating the famous animated television series Johnny Bravo.  Partible loved drawing as a child and grew up copying artwork from old comic book collections.  Moving the United States at the age of nine, he eventually wound up attending Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California where he studied animation.  

Johnny Bravo was influenced by his senior thesis project at Loyola Marymount University entitled Mess O’ Blues which was about an Elvis impersonator.  Partible’s animation professor liked the project and showed it to a friend who was working for the most popular animation studio at the time, Hanna-Barbera.  From there, Partible’s career took off.  Mess O’ Blues became Johnny Bravo and the short was produced for Cartoon Network’s World Premiere Toons animation showcase and premiered on March 26, 1995.  While with the network, Partible got the opportunity to work and room alongside other popular animators such as Craig McCracken who created The Power Puff Girls and Genndy Tartakovsky who created Dexter’s Laboratory.

The Johnny Bravo short became a success and the network decided to commission a first season of 13 episodes.  Many writers, animators, and directors including Family Guy, American Dad!, and The Cleveland Show creator, Seth McFarlane, were involved in Johnny Bravo’s first season.  The series premiered on July 7, 1997 and was followed by three additional seasons and had its final run on August 27, 2004.

Johnny Bravo is considered to be a cartoon classic in pop culture with its easily identifiable catchphrases like “Woah, Mama!”

Partible has produced and contributed original materials for Walt Disney Television Animation, NBC’s Medium, Fox Kids, and more.  He currently the executive producer for Cartoon Network Asia and teaches animation workshops at his alma mater Loyola Marymount University.  


2003 - 2013: Cristeta Comerford - First Asian and first female White House Executive Chef.

Cristeta “Cris” Comerford was born Cristeta Pasia in Sampaloc, Manila, Philippines and now works in the most famous house in the United States.  She attended Manila Science High School before attending the University of the Philippines, Diliman in Quezon City where she majored in food technology.  At the age of 23, she left the university without a degree to the United States where she got her first job at a Sheraton Hotel near the O’Hare International Airport.  After working at a few hotels and restaurants in Chicago, Washington, D.C, and in Vienna, she was recruited to work in the Clinton White House by White House executive chef Walter Scheib III in 1995.  She continued to work until Scheib’s resignation in 2005.  Following Scheib’s resignation, first lady Laura Bush appointed Comerford as the White House executive chef.  In August 2005, Comerford became the first minority and first female to hold the position.

Comerford continues to work as the White House executive chef, creating menus for social events, official dinners, and more.  She is also a member of the Club Chefs du Chef, the world’s most exclusive society of chefs that consists of chefs to world leaders.


2013: Megan Young - First Filipina to be crowned Miss World.

Model and actress Megan Lynne Young was born in Alexandria, Virginia to an American father and Filipino mother.  At the age of ten, she moved to Philippines where she continued to stay through college at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Manila where she is currently studying AB Digital Filmmaking.

Young has appeared in nearly 15 films and television shows since her first break on the second season of Philippine talent reality search show, StarStruck, where she placed in the top six.  She also has a younger sister Lauren who is also an actress.

On August 18, 2013, Young was named Miss World Philippines 2013 which led to her victory of being crowned Miss World 2013 in Bali, Indonesia.  Young is the first ever Filipino to be crowned Miss World and has received many headlines from news sources like BBC and CNN.