In the middle of the patio that paves Union Square in San Francisco stands a monument 85 feet tall, there so long that it is barely noticed. Tourists use it to orient their direction. Residents don’t think about it at all. At its very top, a goddess of victory balances on one leg. Dedicated over 115 years ago by President Theodore Roosevelt, the statue “commemorates the victory of Admiral George Dewey and the American fleet over Spanish forces at Manila Bay, the Philippines, on May 1, 1898, during the Spanish-American War.”
Readers of this paper may not even recognize that event, even if it did take place in the Philippines. That’s because it is known to Filipino natives at the Philippine Revolution, the original one when the Katipunan met in secret places in Tondo to overthrow 300 years of Spanish Rule and the racism that went with it. Alas, they would have succeeded if the Spanish had not simultaneously lost the Spanish-American War and sold their territories to the United States. It was a final jab of defeat the Spanish levied on the Philippines and an effective one it was.
Now, 115 years later, Filipinos linger in front of the words, talk on their cell phones, orient themselves among the buildings and the homeless, the manicured stores and hidden restaurants, using the stylized blocks as nothing more than shelter from the wind. It says nothing of the 20,000 Filipinos who lost their lives in the foiled battle for independence that year despite the 1.5 million Filipinos who now live in California.
Rudy Asercion is trying to change that.
For several years Asercion has undergone a patient purposed lobby to add a plaque to the monument, acknowledging the perspective of the Philippines in this event. The proposed wording of the plaque, reads:
“The People of the Philippines struggled against Spanish colonial rule for 300 years. At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Filipinos joined with American forces and rejoiced in Commodore George Dewey’s decisive defeat of the archipelago’s Spanish fleet…”
The text continues to say,
“The Philippines declared its freedom from Spain, marking June 12, 1898 as Philippine Independence Day….”
Because of American colonization, the Philippines would not receive Commonwealth status until 1935 and would not become its own independent Republic until 1946, after a brutal World War in which Philippine and American soldiers fought side by side and more than 100,000 Manilenos, many of them innocent civilians, lost their lives.
What an honorable nod to our culture and history (that is such a large part of the Bay Area community) if the Dewey monument acknowledged this.
Go to the Facebook page, Dewey Monument Plaque, to learn more. Your support in furthering Rudy’s effort would not only enhance the perspective of future visitors to the Dewey monument, it would gesture at the Filipinos of the past, the first ones who thought of our independence and acted on it.