Introduction: Philippines on the Potomac (POPDC)

When Commodore George Dewey defeated the Spanish Armada at the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898, the United States acquired a new colony and, in the process, ushered in a new era of Philippine-American relations. Now over a hundred year old, this era spans the Philippine-American War (what some historians refer to as the Philippine Insurrection), the period of US colonial rule and political tutelage, the Commonwealth period in the 1930s interrupted by the Second World War, Philippine independence in 1946, and the many years since.

This complex relationship—surprisingly little known in some circles and meriting only the briefest of mentions in many US history textbooks while arousing passionate views and debates in other circles—has indelibly left its mark on Washington’s landscape. These include West Potomac Park that was inspired by Manila’s Luneta Park, cannons brought back from the Battle of Manila Bay that now flank the Executive Office front steps, the many cultural and artistic pieces that can found in DC’s museums and among the Smithsonian collection, the former residence of Filipino and American colonial officials and the gathering places of the first community of Filipino migrants. However, many of these landmarks—a friend refers to them as “vestiges of empire”—are hidden in plain view and often go unmentioned in tours and guidebooks.

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Tydings-McDuffie Bill in March 1934, establishing the Commonwealth of the Philippines and initiating the 10-year transition into full independence. Left to Right: US Senator Joseph O’Mahoney; George Dern, Secretary Of War; Philippine Senator Elpidio Quirino; US President Roosevelt; Manuel Quezon, President of the Philippine Senate; US Sen. Millard E. Tydings; and Gen C.F. Cox, Chief of the Bureau of Insular Affairs. Photo credit: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

This website—the Philippines on the Potomac (POPDC) project—is our effort to document these landmarks and the many, facinating stories behind them. Some are stories of a young nation slowly taking its place in a global community. There are painful episodes, reflecting the diverse legacy of the colonial period, and the competing loyalties it has spawned. There are wars, epic battles won and lost, and stories of families and entire communities dislocated. A few places commemorate small victories, quiet heroism, and private charity; they are little known and waiting to be told to new audiences. And here and there are familiar stories about hyphenated lives making new homes in their adopted cities while longing for their other home.

The Structure of this Website

As we worked on this project, we imagined diverse users of this website: some who live permanently in the Washington, DC area and others who are here only temporarily; some who are familiar with the broad outline and key figures of Philippine-American relations and others who are much less familiar with this strand of history; some who are reading this using desktop computers and other who are walking around DC using mobile devices  The structure of the website was therefore designed to be responsive to different audiences. The template itself was selected to facilitate easy reading and navigation across a range of devices.

This website consists of two main components: There are (1) maps, with markers on the map signifying important places, and there are (2) posts or blog entries describing these places. Each post, in turn, consists of a brief description of a place and its significance, a reference list, additional information about the site including its address and accessibility, and, when available, a few multi-media artifacts. (See also the About section.)

Readers familiar with places in the city but not their ties to Philippine-American history may choose to navigate the website using the maps (the place names are hyperlinked to the respective posts) or by using the list of places on the right column. Readers familiar with key figures in Philippine-American history and culture may instead choose to navigate using the list of names. In due course, we hope to suggest walking tours organized by neighborhood or by theme.

This is work in progress and more entries, lists, and maps will be posted soon. Comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

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