St. Malo, Louisiana, Site of Earliest Filipino-American Settlement, Threatened by Climate ChangeBreaking News
tags: Louisiana, Asian American History, Filipino Americans, St. Malo
Randy Gonzales grew up fishing with his father around the murky marshlands of St. Malo, a former village along the shore of Lake Borgne in Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish.
What the fourth generation Filipino American did not know at the time was the deep, hidden history of his own heritage: More than a century ago, long before the Civil War, St. Malo was the first permanent Filipino settlement in the United States.
Anyone wanting to visit St. Malo now would need a tour guide and a boat to get there. Over the years, sea level rise, destructive storms, and environmental degradation have drastically changed the landscape of what was once a thriving fishing village.
"I grew up around some of the same spaces, but didn't know the stories related to them," Gonzales, an English professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and co-vice president of the Philippine-Louisiana Historical Society, told CNN. "So as I was learning about my own family's story, it seemed imperative to want to tell the story of St. Malo — and 'Manila Village' — to better understand them."
St. Malo's early Filipino community prospered for decades. But the 1893 Chenière Caminada hurricane — a Category 4 on today's scale — flattened the village, destroying huts and killing many in the community.
With their land flooded and farms gone, some survivors migrated to other parts of the state and the country. The rest moved a few miles away and later created their own "Manila Village" in the town of Jean Lafitte.
"The Filipino seamen in Louisiana were willing to live out in the marsh far away, so they could make a decent living, but it was a risk when the storms came through every 10 years or so, and then, the whole place was destroyed and they rebuilt," Gonzales said. "And that's the story of climate migration, where after a while, some of them had enough of the storms."
Louisiana has always been on the frontlines of the climate crisis. As of 2016, the state had lost about 25% of the coastal land that existed in 1932, according to the US Geological Survey — which is roughly the size of Delaware. Experts say climate change, coastal erosion, sea level rise, and other human-caused environmental degradation have led to this point.
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