Virginia leaders set to honor local Filipino Sailors with historical highway marker in Virginia Beach

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Posted at 10:24 AM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 21:11:50-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Throughout history, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have made significant contributions to our Commonwealth and our country, but too often their stories remain untold.

This weekend, Virginia leaders are set to honor the legacy of thousands of sailors from the Philippines who make Hampton Roads their home.

Virginia Beach is the chosen location to highlight their achievements.

The U.S. Navy has a long history of recruiting thousands of Sailors from the Philippines who make Hampton Roads their home.

“We call it a status of forces agreement that was signed between the Republic of the Philippines and the U.S., and part of this included keeping our bases and Subic and Clark," said historian Professor Jeffrey Acosta. "And what happened was the Navy struck a deal where this would be the only country in the world where citizens of a foreign country could enlist directly into the US Navy."

The Commonwealth plans to honor that legacy with a historical highway marker in Virginia Beach on Saturday at the Filipino Cultural Center. Professor Acosta says that based on the history the location makes sense.

"We have the largest naval base in the US and when you look at it, we also have the largest Filipino American community in Virginia and the majority of that group immigrated through the US Navy," he said.

Dr. Cynthia Romero, Chair of the council of United Filipino Organizations of Tidewater, lives that legacy. She was born at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center after her parents immigrated from the Philippines. Her dad was in the Navy and her mother was a physician.

"So my dad served in the U.S. Navy, and he was recruited in the Philippines in 1960 he was part of a pretty large recruiting effort in an area called Sangley Point where a group of them were recruited about 150 at a time," Dr. Romero said.

Filipinos in the U.S. Navy have served in Hampton Roads for more than a century, according to a report from the Northam administration. They credit that history of service with spurring one of the largest Filipino communities on the East Coast.

"And for those who are still alive, our Filipino veterans, especially those who serve in the Navy, to have the opportunity to see this marker unveiled dedicated and blessed right here within our community of Hampton Roads is incredibly meaningful. I think it’s going to be quite emotional," Dr. Romero said.

The dedication of the historical highway marker is scheduled for Saturday at the Philippine Cultural Center in Virginia Beach.