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The Other Spirit of St. Louis

The timing and location of the FANHS 2004 conference could have not been better. It aligns with the St Louis Expo centennial (1904) and the Louisiana Purchase bicentennial (1803). The latter changed the anatomy of the US making St Louis the US heartland. The path to the Columbia River ignited the coast-to-coast dream of the emerging republic. Previously, the mighty Mississippi River was the west coast of the new nation as the French controlled the river thanks to French Canadian explorers meandering along the river, St Louis, Louisville, to New Orleans, Louisiana.

“Like the Saint Louis exposition, this will be a great time for the Filipino American historians to present the Filipino-American experience in midland America.”

King Louis XIV left legacies in American geography. In the era of world exploration, the Europeans in their difficult search of a Passage to the Pacific prompted Magellan to go by southern passage, the edge of the world that brought him to the Philippines.

St Malo is an isolated bayou with a French name where the river water and the Gulf Stream meet becomes marshland and barangay . The real St Malo is located in northern seacoast of France.   The most famous sailor from Saint-Malo, France is Jacques Cartier.   His journey between the gulf and valley of the Saint Lawrence is what we knew of New France.   The Arcadian of Louisiana were exiled in this part of France before they settled in the southeast.

In 1784 Jean Saint Malo and his colony of runaway slaves invaded the dense swamps east of the city and across Lake Borgne. They obtained weapons from free blacks and fought for their freedom. Saint Malo thrust an ax into a tree and declared,"Woe to the White who would pass this boundary."

After a series of battles, Spanish troops captured Saint Malo. On June 19, 1784, he was hanged in front of St. Louis Cathedral in what is now Jackson Square. Today, in the southern part of Lake Borgne, you can boat on a waterway named Bayou Saint Malo.

What happens between the period of Lewis and Clark's west coast expedition and St Louis exposition was the beginning of the first Filipino-American settlement in this strangest place.    Lafcadio Hearn was commissioned by New Orleans to write about the existence of an amphibian community of Filipino-Americans. The companion artist drew the dozen houses sticking out of the water on stilts.   Houses with covered front balconies and rear open-air garden salmost revealing the Badjao houses of the southern Philippines. The weather proof style that they brought with them to combat the harsh element of rising tide and wind of the gulf coast.   Killer hurricanes





eventually wiped out the settlement as the people were eventually assimilated in the Saint Bernard and adjoining community. Agustin Feliciano, a Bikol who landed in New Orleans and later served in the American Navy in the war of 1812. The Saint Louis exposition in 1904 showcased the indigenous people of the Philippines and the houses they lived in were also transplanted in an almost like carnival atmosphere.   Had the fair been held earlier and the river flow reversed, the Saint Malo could have floated up into the heartland of America.

It was rumored that early Filipinos fought alongside the French Pirate, Jean Lafitte in the battle of New Orleans. Jean Lafitte is also a native of Saint Malo, famous for being the corsair seaport of France.

The Civil War almost divided the union. The Asian-American participation is just a blip on the screen.   Most of the Filipinos who joined the conflict were just sailors onboard the Union Ships.   Naval gun battles were engaged mostly on open sea but like most civil war inland and gulf encounters brought riverboats into action. USS Conemauh, a side-wheel union ship took part in blockading the Mississippi river and onboard this vessel was Joseph Bernardo who enlisted in Philadelphia from New Jersey.

Another Philippine born civil war veteran was Felix Cornelius Balderry, from Company A, 11th MI Vols. Employed by seafarer Joseph Foster of Leonidas, Michigan, aboard his vessel before the war, Balderry moved to Michigan and worked as a farmhand before enlisting December 7, 1863 at Kalamazoo for 3 years. He served in the western theater, and was sent to the hospital at Nashville in June 1864. Discharged in September of that year, he returned to Michigan, where he worked as a tailor. On September 1, 1885 he married 16-year-old Ada May Barns at Constantine, Michigan. Balderry passed away less than ten years before the St Louis Exposition, of tuberculosis, at the age of 49.   He was the only veteran with picture and maybe Dr Virgilio Pilapil have more research as to what happen to his kin.

Like the Saint Louis exposition, this will be a great time for the Filipino American historians to present the Filipino-American experience in midland America. The 2006 National Conference in Hawaii is also centennial celebration as in was in 1906 when the first wave of farm workers landed in Hawaii.

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