The First Asian American Settlement Was Established by Filipino Fishermen

The fishing village in marshlands of present-day Louisiana was settled by the so-called Manilamen as early as 1763.

The history of the oldest known permanent Asian American settlement remains mysterious and as murky as the mosquito-infested marshland it was built on. Saint Malo was first established as a fishing village along the shores of Lake Borgne in Louisiana in the 18th century and continued to flourish until the 20th century.

The settlement’s namesake, Juan San Maló, was a leader of a group of Maroons (runaway enslaved people) who took refuge in the marshlands. True to the settlement’s namesake, the Asian pioneers of Saint Malo were the Filipino sailors and indentured servants who escaped the Spanish Galleons in the 1700s. They were later known in history as the Manilamen after the capital city of the Philippines.

The Manila Galleon Trade was a thriving global trade network between 1565 and 1815 that connected the economies of Asia, the Americas and Europe for over two centuries. It was during this era that the Luzones Indios (natives of Luzon) became vital in the biannual voyages of the Spanish Galleons across the Pacific. Luzon is the largest island of the Philippines where Manila is also located.

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