Filipinos were most likely living in raised, stilted homes over the swamplands outside of New Orleans before the United States became a country.
Just five miles downstream from New Orleans’ French Quarter’s ornate, iron-laced balconies, bright stucco buildings and raucous bars give way to a more serene landscape dotted with wild marsh grasses and thick mud. Fishermen sell fresh shrimp as their boats bob in the bayous nearby along the roads that cut through St Bernard Parish. The quiet, 200-year-old suburb is known for its fishing industry and unique geography, rising up like a cresting wave from Louisiana’s eastern coast before spitting dozens of islands and marshes into the Gulf of Mexico.
Saint Malo once stood on Lake Borgne, where laughing gulls dive for speckled trout and sudden squalls regularly batter boats. The first permanent Filipino settlement in the United States, as well as the country’s oldest-known permanent Asian settlement.
The story of Louisiana’s rich and diverse bayous is frequently told through the blending and mixing of Spanish colonists, French Acadians, Native Americans, and both enslaved and free people of colour. However, there has been one largely forgotten ingredient missing from this rich cultural stew throughout history: before the United States was a country, Filipinos were most likely living in raised stilt bahay kubo-style homes built over swampland outside of New Orleans.
They established the community’s fishing industry and introduced Louisiana to dried shrimp, which are made by boiling, brining, and sun-drying the crustaceans to preserve and concentrate their flavour. Dried shrimp were a valuable commodity before refrigeration, and they remain so today. many locals still eat them as a snack or use them as an umami-rich ingredient to flavour stocks, sauces and gumbos.
These so-called “Manilamen,” along with later Chinese immigrants, transported dried shrimp all over the world. According to Laine Kaplan Levenson, host of the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy podcast, by the 1870s, Louisiana’s swamps were home to more than 100 shrimp-drying platforms, each more than three football fields long. “In effect, dried shrimp globalised Louisiana’s seafood industry” and laid the foundation for Louisiana’s modern-day shrimp industry, she notes on the podcast episode.
But how these Manilamen ended up in Louisiana is as hazy as the bayou itself. Some historians believe they came on Spanish trade vessels in the mid-1700s. Others believe Filipino sailors and servants plying the Manila-Acapulco trade route jumped ship in the New World and sought refuge in the Gulf, which is marshy and teeming with life. flood-prone landscape resembled their homeland. Some British colonists even mentioned “Malay pirates,” who were members of French pirate Jean Lafitte’s smugglers who captured Spanish galleons.
The writer Lafcadio Hearn painted a dream-like picture of the “floating” community in an 1883 article in Harper’s Weekly: “Out of the shuddering reeds and banneretted grass… rise the fantastic houses of the Malay fishermen, posed upon slender supports above the marsh, like cranes or bitterns watching for scaly prey.”
Hearn noted that the community had existed for roughly 50 years before his visit, but in a story for History.com, Filipino American historian Kirby Aráullo wrote that, “according to oral traditions, there was already an existing Filipino community there by 1763 when both the Philippines and Louisiana were under the Spanish colonial government in Mexico”.
According to Randy Gonzales, a fourth-generation Filipino Louisianan, historian, and English professor at the University of Lafayette, the Manilamen saw opportunity in the Louisiana Gulf, which many people thought was too wild and hostile. . Like the previous one, but with a different outcome. Like the previous one, with a different outcome. Like the previous one, with a different outcome. St Bernard Parish, like the Philippines, was ruled by Spain; Spanish was the primary language in the area, and many residents shared Spanish ancestry. It was also sparsely populated, providing economic opportunities for those who could harness its wild spirit.
According to Liz Williams, founder of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, the Filipino settlers already knew how to make nets and catch shrimp from their lives in the Philippines. But it was in St Bernard’s swampy marshes that they developed a method for preserving and drying the crustaceans. According to Williams, the Filipino settlers boiled the shrimp in brine before laying them out on platforms to dry for several days. The shrimp were then shuffled over to remove the shells.
“[They would] put some kind of canvas or other fabric over their feet, and they would walk on nets that were up above the water in the marshy area and walk on the dried shrimp,” she said. The shrimp shells crumbled off, but the dried shrimp, made tough by the salt from the brine, didn’t break. The shells sank back into the marsh, but the shrimp clung to the net. The “shrimp dance” was the name given to this.