Immigrant Imprints: Filipinx Spaces in Michigan
Ann Arbor | Detroit | Southfield

Early Filipinx Settlement: The First Students


Filipinx Student Immigrants in Ann Arbor and Detroit

Source:"Directory of Filipino Students in the United States" by the Bureau of Insular Affairs

How to read the map

The map on the left is of Ann Arbor; on the right, Detroit. Clicking on any of the place markers will provide information about the Filipinx student registered at that address, along with their declared major and school of attendance. The toggle in the right hand corner allows you to populate the map by decade.

The Pensionados (1900-1903) and Self-Supporting Student Immigrants (1910-1930s)

Arguably, the group some have considered the first wave of Filipinx immigrants involved the small population of elite students who came over in 1903. This group was called the Pensionados because they were sent to America as part of the government-sponsored pensionado program. The program's purpose was to teach these Filipinx students the ways of the U.S. Government with the expectation that they would transfer that knowledge and values upon their return to the Philippines. True to its intent, many of these students returned home to take high positions in government after graduation. The Pensionados' success also began a trend of self-supporting students who came for an education and built a life in the states.

If we begin before the wave of Pensionados came to the states, three Filipino students arrived in 1900, even while the U.S. was still at war with the Philippines. Their first U.S. settlement: Ann Arbor. Lorenzo Onrubia, Santiago Artiaga, and Juan Tecson attended school in Ann Arbor following the advice of Philippine Commission member and University of Michigan Alum, Dean C. Worcester. Santiago and Juan’s residences were just on the outskirts of the campus, areas which would soon undergo fast change due to the University’s expansion. Santiago’s earliest residence is at 812 E. Washington, within the tree-lined neighborhood of large stone and brick houses or fraternities north of the then 40-acre campus in the Thayer neighborhood block. An example of one of the large homes in this neighborhood block is Winchell’s House which sits just south of that block. The Winchell House along with this entire neighborhood was torn down for University of Michigan campus’s northern expansion. When the Winchell house was demolished to make way for Hill Auditorium, it was the first time the University had taken advantage of “the right of eminent domain” provision in the 1908 constitution. Juan stayed in a house nearby Santiago on 713 E. Huron, and he and Santiago got to watch many of the changes surrounding university and the booming automobile industry. For instance, between 1900 and 1925 gas stations would spring up at almost every corner of nearby Huron avenue.

Later, as more students came through during the Pensionado program, a wave of Filipinx students in the 1910s, 30s, and 40s, lived in what was left of the Thayer neighborhood—including a few Barbour scholars, Filipina women with educational scholarships started by Detroit University alumni Levi L. Barbour. Filipino and Filipina students occupied the Thayer neighborhood, likely living in boarding houses similar to the “Chubb House” which sat directly behind their address. The Thayer neighborhood became a popular spot to live even though northern campus continued to push residents out of the area. The University was expanding in all directions, demolishing the homes that Santiago and later Filipinxs established residence (by 1909). Despite these challenges, one may question why the Filipinx students continued to stay close in the Thayer neighborhood. One factor could be the discriminatory treatment they faced while looking for rooms elsewhere. In 1928, according to University of Michigan international center’s survey, 25 of the 40 Asian American and Filipinx students claimed discrimination was a big issue in securing housing.

Over in Detroit, a number of pensionados and self-supporting students arrived during the 1910s through 40s hoping to land one of the high-paying auto industry jobs and save for an education. Most settled in low-income, underdeveloped areas in Cass Corridor, downtown, and the Eastside district. The neighborhood of Cass Corridor, a historically immigrant-populated hub and eventual site of Detroit's Chinatown, was just evolving from affluent Victorian housing to apartments and commercial businesses serving blue-collor and immigrant workers. Locations in targeted areas of development also bring up questions regarding students' possible displacement and difficulty securing housing. Cornelio Casaclang at 225 Bagley Ave, as one example, lived on the underdeveloped and crime-infested street in the early 1920s, right across from the construction of the 1925 Michigan Theater on 220 Bagley. As Bagley transformed into a glittering entertainment and shopping district, many residents, such as Casaclang, likely found themselves looking for more affordable alternatives. Though these histories aren’t documented, the imaginary potential behind the piecing together of their location and place of study raise important questions about their livelihood and movement throughout documented urban change, discriminatory housing, and financial struggle.


At a Glance: The First Filipinx Students


Source: Detroit Free Press

Steven Mirasol "Detroit's Only Filipino" (1904)

Mirasol was taken to Detroit under Captain C.N. Purdy's care around 1904. He attends Gillies school in the southwest side of Detroit, an area then popular to Chinese immigrants. Though Mirasol's residence is unlisted, he provides an early record of Detroit's first Filipinx immigrants and the unique context to which immigrants were brought over. Around this time, Detroit Free Press publishes numerous articles on Fil-Ams with a focus on English-learning as sign of "civilizing" potential.

Source: W.A. Sutherland’s Not by Might: The Epic of the Philippines

The Pre-Pensionados Immigrant Students During the Philippine American War

Even before the incoming pensionados of 1903, three students were brought over in 1900. It was during the Philippine-American war that the Philippine Commission member Dean C. Worcester suggested that the elite from The International Club of Manila hold a competition to send their brightest to the U.S. for study. The three winners, Lorenzo Onrubia (11yo), Santiago Artiaga (21yo), and Juan Tecson (21yo), journeyed across the Pacific on a U.S. transport ship to their first destination, Ann Arbor. In an interview with The U. of M. Daily, one of the students expressed better feelings toward the Americans in Ann Arbor than in the Philippines, stating the Americans in their homeland were perceived more as "conquerors there than as liberators."

Source: The Filipino (1906)

Pensionado Women The few chosen

On rare occasions, Filipina women were selected for the Pensionado program. In 1905, the two highest scoring students were young women, one of which, Honoria Acosta (pic center) becoming the first Filipina to graduate from an American University (Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania).