I’m doing a one-man show in New York talking about the Philippine American War. It’s a war no one likes to talk about.
This is because the US is the aggressor against the sovereign, the Philippines. In other words, the US is in the role of Russia. And the Philippines is in the role of Ukraine. That’s your update on geopolitical ironies.
But I want to talk about the war in the context of the last days of Black History Month, and one historical story that I love because it shows that black history is American history is Asian American history. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. When an American is African American in Asia, it is a wealth worth thinking about.
If the name David Fagen doesn’t slip from your lips or comes to mind right away, remember it right away. It is a lesson in history and a lesson in humanity that is always worth repeating. For history buffs, Fagen was an African-American born in Florida in 1875. It was post-slavery, post-Civil War, and yet did it really make much of a difference? You still had blacks lynched, burned, and murdered in the South. That was the reality for Fagen, who joined the segregated all-Black 24Thursday infantry and was sent to fight the Native Americans as a “Buffalo Soldier”. His unit was so good that the Army sent him first to Cuba in the Spanish American War. And then they were sent to the Philippines for what I prefer to call the US-Philippines War, reserving the lead for the aggressor.
The first shots were fired on February 4, 1899. It was around this time that Fagen began hearing the “N” word thrown around him. But when he turned his head, so did the Filipinos. White officers called Filipinos the “N” word. The N word as the F word? With that, the soul began to search for Fagen. How could any African American with integrity or empathy fight a white man’s war and turn his weapon against another person of color fighting for freedom?
I don’t know how Fagen felt about the Native Americans he encountered in previous campaigns, but he changed by the time he was in the jungles of the Philippines. Fagen could no longer fight for the US Imperial Army. He became one of 15 to 30 deserters among four units of all-black “Buffalo Soldiers.” He was the only one known to have joined the Filipino freedom fighters of the American-Philippine War.
Others felt what Fagen did. One of my favorite black history books is by William Gatewood, Smoked Yankees and the Struggle for Empire: Letters From Negro Soldiers, 1898-1902. The letters shed light on the racist nature of the war and provide insight into Fagen’s defection. Gatewood’s book contains letters written by African American soldiers and published in the US by black ethnic press such as Boston Post, Cleveland Gazette, and American Citizen In Kansas City.
“I feel sorry for these people and everything that came under the control of the United States,” wrote Patrick Mason, a sergeant in Fagen’s 24th Infantry. Cleveland GazetteE. “First thing in the morning is “(N-word)” and last thing at night is “(N-word).” . .You are correct in your views. I’m not allowed to say so much as I’m a soldier.”
It took the courage of humanity to act like David Fagen. If you’ve never heard of this history, don’t be surprised. It’s something that goes against the American narrative of white supremacy. Few teach history with a mention of Fagen. I was surprised that even my father, who was born under the American flag in the Philippines a few weeks after the start of the US-Philippine War, had never heard of Fagen. This was probably not taught in his colonized American school, where he learned English well enough to come to America in the 1920s as a colonized American citizen.
Throughout the discrimination my father faced in the US (against miscegenation, lack of employment and housing opportunities), he found himself in the black community. But he was still in the grip of the colonial mentality. This is generally called accepting the white narrative because one is doing well in society.
I happen to be telling my father’s story live on stage during various seasons of Frigid.NYC, New York’s Fringe Festival, at the Under St.Marks Theatre. You don’t necessarily have to be in New York to experience it. Watch it from home with a live stream ticket available on Fringe.NYC via this link:
Emil Guillermo is a veteran Northern California journalist, speaker and commentator. It is at www.amok.com