In the 1930s, the Filipino Student Christian Movement national offices were located in the Equitable Life Building at 347 Madison Avenue in Midtown.
The FSCM was part of the YMCA’s Committee on Friendly Relations Among Foreign Students, and the FSCM’s national office was actually inside the headquarters of the Committee on Friendly Relations (which also organized Chinese, Japanese, and “Oriental” student Christian groups). Founded in 1924, the FSCM just two years later held its first national conference, which attracted Filipino students from across the country.
At this time, most Filipinos lived in Hawaii or on the West Coast, particularly in Washington State and California, while the 1930 New York census reported only about 1400 Filipinos in the entire state. The population was likely larger than that, however; a New York Times article from the mid-1930s put the number of Filipinos in the New York metro area alone at around 3000, many of them sailors who found work on American ships. Others were definitely students, the kind of men (and sometimes women) the FSCM sought to attract and serve.
As part of its work, the FSCM published a magazine, The Filipino Student Bulletin, that was alternately newsy and moralistic: the organization sought to push Filipino male students to avoid taxi-dance halls and other supposedly immoral forms of entertainment. According to historian Kimberly Alidio, FSCM leaders and Filipino elites worried that students (many of them self-supporting) would succumb to such temptations and stay in the United States instead of taking their skills back to the Philippines. But the FSCM wasn’t just concerned about morality; its leaders were strongly nationalistic and viewed the group as a vehicle for achieving independence for the Philippines.
Because so many Filipinos lived on the West Coast, FSCM leaders like Manuel Aveda spent considerable time traveling across the country, sometimes intervening in situations in which Filipinos (some, but not all of them students) encountered hostility or discrimination. If you’ve ever read Carlos Bulosan’s America Is in the Heart, you know that Filipinos in the United States faced constant harassment, segregation, and discrimination in the 1930s and 1940s, especially in the West. Aveda and other Filipino leaders also gave speeches trying to familiarize the American public with Filipinos and the Philippines, an American colony that the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 promised eventual independence.
Because of World War Two, the Philippines gained independence in 1946, rather than 1944, as Tydings-McDuffie stipulated. Some of the FSCM leaders, including Aveda, became officials in the new Philippine government. Aveda’s first position was Philippine Consul-General in New York.Sources for this post include Kimberly A. Alidio, “Between Civilizing Mission and Ethnic Assimilation: Racial Discourse, U.S. Colonial Education, and Filipino Ethnicity, 1901-1946 (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 2001), the New York Times, and the website of the Filipino American National Historical Society, Metro New York Chapter (http://fanhsmny.tumblr.com/).