Immigrant Imprints: Filipinx Spaces in Michigan

Immigrant Imprints: Filipinx Spaces in Michigan is an exploration of Filipinx settlement and displacement in Ann Arbor and Detroit with particular emphasis on the challenges of sustaining cultural space within urban settings. The site highlights settlement locales from a number of the first wave Filipinx immigrants (the first three to come over were sent to Ann Arbor); the history of Michigan’s only Filipinx Cultural Center, beginning from its conception, eventual establishment after nearly three decades of fundraising, and present challenges; and contemporary murals from the Asian Pacific Islander American [APIA] community. Aside from the importance of sustaining cultural spaces, territorial claims to place and space become part of a mosaic of representative voices in the public sphere, a means to foster community, vie for resources, contribute to economic development, and participate in a nation-building narrative. The site focuses on one story of a cultural group’s struggle to carve out spaces to gather, mobilize, and participate in public dialogue.

Data was gathered from government documents from the 1910s-20s which list the names of the Filipinx students who came over in the first wave. Their names are accompanied by address of residence, major, and university attended, all of which are accessible for users to explore on the first subpage’s clickable maps of Ann Arbor and Detroit. Data for the Filipinx cultural center was collected through interviews and documents provided by senior members of the center. Finally, information on the third subpage’s murals came from an interview, news stories, and observational analysis. “Read more” buttons give users access to a more in-depth discussion of these murals as public claims to space, how to read them, and how to potentially assess its impact on publics.

Though the establishment of the cultural center was a major achievement that spanned decades of organizing, the impact of its displacement due to zoning laws and operational costs still affects the center’s sustainability. For instance, many of its community donors are further from its Southfield location, making it difficult for the center to sustain their previously large population of students for the cultural school. The murals reveal even more challenges to gaining a representative voice in the urban landscape. Both (and only) murals from APIA groups have been taken down or defaced as a result of an inactive Chinatown and contentions to the local community identity it sought to represent. The website provides an overarching narrative of the importance of ethnic spaces and how difficult it is to establish and sustain in the face of urban development and contentions to the ‘identity’ of public space. The portrait of Filipinx spaces in Michigan may provide a resource for educators and publics interested in the state’s Filipinx history and heritage.

Stephanie Mahnke

2016-2017 CHI Grad Fellow Cohort

PhD Student, Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures