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After More Than Two Decades, Filipino-American Museum Scheduled to Open

After more than two decades in the works, the Filipino American National Historical Society Museum is scheduled to open its doors on Saturday in Stockton, California.

“It feels good that [this is] finally coming to fruition,” Maria “Terri” Torres, treasurer of the Stockton chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), told NBC News. “There’s so many people who started [this] that are long gone now, so they never got a chance to see it be completed.”

Mel LaGasca, a FANHS member who has been involved with the museum project sine it began in front of the Singgalot exhibit. Courtesy of FANHS Stockton

FANHS, an organization that documents and promotes Filipino-American history, selected Stockton as the site for the museum in 1994 during a conference in San Francisco, Torres said. The Northern California city was a major hub for Filipinos from the early 1900s to the 1960s, according to the organization, and is home to a Little Manila — a historic district that was once home to the largest number of Filipinos outside of the Philippines.

“That’s where the history is,” Torres, who has been a part of FANHS for approximately 18 years, said.

Bringing the project to life took some time as the organization needed to collect exhibits and raise the funds necessary to rent a space, according to Torres. In the past several years, FANHS has relied on golf tournaments to bring in between $5,000 and $10,000 per year.

A big break came last year, Torres said, when the Stockton's FAHNS chapter — one of more than 30 across the United States — found a space it could afford in downtown Stockton. In April 2015, it began working toward completing the museum by October of this year, coinciding with Filipino-American History Month.

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On Saturday, exhibits that will be on display include a retired Smithsonian traveling piece called "Singgalot" (The Ties That Bind), which details a timeline of Filipino American history.

“The history of Filipinos in the United States is not always taught," Torres said. "A lot of people don’t know that the Philippine was a commonwealth of the United States. They don’t know what happened after the Spanish American War, or they’ve never heard of the Philippine-American War.”

That exhibit is scheduled to be on display for several months before it travels back to the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle, where it is housed.

Other exhibits include one on Filipino-American motorcyclists, Filipino-American boxers and martial artists, agriculture and labor, a religious group founded by Filipinos, and a bunkhouse camp display that illustrates the living conditions of Filipino-American labor from the 1920s to 1950s.

A picture of an FANHS exhibit with the Lighthouse Mission and early Trinity Presbyterian Church on the left and the labor camp exhibit on the right. Courtesy of FANHS Stockton

Torres said the organization’s goal with this project is to teach the public about Filipino-American history.

“We’re hoping this is a big way to do it," she said. "We want it to be available for school tours, field trips, for everybody who doesn’t know about Filipino-American history."

The museum’s open house is scheduled to take place on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry is free, and donations will be accepted.

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