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Tompkins County's first recorded residents of Asian descent date to the mid 1800's. Records for the City of Ithaca show small but increasing populations from Asian, Asian-Indian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) nations from the 1890's into the twentieth century, although multi-generation AAPI immigrant families did not appear consistently until after the 1930's. These records can be explored at, please note that a category for "Filipino" was not in the U.S. Census until 1920. 

Filipino students were attending Cornell University as early as the 19-teens. A 2021 article found that Cornell's third president Jacob Gould Schurman (President from 1892-1920) supported American imperialist control of the Philippines. Editorials published in the Ithaca Journal during the 1920's by Filipino students enrolled at Cornell demonstrate pushback against the paternalistic and imperialist views promoted by university staff and America at-large during the period.

Beginning in the 1970s, the Asian immigrant population of Tompkins County began to grow more expansively, with more people arriving from the Indian subcontinent as well as from Southeast Asian countries, especially Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia; learn more at 

Tompkins County's most notable Filipino-American resident of the last century is undoubtedly Florence FinchFlorence was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific campaign ribbon in 1945, the first woman to receive the honor, as well as the Medal of Freedom in 1947. In 1995 the Coast Guard named their Pacific headquarters building in Hawaii after her for her impressive efforts during WWII. Florence lived in Ithaca from 1955 until her death in 2016.

In 2017 long-time Ithacan and Filipino-American Mimi Melegrito accepted a Congressional Gold Medal for her late father, Greg Melegrito as part of a long overdue recognition for the efforts of Filipino Americans during WWII. 

The History Center is actively seeking more local histories of Filipino-Americans from Tompkins County. Please connect with us to share more narratives.

The celebration of Filipino American History Month commemorates the first recorded presence of Filipinos in the continental United States, which occurred on October 18, 1587, when “Luzones Indios” came ashore from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esperanza and landed at what is now Morro Bay, California. U.S. Congress formally recognized October as Filipino American History Month in 2009. 

Click here to read the full 1985 Ithaca Journal article 'Cultures are well-blended in Filipino Food' (including three of her recipes). Edna Michael interviews Nina Christian an Ithacan who had recently moved to Tompkins County from her home country of the Philippines.

When Florence Finch died at the age of 101, few of her Ithaca, NY neighbors knew that this unassuming Filipina native was a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, whose courage and sacrifice were unsurpassed in the Pacific War against Japan. PURCHASE 'The Indomitable Florence Finch' 

Learn about the lives of Filipino and Filipino-Americans in Tompkins County from the resources on our website, by visiting our Exhibit Hall, and through exploring our Archival CollectionsConnect with our archivist to contribute to the archival collections documenting Filipino history in Tompkins County.



Mimi Melegrito grew up in the Phillippines and worked in Ithaca as a volunteer in nursing homes, food banks, and local 4-H youth clubs. Our Oral Histories of Tompkins County collections include interviews with her from 2017 and 2018. 


      Image by Sol Goldberg of children reading at the library. Taken between 1956–1965 in Ithaca, NY. From the Sol Goldberg Photograph Collection.


      Florence Finch (1915–2016) was a Filipino-American who worked for the resistance against the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during WWII. Florence risked her life to divert fuel from the Japanese army, supplying the Filipino resistance and buying food and medicine on the black market for POWs. In 1944, Florence was arrested by Japanese authorities and endured confinement and torture. After her liberation in 1945, she moved to the U.S. and enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard for a year. In 1955, she came to Ithaca, where she stayed for the rest of her life, raising two children and working in Cornell’s Southeast Asia program. Florence was awarded the Asiatic-Pacific campaign ribbon in 1945, the first woman to receive the honor, as well as the Medal of Freedom in 1947, and in 1995 the Coast Guard named their Pacific headquarters building in Hawaii after her.

      Tomás Bautista Mapúa (1888-1965) graduated from Cornell University in 1911, the first Filipino to receive a degree in architecture.

      Upon returning home to the Philippines in 1912 jobs in the field of architecture for Filipinos were difficult to find, due to the lack of formal licensing procedures for Filipinos to practice architecture or construction, a biased legacy of the former colonial government. In 1921 Philippine Assembly Act 2985, or the "Engineers and Architects Law" passed which automatically registered all those who held the Maestro de Obras (Master Builder) title in the country. Mapúa became the first Filipino registered as an architect with License 00001.

      Mapúa would later found and serve as the first president of the Mapúa Institute of Technology (now Mapúa University), as well as become the founding president for the Central Colleges of the Philippines. He was also a co-founder of the Philippine Instiute of Architects in 1933. Many of his buildings still stand in Manila. 

      Larissa Maestro co-founder of the Nashville Concerto Orchestra, and an activist with Youth Empowerment through Arts and Humanities,  and The Oasis Center of Nashville. Maestro is currently reaching international stages touring as a cellist with Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. Maestro is Fillipinx, born and raised in Ithaca. Larissa studied the cello with contemporary cellist Dr. Sera Smolen, Christine Lowe-Diemecke at the Ithaca Talent Education School, and Grammy award-winning improvisational cellist Eugene Friesen at Berklee College of Music.


      HistoryForge is an innovative digital history project combining maps, archival records, and census data that allows any community to explore its local history through the individuals who lived there and the buildings and neighborhoods they lived in.  

      Tompkins County HistoryForge includes over 100,000 digitized census records of Ithacans from 1900–1950, and is in the process of adding tens of thousands of building records to the database. 

      By searching the database using the "Race," "Place of Birth," or "Foreign Born" filters on different census years you can learn about Filipino residents of the City of Ithaca between 1900–1950.

      Each red dot indicates an Asian (Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hindu, or Korean) household from the City of Ithaca 1930 Census. Learn more about these residents at

      Learn more about these residents of Tompkins County at


      Questions of “color” or race on the census were initially limited to “White” and “Black” when the first records were taken in 1790. Additional categories were added beginning with the 1850 census. The first Asian category, "Chinese" was added in 1860 (other categories: Black, White, Indian). More expansive and inclusive Asian and Pacific Islander options were added minimally over the next century; Filipino was added as a category in 1920. Enumerators did not ask respondents for their racial identity, but were expected to determine race by visual identification. This created inconsistency in some records, and a lack of specificity for those whose racial, national, and cultural identities were not represented in the available categories. 


      “Filipino” was one of three new racial categories added to the 1920 census. No one on the 1920 census for Ithaca was recorded with the race “Filipino.” One enumerator did, however, encounter a man, Zack N. Dapula, who was born in the Philippines, as were his parents. Without specific instructions on what constituted Filipino as a race, the enumerator visually determined that Dapula was “Mulatto.” In 1930 six people were recorded on the census for the City of Ithaca as "Filipino." Highlighting the inconsistencies of racial categorization on the census, all six also appeared on the 1940 census, but there they were recorded as "White." 



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