After Katrina


Let me start by announcing that the members of the Burtanog Family are safely evacuated from New Orleans. I am encouraging that we make a special contribution to the Burtanog Sisters by sending your contribution to Rhonda Fox 6th generation of the Madriaga Family. The family now on its way to the 9th generation.  :


Rhonda Fox, Dorm 302
Jimmie Davis State Park
State Park Road
Chatham, LA 70226


 First Filipino American Family in the United States. (Picture taken over 100 years ago in New Orleans).



#1 Bridgett Nugent  Madrigal # 2. Felipe # 10 Rosie Borabod (Rhonda’s great grandmother). It includes children, grandchildren and sons in law.




Before Katrina


"When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans on Monday(Aug 29, 2005)  it could turn one of America's most charming cities into a vast cesspool tainted with toxic chemicals, human waste and even coffins released by floodwaters from the city's legendary cemeteries." (as reported by AP)

Just a few years ago I became friends with Rhonda Burtanog Fox. She is part of a 6th generation Filipino-American family of Madriaga/Burtanog, now going beyond 8 generations.  She is becoming the family spokeswoman, articulate in her own honest way.  Quietly assuming her responsibility of her family's genealogy, she went beyond oral research. She researched census records, newspapers, and library documents to back up her pedigree. We exchanged information and as an old student of Filipino-American history, I learned a lot from Rhonda.

Her family started with Felipe Madrigal as I know but was never sure. Around 1850. Felipe was working onboard steamship that brought immigrants across the
Atlantic. On one of these voyages he met a young Irish girl on her way to New Orleans. Felipe won Bridget Nugent heart as the rest of her family continued north.  This is the genesis of the first Filipino American Love Story.  A few claimed it should be "Madriaga" and Rhonda just re-affirmed that it was indeed Madriaga.  New Orleans' legendary cemeteries are large mausoleums high above the ground as all New Orleans is situated below sea level. Like most New Orleans families, the Madriaga/Burtanog family purchased the lot at the St Vincent Cemetery with the high rise. It is where most of their direct descendants are entombed in small cathedral elevated foundation just like Badjao housing. Felipe and Bridgett were buried earlier in the nearby fishing village. The descendants of Madriaga are mostly shrine at the St Vincent Cemetery in New Orleans that the family bought. Felipe and Bridget however were buried in the nearby fishing parish.  The exact dates are not known as some remembered a big storm flooded the area and washed the coffin to the river and to sea.

Rhonda found the names of Felipe and Bridget listed on the 1860 census. She also provided me with the Madrigal family picture taken about 1890.

"Experts have warned for years that the levees and pumps that usually keep New Orleans dry have no chance against a direct hit by a Category 5 storm. It has been 40 years since New Orleans faced a hurricane even comparable to Katrina. In 1965, Hurricane Betsy, a Category 3 storm, submerged some parts of the city to a depth of seven feet.  

Since then, the Big Easy has had nothing but near misses. In 1998, Hurricane Georges headed straight for
New Orleans, and then swerved at the last minute to strike Mississippi and Alabama. Hurricane Lily blew herself out at the mouth of the Mississippi in 2002. And last year's Hurricane Ivan obligingly curved to the east as it came ashore, barely grazing a grateful city." (AP news)


I remember the names of all these Hurricanes but none better than Betsy that destroyed the Filipino historical site south of
New Orleans, the Manila Village. 100 years ago Filipino-Americans, led by Bikolano Quintin DelaCruz, established Manila Village, thriving on the bounty of the sea. My friend Isabel Gedora Welch told me what happened. It was a way of seasonal life sometimes harsh as the element around. Even the best of the harvest required school kids being pulled early from school to help in this livelihood.   

Well, it was blown away in 1965 by a devastating hurricane called "Betsy."  She recalls her older sister going back to the village just days after and found that even animal left were unable to survive the wrath of the sea.  The Gedora sisters went on and became great school teachers in
New Orleans. “Betsy” became the standard mold of engineering flood management in New Orleans. 

Mrs Marina Espina went to look for
Manila Village in 1976, but all that was left standing were pilings and one camp. Now there are only pilings left.  

By doing this project and researching the background of
Manila Village, I have learned that because of the destruction of this shrimping village, many Filipinos had to turn to deep-sea shrimping, freezing shrimp or to other occupations. Shrimp drying has become a commercial endeavor. Tidal waves and strong winds may have swallowed the whole settlement; however, the waters could not wash away the rich tradition of the early Filipino settlers. The descendants of the people of Manila Village are proud of their heritage and their forefathers, who made outstanding contributions to the history and economy of the State of Louisiana.  

Today, the area is still the primary source of shrimp in the American continent. The discovery of offshore oil has brought another boom industry in the
Gulf Coast.  Katrina has stopped oil production by 1 million barrels a day that will be felt immediately here in the northeast, long before Katrina's weather residue arrives.

Experts have warned about New Orleans' vulnerability for years, chiefly because Louisiana has lost more than a million acres of coastal wetlands in the past seven decades. The vast patchwork of swamps and bayous south of the city serves as a buffer, partially absorbing the surge of water that a hurricane pushes ashore.

"We're talking about an incredible environmental disaster," van Heerden said.

He puts much of the blame for
New Orleans' dire situation on the very levee system that is designed to protect southern Louisiana from Mississippi River floods.


Before the levees were built, the river would top its banks during floods and wash through a maze of bayous and swamps, dropping fine-grained silt that nourished plants and kept the land just above sea level.  

The levees "have literally starved our wetlands to death" by directing all of that precious silt out into the
Gulf of Mexico, van Heerden said. (From various news sources)

Manila Village should not be confused with the Fil-am settlement of 13 houses in Saint Malo that existed might be existed earlier than when Felipe Madriaga was sailing the Atlantic Ocean.  Saint Malo is located few miles south east of
New Orleans and east of Manila Village.  These Badjao houses were also blown away by hurricane circa 1895. The bayous serve as Barrier Island for hurricane and the frequency of big hurricanes it was becoming harder to resettlement even for Filipinos who might have seen harsher life.  The only man made construction now in Saint Malo are the cables passing underneath that serve the offshore oil platform to the mainland.  

The presence of Filipino immigrants in
New Orleans however came earlier than this recent historical hurricane that we know.  It is said a Filipino fought in the war of 1812 in the bayous against the mighty British Navy.  I have been chasing this almost legendary sailor since I could remember. His name was Agustin mentioned by Yatar in his letter to the Filipino Mail in Washington DC in 1906 about the 2000 Filipino community in New Orleans.  

From the archives of the Filipino American Experience Research Project, Asian American Studies,
San Francisco State University comes this piece of history that identifies the "GRAND OLD FILIPINO" of the U.S. Navy.  

The Filipino Student Bulletin, March 1906 (Washington, D.C.)  

"We received a subscription from a Filipino living in New Orleans, and as we did not know there were any Filipinos in the southern part of this country, we were very much surprised, and wrote to him, asking that he send us some details concerning himself and any other Filipinos that there might be in his neighborhood. The Filipino whom we addressed was Mr. Eulogio Yatar, and he sent us some most astonishing news; in fact, we feel almost as the ethnologist does who discovers a new race of people, for we find that there is a colony of 2,000 Filipinos in that Queen City of the South. This community has been established for about a hundred years, the first one who landed there being a Bikol by the name of Augustin Feliciano, who later served in the American navy in the war of 1812. ... Other Filipino seamen came, and finding the surroundings agreeable, remained there, and built up this large community. Although the greater part of these
Louisiana Filipinos were born in this country, yet many of them are natives of the is-lands, and nearly all Visayans. They speak Tagalog and Spanish, as well as English."  

This Eulogio Yatar was born in Capiz on
Dec 7, 1877 but turned out in the Madriaga/Burtanog family genealogy line. He married Rhonda's Great-Aunt, Othelia and suddenly the War of 1812 overture sounded remotely but intimately closer. I am still listening.

Just to share another Rhonda story before Katrina...

Tropical Storm Cindy blew through here last night and I didn't get to sleep until 5:00 a.m. when the wind and rain finally died down.  It was pretty scary!  My mantra to stay calm was, "My ancestors survived worse than this!", and it actually helped.  I was reminded of my grandma Rosie (Borabod-Martinez) telling me about her husband surviving a hurricane after his shrimp boat fell to pieces.  He tied his crewman and himself to the mast with a rope, and then broke off the doors to the cabin.  He gave one to the crewman, and told him to cut himself loose when the boat went down and hang onto the door.  As the boat began to break up, Benito cut his rope, but the crewman refused.  Benito jumped overboard as the boat went down.  He survived for days floating in the bay until he was rescued.  When he was found, his face was swollen beyond recognition from the mosquito and sand fly bites.  

<<Grandma Rosie
The Madriaga/Burtanog family lived in the Marigny section of New Orleans just few blocks from the Rampart (levee) street and the French Quarter.  The children rode the streetcar named Desire while the
Manila village kids rowed around the water in pirogue. A young  Walter N Burtanog III from New Orleans e-mailed me few months ago when I wrote about the Burtanog. From my other research of Filipinos coming through Ellis Island I found the first Walter N Burtanog. In 1921 he was a crewmember of the ship SS Halfway that brought new immigrants to New York/Ellis Island. 


I referred a 100 years old family group picture from Fred Cordova’s book “Forgotten American” with Rhonda.  Rhonda to identify the people in the picture. Her great mom, Lillian and some of the people I mentioned are noted. In the picture were 3 generations of Filipino-American taken before the Asiatic Fleet of Dewey made the historic landfall in Manila.


Sorry for the long indulgence but I promised myself to tell this part of the Filipino Americana experience of my time every time historical hurricane comes around. I felt very lucky for not only knowing Rhonda Burtanog Fox and Isabel Gedora Welch and being able to share our early pioneering experience. As we watch the tragedy unfolding in the Gulf Coast let us pray for their safety, the Fil-Am community of New Orleans, and all the aftermath victims. We will hear several more human survival stories from here as hurricane comes and go in New Orleans. Hurricane spin out of the Atlantic towards the south east of the United States as it gathers speed from the warmer ocean surface, once trapped in the Gulf Stream its favorite landfall is New Orleans. It is natural course that can’t be changed but what’s amazing is when the Pinoys from the Pacific started making landfalls in the Bayous almost two centuries ago. It is halfway around the world and in the other side (you have to remember the Panama Canal is only about 100 years old) It must be in that temper culture and engrained seafaring blood among us.



Hurricane spin out of the Atlantic towards the south east of the United States as it gathers speed from the warmer ocean surface, once trapped in the Gulf Stream its favorite landfall is New Orleans. It is natural course that can’t be changed but what’s amazing is when the Pinoys from the Pacific started making landfalls in the Bayous almost two centuries ago. It is halfway around the world and on the other side.  It must be in that temper culture and engrained seafaring blood among us. . I wrote about the legendary cemetery of New Orleans last week. The tombs are like skyscrapers above the water marks of New Orleans are just few of the tourist attractions.


Even the first settlement in St Malo was blown away by hurricane around 1895 or the recorded hurricane in 1915.. FR mentioned Lafcadio Hearn who first wrote about St Malo (March 31, 1883 issue of the Harpers Weekly). I bought the original copies of this issue for my collection and plan in donating a couple to FANHS or maybe use it for auction in Hawaii


Lafcadio Hearn interaction with the Manila men inspired him to write another novel “Chita” It is about a lost island like and his stylistic description of hurricane almost fit the mold of Saint Malo.  He put color and aroma in the words of his writing and added few Pinoy words like “maganda dalaga” A disastrous hurricane and tidal wave killed more than 200 vacationers in Louisiana on 1856. The “Last Island” tragedy is described by historian using Lafcadio Hearn's novel, Chita. I think Hearn was inspired by both events.


that the Voice of the Sea is never one voice, but a tumult of many voices--voices of drowned men,--the muttering of multitudinousdead,--the moaning of innumerable ghosts, all rising, to rage against the living, at the great Witch call of storms....
... So the hurricane passed,--tearing off the heads of the prodigious waves, to hurl them a hundred feet in air,--heaping up the ocean against the land,--upturning the woods. Bays and passes were swollen to abysses; rivers regorged; the sea-marshes were changed to raging wastes of water. Before
New Orleans the flood of the mile-broad Mississippi rose six feet above highest water-mark. One hundred and ten miles away, Donaldsonville trembled at the towering tide of the Lafourche. Lakes strove to burst their boundaries. Far-off river steamers tugged wildly at their cables,--shivering like tethered creatures that hear by


I haven't heard any news from my friends Rhonda, Isabel and the former 
FANHS president Marina Espina. "Where y'at?" It is New Orleans lingo 
for "Kamusta?" How are you? Safely above water, I hope. Maybe in the attic 
of her Filipino American archives 


Letters from Rhonda and her friends,



Nestor, we survived and have all met up at the Jimmie Davis State Park in Chatham, La. which my brother and sister found by "accident", but as you know, there are no accidents. The town is filled with angels. The road to life has many turns, but God gives good directions! I'll keep in touch as much as I can. Have to answer more worried e-mails. Thanks for being a friend! Rhonda



Many of you know of the Burtanog sisters of St. Bernard Parish, Lousiana, who have helped to keep alive the history of Filipino Americans in
New Orleans through their stories, family archive, and warm welcome to researchers, journalists, and filmmakers.  The Burtanogs have helped to bring forth the stories of the "Manila Men" who lived in the Louisiana bayou since the 1700s--the last remnants of their early villages were destroyed by Hurricane Betsy in 1965.

This is our chance to give back.  The extended famliy lives in St. Bernard Parish, which is to the south and east of
New Orleans, interlaced with waterways and directly in the path of Hurricane Katrina.  All evacuated safely - in some cases through perilous rescues - but they have lost everything.  Lillian Mae Burtanog Faxon, Joyce Burtanog Pascual and their families are now living in a camp at a state park in Lousiana (Benita was able to evacuate to her family in Houston; unfortunately eldest sister Audrey passed a few years back).  "We've lost all things material, but thank God we're all alive, and together," says Rhonda Fox, Lillian Mae's daughter, who has taken on the mantle of family historian.

We hope you will join us in showing our gratitude and support for the
extended Burtanog family by sending whatever you can, even if it's just a few dollars.  You can send it to Lillian Mae or Rhonda at the address

Lillian Mae Faxon, Cabin 4
Rhonda Fox, Dorm 302
Jimmie Davis State Park
1209 State Park Road
Chatham, LA 70226

Thank you,
Renee Tajima-Peña and Helen Zia

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña is a  professor at USC (Santa Clara) She has directed and produced Asian American documentary for Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) . One documentary is My America (...or Honk if You Love Buddha) one segment is about  The Burtanog Sisters, an eighth-generation Filipino American clan in New Orleans. She traveled in New Orleans to see the Burtanogs.


When Katrina was about to hit New Orleans she e mailed me asking what I know about the Burtanog sister. She was concerned.




Nestor, yes the address is correct. I'm overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and generosity from our Filipino friends. Honestly, we're kind of in limbo right now. We're currently trying to find out where we will live, find jobs, etc. We women, of course, have been buying a few neccessities like cleaning products, iron, ironing board, etc., but beyond that, we're kind of lost. We have virtually nothing, no where to go, and are kind of dazed by it all. We are trying to hold on to what cash we have for our eventual move. I found out that today is my last payday, as the St. Bernard Schools will not reopen for at least a year. I will let you know if there is anything specific anyone needs, but it is so difficult for me to ask anything of anyone that I just wouldn't know where to start with our needs. I'll be in touch again as soon as possible. Thanks again for being such a friend. Rhonda 


Nestor, we survived and have all met up at the Jimmie Davis State Park in Chatham, La. which my brother and sister found by "accident", but as you know, there are no accidents. The town is filled with angels. The road to life has many turns, but God gives good directions! I'll keep in touch as much as I can. Have to answer more worried e-mails. Thanks for being a friend! Rhonda



I also received several emails from Don Clariza (Gotom Org) and my fellow Trustee and members of the Filipino American National  Historical Society (FANHS) in support of Marina Espina and the Burtanog Sisters. Thelma Buchholdt, the current FANHS president has already sent clothing, money, and salmon from Alaska.





Nestor Palugod Enriquez

Nestor Palugod Enriquez
Coming to

Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery.
Today is a gift,and that's why we call it the present.



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