32nd Annual SHPO Awards Honor Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova and FANHS

Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova, Founder/Executive Director of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), with FANHS friends after Dorothy received the Washington SHPO Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement, May 2023. Photo courtesy of Emily P. Lawsin.

May is Preservation Month and Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month! In celebration of both, we’re thrilled to highlight news that the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) has honored 4Culture grant recipient Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova with the 2023 SHPO Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement.

The SHPO Awards are an opportunity to celebrate outstanding people and places throughout the state, and to highlight the significant contributions that archaeology, historic preservation, and cultural resources make to the people of Washington. Award recipients will also be recognized throughout National Historic Preservation Month in May on DAHP’s social media accounts.

Dr. Cordova, or “Auntie Dorothy” as she is affectionately known, is the 91-year-old Founder and Executive Director of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), which is a 4Culture Community Partner and recipient of Heritage Project Grants and a Building for Equity Capacity Building Grant. Born in Seattle in 1932, Cordova grew up feeling unaccepted as American and saw her Filipino heritage being systematically erased, even in immigrant communities. She has dedicated her life to the recognition of Filipino Americans’ rich history and contributions to the country.

Frustrated by the dearth of information about Filipino American history and angered by the inaccurate portrayals in available information, Dorothy founded FANHS around her kitchen table in 1982; it was chartered as a nonprofit organization in 1985, with Dorothy serving as unsalaried Executive Director for the past 41 years. Under her leadership, and with her late husband Dr. Fred Cordova as Founding President, FANHS established its National Pinoy Archives (NPA) housed with its National Office in the historic Immaculate School Building in the Central District of Seattle and designated the nationwide observance of October as Filipino American History Month in 1991 with congressional legislation in 2009. The FANHS National Office and Archives holds one of the largest collections of Filipino American historical photographs, oral histories, exhibits, papers, posters, and material artifacts in the world. In 2016, the FANHS National Museum opened in Stockton, California. Since 1987, FANHS sponsors biennial national conferences in different cities, gathering hundreds of scholars, students, artists, activists, and community folks of all ages for an intergenerational gathering that furthers the FANHS Mission “to promote understanding, education, enlightenment, appreciation and enrichment through the identification, gathering, preservation and dissemination of the history and culture of Filipino Americans in the United States.” Today there are 42 Chapters of FANHS across the country, with governance by an elected board of 27 Trustees. Dorothy has done all of this with no paid staff, and on what she calls a shoe-string budget, often selling t-shirts, books, and lumpia eggrolls as fundraisers.

Although she announced her intention to retire from FANHS in 2024, to transition to “Resident Researcher”, Auntie Dorothy can still be found at the FANHS National Office every day, answering phone calls and email inquiries, giving interviews, hosting students, sharing photographs, talking story, and documenting the layered history of Filipino Americans.