Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova (she/her)

By Arianne Rosario

A drawing of a file box with yellow file folders labelled "RECORDS" in all caps.
“Records” by Anika Gopez.

Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova was born in Seattle, Washington, on February 6, 1932. At the time, Cordova grew up in her childhood home located in Seattle’s Madison Valley. Her parents immigrated from the Philippines in 1928 and owned a cafe and grocery store in the International District. In 1936, at four years old, Cordova’s father passed away leaving behind his wife and four kids. After highschool, she went on to attend Seattle College, now known as Seattle University where during her time there, she would become immersed in spreading and preserving Filipino culture. In college, Cordova further developed the idea of a Filipino American identity. She often worked with organizations such as the Filipino Catholic Youth, and would graduate with a degree in sociology.

In 1957, Cordova’s interests led her to co-found the Filipino Youth Activities (FYA), along with other families who came from different social backgrounds. The FYA was made to provide a space for Filipino American youth to spend time with their families and create a community rich in culture. During the 1960’s, Cordova involved herself within the greater Seattle community pressuring Seattle Public Schools to hire immigrant and bilingual teachers. She would also advocate for medical doctors trained in the Philippines to be able to work in the United States.

In 1982, Cordova would take on one of her bigger projects by founding the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) in Seattle alongside her husband Fred Cordova. Stored here in Seattle, the National Pinoy Archives were created within the FANHS and its compilation of Filipino American History is one of the largest collections worldwide. The goal of the FANHS and NYA was to preserve the history of Filipino Americans. Through historical documents and exhibits, the FANHS educates visitors about the experiences of Filipinos after immigrating from the Philippines and building a life in the United States. In 1994, Cordova, alongside her husband, would go on to work with the University of Washington to create a curriculum about Filipino Americans until 2004.

At ninety-one years old, Cordova was not just an icon in her community but she is also a great-grandmother of twenty-two, a grandmother to seventeen, and a mother to eight children. Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova remains a key figure in the Filipino American community, because of her work in educating others and preserving the cultural and American history of Filipino immigrants who settled down in Seattle.


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