Dr. Dorothy L. Cordova – 2023 Preservation Champion Award

Historic Seattle’s Annual Preservation Celebration is coming up on September 28, 2023. We’ll celebrate the projects and people that help amplify our mission. Today, we feature one of two recipients for the Beth Chave Award for Preservation Champion–Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova. 

Congratulations Auntie Dorothy!

The Beth Chave Award for Preservation Champion goes to Dr. Dorothy Laigo Cordova, or “Auntie Dorothy,” as she is affectionately known, for her outstanding life-long contributions to the preservation of Filipino Americans’ rich history and cultural heritage. Born in Seattle in 1932, she grew up here feeling unaccepted as American and saw her Filipino heritage being systematically erased, even in immigrant communities.

Auntie Dorothy met her husband, the late Dr. Fred Cordova, while studying Sociology at Seattle University. They cofounded the Filipino Youth Activities (FYA) in 1957 to promote healthy activity options to youths in Seattle, including their own eight children. Dorothy and the FYA advocated for civil rights, especially for immigrants and refugees, helping to connect them to employment and other services. In the 1970s, as Executive Director of the Demonstration Project for Asian Americans (DPAA), Dorothy conducted pathbreaking sociological and historical research that focused on Korean Americans and Filipino Americans.

Frustrated by the dearth of information and inaccurate portrayals about Filipino American history, Dorothy founded the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) in 1982 and has volunteered as FANHS’ unsalaried Executive Director since then. Its mission is “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.”

Under her leadership, and with Fred as Founding President, FANHS established the National Pinoy Archives housed with the FANHS National Office located inside the historic Immaculate Conception Church in the Central District. It is one of the largest collections of Filipino American historic photographs, oral histories, recordings, exhibits, ephemera, and material artifacts in the world. FANHS also designated the nationwide observance of October as Filipino American History Month. Since 1987, FANHS has been sponsoring biennial national conferences in different cities, gathering hundreds to learn about Filipino American history, with the most recent conference in 2022 held in Seattle.

Dorothy and FANHS have been serving as the Principal Investigator for the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation’s effort to identify, document, and commemorate the rich contributions of Filipino Americans to the state’s history.

Although she announced her intention to retire from FANHS in 2024, to transition to “Resident Researcher,” now, at 91-years-young, 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.


Image of Dr. Dorothy L. Cordova researching collection at FANHS, courtesy of Clay Eals (August 2023).