Filipino Americans are those people in the US whose families came from the Philippines. In 2014 they made up 17% of all Asian Americans, the third largest after Indian and Chinese Americans.
Filipinos first landed in California 33 years before the Mayflower. Back then California and the Philippines were part of the Spanish Empire and its trade across the Pacific Ocean carried by Manila galleons. By 1763, Filipinos had settled in Louisiana.
Starting in the 1800s, Asian labourers came to Hawaii and California in three main waves:
- 1849-1882: Chinese
- 1882-1908: Japanese
- 1908-1934: Filipino
Demand for cheap labour came up against White racism:
- 1882: Chinese Exclusion Act – kept out Chinese workers.
- 1908: The Gentlemen’s Agreement – kept out Japanese workers.
- 1934: Tydings-McDuffie Independence Act – kept out Filipino workers.
Hawaii grew sugar, which requires a huge labour force in one place. California grew much of the country’s fruits and vegetables, which requires a labour force on the move, planting and picking at the right place at the right time. Filipino and Mexican Americans were the backbone of California’s migrant labour force from the 1920s to the 1970s. The Delano grape strike of 1965 that made Cesar Chavez famous was started by Filipinos.
In the 1900s, Filipinos came to the mainland in three main waves:
- 1906-1934: Farm workers – settling particularly in and near San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. Mostly young, single, working-class men. Back home, many of their families had lost their land or livelihood because of Spanish and American policies.
- 1934-1965: Servicemen and war brides – settling particularly in and near San Diego.
- 1965-present: Nurses and doctors and other professionals – settling particularly in and near New York and Washington, DC. Mostly middle-class women who brought their families.
These were not the only people who came, but they were the heart of each wave. War brides, for example, were still arriving well after the 1960s. Some Filipinos came as students, not farm workers. And so on.
During the Second World War, Filipinos and Americans fought together against the Japanese. The courage of Filipinos was known throughout the US.
After the war, the amount of racist violence against Filipinos dropped. There was nothing like the Watsonville Riot of 1930. It did not disappear altogether, though, as the murder of Joseph Ileto in 1999 showed.
In 1946, the Luce-Celler Bill became law. That was huge. Before then, those born in the Philippines could not become US citizens except through military service. In California, not being a citizen meant you could not own land or buy a house or get a professional licence. This shut Filipinos out of the middle class. (The Chinese and Japanese had arrived before these laws were passed.)
The Immigration Act of 1965 allowed Filipinos to come in large numbers again, for the first time since 1934. The law favoured those who already had family in the US and those who had a skill the US needed. That is why there are so many Filipino nurses: the US does not produce enough nurses while the Philippines produces more than it can hire. This made the Philippines part of the Asian brain drain.
– Abagond, 2015.
Sources: Mainly “Strangers From a Different Shore” (1998) by Ronald Takaki; “Filipino American Lives” (1995) by Yen Le Espiritu
- US ethnic groups
- Asian Americans
- Manila galleons
- Chinese Exclusion Act
- Watsonville Riot
- Philippine-American War
- Black Eyed Peas: Bebot – the video is set in California in 1936
- The Asian quota
- Settlement of Asians in the Deep South (1763 – 1882)
- Asian brain drain