Filipino Americans

Citation metadata

Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 12,553 words
Lexile Measure: 1250L

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 
Page 119

Filipino Americans

H. Brett Melendy


Filipino Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from the Philippines, a country consisting of about 7,100 islands in the Pacific Ocean off the southeast coast of Asia. Set north of Indonesia, the islands form a north-south arc of 1,152 miles (1,854 kilometers) that at its widest point extends 682 miles (1,098 kilometers) from east to west. The Philippine archipelago is part of the Pacific Ocean's volcanic rim. Most of the islands, large and small, have high mountains, and many are surrounded by coral reefs. Eleven islands make up about 95 percent of the land mass of the Philippines, with the two largest, Luzon and Mindanao, accounting for 65 percent of the total land mass. The total land area of the Philippines is 115,831 square miles (300,001 square kilometers), slightly more than the state of Nevada.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of the Philippines in 2012 was about 104 million people, making it the twelfth-most populous nation in the world. The majority are Malays, and Chinese, Americans, and Spaniards form the largest minorities. The population is 83 percent Roman Catholic, 9 percent Protestant, and 5 percent Muslim.

The mountainous terrain of the Philippines permits cultivation of only 15 percent of the land. Nevertheless, agriculture—ranging from subsistence farming to export plantations—constitutes the country's economic base. The climate, which is tropical maritime, usually has high humidity and high temperatures, and monsoons and typhoons bring periods of heavy rain. These factors determine where and how Filipinos cultivate their land. (Although the country is spelled with an initial Ph, the people are referred to as Filipinos, spelled with an F.) Major domestic crops are rice and corn (maize); important export crops are abaca (Manila hemp), copra (dried coconut meat, from which coconut oil is made), pineapple, sugar, and tobacco. A persistent problem in the Philippines has been inequitable land distribution. A system of sharecropping, or tenant farming, has made most farmers virtual captives of landlords known as caciques. At the time of Philippine independence in 1946, over 70 percent of the crops went to caciques. Sharecropping has fomented considerable political unrest in the Philippines over the years. Historically, limited economic opportunities due to the tenant-farming system and a high birthrate have stimulated immigration to Hawaii and the mainland United States.

According to the 2010 American Community Survey, U.S. immigrants from the Philippines number about 3.4 million—about the same as the population of Connecticut. According to the American Community Survey, Filipinos are the second-largest Pacific-Asian group in the United States after Chinese Americans. The first Filipino settlement in the United States was established in 1763 in southern Louisiana, but since that time, Filipinos in the United States have tended to settle in Hawaii, California, New York, Illinois, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Nevada, and Washington.


Early History Perhaps the earliest inhabitants of the Philippine Islands were the dark-skinned, short-statured people who are under five feet tall and thought to have arrived about twenty-five thousand years ago. When the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century, they named these people Negritos (“little black ones”). Over the centuries, the Philippines have seen the arrival of diverse groups, including Islamic Arab traders in the fourteenth century. Their descendants, the Moros, remain devout Muslims and live mostly in the southern islands. Trade between the Philippines and southern China has been existence since the fourteenth century, and Chinese and Japanese immigrants have settled in the islands. Japanese settlers rarely married persons from the local population, but the Chinese often did. Descendants of Filipino-Chinese marriages have dominated island businesses, achieving economic success that has led to political power. Their dominance has generated Filipino hostility toward the Chinese.

The first contact between Spain and the Philippines occurred in 1521 with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, who claimed the archipelago for Spain and the Catholic Church. Spain made his claim official in 1565. The islands were named the Philippines in the 1550s after King Philip II of Spain. In 1565 Philip sent a royal governor who imposed Spanish rule across much of the archipelago, using the same oppressive, often violent methods used in the Americas.

Page 120  |  Top of Article

From 1565 to 1810 the galleon trade from Acapulco, Mexico, to Manila connected the Spanish Empire with the East Asian market via the Philippines. Manila served as the intermediary point between the two markets. The Spanish exchanged Latin American gold for Chinese silk, spices, and tea. As members of crews aboard Spanish ships, Filipinos had their first opportunities to emigrate, exploring the California coast and settling in Mexico and what is now Louisiana.

Embracing European practices of mercantilism and colonialism, Spanish monarchs exploited the Philippines to enrich themselves. Over the course of four centuries, Spanish settlers and their descendants acquired large estates and maintained control of the colonial government.

With the government's approval, the Catholic Church controlled large areas of land and used its monopoly on formal education to impose Catholic beliefs and the Spanish language on the natives. By 1898 the church had converted more than 80 percent of the population. Most Filipino immigrants to Hawaii and the U.S. mainland have been Catholic.

Colonialism's tiered society alienated Filipinos, but many suffered it quietly in order to survive. Spanish settlers began to marry Filipinos; the descendants of these marriages were known as mestizos, or “mixed bloods.” By the nineteenth century, mestizos had inherited large tracts of agricultural land. This Filipino-Spanish upper class found that the lighter their skin color, the easier to mingle with Europeans and Americans. They also learned from the Spanish how to maintain power through force and corruption. This economic-political dominance came to be known as caciquism. It has been a contributing factor in the immigration of Filipinos to the United States, and it continues today.

Open revolts against Spanish control emerged in the nineteenth century. Initially the revolt leaders called for political and economic reform but not independence. An early opposition leader, José Rizal, formed La Liga Filipina (the Filipino League). The Spanish banished Rizal from the islands. When he returned, he was executed, which made him a national hero.

Twenty-seven-year-old Emilio Aguinaldo became the next leader of the insurrectionists. In 1898 Aguinaldo met with the American admiral George Dewey and U.S. consul general E. Spencer Pratt. Aguinaldo claimed that the three of them agreed that, if Filipinos would ally with the United States in a war against Spain, the Philippines would be given independence. Admiral Dewey and Consul General Pratt subsequently denied that they had agreed to this. Later that year the United States declared war on Spain, and the Spanish-American War ensued. The Philippine-American War soon followed. The United States attacked the Philippines, killing more than one million Filipinos and losing six thousand American lives. The Treaty of Paris, ratified on February 6, 1899, gave the United States imperial authority over the islands.

Following Aguinaldo's lead, Filipinos turned their battle from Spain to the United States. The U.S. Army found itself continually suppressing uprisings throughout the islands. However, following his capture on March 23, 1901, Aguinaldo advised his followers to swear allegiance to the United States. On July 4, 1902, the army declared the insurrection over, even though the Moros, who had become largely independent under Spanish rule, fought until 1913.

William Howard Taft, president of the Philippine Commission, installed U.S. control on September 1, 1900 (although some areas still opposed that control). A year later, he became the first governor-general of the Philippines. Between 1901 and 1913, Americans centralized the government, creating an elected body, the Philippine Assembly. The judicial system and the civil service, modeled after American counterparts, replaced the Spanish system.

The greatest American impact occurred in education, with primary schools set up throughout the islands. Nationwide vocational schools and teachers colleges were established, as was the system's crown jewel, the University of the Philippines. Religious freedom was now guaranteed as governmental support of the Catholic Church ended, although most provincial colleges remained under Catholic control. Protestant denominations agreed to divide up the islands so as not to compete with one another for converts. A major cause of Filipino unrest under Spanish rule was the amount of Church-controlled land. To address that issue, the United States bought 400,000 acres (161,874 hectares) from the church and sold parcels of it to former tenant farmers for low prices and easy payment terms.

Modern Era Although American administrators tended to be benevolent, Filipinos still desired independence. Leaders of the Nacionalista (Nationalist) Party called for immediate independence. In 1907 the Nacionalistas gained control of elective offices in villages, provinces, and the Philippine Assembly, but wealthy, land-owning party members turned to caciquism to control the party. By 1917 two political leaders, Sergio Osmena and Manuel Quezon, had acquired national power. At this point most immigrants to the United States and the Territory of Hawaii were Nacionalistas who were fleeing caciquism.

In 1916 U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, who was committed to making the Philippines an independent nation, supported the Jones Act, which promised that the Philippines would become free when its government stabilized. The act, however, enabled Osmena's and Quezon's political machines to entrench themselves. In 1921 Republican administrations in both the United States and the Philippines insisted that the islands were not yet ready to govern themselves, and Philippine independence was tabled.

Page 121  |  Top of Article

During the late 1920s, concerns over the influx of Filipinos into the West Coast of the United States, combined with falling agricultural prices for certain American commodities, prompted American farmers to agitate for ending free trade with the islands, while exclusionists called for ending Filipino immigration. Both groups argued for Philippine independence.

The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 promised independence after ten years and created the Commonwealth of the Philippines. The Philippine legislature approved this act and in 1935 the Filipino people approved a constitution.

In the Philippines' first presidential election, in 1935, Quezon became president, and Osmena became vice president. With their inauguration, the Commonwealth of the Philippines came into being; however, many Filipinos remained ambivalent about independence. It appealed to their sense of nationalism, but the islands' economy depended on tariff-free American markets. Many felt that the imposition of tariffs would be disastrous.

According to the Tydings-McDuffie Act, the Philippines were to become independent in 1944, but when the Japanese took military control of the islands in 1942, the Quezon government fled to Australia and then to the United States, where Quezon continued as the commonwealth's president until his death in 1944.

U.S. president Harry Truman proclaimed the independence of the Philippines in 1946, and Manuel Roxas became the first president of the new republic. Meanwhile, Filipinos who had immigrated to the United States before Tydings-McDuffie or who had joined the U.S. military during World War II were granted eligibility for U.S. citizenship. The United States also imposed the Philippine Rehabilitation Act and the Philippine Trade Act, which favored American corporations to the detriment of the Philippine economy. These acts and the perceived threat of communism caused the United States to maintain military bases in the islands.

The new republic struggled to realize nationhood during the postwar years. The Huks, a communist group, waged war with Roxas's government until 1954. (Huks is a shortened term for Hukbon Magpapalaya ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, or People's Anti-Japanese Liberation Army.) Since independence, violence has continued, and most election days in the Philippines are marred by violence.

In 1965 Ferdinand Marcos became president of the Philippines, prompting several opposition groups to adopt terrorist tactics. Marcos seized this development as the opportunity to declare martial law and appoint himself dictator. This state of affairs lasted for fourteen years. In 1973 Marcos proclaimed a new constitution, declaring himself president. In 1978


Page 122  |  Top of Article

he gave his wife, Imelda, extensive political power. This heightened the level of political repression, and Marcos's political opponents began to leave the country, often for the United States and particularly Hawaii and California. In 1981 Marcos lifted martial law and turned political power over to the national legislature, enabling his reelection.

In 1983 Benigno S. Aquino Jr., a Filipino senator and the leading rival of Marcos, was assassinated, fomenting political unrest until 1986, when Marcos fled the country and Corazon Aquino, Benigno Aquino's widow, became the eleventh Philippine president. The end of the Marcos era did not bring calm, however. Unsuccessful coups against the government have continued, and the economy has remained weak. In additional, widespread poverty and communist opposition have posed threats to the unstable central government.

Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, the son of Benigno S. Aquino Jr. and Corazon Aquino in 2010 became the fifteenth president of the Philippines. In his state-of-the-nation address in July 2011, he acknowledged that the Philippines was struggling with hunger, poverty, and lack of opportunity. However, compared to its past, in the twenty-first century the Philippines has made significant progress in many ways. Rural areas have experienced job growth, child immunization programs have been initiated, the military has been modernized, and aid programs for the elderly and the physically challenged have been implemented. The Philippines' gross domestic product, which measures the country's national income and output, averaged $52.4 billion (U.S. dollars) from 1960 to 2011. In 2011 it reached a record high of $224.8 billion, reflecting the Philippines' dramatically increasing prosperity.


Filipino arrivals in the Territory of Hawaii and the United States mainland came in three waves. The earliest, from 1903 to 1935, brought many young men to enroll in American universities and colleges and then return to the Philippines. Also during this time, plantation workers arrived to work in Hawaii from 1906 to the 1930s, with a parallel movement occurring along the Pacific Coast during the 1920s—an immigration that lasted until enactment of the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934. A much smaller influx to American shores occurred following World War II. The third and largest immigration wave arrived after passage of the 1965 Immigration Act. Since 1970 Philippine immigration to the United States has been surpassed only by Mexican immigration.

The first wave of Filipino immigrants came to the United States seeking higher education. Governor-General Taft's administration prepared an educational plan, the Pensionado Act, to send promising young Filipinos to institutions of higher learning in the United States. Beginning in 1903, a group of one hundred students left for the United States, and by 1910 all had returned. These men came to play key roles in agriculture, business, education, engineering, and government.

Other students followed; a later estimate indicated that between 1910 and 1938 almost 14,000 Filipinos had enrolled in educational institutions throughout the United States. Most of them came as independent students and not part of the pensionado program. Many of these hopefuls became overwhelmed by the high cost of living, inadequate academic preparation, insufficient language skills, or an inability to determine what level of American education best suited their state of educational preparation. These Filipinos soon found themselves trapped in the world of unskilled laborers. Most who succeeded in graduating from major universities returned to the Philippines to take their places with other such graduates as provincial and national leaders.

A chance encounter in 1901 between a trustee of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) and a band of Filipino musicians en route to the United States led the planter to speculate about Filipinos as potential plantation workers, for he felt that these musicians had a “healthy physique and robust appearance.” Even before 1907, Hawaii had begun looking for other pools of unskilled labor on the Philippine island of Luzon. During 1907 some 150 workers were sent to Hawaii. Two years later, with Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans now banned from immigrating to the United States, the HSPA returned to the Philippines, looking for workers. The U.S. Bureau of the Census reported 2,361 Filipinos in Hawaii in 1910. Recruiting efforts after 1909 centered on the Visayan Islands, Cebu in particular, and Luzon's Tagalogs.

In 1915 recruiters focused on Luzon's northwestern Ilocano provinces: Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, and La Unión. The Ilocanos, suffering greatly from economic hardship and overpopulation, proved willing recruits. The HSPA awarded a three-year labor contract to Filipinos migrating to Hawaii that paid their passage to Hawaii and guaranteed free subsistence and clothing. If they worked a total of 720 days, they received money for their return passage. A worker was not penalized for violating his contract, but if he did, he forfeited all guarantees, including his return passage. Plantation owners found the Ilocanos to be excellent workers, and poverty in their provinces provided a stimulant for their emigration. By 1935 young, single Ilocano men were the largest Filipino ethnic group in Hawaii.

According to census figures, the Filipino population in Hawaii climbed from 21,031 in 1920 to 63,052 in 1930 but had dropped to 52,659 by 1940. The decline in the number of Filipinos during the late 1930s is attributable to the return of many to the Philippines during the Depression years and the departure of others to the U.S. West Coast. The high point of immigration to Hawaii occurred in 1925, when 11,621 Filipinos arrived in Honolulu. At that point, Page 123  |  Top of Articlethe HSPA closed active recruiting in the Philippines, relying upon the Filipinos' own desire to emigrate to maintain the influx of workers.

In 1910 only 406 Filipinos lived on the United States mainland. The largest group, 109, lived in New Orleans, the remnants of a nineteenth-century settlement of Filipino sailors who came ashore at that port city, married local women, found jobs, and settled down. The state of Washington had 17 and California had only 5. By 1920, 5,603 Filipinos were living along the West Coast and in Alaska. California then had 2,674 Filipinos while Washington had 958. The northeastern United States had the second-largest number: 1,844.

The 1920s saw dramatic changes in these numbers as California's Filipino population—mostly single, young men—increased by 91 percent as more than 31,000 Filipinos arrived at the ports of San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1930, 108,260 Filipinos lived in the United States and the Territory of Hawaii. California had 30,470, and this number rose to 31,408 by 1940. Washington had 3,480 in 1930 and 2,222 in 1940. Apart from the West Coast and Hawaii, the next largest concentration was in New York, which in 1930 had 1,982 and 2,978 in 1940. Many of these Filipinos experienced significant racial discrimination.

Emigrants in the second wave left the Philippines in increasing numbers during the late 1940s and 1950s. This group included so-called war brides, the “1946 boys,” and military recruits. War brides were mainly the spouses of American GIs who married Filipina women while stationed in the Philippines. After the passage of the War Brides Act of 1946, which exempted foreign spouses and children of American GIs from immigration quotas, it is estimated that 5,000 such brides came to the United States. Contracted workers called the “1946 boys,” or sakadas, numbered 7,000 and were a major component of the second wave. They were the last large group of agricultural laborers brought to Hawaii by the sugar planters. Plantation owners brought them in an effort to break up the first interracial and territory-wide strike organized by the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU). The Philippine workers supported the ILWU strike, which resulted in the first major victory for Hawaii's agricultural workers. Filipinos who came to the United States through the U.S. military were another component of the second wave. During the Wilson administration the U.S. Navy had begun to replace African Americans with Filipinos for mess-hall labor and this trend continued after President Truman ended racial segregation in the military in 1946. By the 1970s more than 20,000 Filipinos had entered the United States through work with the navy.

After the Philippines became a republic, internal conditions in the country contributed to many Filipinos' moving to the United States. By 1960 Hawaii, which had become a state a year earlier, had 69,070 Filipinos, followed closely by California with 65,459. The two states together accounted for 76 percent of all Filipinos living in the United States. The Pacific Coast states had 146,340 (83 percent of the total), while the East and the South had slightly more than 10,000 each, and the Great Lakes states had 8,600. Included in these census numbers were second-generation Filipino Americans.

Changes in American immigration law in 1965 significantly altered the type and number of immigrants coming to the United States. Unlike immigrants before World War II, who largely worked as unskilled laborers in West Coast and Hawaiian agriculture and in Alaska's salmon canneries, the third wave was composed of larger numbers of well-educated Filipinos between the ages of twenty and forty who came looking for better career opportunities than they could find in the Philippines. This highly skilled third-wave population spoke English, which allowed them to enter a wide range of professions.

Unlike earlier arrivals, most of the Filipino immigrants after 1970 came to the United States without intending to return to the Philippines. In 1970 Filipinos who lived in the United States numbered 343,060; by 2010 the number had reached 3.4 million. In 2011 the U.S. Department of State estimated the number at 4 million. According to the 2010 census, 1,474,707 people of Philippine descent (43 percent of all Filipino Americans) lived in California. Los Angeles alone was home to 374,285, and a section of the city became known as Filipinotown. Filipino Americans are the largest Asian American group in San Diego. A nearby portion of California State Highway 54 is named the Filipino-American Highway. The 2010 census lists Filipinos as Hawaii's largest Asian population. About 200,000 Filipino Americans live in the New York City area, mostly in the borough of Queens. The Philippine Independence Day parade marches down Madison Avenue annually on the first Sunday in June. Other states with substantial numbers of Filipinos include Illinois, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Nevada, and Washington.


The official languages in the Philippines are Pilipino (a derivative of Tagalog) and English. Linguists have identified some eighty-seven different dialects throughout the country. At the time of Philippine independence, about 25 percent of Filipinos spoke Tagalog, the language of central Luzon. About 44 percent spoke Visayan; Visayans in the United States generally spoke Cebuano. The language most commonly spoken by Filipinos in Hawaii and the United States mainland is Ilocano, although only 15 percent of those in the Philippines speak this language. The coming of the fourth wave of Filipinos brought more Tagalog speakers; however, the high number of university graduates in this wave communicated easily in English. Others, however, did not know English or spoke it poorly. In Hawaii, social service centers taught English by showing Filipinos how to shop in supermarkets and how to order in restaurants. In 2011, according to the U.S. Office of Minority Health, 22 percent of Filipino Americans did not speak English.

Page 124  |  Top of Article

Filipino Americans and other U.S. citizens in Manilla show their support for Barack Obama's presidential bid, 2008. Filipino Americans and other U.S. citizens in Manilla show their support for Barack Obama's presidential bid, 2008. LUIS LIWANAG / NEWSCOM


Because the majority of early Filipino immigrants to the United States were young single males, few Filipino Catholics attended church with any regularity. Once families began settling in the United States, however, religion became a central component of family and community life. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey, 65 percent of Filipino Americans are Catholic, 21 percent are Protestant, 8 percent are nonpracticing, and 1 percent are Buddhist. Filipino religious practices are unique in that influences of pre-Western Philippine tribal beliefs, such as the intervention of spirits, continue to have a presence. Although the Westernization of Filipino American religious practice is strong, some members of older generations still believe that barbequing on Good Friday will produce black freckles, bathing on Good Friday will cause deathly illness, and having sex on Good Friday will join a couple, literally, until they die.


From the outset of their arrival in Hawaii and the Pacific Coast, Filipinos, as a color-visible minority, encountered racial prejudice as they pursued their economic and educational goals. One major problem for Filipinos prior to 1946 was access to U.S. citizenship.

Beginning in 1898, Filipinos, classified as U.S. nationals, could travel abroad with U.S. passports and could enter and leave the United States at will. That ended in 1934 with the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which included making the Philippines independent. Thus Filipinos in the United States technically became immigrants and subject to current immigration laws, which limited the number entering as immigrants to fifty a year. The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1925 decision Toyota v. United States, declared that only whites or persons of African descent were entitled to citizenship, thus closing the opportunity for Filipinos to become United States citizens. However, Filipinos who had enlisted and served three years in the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, or Naval Auxiliary Service during World War I and who had received honorable discharges could apply for citizenship. In 1946 Congress passed a law that permitted Filipinos to qualify for American citizenship.

The inability to acquire citizenship was not only a social stigma but created serious economic and political problems. Since most states required citizenship in order to practice law, medicine, and other licensed professional occupations, Filipinos were prohibited from entering these fields. Unlike immigrants from other countries who had ambassadors and consuls, Filipinos had no recognized voice to speak for them or protest on their behalf. The Philippines had a resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., but this office generally proved ineffective in dealing with governmental bureaucracies.

Throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s, Filipinos encountered obstacles to qualifying for federal relief. Although the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1937 ruled that Filipinos were eligible for employment on WPA projects, they were often passed over because they were not citizens. During the 1920s and 1930s, Filipinos living on the Pacific Coast encountered severe prejudice and hostility, at times resulting in race riots. The sagging economy made assimilation difficult if not impossible.

In 1930, at the height of anti-Filipino discrimination in California, the state's Department of Industrial Relations published a racist study, Facts about Filipino Immigration into California, claiming that Filipinos posed economic and social threats. On the West Coast, restaurants and barbershops frequently denied service to Filipinos, and swimming pools, movie theaters, and tennis courts denied them admission. They found that their dark skin and imperfect English marked them, in the eyes of whites, as being inferior. White Californians presented several contradictions that confused Filipinos: Whereas farmers and certain urban enterprises welcomed them because they provided cheap labor, discriminatory attitudes relegated them to low-paying jobs and an inferior social Page 125  |  Top of Articleexistence. While denying them many kinds of employment, many Californians criticized the Filipinos for their substandard living conditions and attacked them for allegedly creating health problems and for lowering the American standard of living. Faced with discrimination in real estate, Filipinos were forced into ghettos known as “Little Manilas” in California cities. Filipinos in cities such as Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C., also clustered together.

Discrimination against Filipinos continues in the twenty-first century, but civil rights legislation, affirmative action, and equal-opportunity laws have improved the conditions of most of those who have arrived in recent decades. An unexpected form of discrimination, however, has emerged for immigrants arriving after 1965: hostility from earlier-generation Filipino Americans. Some of the earlier immigrants see the later arrivals as benefiting from advances made by the earlier group without having paid the price. Conversely, more-recent Filipino arrivals at times perceive their older compatriots to be unsophisticated and backward, and if they cannot speak a Filipino language, they are not to be accepted as true Filipinos.

Many Filipino Americans today are firmly established members of the middle class, partly because of a steady stream of educated and skilled Filipino arrivals in the United States and partly because of the college-degree completion rate of second- and third-generation Filipino Americans. In 2011 Filipino American remittances to the Philippines reached over $20 billion—a 7 percent increase over 2010.

Traditions and Customs Cockfighting, a major source of entertainment and gambling in the Philippines, has been a common pastime among Filipino American men from the beginning of their U.S. immigration. Although cockfighting is now illegal, it continues to attract Filipinos in Hawaii and on the mainland.

Filipinos use the term kuya (literally, “big brother”) as a term of respect for males older than the speaker. Ate (literally, “big sister”) is the equivalent term for older females. Mano po refers to a gesture of respect toward elders that involves raising the elder's hand toward one's forehead. Filipinos use nonverbal communication more than most Americans. Two examples are their use of the eyebrows and the lips. Raised eyebrows mean yes. To indicate directions or locations, rather than voice them or point with their hands, Filipinos often simply pucker their lips and face the direction in question. As with many other Asian cultures, Filipinos customarily remove their shoes when entering a house. They also make a point of saying a hello when meeting and a goodbye when parting. Failure to do so is considered a slight.

Cuisine As with many Pacific Rim countries, rice is the staple food of the Philippines. Three popular dishes are lumpia, kare kare, and chicken and pork adobo. Lumpia are egg rolls—a lumpia wrapper filled with pork, shrimp, cabbage, beans, scallions, and bean sprouts, fried in peanut oil. Kare kare is a peanut-oil-flavored stewed mixture of oxtail and beef tripe mixed with onions and tomatoes. Chicken and pork adobo consists of these two meats boiled in vinegar and soy sauce and flavored with garlic and spices. This dish is then served over rice. Despite its appeal, Philippine cuisine is underrepresented among U.S. eating establishments. Those few Filipino restaurants that do exist often have American-influenced menus that are disdained by Philippine natives. Reasons given for this lack of representation are the lack of a clear Filipino identity, a preference for cooking traditional dishes in the home, and a tendency among young Filipino Americans to favor other cuisines, including American fast-food options.

Traditional Dress Philippine traditional dress encompasses tribal attire, which is worn in the United States only occasionally, typically at festivals. Filipino American men sometimes wear the official costume, the barong tagalog, to special events. The barong tagalog is a shirt jacket worn over a collarless Chinese shirt. Its design borrows from Chinese, Indo-Malay, Hindu, and European men's fashion. For formal occasions, Filipino American women sometimes wear the women's official costume, the baro't saya, or mestiza dress, which has sleeves shaped like butterfly wings. Sometimes it is called the Imelda dress after former First Lady Imelda Marcos. Muslim Filipinos wear traditional Muslim attire. In general, Filipino Americans have adopted Western clothing styles, and some young Filipinos even disdain the clothing of their heritage.

Dances and Songs Tinikling is a form of traditional dancing that uses bamboo poles to hit and slide against each other and drag on the ground as other dancers step over and between them. The cariñosa (meaning “loved one”) is a dance in which dancers create romantic scenarios using fans and handkerchiefs. It is accompanied by Latin American music and Spanish lyrics.

Gongs, introduced to Southeast Asia by the Chinese before the tenth century CE, are a central instrument in the history of Philippine music. Later traditional Philippine music is a mixture of Asian, European, Latin American, American, and indigenous music. In the 1950s indigenous bands began to put Tagalog lyrics to American rock and roll. This led in the 1960s to a genre called Philippine rock. A Philippine rock band called the Rocky Fellers reached number sixteen on the U.S. charts with a song titled Killer Joe. A contemporary product of the Westernization of Filipino music is P-Pop (Philippine popular music), which exists alongside K-Pop (Korean popular music), J-Pop (Japanese popular music), and C-Pop (Chinese popular music). These and other forms of Filipino entertainment receive support from websites such as Philippine Entertainment Portal, Tagolog Lang, FilAm Creative, Adobo Nation, and Filipino Americans in Media Entertainment.

Page 126  |  Top of Article

Sidebar: HideShow


In 1972 Philippine inventor Roberto del Rosario developed a prototype karaoke machine. It became popular enough that he began outsourcing its production to Japan. He soon noticed that similar machines were being sold in Japan. He filed a patent violation suit and won. By the 1990s Rosario's invention had been greatly improved and was known and used worldwide. It remains wildly popular today among Filipino Americans.

Although the yo-yo's roots reach to ancient Greece, the toy as we know it descends from a weapon that emerged in the Philippines in the 1500s. Consisting of a stone of about four pounds and a length of rope, hunters could throw it at running animals to entangle their legs. In the 1920s a Filipino named Pedro Flores moved to the United States and found employment at a hotel in Santa Monica, California. He would play with his yo-yo during his lunch break and found himself drawing crowds (yo yo means “come come” in Tagalog). Before long he was owner of the Flores Yo-Yo Company.

Holidays New Year's Day is a popular Filipino holiday. In the Philippines, celebrants open their doors and windows and make loud noises with torotots (small trumpetlike instruments made of cardboard), fireworks, drumming, coin clinking, and howling. This is thought to invite good luck into the home for the new year. These activities are not common among Filipino Americans, who find little support for them from their non-Filipino neighbors. The Lenten season is also important to Catholic Filipinos. Many attend masses in fourteen churches to represent Jesus's Fourteen Stations of the Cross. In the Philippines some devotees practice a custom called Penitensya, in which they are literally nailed to crosses to express their devotion to Jesus Christ. This practice is not done in the United States. Philippines Independence Day is celebrated on June 12 in honor of the Philippines' freedom from Spain. All Saints Day and All Souls Day occur on November 1 and 2, respectively. In the Philippines families celebrate by gathering in cemeteries to let their deceased relatives feel the love the living have for them. This custom is not as well observed in the United States. Roman Catholic Filipinos consider Christmas their most important holiday. They celebrate it much as other Christians do, with church services, family gatherings, and gift exchanges.

Art and Entertainment The Filipinos who came to Hawaii and the West Coast during the 1920s and 1930s sought a range of activities to relieve the monotony of long hours of unskilled labor. As a result of recruitment tactics of the agribusiness industry in Hawaii and the West Coast, the pre-World War II Filipino community consisted almost entirely of single, uneducated men, with few or no relatives in the United States. These men enjoyed betting on prizefights and wrestling matches, and gambling at poker, blackjack, and dice. During the 1930s they increased the profits of gambling operators and prostitution rings in Stockton, California, by about $2 million annually. These men's enthusiastic patronage of gambling, dance halls, and prostitution seemed to lend credence to white Americans' complaints that Filipinos were immoral and lawless. Many Filipino residents of California traveled to the casinos of Reno, Nevada, looking for the proverbial pot of gold. Pool halls in the “Little Manilas” provided both recreation and gambling. In recent years, a small but determined Philippine/Filipino movie industry has emerged. An edgy Filipino American art scene has established itself, with many of the artists linked by the Filipino American Artists Network. In 1972 Ferdinand Marcos created the National Artist of the Philippines Award, given for excellence in each of the respective arts.

Health Care Issues and Practices Second-wave Filipinos incurred severe health problems as they aged. One illness that seemed almost endemic was gouty arthritis, coupled with an excessive amount of uric acid in the blood. Doctors have speculated that a genetic characteristic makes these Filipinos unable to tolerate the American diet. One study conducted in Hawaii showed that Filipino women have a higher rate of heart disease and circulatory problems than the state's general population has. The same study noted that Filipino men suffered more from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) than other men did. Other diseases of high incidence were liver cancer and diabetes. Recent immigrants are better educated and more likely to know the value of good health care. The U.S. Office of Minority Health reported in 2011 that 79 percent of Filipino Americans have health insurance coverage. Utilization of medical services has increased among Filipino Americans, and in fact this group is now well represented in the medical professions. The average life span of Filipino Americans today, at 81.5 years, is above the U.S. mean. However, societal factors such as language barriers and avoiding health services for fear of deportation pose threats to some Filipino Americans.


Gender Roles Matrilinearity was common in the Philippines before the Spanish arrived, and its influences remain in the Filipino American community. Although patriarchy dominates Filipino culture, Filipino women fare better than those in many Asian cultures. Role models such as Imelda Marcos and former presidents Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapalgal-Arroyo inspire Filipino women. In recent decades many women have come to the United States to be the family breadwinners in nursing careers. Husbands stay in the Philippines and raise the children. Divorce is not permitted in the Philippines. Men Page 127  |  Top of Articlephilander but disdain macho behavior. For example, manicures and pedicures often accompany haircuts. Transsexuals, both male-to-female and female-to-male, are more open than in the United States despite occasional violence against them. Filipino American families sometimes punish their women for wearing short hair or pants.

Education Of the fifty states, California is most successful in honoring Filipino culture. It teaches Tagalog in its public schools and has named October Filipino American History Month. Although numerically comparable to Chinese Americans nationally, according to the 2010 census, Filipinos lag behind them and other Asian American groups. They also have a smaller percentage in college and a smaller percentage of bachelor's degrees among the twenty-five-to-twenty-nine age group. A marked difference exists between Philippine-educated Filipinos and U.S.-educated ones, with the Philippine-educated (many of whom enter the medical profession) faring above the U.S. mean in most educational categories.

Courtship and Weddings Courtship among Filipino Americans tends to be of two quite different kinds. Courtship among Americanized families is much like courtship among mainstream Americans. This is becoming increasingly true even in the Philippines. However, courtship within traditional families can be a very different experience. A man contemplating a relationship with a Filipina woman probably will encounter a situation that is somewhere between these two extremes. First, traditional Filipino courtship is rooted in strict Catholicism. Men of other faiths or no faith might approach such a situation with caution because church is likely to play a major role in the marriage. The courtship is always initiated by the man because it is considered shameful for a woman to do so. It involves wooing the parents with small gifts, charm, and good manners when visiting the woman (and, initially, most or all visits will be at her home with the parents present). The one rule that most agree is written in stone is that propriety be observed in public to avoid bringing shame to the family. Having observed this in all instances, a suitor might find the rules a good deal more relaxed in private, sometimes even to the point where sex is condoned after the parents have given their daughter permission to marry. A potential suitor might also consider the fact that, traditionally, the bride's parents do not pay for the wedding; the groom does.

Traditional Filipino weddings have sponsors—older, adult friends and relatives of the family who confirm the couple's union and promise to support them over the years. Primary sponsors stand as principal witnesses to the taking of the vows. Secondary sponsors are involved in the veil-and-cord ceremony. With the bride and groom kneeling, they drape a large white veil over the bride's head and fasten it to the groom's shoulders. A cord is wrapped around them to symbolize the union's eternal nature. Then the bride and groom are each given a candle to light a unity candle. Three sets of sponsors are needed: two to “clothe us as one” (help with the veil), two to “bind us together” (handle the cord), and two to “light the way” (handle the candles). The wedding also includes memory sponsors who consist of the deceased, as well as living guests who could not attend. Finally the groom gives the bride the Arrhea, or the thirteen golden coins, which the priest has blessed for a prosperous and faithful marriage. Another tradition is the bride's wearing of her wedding ring on her right hand.

Relations with other Americans As second-wave Filipinos grew older and realized that they would not live to see acceptance by white America, they took matters into their own hands by forming various organizations to look after their welfare. These included Caballeros de Dimas-Alang, Legionairos del Trabajo, and Gran Oriente Filipino (Great Filipino Lodge). The first, organized in 1921, honored José Rizal, the Philippine national hero (his pen name when writing revolutionary tracts was Dimas-Alang). This fraternal lodge at one time during the 1930s had a hundred chapters throughout the United States and was one of many that commemorated Rizal's execution on José Rizal Day, December 30. Using federal and city agencies, Caballeros de Dimas-Alang built the Dimas-Alang House in San Francisco to care for elderly and low-income Filipinos. Legionairos del Trabajo, organized in San Francisco in 1920, originated in the Philippines. Centered in San Francisco, it had about 700 members, some of whom were women. Filipinos established Gran Oriente Filipino in San Francisco in 1924. At one time it had 3,000 members in forty-six states and the territories of Alaska and Hawaii. All lodges sponsored beauty pageants and dances in their various communities. Such pageants continue, and now often include a Mrs. Philippines pageant as well. The United Farm Workers Organizing Committee established the Paulo Agbayani Retirement Village near Delano for older Filipino field-workers. As younger Filipinos worried about the fate of these aging agricultural workers, the organization Pilipino Bayanihan in 1972 built the largest federally funded community, located in Stockton. Subsequently, branches were built in Tulare County, Coachella, Brawley, and Ventura. Pilipino Bayanihan hoped to fulfill the needs of the unemployed and underemployed, as well as of senior citizens.

Caught up in the broader struggle for racial equality, Filipino Americans today still find themselves experiencing at-times intense discrimination in schools, communities, and places of work. They have organized community groups representing a wide range of concerns, but a tendency toward fragmentation has made it difficult to present a common front on issues of mutual concern. Organizations may be based on professions or politics, but most have evolved Page 128  |  Top of Articlefrom a common religion, city, barrio, language, school, or church in the Philippines. In 2011 California had more than four hundred cultural and social organizations representing Filipinos.

The distinct migration patterns of the Filipinos have led to unique community dynamics. The vast majority of the second wave of Filipinos migrating to Hawaii and the West Coast, as has been noted, were single young men. Few married and had families in the United States. The dream that most Filipinos had but never realized—returning to the Philippines—led to disillusionment as these young men grew old, still trapped in unskilled labor positions. Many of these men sent money to the Philippines to help their families pay taxes, buy land, finance the education of relatives, or meet other financial obligations.

Few of those who returned to the Philippines came from the West Coast. Most were from Hawaii's plantations. Those who did return were known as Hawayanos. Back in their home villages, the Hawayanos had a greater degree of affluence than that of their nonmigrant neighbors. Filipino Americans' philanthropy went mostly to benefit relatives in the Philippines. Filipinos sent funds to their families in Philippine barrios. Several mayors of villages in Ilocos Norte reported that about $35,000 a month was received through the pension checks of returned Ilocano workers and from remittances sent by fourth-wave immigrants. During the Marcos regime the Philippine government offered inexpensive airfares and incentives to foster return visits by recent immigrants, who in turn furnished information about life in the United States and, as had earlier immigrants, helped with family finances.

While some Americans in the 1930s believed that Filipinos of the second wave were head-hunting savages, others feared that they posed a health threat because of a meningitis outbreak at that time. The greatest concern, however, came from the attention that these young men lavished on American women. Given that in 1930 the ratio of Filipino males to Filipina females was fourteen to one, it was only natural that the men would seek companionship with non-Filipina women. During the 1920s and 1930s, young men frequented taxi-dance halls, where white girls, hired to dance with male customers, were paid ten cents for a one-minute dance. Many white citizens believed that meetings between the young Filipinos and the white women, whose morals were assumed to be questionable to begin with, led to inappropriate behavior by these men. In addition to these urban dance halls, “floating” taxi-dancers followed the Filipino migrant workers from California's Imperial Valley to the central and coastal valleys. Coupled with whites' fear of Filipino attention to white women was an economic motive—the fear of losing jobs to the migrant labor force.

In Filipino society the extended family, composed of paternal and maternal relatives, was traditionally the center of life. The family provided sustenance, social alliances, and political affiliations. Its social structure extended to include neighbors, fellow workers, and ritual or honorary kinsmen, called compadres. All of these people were welded together by this compadrazgo system, which emphasized group welfare and loyalty over individual concerns. Through this system, which stemmed from the Roman Catholic church's rituals of weddings and baptisms, parents of a newborn child selected godparents, and this in turn led to a lifelong association. This bound the community together while excluding outsiders. Given the tightly knit villages or barrios, the compadrazgo system created obligations that included sharing food, labor, and financial resources.

To offset the absence of kin in the Philippines or to compensate for the lack of female immigrants, Filipino Americans sought out male relatives and compadres from their barrios to cook, eat, and live together in bunkhouses. Thus they formed a surrogate family, known as a kumpang, with the eldest man serving as leader of the “household.” In addition, Filipino Americans compensated for the lack of traditional families by observing “life-cycle celebrations” such as baptisms, birthdays, weddings, and funerals. These celebrations took on a greater importance than they would have in the Philippines, providing the single Filipino men without relatives in the United States the opportunity to become part of an extended family. Such new customs became an important part of the Filipino American strategy for adapting to a new life in the United States.

A few Filipinos in California married Filipinas or Mexicans, while those living in Hawaii married Filipinas, Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans, or Portuguese. Women from these groups came from cultures whose value systems were similar to those of the men; however, large weddings, common in the barrios, did not occur because of the lack of family members. The birth of a child saw the replication of the compadrazgo system. The rite of baptism presented an opportunity for those of the same barrio to come together for a time of socializing. As many as two hundred sponsors might appear to become godparents, but the sense of obligation found in the Philippines was not as strong in the United States. Marriages and funerals also brought Filipino Americans together to renew their common ties.

Recent immigrants, unlike the agricultural workers of the 1920s and 1930s, are likely to move to metropolitan areas because employment opportunities are better. Often wives will come to the United States by themselves because they are more employable as nurses, and send money home to their husbands. They bring their families later if they become sufficiently established. These recent arrivals also bring the barrio's familial and compadrazgo structures. Having complete families, they find traditional relationships Page 129  |  Top of Articleeasier to maintain. Those in the greater New York area settle in Queens and Westchester County in New York and in Jersey City, Riverdale, and Bergen County in New Jersey. A part of New York City's Ninth Avenue has become a center of Filipino culture, with restaurants and small shops catering to Filipinos' needs. Unlike on the West Coast, however, there is no identifiable ethnic enclave. Outsiders see these East Coast Filipinos merely as part of the larger Asian American community. They are largely professionals such as bankers, doctors, insurance salespeople, lawyers, nurses, secretaries, and travel agents.


Second-wave Filipinos came to the United States primarily “to get rich quick”—by Philippine standards—and return to their home provinces to live in affluence. Thus their goal was not to assimilate into life in the United States but to find high-paying jobs. They faced severe handicaps because of limited education and job skills, inadequate English, and racial prejudice. In 1901 the California legislature enacted a law forbidding whites to marry blacks, Mongolians, or mixed-race persons. In the early 1930s, California attorney general U. S. Webb ruled that Filipinos were Mongolians, but since his opinion did not have the force of law, it was up to each of the fifty-eight county clerks to determine the racial origins of Filipinos. By 1936 Nevada, Oregon, and Washington had enacted laws prohibiting marriages between Filipinos and whites. Consequently, white women could only become Filipino men's common-law wives. In 1948 the California Supreme Court ruled in Perez v. Sharp that the miscegenation law violated individual civil rights, which freed Filipinos to marry whomever they pleased.

Some found ready but low-paying employment as migrant field hands and cannery workers on the West Coast. Others were employed in the merchant marine or U.S. Navy. Compared with Philippine wages, agricultural workers' pay seemed high. The workers, however, became ensnared in these jobs due to the higher cost of living in the United States.

California agriculture, with its specialty crops, relied on migrant field-workers. From the Imperial Valley to the Sacramento Valley, farmers sought cheap field labor to harvest their crops. Filipino and Mexican workers dominated the throngs harvesting asparagus, cantaloupes, citrus fruits, cotton, lettuce, potatoes, strawberries, sugar beets, and tomatoes. Filipinos returned annually to work as members of an organized work gang headed by a padrone who negotiated contracts with growers. The padrone supervised the gang's work and provided housing and meals, charging a fee against wages. These gangs followed the harvest season north from California into Oregon's Hood River Valley and Washington's Wenatchee Valley. As late as the 1950s, Filipinos provided the largest number of migrant workers for western U.S. agriculture.

Sidebar: HideShow


Filipino proverbs are rich in wit and meaning. They include the following:

  • A desperate person will even hold onto a knife blade.
  • Working hard is better than not working, and working smart is better than working hard.
  • A broom is sturdy because its strands are tightly bound.
  • A dressed-up monkey is still a monkey.
  • A year's care, a minute's ruin.
  • All food is tasty in a famine.
  • The fly on the water buffalo's back is taller than the water buffalo.
  • The pain of study is less than the pain of ignorance.
  • Find sugar, find ants.
  • Don't empty the water jar until the rain falls.

Migrant jobs ended after the harvest season. Filipinos then moved to cities in the late fall and winter in search of employment. However, most usually had to return to the fields in the spring. By 1930 Los Angeles, San Francisco, Stockton, and Seattle each had “Little Manilas,” resulting from discriminatory real estate covenants that restricted Filipinos to congested ghettos. The numbers living in these racial enclaves varied, depending on the time of year, with the population highest in the winter months. A few Filipinos catered to their countrymen's needs—barbershops, grocery stores, poolrooms, dance halls, restaurants, and auto-repair garages. Others found employment in hotel service jobs, working as dishwashers, bellhops, and elevator operators. Some worked in various unskilled restaurant jobs or as houseboys.

Second-generation Filipino Americans, descendants of immigrants of the 1920s and 1930s, worked in both skilled and unskilled jobs. California trade unions remained closed to them, keeping them out of many industrial jobs. Second-generation Filipinos in Hawaii found employment on plantations and in the islands' cities. Unions there became open to all Asians during the New Deal years. Many who immigrated to the United States after 1970 with limited education entered the unskilled labor market and soon found themselves joining second-generation Filipinos on welfare.

Page 130  |  Top of Article

The Labor Movement Declining market prices for agricultural produce in the late 1920s and during the Great Depression of the 1930s seriously affected Filipino Americans. As migrant workers saw their wages fall lower and lower, they threatened strikes and boycotts. Given the American Federation of Labor's (AFL's) antipathy to nonwhite workers, minority workers, including Filipinos, sought to organize ethnic unions. In 1930 an Agricultural Workers Industrial League tried without success to organize all field-workers into a single union. California's Monterey County saw two short-lived unions emerge in 1933—the Filipino Labor Supply Association and the Filipino Labor Union.

Many Filipino Americans today are firmly established members of the middle class, partly because of a steady stream of educated and skilled Filipino arrivals in the United States and partly because of the college-degree completion rate of second- and third-generation Filipino Americans.

The Filipino Labor Union, utilizing the National Industry Recovery Act's collective bargaining clause, called on the Salinas Valley lettuce growers to recognize the union. The lettuce workers went on strike, leading to violence, white vigilante action, and defeat for the workers. The Filipino labor movement generally failed during the Depression years and well into the 1950s as growers used strikebreakers and court injunctions to quash union activities.

During the 1920s many Filipinos spent summer seasons in salmon canneries in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Again, Filipinos worked in labor gangs under contractors for seasonal work lasting three or four months. In 1928 about 4,000 Filipinos worked in Alaskan canneries for low wages. The wage issue was a flash point each season. This conflict continued until 1957 when Seattle's Local 37 of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU) became the sole bargaining voice for cannery workers in California, Oregon, and Washington.

In 1959 the AFL-CIO formed the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) to organize grape pickers in California's lower San Joaquin Valley. At about the same time, Cesar Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). Both unions were ethnically integrated, but Larry Itliong led the largely Filipino AWOC union. Itliong, born in the Philippines in 1914, campaigned during the 1960s to improve the lot of Filipinos and other minorities. Other Filipino union leaders of note included Philip Vera Cruz, Pete Velasco, and Andrew Imutan.

Both the AWOC and NFWA spent their initial energies recruiting members. In 1965 the unions protested the low wages being paid to grape pickers. On September 8, at the height of the picking season, the AWOC struck against thirty-five grape growers in the Delano area of Kern County, California. Domestic pickers, including Filipinos and Mexicans, demanded $1.40 an hour plus 20 cents a box. They argued that domestic pickers were receiving $1.20 an hour while braceros (Mexican migrant workers), under a United States Department of Labor order, received $1.40. Chavez's NFWA joined the strike, which lasted for seven months.

In August 1966 the AWOC and NFWA joined forces to end conflict between themselves. The merger resulted in the formation of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). Some major grape growers recognized this union as the bargaining agent for workers in the vineyards. Itliong was instrumental in securing three contracts with a $2.00 minimum wage for field-workers. The battle between the growers and their workers continued as the UFWOC challenged California's agricultural strongholds.

Filipinos were also instrumental in Hawaii's labor union movement. The key figure during the 1920s was Pablo Manlapit (1892–1969), who organized the Filipino Federation of Labor and the Filipino Higher Wage Movement. His organizations protested against the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association (HSPA), which refused to meet the Filipinos' demands. This led to a 1920 sugar strike that lasted about six months. To rebuild his union, Manlapit organized Filipinos as they arrived from the Philippines. A second confrontation between Manlapit's followers and plantation owners caused a strike in 1924 that resulted in a bloodbath in Hanapepe, Kauai, where sixteen workers and four policemen were killed. During the 1930s the Filipinos' ethnic union, Vibora Luviminda, failed to make headway against the powerful HSPA. The ILWU started organizing dock and plantation workers in the 1930s and gained economic and political power after World War II. By 1980 Filipinos constituted 50 percent of the Hawaiian branch of the ILWU. Agricultural workers were not the only Filipino union members; Filipinos also formed 40 percent of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union.

Many Filipinos arriving during and after the 1970s caused a “brain drain” in the Philippines. The country produced a higher number of college and university graduates per capita than any other country, and by 1980 the Philippines had replaced all European countries as the leading provider of immigrant accountants, engineers, nurses, physicians, teachers, and technical workers. In the early 1970s physicians, pharmacists, dentists, lawyers, and teachers ran into protective bureaucratic screens enacted by legislatures in western U.S. states. Filipino professionals who settled elsewhere in the United States found it easier to start careers because states in these areas had less-stringent laws or had reciprocity agreements that recognized and accepted the Philippine licenses.

In the past two decades, backed by affirmative action and equal opportunity legislation, the lot of Filipino American professionals has improved greatly. Page 131  |  Top of ArticleThey have begun to obtain employment in the professions for which they were trained. Doctors and nurses find ready employment after gaining certification. In 2011 Filipino physicians were numerically second only to Asian Indian physicians in the United States. In urban areas with high concentrations of Filipino businesspeople, Filipino chambers of commerce have organized. One purpose of such organizations is to encourage Filipino American small-business owners to be less conservative and think big. In 2012 only a handful of Filipino American entrepreneurs, such as Loida Nicolas Lewis, CEO of Beatrice International Holdings; the engineer and inventor Dado Banateo; Cecilia Pagkalinawan, of BoutiqueY3K; and Olivia Ongpin of fabric8, had achieved economic success that placed them among the wealthiest Americans.


During the Depression years, discrimination against Filipinos led to efforts by exclusionists to bar further immigration from the Philippines. Some Filipino organizations, concerned about the economic hardships confronting their countrymen, suggested a program of repatriation to the Philippines. Several members of Congress tried to enact a repatriation measure, but it did not gain much support until Representative Richard Welch of San Francisco introduced his repatriation bill. This bill provided for federal government payment of repatriation expenses for those wishing to return to the Philippines. These repatriates, however, could return to the United States only as one of the annual quota of fifty immigrants. When this program ended in 1940, only 2,190 of the 45,000 Filipinos living in the United States had elected to be repatriated. Many who took this opportunity for free transportation across the Pacific were university graduates who had already planned to return to assume leadership roles in the Philippines.

Repatriation did not satisfy California's exclusionists, who attempted to demonstrate that Filipinos were taking scarce jobs. Los Angeles County reported, however, that of the 12,000 Filipinos who lived in the county in 1933, 75 percent could not find work. At the time, they were not eligible for federal relief programs. During the Depression, not only did Filipinos face legal discrimination in obtaining licenses to practice their professions, but they also found that restrictive housing covenants prohibited them from living where they wished. During the New Deal era, Filipinos registered for relief projects only to be denied positions by the Civil Works Administration. In 1937 the United States attorney general restated that Filipinos were American nationals and thus eligible for employment on Works Progress Administration projects; however, they still could not receive preference because they were not citizens. Likewise, following World War II, 250,000 Filipino American veterans found themselves stripped of benefits when Congress passed the Rescission Act. In the more than sixty years since then, the veterans have lobbied for reinstatement with only partial success and finally gave up in 2012, saying they would work instead to improve benefits in other areas. According to the National Asian American Survey, Filipino Americans tend to vote Republican, contrary to most Asian American groups. Recent research has also shown that naturalized Filipino Americans are more likely to register to vote than those who are born in the United States. In 2013 the Filipino Workers Center, a Filipino American advocacy group, spearheaded a lobbying effort for immigration reform, an issue that affects Filipinos in both the United States and the Philippines. Filipinos have the longest green card wait time of any immigrant group. According to exit polls in the 2012 election, the Filipino vote was split, with economically conservative Filipinos voting as Republicans and immigration-reform supporters voting as Democrats.

Military Service During World War I, some Filipinos enlisted in the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps. Men who had served for three years and received an honorable discharge could apply for U.S. citizenship, and several did so. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines in 1941, which triggered the involvement of the United States in World War II, Filipinos tried to volunteer for military service or to obtain work in defense factories. Existing law had no provisions to enlist nationals, thus denying Filipinos employment in war industries. Given the need for army personnel, however, Secretary of War Henry Stimson on February 19, 1942, announced the formation of the First Filipino Infantry Battalion, which began training at Camp San Luis Obispo in California. It was activated on April 1, 1942, but in July the army reformed the unit as the First Filipino Regiment. A few weeks later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order that opened the way for Filipinos to work in government and in war industries. He also ordered a change in the draft law, reclassifying Filipinos from 4-C to 1-A, making them eligible for military service.

The First Filipino Regiment, after training at several California army posts, transferred to Camp Beale near Marysville, California. The citizenship of the troops remained a major issue. On February 20, 1943, army officers on Camp Beale's parade grounds administered the oath of allegiance, granting citizenship to a thousand Filipinos. Many in the First Regiment believed that citizenship gave them the right to marry their common-law wives, thus providing family allowances and making these women their federal insurance beneficiaries. An appeal to revoke the miscegenation law fell upon deaf ears, leading the regimental chaplain and the Red Cross to obtain emergency leaves for members so that couples could travel to New Mexico, where interracial marriages were legal, to marry before the regiment went overseas.

A second army unit, the Second Filipino Infantry Battalion, formed in October 1942 and reorganized

Page 132  |  Top of Article

Filipino American designer Josie Natori. Filipino American designer Josie Natori. FAIRCHILD PHOTO SERVICE

in March 1944, training at Camp Cooke, California. This battalion and the First Infantry were sent to Australia and fought in New Guinea before landing in the Southern Philippines. The First Infantry Regiment also went to Australia and then to New Guinea. They fought in Mindanao, the Visayan Islands, and northern Luzon. From the First Infantry Regiment came the First Reconnaissance Battalion, organized in 1944, whose mission was to gather preinvasion intelligence in Luzon. Some 1,000 soldiers went ashore from submarines to work undercover as civilians.

The First Filipino Infantry Regiment earned the prestige of fighting bravely and with honor, closely paralleling the record of the more widely known Japanese American 442 Regimental Combat Team. At the war's end, 555 soldiers returned to the United States, 500 of whom reenlisted, while 800 of the regiment remained in the Philippines. Altogether, more than 7,000 Filipinos served in the United States Army.

The U.S. Navy began early to recruit Filipinos in the Philippines, Hawaii, and the mainland. By the end of World War I, about 6,000 Filipinos had served in the navy or the Marine Corps. During the 1920s and 1930s, enlistments totaled about 4,000. However, the only job open to these men was as mess stewards, for the navy had determined during World War I that this was the best assignment for Filipinos. During World War II, the navy continued its mess-boy policy and denied these men the opportunity to secure other ratings and privileges.

In 1970 more than 14,000 Filipinos were serving in the U.S. Navy. Most had sea duty as personal valets, cabin boys, and dishwashers. Captains and admirals had Filipino stewards assigned directly to them. Others worked at the White House, the Pentagon, the U.S. Naval Academy, and at naval bases. At the same time, the navy discovered that its ships' galleys had become “Filipino ghettos.” The navy then provided opportunities for a few to train for other ratings. Some 1,600 Filipinos gained new assignments. The navy continued to recruit mess stewards in the Philippines. Of the some 17,000 Filipinos in the navy in 1970, 13,600 were stewards. Those in the navy did not complain as much as did outsiders. The steward's entry-level pay of $1,500 equaled the salary of a lieutenant colonel in the Philippine Army. Naval service was an important way for Philippine nationals to gain U.S. citizenship as well. During the Vietnam War, Filipino soldiers were not promoted above the rank of steward until the 1970s. As of 2012, of the 65,000 Asian Americans in the U.S. military, 23 percent were Filipino, with ten Filipino generals and flag officers.


Academia James Misajon was a prominent administrator at the University of Hawaii and served as the chair of the 1969 Governor's Statewide Conference on Immigration in Hawaii. Many other Filipinos are active in public and higher education. The University of California–Los Angeles Asian American Studies Center maintains a list of Filipino academics in the United States that, as of 2013, had eighty-one names.

Architecture In 2011 i4Design magazine named architect Lira Luis one of the top sixteen innovative design professionals in the Midwest. Luis is the first Filipino American to graduate from Frank Lloyd Wright's renowned Taliesin program.

Art and Music Noteworthy Filipino American artists include Alfredo Alcala (1925–2000), Linda Barry (1956–), Whilce Portacio (1963–), and Leo Valledor (1936–1989). Significant Filipino American musicians include Kirk Hammett (1962–), Enrique Iglesias (1975–), Mike Inez (1966–), Allan Pineda Lindo (1974–), and Nicole Scherzinger (1978–).

Fashion and Beauty Monique Lhuillier (1971–) and Josie Natori (1947–) are well-known fashion Page 133  |  Top of Articledesigners. Angela Perez Baraquio (1975–) was Miss America in 2001.

Film and Theater Joan Almedilla (1973–), actress and singer, was cast in the musicals Miss Saigon and Les Misérables on Broadway. Deedee Magno (1975–), a former mouseketeer, was a cast member of the musical Wicked. Ruben Aquino (1953–) was on the animation team for Disney Studio's Lion King and The Little Mermaid. Pia Clemente was the first Filipino to be nominated for an Academy Award for the live-action short film Our Time Is Up in 2004.

Literature Peter Bacho (1951–) won the Washington Governor's Writers Award for his short story collection Dark Blue Suit (1996) and the American Book Award for the novel Cebu (1991). Carlos Bulosan (1913–1956) published the autobiography America Is in the Heart (1946). Tess Uriza Holthe (1966–) is a writer whose first novel, When the Elephants Dance (2002), became a U.S. best seller. Bienvenido N. Santos (1911–1996), author of the short story collection Scent of Apples (1979), won the Palanca Award for Philippine Literature in 1956, 1961, and 1965. Alex Tizon (1957–), a Knight International Journalism Fellow, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 and the Lukacs Book Prize in 2004 for his journalistic and literary contributions. José García Villa (1908–1997) was a poet whose works include the collection Many Voices (1939).

Politics and Law Several Filipinos have entered politics and won election to office. Those in Hawaii have had the most success, in part because of large Filipino enclaves and because of their strength in the ILWU, a strong arm of the Democratic Party in Hawaii. The Democratic Party gained control of the Hawaiian legislature in 1954 and won the governorship in 1962; Democrats have controlled Hawaii's politics ever since. Between 1954 and the winning of statehood in 1959, three Filipinos were elected to the Territorial House of Representatives. Peter Aduja (1920–2007), a lawyer, was elected to one term in 1954 but was defeated in his bid for a second term. After Hawaii won statehood, Aduja was elected to four terms, starting in 1966. Bernaldo D. Bicoy (1923–2013), another Filipino lawyer in the Territory of Hawaii, was elected in 1958. He was defeated in 1959 for a seat in the new State Senate, but he won election for one term to the House in 1968. The third pioneer Filipino legislator was Pedro de la Cruz, a longtime ILWU labor leader who was first elected to the House in 1958 and served for sixteen years until his defeat in 1974. In his later years in the House, he served as vice speaker.

Alfred Laureta (1924–) became Hawaii's first Filipino director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Governor John Burns appointed him to the directorship in 1963 and then in 1969 appointed him judge of Hawaii's Circuit Court One. He thus became the first federal judge of Filipino ancestry.

In 1974 Benjamin Menor (1922–) became the first Filipino appointed to the Hawaii State Supreme Court. Menor migrated to Hawaii in 1930. After practicing law in Hilo, he served for a time as a county attorney. In 1962 he was elected to the Hawaii State Senate, becoming the first Filipino in the United States to be elected a state senator.

In 2009 Steve Austria (1958–) became the first first-generation Filipino American to be elected to the U.S. Congress. He represented the 7th congressional district of Ohio 2009–2013 and was affiliated with the Republican Party.

Religion Oscar A. Solis (1953–) is the first Filipino American Roman Catholic bishop in the United States. Bruce Reyes-Chow (1969–) is the first Filipino American head of a major religious denomination in the United States. He was elected moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2008.

Sports In 1948 Victoria Manalo Draves (1924–2010) became the first woman diver to win two gold medals in springboard diving in the Olympics. Many American sports enthusiasts remember Roman Gabriel (1940–), who gained national recognition as a quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams football team. Tedy Lacap Bruschi (1973–) was an All-Pro linebacker for the New England Patriots. Erik Spoelstra (1970–) is head coach for the NBA's Miami Heat. Jesus Salud (1963–) was WBA superbantamweight boxing champion in 1989. Tai Babilonia (1959–), Elizabeth Punsalan (1971–), and Amanda Evora (1984–) were U.S. Olympic figure skaters. J. R. Celski (1990–) won a bronze medal in short track speed skating in the 2010 Winter Olympics and is a five-time world champion. Paige McPherson (1990–) won a bronze medal in tae kwon do in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Kyla Ross (1996–) was on the U.S. gold medalist women's gymnastics team in the 2012 Summer Olympics.


Full Text: 


From the early 1920s to the late 1980s, several Filipino newspapers were published, although their existence was generally short-lived. In Hawaii the Kauai Filipino News became the Filipino News in 1931. In California, early papers were the Philippine Herald of 1920, the Commonwealth Courier of 1930, and the Philippine Advocate of 1934. In 1930 the Philippine Mail began publishing in Salinas, California. It succeeded the Philippine Independent News, started in Salinas in 1921. The Philippine Mail is still published in Salinas, making it the oldest Filipino newspaper in the United States. Over the years, it has reported news from the Philippines as well as news stories about Filipinos in the United States. In the 1990s Filipino publications included the Philippine News, printed in South San Francisco; Filipinas Magazine, published in San Francisco; and the Philippine Review out of Sacramento and Stockton, California.

Page 134  |  Top of Article
Full Text: 

FilAm Star

Bills itself as the newspaper for Filipinos in America.

1028 Mission Street
San Francisco, California 94103
Phone: (415) 593-5955
Fax: (415) 946-6443


Serves the global Filipino community.

13th Corner Railroad Street
Port Area
Manila, Philippines 1016
Phone: +63 2 527-6856


Full Text: 

Filipino American National Historical Society

Gathers, maintains, and disseminates Filipino American history.

Dorothy Cordova, Director
810 Eighteenth Avenue
Suite 100
Seattle, Washington 98122
Phone: (206) 322-0203

Filipino Workers Center

The Filipino Workers Center supports the right of all people to a healthy, dignified quality of life. It provides resources that meet urgent short-term needs of low-income workers and their families.

2001 Beverly Boulevard
Suite LI
Los Angeles, California 90057
Phone: (213) 250-4353

National Pinoy Archives

Photo and documentation repository for Philippine and Filipino history.

2001 Beverly Boulevard
Suite LI
Los Angeles, California 90057
Phone: (206) 543-7946
Fax: (206) 685-2146

Philippine American Educational Foundation

Provides scholarships for study in the Philippines.

Philippine-American Educational Foundation
10/F Ayala Life-FGU Center-Makati
811 Ayala Avenue
226 Makati City, Philippines
Phone: +63 2 812-0919
Fax: +63 2 812-5890

Sistan C. Alhambra Filipino American Education Institute

Based at the University of Hawaii, gathers, maintains, and disseminates Filipino American history.

Patricia Halagao, Director
Phone: (808) 956-9295


Full Text: 

Social Science Research Institute

Supports research that addresses problems in Hawaii and the Pacific Rim.

Social Science Research Institute
University of Hawai'i at Manoa
Saunders Hall, Suite 704
2424 Maile Way
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822
Phone: (808) 956-8930
Fax: (808) 956-8930

University of California–Davis Asian American Studies Center

Offers an interdisciplinary program that studies the experiences of Asian groups in the United States.

University of California–Davis
3102 Hart Hall
One Shields Avenue
Davis, California 95616
Phone: (530) 723-9767
Fax: (530) 752-9260

University of California–Los Angeles Asian American Studies Center

Maintains the Filipino American Scholars Directory, a list of university faculty of Filipino descent.

David K. Yu, PhD
3230 Campbell Hall
Box 951546
Los Angeles, California 90015-1546
Phone: (310) 825-2974
Fax: (310) 206-9844


Cabezas, Amado, et al. “New Inquiries into the Socioeconomic Status of Pilipino Americans in California” Amerasia Journal 13 (1986): 1–21.

Page 135  |  Top of Article

Espiritu, Augusto. “Transnationalism and Filipino American Historiography.” Journal of Asian American Studies 11, no. 2 (2008)

Espiritu, Yen Le. Filipino American Lives. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995.

Francia, Luis, and Eric Gamalinda, eds. Flippin': Filipinos on America. New York: Asian American Writers' Workshop, 1996.

McWilliams, Carey. Brothers under the Skin. Rev. ed. Boston: Little, Brown, 1951.

Nadal, Kevin. Filipino American Psychology. Somerset, NJ: Garland, 2011.

———. Stephanie Pituc, Marc Johnston, and Theresa Esparrago. “Overcoming the Model Minority Myth: Experiences of Filipino American Graduate Students,” Journal of College Student Development 51, no. 6 (2010): 694–706.

Okamura, Jonathan. Imagining the Filipino American Diaspora: Transnational Relations, Identities and Communities. New York: Garland, 1998.

Quinsaat, Jesse, ed. Letters in Exile: An Introductory Reader on the History of Pilipinos in America. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian Studies Center, 1976.

Root, Maria, ed. Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1997.

San Juan, E., Jr. From Exile to Diaspora: Versions of the Filipino Experience in the United States. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300072