Filipino americans

by H. Brett Melendy


The Philippine Islands, off the east coast of Asia, are part of the Pacific Ocean's fiery volcanic rim. The Philippine archipelago, consisting of about 7,100 islands, lies along a north-south arc of 1,152 miles. From east to west, its widest dimension is 682 miles. Most islands, large and small, have high mountains, and many are surrounded by coral-reef shorelines.

The Philippines' land area is 115,831 square miles, slightly larger than the state of Nevada. Eleven islands comprise about 95 percent of the land mass of the Philippines, with the two largest, Luzon and Mindanao, accounting for 65 percent of the total. The national capital, Quezon City, and the de facto capital and largest city, Manila, are both situated on Luzon, on which over 25 percent of the country's population lives. Thirty-five percent inhabits the Visayan Islands, a cluster of islands—Samar, Leyete Bohol, Cebu, Negros, Panay, and Masbate—that lie between Luzon and Mindanao. Cebu has the highest population concentration with more than 400 people per square mile. The country's total population in 1992 was about 67,144,000. Malays are in the majority; major ethnic minorities are Chinese, Americans, and Spanish. Eighty-three percent of the population is Roman Catholic, nine percent is Protestant, and five percent is Muslim. Mindanao has the greatest Islamic concentration.

Climatic conditions, which are about the same throughout the archipelago, help determine the islanders' lifestyle. The climate, both tropical and maritime in nature, usually has high humidity and high temperatures. Monsoons and typhoons, over-riding normal conditions, bring periods of heavy rain. All of these factors have determined where and how Filipinos have cultivated their land. Agriculture, ranging from subsistence farming to export plantations, remains the basis of the islands' economy. Even so, given the mountainous terrain, only about 15 percent of the land is cultivated. Major domestic crops are rice and corn; important export crops are abaca (Manila hemp), copra (dried coconut meat, from which coconut oil is made), pineapple, sugar, and tobacco.

One of the persistent problems for Philippines islanders has been inequitable land distribution. A share tenant system has made most farmers captives of landlords, or caciques. At the time of independence in 1946, over 70 percent of the crops went to caciqueors. Share tenancy has brought considerable political and social unrest. Historically, limited economic opportunities tied to tenancy and a high birthrate led to immigration to Hawaii and the mainland United States.


The islands have seen the arrival of different peoples over the centuries leading to the evolution of the present diverse culture. Among the earliest immigrants were the Little People, shorter than five feet tall. They were dark skinned, had Negroid features, and were named Negritoes by the Spanish. They may have arrived about 25,000 years ago, and they lived throughout the islands. In recent decades, they occupied the mountain interiors of Luzon, Mindanao, and Palawan, living in isolation and not mixing with later arrivals.

Sometime between 4000 B.C. and 3000 B.C., the first Indonesians arrived from the Asian continent. A second Indonesian influx occurred about 1000 B.C. and lasted about 500 years. Both waves of Indonesians settled throughout the islands, and over the centuries assimilated with subsequent immigrants. Present-day Ilonggo are one result of tribal intermixing.

The Malays, an Iron Age people, began arriving in the third century A.D. Peak influxes started in the thirteenth century and continued well into the next. The Bontoks, Igorots, and Tinguians are descendants of the Malays. Tribes that in time became dominant were the Visayans, Cebunos, and Ilocanos. European and American colonists discovered some of these groups were "head-hunting pagans." Those Malays who came in the later waves had elements of an alphabet and metal tools. More peaceful than earlier arrivals, they were the ancestors of most present-day Filipino Christians. While considered primitive by Western standards, these Malays were in fact far advanced over the earliest immigrants. During the fourteenth century, Islamic Arab traders arrived; their descendants, the Moros, populated the southern islands and remained militant Muslims.

The Chinese and Japanese have had a major impact in the twentieth century, although trade between the Philippines and South China began to develop as early as the fourteenth century as Chinese emigrants became successful merchants and traders. Descendants of Filipino and Chinese marriages continued this domination of island businesses, gaining economic successes and power. Their virtual monopoly of the nation's big businesses in the twentieth century led some Filipinos, particularly those in urban areas, to resent the Chinese and to engage in occasional hostile activities. Japanese immigration occurred after 1900; emigrants from Japan settled first on the island of Mindanao, and they developed several large abaca plantations. Unlike the Chinese and earlier Malay emigrants, the Japanese remained largely a homogeneous group, rarely intermarrying. At the outbreak of World War II, Japanese could be found throughout the islands, working mostly at such crafts as cabinetmaking and photography.

SPANISH RULE, 1565-1898

The first European immigrants did not intend to settle permanently in the Philippines. Spanish settlement proved transitory during the 400 years of Spain's colonial occupation. The first contact between Spain and the Philippines occurred in March of 1521, when Ferdinand Magellan's fleet reached the island of Samar on its circumnavigation of the earth. Magellan claimed the archipelago for Spain and the Catholic church, but Spain did not make his claim official until 1565. The country was named the Philippines in the 1550s after King Philip II of Spain.

In 1565, nine years after ascending to the Spanish throne, Philip II sent a royal governor to the Philippines. The governor, from his first seat of government on Cebu, sent expeditions to other islands and imposed Spanish rule. From the outset, colonial officers exerted forceful and lasting control, using the colonial methods used in the Americas as their model.

From 1565 to 1810 the Acapulco-Manila galleon trade flourished. It connected the Spanish empire in Latin America with the Asian market via the Philippines. Manila served as the entreport to the China trade route. Gold bullions were extracted by the Spanish in Latin America and exchanged for silk, spices, and tea in the East. The galleon trade provided the first opportunity for native Filipinos to leave the islands as members of the crews aboard the Spanish ships.

As royal governors gained greater dominion over the islands, they moved the colonial capital to Manila, with its superior harbor. Endorsing European ideas of mercantilism and imperialism, Spain's monarchs believed that they should exercise their power in the Philippines to enrich themselves. In the course of almost four centuries, Spanish settlers and their descendants in the islands came to own large estates and to control the colonial government.

The Catholic church, supported by the colonial powers, controlled large areas of land and held a monopoly on formal education. The church and the Spanish language were major Spanish cultural institutions imposed upon Filipinos. By 1898, over 80 percent of the islanders were Catholics. Most young Filipinos, migrating to Hawaii and the mainland before World War II, came from Catholic backgrounds.

The Spanish, in installing an autocratic imperialism that alienated Filipinos, created a class society and a culture that many Filipinos later tried to imitate. Some of the Spanish, who made the islands their home, married Filipinos; the descendants of these marriages were known as mestizos . By the nineteenth century, mestizos had inherited large areas of agricultural lands. This Filipino upper class found that the lighter their skin color, the easier it became to mingle with Europeans and Americans. They also learned to control local politics through power and corruption. This economic-political dominance came to be known as caciquism.

Local revolts against Spanish imperial corruption, caciquism, racial discrimination, and church abuse began late in the nineteenth century. These first revolts called for reform of the economic-political system but not for independence. An early leader, Jose Rizal, who formed La Liga Filipina (the Filipino League), called for social reform. After the Spanish banished Rizal, more radical leaders emerged. When Rizal returned to the islands, the Spanish colonial government arrested, tried, and executed him in 1896, thus unwittingly creating a martyr and national hero.

Twenty-seven-year-old Emilio Aguinaldo became the next leader of the insurrectionists— now fighting openly against the Spanish. In 1898, Aguinaldo conferred with American officials in Hong Kong and Singapore. He was led to understand that the Filipinos would become allies with the United States in a war against Spain, the anticipated outcome of which would be an independent Philippine nation. Admiral George Dewey and Consul General E. Spencer Pratt, with whom Aguinaldo met, later denied that they had made such a promise. In 1898, the United States declared war against Spain, and as a result of the ensuing Spanish-American War, the United States went to war with the Philippines. The war took more than one million Filipino lives and 6,000 American lives. The Treaty of Paris, approved on February 6, 1899, made the United States an imperial power and started a 47-year relationship with the Philippines.

Filipinos, following Aguinaldo's lead, protested the arrival of American imperialism, and the insurrection first launched against the Spanish continued. After annexation of the Philippines by the United States, the U.S. Army fought to quell uprisings throughout the islands. With 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 to be at an end, even though the Moros, who had become largely independent under Spanish rule, continued to fight until 1913.


U.S. President William McKinley sent several commissions to the Philippines even as the U.S. Army fought the Filipinos. William Howard Taft, president of the Philippine Commission, began installing American control on September 1, 1900. A year later, he became the first governor-general of the Philippines. Between 1901 and 1913, American officials, controlling executive, legislative, and judicial offices, rebuilt the islands' government from the village to the national level. An elected lower house, the Philippine Assembly, soon participated in national affairs. Both the judicial system and the civil service, modeled after American counterparts, replaced the Spanish system.

Undoubtedly, the great American impact came in education, with primary schools set up in most communities and high schools in each province. Nationwide vocational schools and teacher colleges were established, as was the University of the Philippines in Manila, founded in 1908 as the capstone of the islands' education program. Religious freedom was guaranteed, and government support of the Catholic church as the state religion ended. Most of the provincial colleges remained under Catholic control with a curriculum reflecting the church's traditional education. A major cause of Filipino unrest under Spanish imperialism was church-controlled Friar lands. To ease this crisis, the United States bought about 400,000 acres from the Catholic church. This land was then sold, mostly to former tenants at low prices and with easy payment terms.

While American administrators tended to be benevolent authorities, Filipinos still desired independence. From the outset of American rule, the leaders of the Nacionalista party called for immediate independence. From 1907 on, the Nacionalistas gained and held control of elective offices in villages, provinces, and the Philippine Assembly. A small number of wealthy party members, drawn from among large landowners, used caciquism to control the Nacionalista party. Early major political leaders were Sergio Osmena and Manuel Quezon. By 1917, these two men had concentrated national political power under their absolute control. Most immigrants to the United States and the Territory of Hawaii were Nacionalistas.

In 1916, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, committed to making the Philippines an independent nation, supported passage of the Jones Act, which promised that the Philippines would be free as soon as a stable government was established. The act provided that during a transitional period, executive power would remain with an American appointed governor-general while Filipinos elected members to the Assembly and to the newly established Senate. The Jones Act helped Osmena's and Quezon's political machine entrench itself. In 1921, with the election of a Republican administration in the United States, independence was no longer strongly advocated, as Republican governor-generals insisted that the islands were not ready to be set free.

During the late 1920s, concerns over the large influx of Filipinos into the West Coast of the United States and falling agricultural prices for certain American commodities led to agitation that called for change in the relationship between the islands and the United States. American farmers wanted an end to free trade of commodities from the islands while exclusionists wanted to stop Filipino immigration. These two political forces began calling for Philippine independence.

In December 1931, Congress passed the Hare-Hawes-Cutting bill, which was intended to grant independence to the islands after a ten-year period. It then overrode President Herbert Hoover's veto, and the bill became law. The new law provided that American goods would be imported into the islands duty free, while Philippine goods exported to the United States would be subject to increasing tariff rates during these ten years. During this period, Filipino immigration would be limited to an annual quota of 50, and general United States immigration laws would apply. The Philippine national legislature had to approve the act, but in October 1933, Quezon-led forces rejected the proposal, which had the backing of Osmena and Manuel Roxas adherents. Quezon then led a delegation to Washington to negotiate with the new American president, Franklin Roosevelt.

Quezon obtained only a slight modification of the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act; key issues relating to the island economy and immigration to the United States remained unchanged. At the end of the ten-year transition period, the United States was to withdraw its forces from all military and naval bases, something that did not actually happen until the 1990s. The Tydings-McDuffie Act, signed into law on March 23, 1934, promised independence after ten years and created the Commonwealth of the Philippines. The Philippine legislature approved this act on May 1, 1934, and a year later the Filipino people approved a constitution.


At the first presidential election in September 1935, Filipinos elected Quezon as president and one of his major rivals, Osmena, as vice president. With their inauguration on November 15, 1935, the Commonwealth of the Philippines came into being, although many Filipinos were ambivalent about the prospect of complete independence. While independence appealed to their sense of nationalism, the hard economic fact was that the islands depended upon tariff-free American markets. Many felt that, in due course, imposition of a tariff upon Philippine products could be disastrous.

With the Tydings-McDuffie Act, independence was to come to the Philippines in 1944, but the Japanese conquest of the islands in 1942 brought a two-year hiatus to the commonwealth. The Quezon government fled, first to Australia with General Douglas MacArthur and then to the United States, where Quezon continued to serve as the commonwealth's president until his death in 1944.


After U.S. President Harry Truman proclaimed the independence of the Philippines on July 4, 1946, Manual Roxas was elected the first president of the Republic of the Philippines. However, the Philippine

Filipino immigrants came to the United States in the early 1900s looking for a better life.
Filipino immigrants came to the United States in the early 1900s looking for a better life.
Rehabilitation Act and the Philippine Trade Act, imposed upon the new republic by the United States, created a favorable environment for American corporations at the expense of the Philippine economy. With the growing threat of communism, the United States continued to maintain air and naval bases in the islands.

The new republic struggled to nationhood during the turmoil of the postwar years. Communistdominated Huks soon confronted Roxas' government with armed resistance in an internal war that lasted until 1954. Huks is a shortened term for Hukbon Magpapalaya ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon, or People's Anti-Japanese Liberation Army. Since independence in 1946, urban and rural violence have continued; election days in the Philippines are marked by many deaths. Under the leadership of Ramon Magsaysay, who succeeded Elpidio Quirino, the republic by 1955 came to be seen as a sturdy bastion of democracy in the Far East, one that the United States hoped would be a model for other Asian countries.

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos was elected president. When several groups conducted terrorist tactics and the Moros continued to fight for their independence, Marcos, declaring martial law in September of 1972, seized dictatorial powers. This state of affairs lasted fourteen years. Early in 1973, Marcos proclaimed a new constitution, naming himself as president. In 1978, he gave his wife, Imelda, extensive powers to control national planning and development. In the face of growing political repression, many of Marcos's political opponents found it expedient to leave the country as croyism was elevated to the national level. Marcos lifted the decree of martial law in 1981 and turned political power over to the national legislature. He was then elected to another six-year term as president.

Following the 1983 assassination of Benigno S. Aquino Jr., a leading rival of Marcos, political unrest and violence became commonplace until 1986, when Marcos fled the country, and Corazon Aquino, Benigno Aquino's widow, was declared president. The end of the Marcos era did not bring political and economic calm to the nation, however; unsuccessful coups against the government have continued and the national economy has remained weak. Additionally, widespread poverty and communism have posed threats to the unstable central government.

Since the end of Mrs. Aquino's presidency in 1992, there have been two peaceful transitions of power through the process of elections. Under presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada the communist rebellion and the Muslim rebellion have been severely weakened and the Philippines has made substantial economic strides.


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 the Philippines have been surpassed only by Mexico in the number of immigrants coming to the United States.

The first 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 United States' institutions of higher learning. Beginning in 1903, a group of 100 students left for the United States, and by 1910 all had returned. Once home, these new college graduates were met with confusion and jealousy by fellow Filipinos and with hostility by American colonials. However, 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 these came as independent students, apart from the Pensionado program. Many of these hopefuls became over-whelmed by the high cost of living, their inadequate academic preparation, insufficient language skills, and an inability to determine what level of American education best suited their state of educational preparation. These Filipinos soon found themselves trapped as unskilled laborers. Those who were successful in graduating from major universities returned to the Philippines to take their places with Pensionados 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 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 Sates, the HSPA returned to the Philippines, looking for workers. The Bureau of Census reported that there were 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 Union. Immigrants from Pangasinan, Zambales, and Cagayan account for about 25 percent of those from Ilocano. 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; this paid their passage to Hawaii and guaranteed free subsistence and clothing. If they worked a total of 720 days, they received return passage money. 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 the "best workers," and poverty in their provinces provided a stimulant for out-migration. 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 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 to others seeking greener pastures on the West Coast. The high point of immigration to Hawaii occurred in 1925, when 11,621 Filipinos arrived in Honolulu. At that point, the HSPA closed active recruiting in the Philippines, relying upon self-motivation to maintain the influx of workers.

In 1910, only 406 Filipinos lived on the United States mainland. The largest group, of 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, and found jobs. The state of Washington had 17 and California had only five. In 1920, 5,603 Filipinos lived along the West Coast or 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 as California's Filipino population, mostly single young men, increased by 91 percent; over 31,000 Filipinos disembarked at the ports of San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 1930, there were 108,260 Filipinos 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 war brides, the "1946 boys," and military recruits. War brides were the spouses of American GIs who married Filipina women while being stationed in the Philippines. After the passage of the War Brides Act of 1946, it is estimated that 5,000 brides came to the United States. Contracted workers called the "1946 boys", or Sakadas, numbered 7,000 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 territorial-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 agricultural workers. Filipinos who came to the United States through the U.S. military were another component of the second wave. A provision of the 1947 US-RP Military Bases Agreement allowed the Navy to recruit Filipino men for its mess halls. During the same year President Truman ended racial segregation in the military and the Filipino replaced African Americans in mess halls. By the 1970s, more than 20,000 Filipinos had entered the United States through the U.S. Navy.

Internal conditions in the new republic contributed to many moving from the islands 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 pre-war immigrants 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 20 and 40 who came looking for better career opportunities than they could find in the Philippines. This highly skilled third-wave population had a command of the English language, allowing 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, 343,060 Filipinos lived in the United States; in 1980, the number was 781,894, with 92 percent of these living in urban areas. By 1990, the number of Filipinos had reached 1,450,512. The West, as reported in the 1990 Census, had 991,572, or 68.4 percent of the Filipinos. The other three areas, Northeast, Midwest, and South, ranged from 8.8 to 12.5 percent. California in 1990 had the largest Filipino population, almost 50 percent of the total; Hawaii had fallen to second place. Every state in the union had a Filipino population. Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington had Filipino populations in excess of 30,000.

Acculturation and Assimilation

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

From 1898 to 1946, Filipinos, classified as American nationals, could travel abroad with an American passport and could enter and leave the United States at will, until the Tydings-McDuffie Act limited the number entering as immigrants to 50 a year. The opportunity for most Filipinos to become American citizens before 1946 was closed to them by the United States Supreme Court in its 1925 decision, Toyota v. United States. This decision declared that only whites or persons of African descent were entitled to citizenship, thus closing the opportunity for Filipinos to become United States citizens. Those Filipinos, however, who had enlisted and served three years in the United States Navy, Marine Corps, or Naval Auxiliary Service during World War I and who had received an honorable discharge could apply for citizenship. In 1946, Congress passed a law that permitted Filipinos to qualify for American citizenship.

The inability to acquire citizenship, besides being a social stigma, presented serious economic and political implications. Since most states required citizenship to practice law, medicine, and other licensed professions and occupations, Filipinos were prohibited from these occupations. Filipinos had no recognized voice of protest to speak

Filipino Americans pose in traditional dress at the  Lotus Festival.
Filipino Americans pose in traditional dress at the Lotus Festival.
for them, unlike immigrants from other countries who had ambassadors and consuls to support them. The Philippines had a Resident Commissioner in Washington who could protest, but this commissioner generally proved ineffective in dealing with federal and state bureaucracies.

Throughout the Depression years of the 1930s, Filipinos found it difficult to qualify for federal relief. Although the Works Progress Administration in 1937 ruled that Filipinos were eligible for employment on WPA projects, they could not receive preference since they were not citizens. During the 1920s and 1930s, those Filipinos living on the Pacific Coast encountered prejudice and hostilities resulting in hateful discrimination and race riots. A sagging economy made assimilation difficult if not impossible.

At the height of discrimination in California, the California Department of Industrial Relations published in 1930 a biased study, Facts about Filipino Immigration into California, claiming that Filipinos posed economic and social threats. On the West Coast, Filipinos were frequently denied service in restaurants and barbershops and were barred from swimming pools, movies, and tennis courts. They found that their dark skin and imperfect English marked them, in the eyes of whites, as being different and therefore inferior. White Californians presented several contradictions that confused Filipinos. Farmers and certain urban enterprises welcomed them because they provided cheap labor. However, discriminatory attitudes relegated them to low-paying jobs and an inferior social existence. Consequently, many other Californians criticized the Filipinos' substandard living conditions and attacked them for creating health problems and lowering the American standard of living. Faced with discrimination in real estate, Filipinos were forced into "Little Manilas" in California cities. Filipinos in cities such as Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C., also clustered together.

Discrimination against Filipinos has persisted into the late twentieth century, but civil rights legislation, affirmative action, and equal opportunity laws have improved the daily lives of most Filipinos who have arrived in recent decades. A perhaps unexpected form of discrimination for immigrants arriving after 1965 was the hostility that they met from second-generation Filipinos who saw the new arrivals as snobs and upstarts who were benefitting from advances made by the older group. At the same time, more recent Filipino immigrants have treated their older compatriots with disdain, considering them the equivalent of "hillbillies."

During the 1990 Census, Filipinos reported a median income of $46,698, while the median income for the entire United States was $35,225. This can be attributed to the ongoing stream of highly educated and highly skilled Filipinos from the Philippines and to second and third generation Filipino Americans finishing college.


The Filipinos who came to Hawaii and the West Coast during the 1920s and 1930s sought a range of leisure-time activities to relieve the monotony of unskilled labor. A result of the recruitment tactics of the agribusiness industry in Hawaii and the West Coast, the pre-World War II Filipino Community was made up mostly of single, uneducated men, with few or no relatives in the United States. These men attended and enjoyed spectator sports, bet on prize fights and wrestling matches, and gambled at poker, blackjack, and dice. During the 1930s they increased the profits of Stockton gambling operators and prostitutes by about $2 million annually. Gambling, dance halls, and prostitution gave credence to white Americans' complaints that Filipinos were immoral and lawless. Many in California traveled to Reno, Nevada, looking for the proverbial "pot of gold." Pool halls in the "Little Manilas" provided both recreation and gambling. Cockfighting, a major source of entertainment and gambling, was imported from the Philippines. The fighting of cocks, although illegal, continues to attract Filipinos in Hawaii and on the mainland.


Filipino Americans, like other immigrants, brought with them cuisine from their native country. As with many Eastern Pacific Rim countries, rice is the basic staple. Three favorite foods are lumpia , kare kare , and chicken and pork Adobo . Lumpia is an egg roll—a lumpia wrapper filled with pork, shrimp, cabbage, beans, scallions, and bean sprouts and 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.


Second-wave Filipinos incurred severe health problems as they aged. One illness that seemed almost endemic was gout 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. Unmarried men also had a high rate of venereal disease. Complicating these health problems was the fact that these men did not or could not obtain regular health care when they had good health.

There is evidence, according to a study conducted in Hawaii, that Filipino women have a higher rate of heart disease and circulatory problems than does that state's general population. The same study noted that Filipino men suffered more from lateral sclerosis than other men did. Other diseases of high incidence were liver cancer and diabetes. The more highly educated fourth-wave Filipinos know the value of good health care and have utilized the medical services available to them.


The official languages in the Philippines are Pilipino (a derivative of Tagalog) and English. Linguists have identified some 87 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 the fourth 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.

Family and Community Dynamics

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 noted, were single young men. Only a very few married and had families in the United States. The dream that most Filipinos never realized—of returning to the Philippines—led in time to disillusionment as these young men grew old, trapped as unskilled laborers. Many of these "birds of passage" sent money to the Philippines to help their families pay taxes, buy land, finance the education of relatives, or meet obligations owed by the Philippines' family alliance system.

Relatively few Filipinos of the second wave who returned to the Philippines came from the West Coast. Many more from Hawaii's plantations were able to do so. Those who did return were called Hawayanos. In comparison to those in their Philippine villages, they had a degree of affluence. Filipino American philanthropy aimed mostly to benefit relatives in the Philippines. Filipinos sent funds to their families in Philippine barrios. Several mayors of villages in the Ilocos Norte reported that about $35,000 a month was received through the pension checks of returned Ilocanos 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 America and provided money, as had earlier immigrants, to pay taxes, buy land, and finance college education.

While some Americans believed that Filipinos of the second wave were headhunting savages, others feared that they were health hazards because of a meningitis outbreak in the early 1930s. However, the greatest concern came from the attention that these young men lavished on white women. Given that in 1930 the ratio of Filipino males to females was fourteen to one, it was only natural that the men would seek companionship with white women. Young men frequented taxi-dance halls (where white girls, hired to dance with male customers, were paid ten cents for a one minute dance) during the 1920s and 1930s, seeking female companionship. Many white citizens believed that meetings between the young Filipinos and white women, whose morals were assumed to be questionable, 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 white hatred of Filipino attention to white women was an economic motive—the fear of losing jobs to the migrant labor force.

Filipino Americans came from a society where families, composed of paternal and maternal relatives, were the center of their lives. 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. 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 interrelated 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. This system assured the role of the individual and demanded loyalty to the group.

To offset the absence of kin in the Philippines or to compensate for the lack of Filipina immigrants, Filipino Americans sought out male relatives and compadres from their barrios to cook, eat, and live together in bunk houses. 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 baptismals, 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 to adapt to the new world and culture 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. These women who married Filipinos in mixed marriages 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 duplication of the compadrazgo system. The rite of baptism gave an opportunity for those of the same barrio to come together for a time of socializing. As many as 200 sponsors might appear to become godparents, but there was not the same sense of obligation as there was in the Philippines. Marriages and funerals were also occasions that brought Filipino Americans together to renew their common ties.

Recent immigrants, unlike the agricultural workers of the 1920s and 1930s, have moved to major metropolitan areas of the United States, finding that urban areas provided better employment opportunities. They came with their families or sent for them after becoming established in the United States. These recent arrivals also brought with them the barrio familial and compadrazgo structures. Having complete families, they found it much easier to maintain traditional relationships. Those in the greater New York area settled 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 became a Filipino center, with restaurants and small shops catering to Filipinos' needs. Unlike the West Coast, however, there was no identifiable ethnic enclave. Outsiders saw these East Coast Filipinos merely as part of the larger Asian American group. They were largely professionals: bankers, doctors, insurance salesmen, lawyers, nurses, secretaries, and travel agents.

Filipinos have organized community groups representing a wide range of concerns, but the tendency to fragment has made it difficult to present a common front on issues of mutual concern. Organizations may be based upon professions or politics, but most have evolved from a common religion, city or barrio, language, school, or church in the Philippines. In 1980 California had more than 400 cultural and social organizations representing Filipinos.

Second-wave Filipinos in California, finding white society closed to them, organized three major fraternal organizations: Caballeros de Dimas-Alang, Legionairos del Trabajo, and Gran Oriente Filipino (Great Filipino Lodge). The first, organized in 1921, honored Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero (his pen name while writing revolutionary tracts was Dimas-Alang). This fraternal lodge at one time during the 1930s had 100 chapters throughout the United States and was one of many that commemorated Rizal's execution on Jose Rizal Day, December 30. Legionairos del Trabajo, organized in San Francisco in 1920, originated in the Philippines. Centered in the Bay City, 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 46 states and in the Territories of Alaska and Hawaii. All lodges sponsored beauty pageant contests and dances in their various communities. Such pageants continue, and now often include a Mrs. Philippines pageant.

Besides these formal organizations, Filipinos gather with others from their province for ritualistic and religious ceremonies and festivals. Most Filipinos, from the first wave of immigrants, were either nominal or practicing Roman Catholics, and in the United States, they participated in church celebrations. Some Filipinos have, however, become members of evangelical churches.

As second-wave Filipinos grew old and remained in California, various organizations started looking after their welfare. Caballeros de Dimas-Alang, using federal and city agencies, built the Dimas-Alang House in San Francisco to care for elderly and low-income Filipinos. 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 built in 1972 the largest federally funded community located in Stockton; subsequently, branches were built in Tulare County, Cochella, Brawley, and Ventura. Pilipino Bayanihan hoped to fulfill the needs of the unemployed, underemployed, and senior citizens.


The vast majority of Filipino Americans are Roman Catholic, although about five percent are Muslim. Both Roman Catholicism and Islam, however, are heavily influenced by a belief in the intervention of spirits, reminiscent of religious beliefs that existed in the Philippines prior to European and Asian settlement. Because the majority of early Filipino immigrants to the United States were single males, few 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.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Second-wave Filipinos came primarily "to get rich quick"—by Philippine standards—and return to their home provinces to live in affluence. Thus their goal was not to adjust to 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.

Some found ready but low-paying employment as Pacific Coast migratory field hands and cannery workers. Others were employed in the merchant marine, the United States Navy, and Alaska's salmon canneries. Compared to 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. Consequently, many of the young Filipinos grew old in California, unable to fulfill their dream of returning to their homeland.

California agriculture, with its specialty crops, relied on migratory field workers. From the Imperial Valley to the Sacramento Valley, farmers sought cheap field labor to harvest their crops. Filipino and Mexican workers dominated in 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 agriculture.

Migrant jobs ended after the harvest season. Filipinos then moved to cities in the late fall and winter in search of employment. But most usually had to return to the fields in the spring. By 1930, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Stockton, and Seattle each had "Little Manilas," as discriminatory real estate covenants restricted Filipinos to congested ghettos. The number 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, pool rooms, 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 unskilled and skilled 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' urban centers. 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.


Declining market prices for agricultural produce in the late 1920s and during the Great Depression of the 1930s seriously affected the Filipinos. As migrant workers saw their wages fall lower and lower, they threatened strikes and boycotts. Given the American Federation of Labor's antipathy to non-white workers, minority workers, such as 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.

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 struck, leading to violence, white vigilante action, and defeat for the workers time and time again. 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 a contractor for seasonal work lasting three or four months. In 1928 there were about 4,000 Filipinos employed in Alaskan canneries but at low wages. Wages remained in dispute 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. 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 were Philip Vera Cruz, Pete Velasco, and Andrew Imutan.

Both AWOC and NFWA spent their initial energy 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, AWOC struck against 35 grape growers in the Delano, Kern County, area. 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, under a United States Department of Labor order, received $1.40. Chavez's NFWA joined the strike, which lasted for seven months.

In August of 1966 AWOC and NFWA joined forces to end any unnecessary 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 agriculture 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 ran head long into 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 continued to organize Filipinos as they arrived from the Philippines. A second confrontation between Manlapit's followers and plantation owners caused a strike in 1924 which 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. An important ILWU president was Filipino Carl Damasco. Another key labor leader was Pedro dela Cruz, born in Mindanao. He was a leading spokesman for the workers on the island of Lanai who worked in Dole's pineapple fields.

By 1980, Filipinos constituted 50 percent of the Hawaii branch of the ILWU. Agricultural workers were not the only union members; Filipinos also formed 40 percent of the Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Union.

Many of those Filipinos arriving during the 1970s and after created a "brain drain" for the Philippines. By 1980, the Philippines had replaced all European countries as the leading foreign provider of accountants, engineers, nurses, physicians, teachers, and technical workers. It is noteworthy that the Philippines have had a higher number of college and university graduates per capita than any other country. In the early 1970s, one-third of all immigrants seeking licensure in the United States were Filipino, and many found employment easy to obtain. Such was often not the case for physicians, pharmacists, dentists, lawyers, and teachers. These professionals ran into the highly protective bureaucratic screens that had been enacted by western state legislatures in earlier years. A Filipino dentist, who had served in the United States Navy for eight years, found it took him three years to gain a California license. A physician, licensed in the Philippines in 1954, had been in practice for 16 years before moving to Hawaii, where he was denied a license and forced to take a job as a janitor in a drive-in restaurant. He eventually found employment as a meat cutter. His employer thought he "was very good at separating the meat from the bone." Those professionals who settled in eastern and middle states found it easier to start careers because these states had less stringent laws or had reciprocity agreements.

By the 1990s, with affirmative action and equal opportunity programs, the lot of Filipino American professionals improved greatly, and they were able to employ their talents in the skills for which they were trained. Doctors and nurses found ready employment once they gained certification. In most urban areas with a high concentration of Filipino businessmen, Filipino chambers of commerce were organized. The purpose of such organizations was to stimulate business, but these chambers also provided support groups for small businessmen.

Politics and Government

During the Depression years, discrimination against Filipinos led to efforts by exclusionists to bar further emigration from the Philippines. Some Filipino organizations, concerned about the economic hardships confronting their fellow countrymen, suggested a program of repatriation to the Philippines. Several members of Congress tried to enact a repatriation measure, but did not gain much support until Representative Richard Welch of San Francisco introduced his repatriation bill. This bill provided that the federal government would pay repatriation expenses of those wishing to return to the Philippines. These repatriates could only return to the United States as one of the annual quota of 50 immigrants. When this program ended in 1940, 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. However, Los Angeles County reported 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 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 could not receive preference because they were not citizens.


Filipinos found that miscegenation laws denied them the right to marry white women. In 1901, the California legislature had enacted a law forbidding whites to marry blacks, Mongolians, or mulattos. 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 58 county clerks to make his/her interpretation as to the racial origin of Filipinos. By 1936, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington had enacted laws prohibiting marriages between Filipinos and whites. Consequently, white women became common-law wives. In 1948, the California Supreme Court ruled in Perez v. Sharp that the miscegenation law violated individual civil rights, thus freeing Filipinos to marry whomever they pleased.


During World War I, some Filipinos enlisted in the United States Navy and the Marine Corps. Men who had served three years and had received an honorable discharge could apply for American citizenship, and several did so. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines in 1941, which triggered America's involvement in World War II, Filipinos tried to volunteer for military service and/or work in defense factories. Existing law had no provisions to enlist nationals, thus denying Filipinos employment in war industries. However, given the need for Army personnel, 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 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 Army service.

The First Filipino Regiment, after training in 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 1,000 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 of the miscegenation law fell upon deaf ears, leading the regimental chaplain and the Red Cross to obtain emergency leaves so that couples could travel to New Mexico to become legally married before the regiment went overseas.

A second Army unit, the Second Filipino Infantry Battalion, was formed in October 1942 and reorganized 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, to undertake pre-invasion intelligence in Luzon. Some 1,000 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; 800 of the regiment remained in the Philippines. Altogether, more than 7,000 Filipinos served in the United States Army.

The United States 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 billet open to these men was mess steward, 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, over 14,000 Filipinos served in the 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 United States Naval Academy, and at naval bases. At the same, 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 quite as much as did outsiders. The steward's entry-level pay of $1,500 equalled the salary of a lieutenant colonel in the Philippine Army. Naval service was an important way for Philippine nationals to gain American citizenship.

Individual and Group Contributions


James Misahon was a prominent administrator at the University of Hawaii and served as the chairperson of the 1969 Governor's Statewide Conference on Immigration in Hawaii. Many other Filipinos are active in public and higher education.


Two prominent authors of earlier years were Manuel Buaken, who wrote I Have Lived with the American People and Carlos Bulosan, author of America Is in the Heart.


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. In 1954, the Democratic Party gained control of the legislature 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 House of Representatives. Peter Aduja, born in Ilocos Sur, received his education in Hilo, Hawaii, and graduated from the University of Hawaii before completing his law degree at Boston University. He was elected to one term in 1955 but was defeated in his bid for a second term. After statehood, Aduja was elected to three terms, starting in 1966. Bernaldo D. Bicoy, another of the five Filipino lawyers 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 dela Cruz of Lanai, a longtime ILWU labor leader who was first elected to the House in 1958 and served 16 years until his defeat in 1974. In his later years in the House, he served as vice speaker. During the 1970s Emilio Alcon and Oliver Lunasco served as representatives from the island of Oahu.

Alfred Laureta became Hawaii's first Filipino director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Born in Hawaii on May 21, 1924, he graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1947 and then received his law degree from Fordham University. Governor John Burns appointed him to the directorship in 1963 and then in 1969 appointed him judge of Hawaii's Circuit Court One. He then became the first federal judge of Filipino ancestry. Since then Benjamin Menor and Mario Ramil were appointed to the Hawaii Supreme Court. In 1999, there were five judges in Hawaii and two in California.

In 1974 Benjamin Menor, born in the Philippines on September 27, 1922, became the first Filipino appointed to the Hawaii State Supreme Court. He migrated to Hawaii in 1930 and graduated from the University of Hawaii in 1950, later earning his law degree from Boston University. After practicing law in Hilo, he served for a time as Hawaii county attorney. In 1962 he was elected to the Hawaii State Senate, becoming the first Filipino in the United States to be elected as a state senator.

Two other Filipino firsts also occurred in Hawaii. In 1975, Eduardo E. Malapit, who had served several terms on the Kauai County Council, was elected mayor of Kauai. In 1990, Benjamin Cayetano, a member of the Hawaii legislature, was elected lieutenant governor of Hawaii.

Only a few Filipinos have achieved political success outside of Hawaii. In California, Maria L. Obrea has served as Los Angeles municipal judge; G. Monty Manibog served as mayor of Monterey Park; Leonard Velasco held the same office in Delano. Glenn Olea was a councilman in the Monterey Bay community of Seaside.


Most American sports enthusiasts remember Roman Gabriel, who gained national recognition as quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams football team.


For a good list of Filipino media, try the Kang & Lee list at fm.html .


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, the Filapinas Magazine of San Francisco, and The Philippine Review of Sacramento and Stockton, California.

California Examiner.

Bi-weekly newspaper for Filipino communities. Most widely-read periodical for Filipinos in the United States.

Address: Tri-Media Center Building, 4515 Eagle Rock Boulevard, Los Angeles, California 90041.

Telephone: (323) 344-3500.

Fax: (323) 344-3501.


Contact: Rene Ciria-Cruz, Editor.

Address: Filipinas Publishing, Inc., 655 Sutter Street, Suite 333, San Francisco, California 94102.

Telephone: (415) 563-5878; or (800) 654-7777.

Fax: (415)292-5993.


Online: .

Magazine founded in 1992. Covers Filipino American interests and affairs.

Philippine News.

Weekly newspaper for the Filipino community with six U.S. editions.

Contact: Alex A. Esclamado, Publisher.

Address: 371 Allerton Avenue, San Francisco, California 94080.

Telephone: (415) 872-3000; or (800) 432-5877.

Fax: (415) 872-0217.


Online: .

Organizations and Associations

Filipino American National Historical Society.

Gathers, maintains, and disseminates Filipino American history.

Contact: Dorothy Cordova, Director.

Address: 810 18th Avenue, Room 100, Seattle, Washington 98122.

Telephone: (206) 322-0203.

Fax: (206) 461-4879.

Museums and Research Centers

Asian American Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles; Asian American Studies Department at the University of California, Davis; the Oakland Museum History Department in Oakland, California; and the Social Science Research Institute of Hawaii at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.

Sources for Additional Study

Ave, Mario P. Characteristics of Filipino Organizations in Los Angeles. San Francisco: R & E Research Associates, 1974.

Cabezas, Amado, et al. "New Inquiries into the Socioeconomic Status of Pilipino Americans in California," Amerasia Journal, 13, 1986; pp. 1-21.

Chan, Sucheng. Asian Americans (Golden State Series). San Francisco: MTL/Boyd & Fraser, 1991.

Dorita, Mary. Filipino Immigration to Hawaii. San Francisco: R & E Research Associates, 1975.

Dunne, John. Delano. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971.

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

Gamalinda, Rancia and Eric, eds. Flippin: Filipinos on America. Asian American Writers Workshop, 1996.

Lasker, Bruno. Filipino Immigration to the Continental United States and to Hawaii. New York: Arno Press, 1969 (first published in 1931).

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

McWilliams, Carey. Brothers under the Skin, revised edition. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1951.

Melendy, H. Brett. Asians in America: Filipinos, Koreans and East Indians. New York: Hippocrene Books, Inc., 1981.

Navarro, Jovina. "Immigration of Filipino Women" in Asian American Women. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1976.

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

Rafael, Vince. Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Culture. Temple University Press, 1995.

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

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

User Contributions:

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thanks, this helped me a lot on my immigration project.
this article does not include the information about the arrival of filipinos in texas.
thank you for this article..I now know how fil-american colonial works.
I love reading history, and this one is so incredibly interesting, informative, and well-written that I read it several times, so I could memorize the information. I have been so ignorant about the history of the Philippines! I wanted to learn this history and also to find out about my great uncle, who married my grandmother's sister in 1930s Los Angeles. Now, I feel I know him.
Edward Negron Jr
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Who are the Filipino women's who emerged during the american regime?
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Lauren Zantua
This was a perfect resource for my Immigration Presentation! I am the only non-caucasian in my class too! I will have an interesting presentation.

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