Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Understanding the History of Filipinos in the United States

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Early Filipino migration to America dates back to the late 1800s and early 1900s when Filipino migrant workers known as “Manong” began traveling to the United States in search of work and a better life.

Spanish-American War (1898): After the Spanish-American War, the Philippines became a U.S. colony, and many Filipinos were recruited to work on U.S. plantations in Hawaii and California.

Table of Contents

The labor shortage in America

During the early 1900s, there was a shortage of labor in America, and Filipinos were brought in as contract workers to fill the gap.

Racism and discrimination

Filipinos faced significant racism and discrimination from both white and black Americans, who saw them as a threat to their jobs.

Formation of Filipino communities

Despite the challenges, Filipinos formed communities in various cities across the United States, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

Agricultural work

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Many Filipinos found jobs as migrant farm laborers, picking crops in California’s Central Valley and other agricultural areas.

Labor strikes

In 1934, Filipinos in Hawaii staged a massive strike to protest poor working conditions and low wages. The strike was one of the largest labor uprisings in U.S. history and helped to raise awareness of the struggles of Filipino migrant workers.

These events helped to shape the experiences of early Filipino migrants in America and laid the foundation for the vibrant Filipino-American communities that exist today.

The labor shortage in the United States

Filipino workers arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as contract laborers on Hawaiian sugar plantations and as farm workers in California. This was a result of various factors, including the need for cheap labor in the sugar plantations of Hawaii and the demand for farm workers in California’s rapidly growing agricultural industry.

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Many Filipinos were recruited by American recruiters and were promised better wages and working conditions. However, upon arrival, they often faced exploitation, discrimination, and harsh working conditions.

Filipinos waiting to order at a Jollibee branch in the United States.

Discrimination and abuse among Filipino workers

In Hawaii, Filipino workers were often paid less than their Hawaiian and Japanese counterparts and were subjected to long working hours and poor living conditions. In California, Filipinos faced racial discrimination and were often denied access to housing and other basic services.

In both Hawaii and California, Filipinos were also subjected to violence and intimidation by white Americans, who saw them as a threat to their own economic and social status. In addition, Filipinos were excluded from many labor protections, such as the right to organize and form unions, which made it difficult for them to fight for better working conditions.

Despite these challenges, many Filipinos persevered and established tight-knit communities, where they found support and solidarity with one another.

US restrictions such as the 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act limited the immigration and citizenship rights of Filipinos. Despite these challenges, Filipinos still found ways to create communities and organizations that promoted their culture and advocated for their rights.

Filipino wave of immigration to the United States

The American colonization of the Philippines had a profound impact on Filipino society. The Philippines was a Spanish colony for over 300 years before being taken over by the United States in 1898. American colonization brought significant changes to the Philippines, including the introduction of American political and economic systems, the spread of American culture and values, and the establishment of English as the primary language of education and commerce.

The American colonization also had a major impact on the economy of the Philippines, as the country was transformed into a source of raw materials and cheap labor for American businesses. This led to the exploitation of Filipino workers and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small elite. As a result, many Filipinos faced poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunities, which motivated increased migration to the United States in search of better economic prospects.

Furthermore, American colonial policies also resulted in the displacement of large numbers of Filipinos from their ancestral lands, as American corporations acquired vast areas of land for agriculture, mining, and other extractive industries. This forced many Filipinos to migrate to urban areas or to other countries in search of work. The United States was a particularly attractive destination for Filipinos, due to its proximity, the availability of jobs, and the promise of a better life. The combination of these factors led to a significant increase in the number of Filipinos migrating to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Filipino American communities

The Filipino American community developed through a combination of migration and community-building efforts. Many Filipinos came to the United States as migrant workers, particularly in the agriculture and fishing industries, and settled in cities where they found employment. They created social and cultural organizations to support each other, preserve their heritage, and advocate for their rights. Over time, Filipino American communities grew and became more established, with the formation of community centers, businesses, and political organizations. Despite facing ongoing challenges, such as discrimination and limited job opportunities, the Filipino American community has continued to thrive and make significant contributions to American society.

The development of Filipino American communities in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles was shaped by the experiences of early Filipino immigrants who arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These communities were formed as a result of the harsh working and living conditions that Filipinos faced, as well as the need for social support and community among a population that was often isolated and subjected to discrimination.

In San Francisco, Filipinos initially settled in the city’s South of Market neighborhood, where they established small businesses, such as barber shops, restaurants, and boarding houses, to serve the needs of the growing Filipino community. Over time, the Filipino community expanded and established itself as a vibrant and influential part of the city’s social and cultural landscape.

In Los Angeles, the Filipino community was initially centered in the downtown area, where many Filipinos found work as farm workers, dockworkers, and in other low-wage jobs. Despite facing discrimination and poverty, Filipinos in Los Angeles established community organizations, churches, and cultural groups to support one another and preserve their cultural heritage. Over time, the community expanded and became more diverse, reflecting the growing number of Filipinos who were coming to the United States from different regions of the Philippines.

Filipino Americans have established a variety of cultural and social institutions to preserve their heritage, build community, and support one another. These institutions include churches, fraternal organizations, and community centers, which play a central role in the lives of many Filipino Americans.

Churches have served as an important cultural and spiritual center for Filipino Americans, providing a sense of community and belonging, as well as a source of religious guidance. Many Filipino American churches are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, reflecting the strong influence of Spanish Catholicism on the Philippines. In addition, Protestant denominations, such as Methodism and Baptism, have also established a presence in Filipino American communities.

Filipino family

Fraternal organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, have been a source of support and camaraderie for Filipino Americans. These organizations provide social and recreational activities, as well as financial assistance and insurance to members. They also serve as a way to preserve and promote Filipino culture and traditions, such as dances, festivals, and religious celebrations.

Community centers, such as the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco and the Pilipino Workers Center in Los Angeles, provide a wide range of services and programs to support the needs of the Filipino American community. These centers offer language and cultural classes, legal and immigration services, health and wellness programs, and advocacy and community organizing efforts. Community centers also serve as a hub for cultural and social activities, providing a space for Filipinos to gather, socialize, and celebrate their heritage.

Overall, these cultural and social institutions serve as a vital part of the fabric of Filipino American communities, providing a sense of community and identity, as well as support and resources for the needs of Filipino-Americans.

Filipino participation in wars that involved the United States

Filipinos have a long history of participation in American wars, dating back to the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century. Filipinos served as scouts, guerilla fighters, and soldiers in the Philippine-American War, fighting both for and against American forces. In World War II, Filipinos fought alongside American troops in the Philippines, as well as in other parts of Asia and the Pacific.

Filipino Americans have also served in the United States military in significant numbers, including during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. During World War II, over 250,000 Filipinos served in the Philippine Commonwealth Army, the Philippine Constabulary, and the United States Armed Forces. Many of these soldiers were taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese and suffered greatly during the war.

In recent decades, Filipino Americans have continued to serve in the United States military, including in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom. Filipino Americans have made important contributions to the defense of the United States, and their sacrifices and valor have been recognized through numerous awards and decorations.

The participation of Filipinos in American wars reflects the close ties between the Philippines and the United States and the strong commitment of Filipinos to defend the principles of freedom and democracy. Through their service and sacrifice, Filipinos have demonstrated their loyalty and devotion to the United States and have made important contributions to the defense of the nation.

The modern-day Filipino American identity

Filipino Americans have faced numerous challenges in terms of discrimination and marginalization in the United States. Some examples include:

Labor exploitation: Filipino Americans, especially those who arrived in the United States as contract laborers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, faced harsh working conditions and were often subjected to wage theft and other forms of labor exploitation.

Racial discrimination: Filipino Americans have faced widespread racial discrimination, including in housing, employment, and education. They were often subjected to prejudice and racism by other groups, including other Asian Americans and African Americans, who viewed them as being of a lower status.

Lack of political representation: Filipino Americans have often been underrepresented in political and civic life, with few elected officials or leaders who represent their interests and perspectives. This has led to a lack of attention to the concerns of Filipino Americans and limited access to resources and opportunities.

Cultural marginalization: Filipino Americans have faced challenges in preserving and promoting their cultural heritage, including language, traditions, and religious practices. This has been due, in part, to a lack of resources and support for cultural institutions, as well as a lack of recognition of the importance of preserving cultural heritage.

Health disparities: Filipino Americans have faced significant health disparities, including higher rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and limited access to quality healthcare. This is due, in part, to poverty, lack of access to resources, and limited access to health insurance.

These challenges reflect the ongoing struggles of Filipino Americans to achieve equality and justice in the United States and the ongoing need for advocacy, education, and empowerment to address these issues.


Filipinos have a long and rich history in the United States, with roots dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time, many Filipinos arrived in the United States as contract laborers on Hawaiian sugar plantations and as farm workers in California. Despite facing harsh working conditions, exploitation, and discrimination, Filipino Americans established vibrant communities in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles, where they established cultural and social institutions, including churches, fraternal organizations, and community centers.

Filipino Americans have made important contributions to American society, including their participation in American wars, where they served with distinction in the United States military during World War II and other conflicts. In recent decades, Filipino Americans have been active in a variety of fields, including politics, business, education, and the arts, and have made significant contributions to the economic, cultural, and social fabric of American society.

Despite these contributions, Filipino Americans continue to face challenges, including labor exploitation, racial discrimination, political marginalization, illegal immigration, cultural marginalization, and health disparities. Nevertheless, Filipino Americans have remained steadfast in their commitment to making positive contributions to American society, and their presence and influence continue to be felt in communities across the United States. Through their hard work, creativity, and determination, Filipino Americans have left a lasting impact on American society and continue to be an important part of the American story.

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