Saturday, July 13, 2024

Filipinos in California: A Vibrant and Diverse Community

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Filipinos have been in California since the 16th century when the Philippines was under Spanish colonial rule. Filipinos migrated to California in the early 1900s as part of the US colonial policy to import cheap labor for agriculture and other industries.

Despite discrimination and segregation, Filipinos contributed significantly to the development of California’s agricultural and fishing industries. Many others worked in healthcare, education, and the military.

Thousands of Filipinos joined the US military and fought alongside American soldiers in the Pacific during WWII. Many Filipino veterans were denied benefits and faced other forms of discrimination after the war. The Filipino American civil rights movement, led by activists such as Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, emerged in the 1960s, fighting for better working conditions and equal rights for Filipino farm workers.

Filipinos are now one of California’s largest Asian American groups, with a diverse population that includes professionals, entrepreneurs, and artists. Understanding the contributions and challenges of Filipinos in California is critical because it sheds light on the experiences of a group that has played an important role in the history and development of the state.

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It also promotes diversity and inclusion by recognizing various communities’ distinct perspectives and experiences. We can better understand the state’s history and cultural diversity by learning about the contributions and challenges of Filipinos in California and work towards building a more equitable and just society.

Immigration of Filipinos to California

Filipinos arrived in California in the early 1900s as part of the United States’ colonial policy of importing cheap labor for agriculture and other industries.

The Philippines was under American colonial rule at the time, and the US government saw the Philippines as a source of cheap labor to meet California’s growing demand for agricultural workers. With promises of good wages and working conditions, many Filipinos were recruited to work in the fields and canneries.

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Despite discrimination and segregation, Filipinos contributed significantly to the development of California’s agricultural and fishing industries. Filipino migration to California has diversified, with many now working in healthcare, education, and the military.

According to the American Community Survey 5-year estimates (2016-2020), the following are the top 5 occupations in California with the highest number of Filipino workers:

  • Healthcare support occupations – 15.4% of Filipino workers in California are in this occupation.
  • Registered nurses account for 12.6% of all Filipino workers in California.
  • Occupations in office and administrative support account for 11.6% of Filipino workers in California.
  • 9.2% of Filipino workers in California work in sales and related occupations.
  • 7.6% of Filipino workers in California work in management, business, and finance.

Food service, education, transportation, and construction are also popular occupations among Filipinos in California. Furthermore, many Filipinos in California are entrepreneurs and small business owners, especially in the healthcare, food, and retail sectors.

According to the United States Census Bureau, California has approximately 1.6 million Filipinos as of 2020, accounting for around 4% of the state’s population. This makes Filipinos the state’s largest Asian American group.

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Furthermore, the number of Filipinos in California has steadily increased, with a 21.5% increase from 2010 to 2020. Filipinos are also one of the state’s fastest-growing racial or ethnic groups, with a 34% increase from 2000 to 2010.

Sacramento, California
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 5-year estimates (2016-2020), the Filipino population in Sacramento County, California, is 53,860.

According to the American Community Survey’s 5-year estimates (2016-2020), the following are the top 5 cities/counties in California with the highest concentration of Filipinos:

  • Daly City, San Mateo County – Filipinos comprise 34.6% of the city’s population.
  • National City, San Diego County – Filipinos make up 28.9% of the city’s population.
  • West Covina, Los Angeles County – Filipinos make up 20.2% of the city’s population.
  • Carson, Los Angeles County – Filipinos comprise 19.7% of the city’s population.
  • Vallejo, Solano County – Filipinos make up 18.3% of the city’s population.

Other cities and counties in California with significant Filipino populations include Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Sacramento.

The Filipino population in California is diverse, with a mix of first-generation immigrants and native-born Americans, and is concentrated in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Filipino Community and Culture in California

California’s diverse and vibrant Filipino community has a rich history and culture. Filipinos have significantly contributed to California’s economy, culture, and society as one of the state’s largest Asian American groups.

Many residents are professionals, entrepreneurs, and artists, and the community is well-represented in healthcare, education, and the arts. Filipinos have also been politically active, with many elected or appointed to local, state, and national positions.

Many Filipinos live in multigenerational households and support one another through community events, religious activities, and social gatherings. The Filipino community in California has also experienced discrimination, inequality, and struggles for recognition and representation.

San Diego, California
The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 5-year estimates the Filipino population in San Diego County, California at 194,140.

Despite these difficulties, the community has persevered and thrived, with a strong sense of identity and pride in their heritage and culture.

Filipino cultural celebrations and traditions are important to California’s Filipino community. Several major Filipino holidays and events are observed throughout the year.

  • Flores de Mayo – A traditional Filipino religious festival honoring the Virgin Mary that lasts a month in May, with parades, processions, and other festivities.
  • Philippine Independence Day – On June 12, parades, festivals, and flag-raising ceremonies commemorate the Philippines’ declaration of independence from Spanish colonial rule in 1898.
  • Barrio Fiesta – A celebration of Filipino food, culture, and community, with cultural performances, games, and food booths serving traditional Filipino cuisine.
  • Simbang Gabi – A nine-day novena of dawn masses leading up to Christmas, Simbang Gabi is a popular religious tradition in the Philippines that is observed by many Filipino communities in California.
  • Month of Filipino-American History – This month-long celebration, held every October, honors the contributions of Filipino Americans to California and the United States through cultural performances, exhibits, and lectures.

In addition to these celebrations, Filipino culture includes many other traditions and customs, such as family gatherings, religious festivals, and traditional dances and music.

These cultural celebrations and traditions help preserve and promote Filipino heritage and identity and provide a sense of community and connection for Filipinos in California.

Filipino cuisine is a vibrant and flavorful fusion of indigenous, Chinese, Spanish, and American influences that has grown in popularity in California. Filipino cuisine in California is distinguished by its bold and complex flavors, which include rice, seafood, pork, and various herbs and spices.

Many Filipino restaurants and food trucks can be found throughout California, particularly in cities with large Filipino populations like Los Angeles and San Francisco. Filipino cuisine has also gained popularity and recognition in the culinary world, with several Filipino-American chefs and restaurateurs making a name for themselves.

Contributions of Filipinos to California

California’s Filipino community has significantly contributed to the state’s economy, arts, and culture.


Filipinos play an important role in California’s workforce, with many working in healthcare, education, and other fields. Filipino-owned businesses, ranging from small family-owned shops to large corporations, also contribute to the state’s economy.


Filipinos in California have made significant contributions to the arts, particularly music and dance. Filipino music and dance forms such as tinikling and rondalla have grown in popularity in the state, and many Filipino-American musicians and performers have found success in the entertainment industry.


Filipinos have also contributed to the cultural landscape of California through their traditions, celebrations, and community events. As previously stated, Filipino cultural celebrations and traditions are an important part of the community, providing Filipinos in California with a sense of identity and connection.

Furthermore, Filipino-American artists and writers have made significant contributions to California’s cultural scene through works that address issues of identity, migration, and cultural hybridity.

Filipinos in California have made significant contributions in various fields, including entertainment, politics, sports, and others. Here are some notable Filipino Californians from various fields.


Many Filipino-American actors and musicians, including Lea Salonga, Darren Criss, Nicole Scherzinger, and of the Black Eyed Peas, have succeeded in the entertainment industry.


Several Filipino-Americans have held political office in California, including Rob Bonta, the state’s first Filipino-American attorney general, and Robert Garcia, the country’s first openly gay Filipino-American mayor.


American athletes such as boxer Nonito Donaire and NBA player Jordan Clarkson have also made their mark in California.


Filipino-Americans have been active in activism and advocacy, such as Larry Itliong, a labor leader who was instrumental in the Delano Grape Strike of 1965.

Challenges Filipinos face in California

Despite their contributions to California’s economy, arts, and culture, Filipinos continue to face discrimination and underrepresentation in politics in the state.


Filipinos in California have faced discrimination in a variety of forms, including racial slurs and stereotyping, employment discrimination, and exclusion from certain social and political spaces. Discrimination against Filipinos can be attributed to a variety of factors, including historical prejudices, a lack of knowledge about Filipino culture, and negative media portrayals.

Lack of Political Representation

Despite being the largest Asian-American group in California, Filipinos are underrepresented in political office and government leadership positions. This lack of representation can make addressing Filipino issues and concerns more difficult and contribute to feelings of marginalization and exclusion.

Immigration Policies

Because many Filipinos in California are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, immigration policies affect them. Changes in immigration policies and enforcement can have a big impact on the Filipino community, especially on issues like family reunification, job opportunities, and access to social services. Changes in federal immigration policies, such as increased deportations and restrictions on legal immigration, have raised concerns about the impact on the Filipino community in recent years.

Labor Rights

Labor issues affect Filipinos in California, particularly in healthcare, domestic work, and hospitality industries. Filipinos have a long history of working in these industries, frequently encountering issues such as low wages, long hours, and a lack of access to benefits. Furthermore, many Filipino workers are employed in jobs that are considered critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, putting them at an increased risk of virus exposure.

Education, healthcare, and housing are other issues affecting Filipinos in California. Many Filipino students, for example, face language barriers and cultural differences in the education system, while Filipino communities may face barriers to affordable healthcare and housing.

In addition to these difficulties, Filipinos in California face language barriers, cultural assimilation, and financial hardship.

Despite these challenges, the Filipino community in California remains resilient and makes progress in various areas. Efforts to increase political representation, address discrimination, and raise awareness about Filipino culture can help to create a more equitable and inclusive environment for Filipinos and other underrepresented groups in the state.


It is critical to recognize and support the Filipino community in California.

The Filipino community has significantly contributed to the state’s economy and culture, particularly in healthcare, entertainment, and cuisine. Recognizing and supporting these contributions can contribute to the state’s economic growth and cultural diversity.

The Filipino community in California faces discrimination and marginalization, including political underrepresentation and limited access to resources and services. Recognizing and supporting the community can aid in resolving these issues and promoting equity and inclusion in the state.

Supporting the Filipino community in California can also help to build community resilience and social connectedness. We can help to create a sense of belonging and foster positive relationships between different groups in the state by recognizing and addressing the community’s contributions and needs.

Finally, recognizing and supporting the Filipino community in California is critical for celebrating the state’s diversity and multiculturalism. Supporting the Filipino community can help to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of different cultures and backgrounds in California, which is known for its rich cultural heritage.

Recognizing and supporting the Filipino community in California is critical for promoting equity, inclusion, and diversity in the state, as well as economic growth and community resilience.


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