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History of Filipino Americans - Chicago
Zehra Jafferi

Background Information

            During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, race and national identity in the United States was defined by an individual’s “whiteness”.  At this time, the word white in the U.S. was equated with being civilized, truly American, and superior to others.  This belief was made apparent by 3 important ideologies that emerged during this time.  First was the idea of the “White Man’s Burden”.  A poem written by Rudyard Kipling in 1899, the U.S. government used it to make the general argument that it was the white man’s duty to civilize others.  More specifically, however, the government used the poem to justify its annexation of the Philippines in 1898.  This ideology spread to other American institutions and became most prevalent in the media where negative images of African Americans and Native Americans were juxtaposed onto the Filipinos.  Consequently, they were depicted as savages who were “incapable of self-government” (Aguirre & Baker 2001: p. 55).  To government officials and the white American public in general, this was sufficient reason to crush the Filipino move for independence and make the Philippines the territory of the United States.


            Another significant ideology of the time was Manifest Destiny.  The idea of Manifest Destiny was closely related to Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and the third ideology of the time, Social Darwinism.  Weber dealt with the concept of a “calling” where everyone had a purpose on earth and if they pursue this calling, then they would please God.  Social Darwinism focused on the idea that the most civilized nations are fit to survive and that expansionism was the “natural growth process of a superior nation” (Aguirre & Baker 2001: 54).  When these philosophies were fused with capitalism and the ideology of the “White Man’s Burden”, it created a dangerous mix.  As a result, the argument transformed into the belief that since the United States was successful in business practices due to chattel slavery and through the conquering of indigenous tribes, then it must be following the will of God.  Therefore, it must be the destiny of the United States to become a strong economic nation and it must take its success to other nations and help them along.  Thus, the proponents of the acquisition of the Philippines were forced to rely on these race theories in order to justify the annexation of the Philippines.  


History of the Immigration of Filipinos into the United States and Chicago

            There were numerous factors that led to Filipino migration to the United States.  These factors include the fact that the Filipino economy was in shambles, land ownership was increasingly concentrated, and the introduction and subsequent growth of public English language schools in the Philippines.  The first Filipinos to arrive in the United States came in the early 1900s.  As children of the Filipino elite, these young males sought to incorporate themselves into the American colonial system.  In order to do so, it was necessary for them to educate themselves in the United States.  The next group to arrive was the pensionados.  This group consisted of “government-sponsored scholarship students chosen from each Philippine province for education in the United States,” (Posadas 1999). 

            Both the pensionados and the student elites were dispersed throughout the U.S. to attend various colleges and universities; especially those located on the East Coast and Midwest.  Consequently, of the 178 pensionados in January of 1906, 42 of them studied in Illinois.  Even after the pensionado program was abandoned, young Filipinos continued to view Chicago as a “community of students” (Posadas 1999).

            By the end of WWII, more Filipinos had arrived in Chicago for better job opportunities or military service.  As a result of laws passed by Congress in 1943, 1946, and 1947, a new wave of Filipinos came to the United States.  The act passed in 1943 allowed Filipinos serving the United States Armed Forces to become naturalized while the act of 1946 allowed Filipinos already in the U.S. to become eligible for citizenship.  Then War-Brides Act of 1947 allowed Filipino-American veterans to bring their wives to the United States as citizens.  However, after WWII, the number of Filipinos in Chicago continued to grow slowly as a result of the 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act, which restricted Philippine migration to the U.S. to a fifty-percent a year quota.  It was only after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated the quota system based on national origin that Filipino migrants could freely enter the United States.  Since then, Filipinos have spread throughout Chicago and the surrounding areas, concentrated in the North and Northwest sides of the city and in suburban Skokie, Glendale Heights, North Chicago, Morton Grove, and Bolingbrook.

































2000 est.




History of Filipino Discrimination

            Discrimination against the Filipino community began with their arrival in the early 1900s.  In terms of legal discrimination, as more Filipino farm laborers and factory workers arrived in the U.S. discrimination increased as whites came to the conclusion that the Filipinos and other Asian groups were taking their jobs.  Due to riots in California, the United States Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1934 which deferred the independence of the Philippine Islands and imposed an annual quota of 50 immigrants to the U.S. mainland.  This was meant to quell the white rioters who saw the Filipinos as “another part of the ‘Asian Horde’ attempting to enter the U.S.” (Aguirre & Turner 2004: 196).  Consequently, legal discrimination led to economic discrimination.  Filipinos were forced to work in low service sector jobs that paid little because of the fear that Asian immigrants would replace white workers.

Social discrimination took the form of racist terminology and public segregation.  Filipinos were referred to as “go-go” and “monkey” and were kept out of many restaurants and theaters.  Many whites also believed that Filipino males would marry white women because there were very few Filipinas in America at the time.  Due to the fact that employers preferred single men, many Filipinos planned to return home, and a family structure that was based upon bilateral kinship, there was a 14 to 1 ratio of males to females in the United States during the early 1900s.  Fred Hart addressed this concern in his speech to the 1930 House Committee: “The Filipinos are poor labor and a social menace as they will not leave our white girls alone and frequently intermarry.”  (Text citation 1990: 284)

            A more recent form of discrimination has been veiled by the myth of the Model Minority.  According to this myth, the Asian community as a whole is considered to be successful because of their educational, occupational, and economic status.  Consequently, it is believed that if Asians are successful, then they must not experience any discrimination in education or other facets of life (Aguirre & Turner 2004: 199) However, Asians, including Filipinos, continue to experience discrimination.  For example, a 1980 poll taken of white Americans by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that many whites do not want Asians in their neighborhood, believe that there are “too many” Asians in the United States, and that Asians should have settled in other Asian countries (Aguirre & Turner 2004: 207).  As discussed in class, there is also the discrimination experienced by Filipino overseas contract workers who are abused here in the United States as well as numerous other countries. 

Another example is the recent development of the mail-order bride industry that supplies Asian women to non-Asian and American and European men.  This industry has become popular in recent years because of the stereotype that Asian women are submissive.  Unfortunately, most of the women involved are extremely poor Filipina women many of whom are severely abused but fear deportation if they complain.  This stereotype extends to Filipina women in the work-place where employers may deny them pay raises on the unstated basis that Asian women lack the leadership skills needed for executive job (Amott & Matthaei 1990: 284).  It has been argued by two sociologists, Aguirre & Turner, that the “dominant group (ie: white society) can thus use the model minority image of Asian Americans as an ideological tool to maintain a pattern of unequal access to valued resources,” (2004: 213).


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Aguirre, Adalberto Jr., and David V. Baker

2001 Notable Selections in Race and Ethnicity.  3rd edition.  Connecticut: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Aguirre, Adalberto Jr., and Jonathan H. Turner

2004 American Ethnicity: the Dynamics and Consequences of Discrimination.  4th edition.  New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Amott, Teresa, and Julie Matthaei

1990 Race, Gender, and Work: the History of Asian and Asian-American Women.  Charles A. Gallagher, ed.  Pp 274-289.  Rethinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity.  2nd edition.  New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Posadas, Barbara.

1999 Filipino Americans in Chicago.  Electronic Document,, accessed April 15, 2005.