Date: Late 1920’s to early 1930’s
Location: West Coast of the United States
Significance: Although Filipinos have been generally less well known in the United States than immigrants from other parts of Asia, they have suffered much of the same kinds of discrimination and mistreatment as other members of other Asian groups.
The Pacific island group that now constitutes the independent republic of the Philippines came under American control after the Spanish-American War in 1898. The archipelago had been a Spanish colony since the sixteenth century, and its people were fighting for independence from Spain at the same time that the United States was fighting Spain in a war that had been triggered by a conflict over Spanish rule in Cuba. However, instead of recognizing the independence of the Philippines after defeating Spain, the United States entered into an agreement with Spain to transfer possession of the islands to its own rule. Afterward, American forces replaced Spanish forces in the bitter fighting with the Filipino insurgents.
Origins of Anti-Filipino Prejudice
As Americans fought the Filipinos, prejudicial attitudes toward them arose among American soldiers, who applied derogatory terms, such as “Goo Goos,” to native Filipinos. Even American officials who were favorably disposed toward the Filipinos after the fighting ended often took condescending attitudes toward Filipinos. For example, future U.S. president William Howard Taft, who was the first American governor-general of the Philippines, famously referred to Filipinos as “our little brown brothers.” He maintained that these new subjects of the United States would need special guidance if they were to rise toward the level of Anglo-Saxon civilization.
Large-scale Filipino immigration to the United States began during the early twentieth century, after the Filipino insurrection was suppressed, in response to American demand for agricultural workers. By 1920, the West Coast of the United States was home to perhaps 5,600 Filipinos. Within a decade, this number grew to more than 45,000 immigrants. Filipino migrant workers provided much of the seasonal labor for fruit and vegetable farms in California, Oregon, and Washington, where they harvested asparagus, grapes, strawberries, carrots, lettuce, potatoes, and beets. The racial attitudes of white Americans sometimes prompted violence against Filipino farmworkers. Relationships between the sexes were frequently the source of such violence. Most Filipino agricultural laborers were men. In the absence of comparable numbers of Filipino women, these men sometimes took up romantic relations with white women. White American workers not only resented competition from lower-wage Asian workers but also were angered by the thought of brown men with white women.
First Violent Incidents
On October 24, 1929, an anti-Filipino riot erupted in Exeter, a farming community in central California’s San Joaquin Valley. Amobattacked the local labor camp in which Filipino workers lived and burned it to the ground. In early 1930, an anti-Filipino riot occurred inWatsonville, another California town nearer the coast, where a mob of about five hundred white youths marched on a Filipino dance hall. Around the same time, about four hundred white vigilantes attacked a Filipino club in nearby Monterey, where they severely beat a large number of Filipinos. When police attempted to stop the beatings, the vigilantes called them “Goo Goo lovers”—the racist term for Filipinos that had originated among American soldiers.
In his 1946 autobiography, America Is in the Heart, the celebrated Filipino American writer Carlos Bulosan wrote of the harsh treatment and violence he endured after arriving in the United States as a laborer in 1930. One California mob even tarred and feathered him and chased him out of a town as he was traveling from place to place seeking work.
Anti-Filipino violence never again reached the intensity of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. However, Filipinos were still among the victims of an apparent rise in anti-Asian prejudice during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. In early 1991, for example, fights broke out at a party at the estate of Chicago mayor Richard Daley, Jr., when white guests called two Filipino Americans racist names and attempted to force them out of the estate.
Bankston, Carl L. “Filipino Americans.” In Asian Americans: Contemporary Trends and Issues, edited by Pyong Gap Min. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 2006.
Bulosan, Carlos. American Is in the Heart: A Personal History. 1946. Reprint. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1974.
_______. On Becoming Filipino: Selected Writings of Carlos Bulosan. Edited by Epifanio San Juan, Jr. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines.NewYork: Random House, 1989.
See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Anti-Japanese movement; California; Exeter incident; Filipino immigrants; Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935; Hawaii; Nativism; Oregon; Washington State.