Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Filipino Americans

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Filipino Americans

Filipino Americans (Filipino: Mga Pilipinong Amerikano) are Americans of Filipino descent. The term Filipino American is sometimes shortened to "Fil-Ams", or "Pinoy". According to Filipino American historian Dawn Mabalon, the earliest appearance of the term Pinoy (alt. Pinay), was in a 1926 issue of the Filipino Student Bulletin. The article that featured the terms, is titled, "Filipino Women in U.S. Excel in Their Courses: Invade Business, Politics." Some Filipinos believe that the term Pinoy was coined by Filipinos who came to the United States to distinguish themselves from Filipinos living in the Philippines.


Filipinos in North America were first documented in the 16th century, with small settlements beginning in the 18th century. Mass migration did not begin until the early 20th Century when the Philippines was annexed from Spain to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. Philippine independence was recognized by the United States on July 4, 1946. Immigration was reduced significantly during the 1930s, except for those who served in the United States Navy, and increased following immigration reform in the 1960s. Despite being from Asia, Filipinos are sometimes called "Latinos" due to their historical relationship to Spanish colonialism. Similar to Puerto Rico, Filipinos have been subjected to both Spanish and American colonial structures and territory status. This shared history may also contribute to why some Filipinos choose to also identify as Latino.


Filipino sailors were the first Asians in North America. The first recorded presence of Filipinos in what is now the United States dates back to October 1587 around Morro Bay, California, with the first permanent settlement in Louisiana in 1763, with small settlements beginning in the 18th century. Mass migration began in the early 20th century when, for a period following the 1898 Treaty of Paris, the Philippines was a territory of the United States. During the 1920s, a majority of Filipino workers who arrived in the United States lacked necessary training. After independence in 1946, Filipino American numbers continued to grow. The population of Filipino immigrant workers, as well the quality of their skills, improved following the passing of the Immigration Act of 1965.

The 2010 Census counted 3.4 million Filipino Americans, while the United States Department of State in 2011 estimated the total at 4 million, or 1.1% of the U.S. population. the total at 4 million, or 1.1% of the U.S. population. They are the country's second largest self-reported Asian ancestry group after Chinese Americans according to 2010 American Community Survey. They are also the largest population of Overseas Filipinos. Significant populations of Filipino Americans can be found in California, Hawaii, the New York metropolitan area and Washington, New Jersey, Illinois, and Texas.


The history of Spanish and American rule and contact with merchants and traders culminated in a unique blend of Eastern and Western cultures in the Philippines.

In areas of sparse Filipino population, they often form loosely-knit social organizations aimed at maintaining a "sense of family", which is a key feature of Filipino culture. These organizations generally arrange social events, especially of a charitable nature, and keep members up-to-date with local events. Organizations are often organized into regional associations. The associations are a small part of Filipino American life. Filipino Americans formed close-knit neighborhoods, notably in California and Hawaii. A few communities have "Little Manilas", civic and business districts tailored for the Filipino American community.

Some Filipinos retain Philippine surnames, such as Bacdayan or Macapagal, while others derive from Japanese, Indian, and Chinese and reflect centuries of trade with these merchants preceding European and American rule. Reflecting its 333 years of Spanish rule, many Filipinos adopted Hispanic surnames, and celebrate fiestas. Due to the legacy of colonization, Filipinos are considered Latinos of Asia.


Filipino and English are constitutionally established as official languages in the Philippines, and Filipino is designated as the national language, with English in wide use. Many Filipinos speak American English due to American colonial influence in the country's education system. Among Asian Americans in 1990, Filipino Americans had the smallest percentage of individuals who had problems with English. Although only 12.2% of all ethnic Chinese in the Philippines have a varieties of Chinese as their mother tongue. Nevertheless, the vast majority (77%) still retain the ability to understand and speak Philippine Hokkien as a second or third language.

Tagalog is the fifth most-spoken language in the United States, with 1.262 million speakers. Many of California's public announcements and documents are translated into Tagalog. Tagalog is also taught in some public schools, as well as in higher education. Other significant Filipino languages are Ilocano and Cebuano. Other languages spoken in Filipino American households include Pangasinan, Kapampangan, Hiligaynon, Bicolano and Waray . However, fluency in native languages tends to be lost among second- and third-generation Filipino Americans. In 2000, among U.S.-born Filipino Americans, three quarters responded that English is their primary language.


The Philippines is 90% Christian, one of only two such countries in Asia, along with East Timor. Following the European discovery of the Philippines by Ferdinand Magellan, Spaniards made a concerted effort to convert Filipinos to Catholicism; outside of the Muslim Sultanates in the Philippines, missionaries were able to covert large numbers of Filipinos. and the majority are Roman Catholic, giving Catholicism a major impact on Filipino culture. Other denominations include Protestants (Aglipayan, Episcopalian, and others), nontrinitarian (Iglesia ni Cristo and Jehovah's Witnesses), Muslims, Buddhist or nonreligious; religion has served as a dividing factor within the Philippines and Filipino American communities.

As Filipinos began to migrate to the United States, Filipino Roman Catholics were often not embraced by their American Catholic brethren, nor were they sympathetic to a Filipino-ized Catholicism. This led to creation of ethnic-specific parishes. The first-ever American Church for Filipinos, San Lorenzo Ruiz Church in New York City, is named after the first saint from the Philippines, San Lorenzo Ruiz. This was officially designated as a church for Filipinos in July 2005, the first in the United States, and the second in the world, after a church in Rome.


The number of Filipino restaurants does not reflect the size of the population. Although American cuisine influenced Philippine cuisine, it has been criticized by non-Filipinos. Even on Oahu where there is a significant Filipino American population, Philippine cuisine is not as noticeable as other Asian cuisines. On television, Philippine cuisine has been criticized, such as on Fear Factor, and praised, such as on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and Bizarre Foods America.

Filipino American chefs cook in many fine dining restaurants, including Cristeta Comerford who is the executive chef in the White House, though many do not serve Filipino cuisine in their restaurants. Reasons given for the lack of Philippine cuisine in the U.S. include colonial mentality, lack of a clear identity, a preference for cooking at home and a continuing preference of Filipino Americans for cuisines other than their own. Philippine cuisine remains prevalent among Filipino immigrants, with restaurants and grocery stores catering to the Filipino American community, including Jollibee, a Philippines-based fast-food chain.


Filipino-Americans, similar to other people of color, undergo experiences that are unique to their own identities. These experiences derive from both the Filipino culture and American cultures individually and the dueling of these identities as well. These stressors, if great enough, can lead Filipino-Americans into suicidal behaviors. Members of the Filipino community learn early on about kapwa, which is defined as “interpersonal connectedness or togetherness.”

With kapwa, many Filipino-Americans have a strong sense of needing to repay their family members for the opportunities that they have been able to receive. An example of this is a new college graduate feeling the need to find a job that will allow them to financially support their family and themself. This notion comes from “utang na loob,” defined as a debt that must be repaid to those who have supported the individual.

With kapwa and utang na loob as strong forces enacting on the individual, there is an “all or nothing” mentality that is being played out. In order to bring success back to one’s family, there is a desire to succeed for one’s family through living out a family’s wants as opposed to one’s own true desires. This can manifest as one entering a career path that they are not passionate in, but select in order to help support their family.

Despite many of the stressors for these students deriving from family, it also becomes apparent that these are the reasons that these students are resilient. When family conflict rises in Filipino-American families, there is a negative association with suicide attempts. This suggests that though family is a presenting stressor in a Filipino-American’s life, it also plays a role for their resilience. In a study conducted by Yusuke Kuroki, family connectedness, whether defined as positive or negative to each individual, served as one means of lowering suicide attempts.


Filipino Americans have traditionally been socially conservative, particularly with "second wave" immigrants. In the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election Republican president George W. Bush won the Filipino American vote over John Kerry by nearly a two-to-one ratio, which followed strong support in the 2000 election. However, during the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election, Filipino Americans voted majority Democratic, with 50% to 58% of the community voting for President Barack Obama and 42% to 46% voting for Senator John McCain. The 2008 election marked the first time that a majority of Filipino Americans voted for a Democrat presidential candidate.

According to the 2012 National Asian American Survey, conducted in September 2012, 45% of Filipinos were independent or nonpartisan, 27% were Republican, and 24% were Democrats. Additionally, Filipino Americans had the largest proportions of Republicans among Asian Americans polled, a position normally held by Vietnamese Americans, leading up to the 2012 election, and had the lowest job approval opinion of Obama among Asian Americans. In a survey of Asian Americans from thirty seven cities conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, it found that of the Filipino American respondents, 65% voted for Obama.

Due to scattered living patterns, it is nearly impossible for Filipino American candidates to win an election solely based on the Filipino American vote. Filipino American politicians have increased their visibility over the past few decades. Ben Cayetano, former governor of Hawaii, became the first governor of Filipino descent in the United States. The number of Congress-members of Filipino descent doubled to numbers not reached since 1937, two when the Philippine Islands were represented by non-voting Resident Commissioners, due to the 2000 Senatorial Election. In 2009 three Congress-members claimed at least one-eighth Filipino ethnicity; the largest number to date. Since the resignation of Senator John Ensign in 2011 (the only Filipino American to have been a member of the Senate), and Representative Steve Austria (the only Asian Pacific American Republican in the 112th Congress) choosing not to seek reelection and retire, Representative Robert C. Scott is the only Filipino American in the 113th Congress.


The Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of 2003 (Republic Act No. 9225) made Filipino Americans eligible for dual citizenship in the United States and the Philippines. Overseas suffrage was first employed in the May 2004 elections in which Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was reelected to a second term.

By 2005, about 6,000 Filipino Americans had become dual citizens of the two countries. This act allow Filipino Americans to invest in the Philippines, through land purchases, which are limited to Filipino citizens and, with some limitations, former citizens.), vote in Philippine elections, retire in the Philippines, and participate in representing the Philippine flag. In 2013, for the Philippine general election there were 125,604 registered Filipino voters in the United States and Caribbean, of which only 13,976 voted.

Dual citizens have been recruited to participate in international sports events including athletes representing the Philippines who competed in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, and the Olympic Games in Beijing 2008.

The Philippine government actively encourages Filipino Americans to visit or return permanently to the Philippines via the "Balikbayan" program and to invest in the country.

Filipinos remain one of the largest immigrant groups to date with over 40,000 arriving annually since 1979. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has a preference system for issuing visas to non-citizen family members of U.S. citizens, with preference based generally on familial closeness. Some non-citizen relatives of U.S. citizens spend long periods on waiting lists. Petitions for immigrant visas, particularly for siblings of previously naturalized Filipinos that date back to 1984, were not granted until 2006. As of 2016, over 380 thousand Filipinos were on the visa wait list, second only to Mexico and ahead of India, Vietnam and China. Filipinos have the longest waiting times for family reunification visas, as Filipinos disproportionately apply for family visas; this has led to visa petitions filed in July 1989 still waiting to be processed in March 2013.

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security estimated that 270,000 Filipino were "unauthorized immigrants". This was an increase of 70,000 from a previous estimate in 2000. In both years, Filipinos accounted for 2% of the total. As of 2009, Filipinos were the fifth-largest community of illegal immigrants behind Mexico (6.65 million, 62%), El Salvador (530,000, 5%), Guatemala (480,000, 4%), and Honduras (320,000, 3%). In January 2011, the Department of Homeland Security estimate of "unauthorized immigrants" from the Philippines remained at 270,000. Filipinos who reside in the United States illegally are known as "TnT's" (tago nang tago translated to "hide and hide") within the Filipino community.


Filipino Americans may be mistaken for members of other racial/ethnic groups, such as Latinos or Pacific Islanders; this may lead to "mistaken" discrimination that is not specific to Asian Americans. Filipino Americans additionally, have had difficulty being categorized, termed by one source as being in "perpetual absence".

In the period, prior to 1946, Filipinos were taught that they were American, and presented with an idealized America. They had official status as United States nationals. When ill-treated and discriminated by other Americans, Filipinos were faced with the racism of that period, which undermined these ideals. Carlos Bulosan later wrote about this experience in America is in the Heart. Even pensionados, who immigrated on government scholarships, were treated poorly.

In Hawaii, Filipino Americans often have little identification with their heritage, and it has been documented that many disclaim their ethnicity. This may be due to the "colonial mentality", or the idea that Western ideals and physical characteristics are superior to their own. Although categorized as Asian Americans, Filipino Americans have not fully embraced being part of this racial category due to marginalization by other Asian American groups and or the dominant American society. This created a struggle within Filipino American communities over how far to assimilate. The term "white-washed" has been applied to those seeking to further assimilate. Those who disclaim their ethnicity lose the positive adjustment to outcomes that are found in those who have a strong, positive, ethnic identity.

Of the ten largest immigrant groups, Filipino Americans have the highest rate of assimilation. with exception to the cuisine; Filipino Americans have been described as the most "Americanized" of the Asian American ethnicities. However, even though Filipino Americans are the second largest group among Asian Americans, community activists have described the ethnicity as "invisible", claiming that the group is virtually unknown to the American public, and is often not seen as significant even among its members.

This description has also been used in the political arena, given the lack of political mobilization. In the mid-1990s it was estimated that some one hundred Filipino Americans have been elected or appointed to public office. This lack of political representation contributes to the perception that Filipino Americans are invisible.

The concept is also used to describe how the ethnicity has assimilated. Few affirmative action programs target the group although affirmative action programs rarely target Asian Americans in general. Assimilation was easier given that the group is majority religiously Christian, fluency in English, and high levels of education. The concept was in greater use in the past, before the post-1965 wave of arrivals.

The term "invisible minority" has been used to describe Asian Americans as a whole, and the term "model minority" has been applied to Filipinos as well as other Asian American groups. Filipino critics allege that Filipino Americans are ignored in immigration literature and studies.

As with fellow Asian Americans, Filipino Americans are viewed as "perpetual foreigners", even for those born in the United States. This has resulted in physical attacks on Filipino Americans, as well as non-violent forms of discrimination.


During World War II, some 250,000 to 400,000 Filipinos served in the United States Military, in units including the Philippine Scouts, Philippine Commonwealth Army under U.S. Command, and recognized guerrillas during the Japanese Occupation. As of January 2013, ten thousand surviving Filipino American veterans of World War II lived in the United States, and a further fourteen thousand in the Philippines, although some estimates found eighteen thousand or fewer surviving veterans.

The U.S. government promised these soldiers all of the benefits afforded to other veterans. However, in 1946, the United States Congress passed the Rescission Act of 1946 which stripped Filipino veterans of the promised benefits. One estimate claims that monies due to these veterans for back pay and other benefits exceeds one billion dollars. Of the sixty-six countries allied with the United States during the war, the Philippines is the only country that did not receive military benefits from the United States. The phrase "Second Class Veterans" has been used to describe their status.

Many Filipino veterans traveled to the United States to lobby Congress for these benefits . Since 1993, numerous bills have been introduced in Congress to pay the benefits, but all died in committee.

Representative Hanabusa submitted legislation to award Filipino Veterans with a Congressional Gold Medal. Known as the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act, it was referred to the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on House Administration. As of February 2012 had attracted 41 cosponsors.

There was a proposed lawsuit to be filed in 2011 by The Justice for Filipino American Veterans against the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In the late 1980s, efforts towards reinstating benefits first succeeded with the incorporation of Filipino veteran naturalization in the Immigration Act of 1990. Over 30,000 such veterans had immigrated, with mostly American citizens, receiving benefits relating to their service.

Similar language to those bills was inserted by the Senate into the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 which provided a one time payment of at least 9,000 USD to eligible non-US Citizens and 15,000 USD to eligible US Citizens via the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund. These payments went to those recognized as soldiers or guerrillas or their spouses. The list of eligibles is smaller than the list recognized by the Philippines. Additionally, recipients had to waive all rights to possible future benefits. As of March 2011, 42 percent (24,385) of claims had been rejected; By September 2012, that number was further reduced to some 24 thousand, using the "Missouri list" (the Approved Revised Reconstructed Guerilla Roster kept by the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St Louis, MO.)

In the 113th Congress, Representative Joe Heck reintroduced his legislation to allow documents from the Philippine government and the U.S. Army to be accepted as proof of eligibility. Known as H.R. 481, it was referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. In 2013, the U.S. released a previously classified report detailing guerrilla activities, including guerrilla units not on the "Missouri list".

In September 2012, the Social Security Administration announced that non-resident Filipino World War II veterans were eligible for certain social security benefits; however an eligible veteran would lose those benefits if they visited for more than one month in a year, or immigrated.


Congress established Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May to commemorate Filipino American and other Asian American cultures. Upon becoming the largest Asian American group in California, October was established as Filipino American History Month to acknowledge the first landing of Filipinos on October 18, 1587 in Morro Bay, California. It is widely celebrated by Fil-Ams.


Filipino Americans Wikipedia