Filipino Immigration to California: We are California

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Filipino Immigration to California: We are California

Filipinos began migrating to California by the thousands during the mid-1920s, arriving primarily to work as farm laborers in the rural areas of the Central and Imperial valleys or as manual laborers in urban centers such as Stockton, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

At the time, the islands of the Philippines were a U.S. territory and Filipino immigrants were colonial subjects. While they were allowed to travel within the U.S., they were denied citizenship and not allowed to own property or establish businesses on American soil.

By the 1930s, there were almost 45,000 Filipinos in California. At the time, Filipino men outnumbered women 20 to 1. Romance and marriages between Filipino men and white women were common. Unfortunately, racist attitudes toward these partnerships greatly influenced the establishment of anti-miscegenation laws in California that outlawed interracial relationships.

When unemployment reached a critical point during the Depression, Filipino men, like Mexican and African American laborers of the time, experienced heightened racial hostility. Filipinos were unfairly accused of taking the place of white men, both at work and at home. 

Philippine Independence and New Limits on Immigration

In 1934, the U.S. passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which established the Philippines as a Commonwealth and set up a ten-year transition to full independence. The act also reclassified all Filipinos living in the United States as aliens. Once the Philippines was fully independent, immigration to the U.S. was limited to 50 Filipino arrivals per year. The act also paved the way for the Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935 which called upon the U.S. government to pressure Filipinos to return to the Philippines.

Free one-way transportation was provided, and even the California Emergency Relief Association financed the passage of U.S.-born Filipino children traveling with their parents. In the late 1930s, nearly 2,000 Filipinos left America and repatriated to the Philippines. In 1946 the Philippines became its own nation. After that, most Filipinos coming to the U.S. would arrive as undocumented immigrants with no formal legal status in the U.S.

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