Filipino American

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In 1998, Benjamin J. Cayetano became the first Filipino American (and second Asian American after Governor George R. Ariyoshi) to be elected state Governor of the United States. He served Hawai'i until 2002. In this January 24, 2000 photo, Cayetano addresses the Hawai'i State Legislature.
In 1998, Benjamin J. Cayetano became the first Filipino American (and second Asian American after Governor George R. Ariyoshi) to be elected state Governor of the United States. He served Hawai'i until 2002. In this January 24, 2000 photo, Cayetano addresses the Hawai'i State Legislature.

Filipino Americans, the largest Asian American community, are Americans who trace their ancestry back to the Philippines, an archipelagic nation found in Southeast Asia south of Taiwan and east of the South China Sea, and have attained United States residency and/or citizenship. According to a Congressional review and interpretation of the 2000 United States Census, Filipino Americans surpassed Chinese Americans to become the largest single Asian group in the country. There are over 2 million Americans who identified their ancestry as Filipino. Most Filipino Americans reside in California. Smaller communities are found in Hawai'i, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Washington.

Congress has established two months in celebration of Filipino American culture in the United States. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is celebrated in May. Upon becoming the largest Asian American group, Filipino American History Month was established, celebrated in October, commemorating the first landing of Filipinos on October 18, 1587 in Moro Bay, California.


Cultural Profile

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On May 19, 2000, Simeon R. Acoba, Jr. became only the third Filipino American appointed to a state's highest judicial office. Acoba will serve as a Justice of the Hawai'i State Supreme Court until May 18, 2010.

Despite race relations problems of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries pervading the American northwest, most Filipino Americans today find it easy to integrate with American society. Filipino nationals have been living in an American-molded society for over a century. Culturally, the Philippines is the most Westernized country in East Asia and the least "Oriental", a legacy of over three centuries' Spanish and American rule. From the Spanish, Filipino culture has inherited a distinct Latino-Catholic flavor, and most Filipinos are distinguishable by having a Hispanic-sounding name and/or surname. Meanhile in the last fifty years, the country has been heavily influenced by American culture. The country was a United States territory and later a commonwealth from 12 December 1898 to 4 July 1946. Even after the Republic of the Philippines was established, it continued the flow of popular American culture into the country - from major league baseball and professional basketball to Coca-Cola, from MTV and Big Macs to text messaging. English is required study in most schools, beginning at grade level, and the Philippines has one of the highest English-speaking populations in the world. Philippines sports pages headline MLB and NBA sports scores from the mainland United States everyday. While elements of Americana have been embraced - or imposed - in Filipino society, there have been at times some incidents of anti-American sentiment in the Philippines. Nevertheless, there isn't much of a culture shock when Filipino nationals migrate to the United States.


Recent immigrants to the United States from the Philippines don't have much of a language barrier to overcome. Except for some communities in Hawai'i, the language barrier is almost nonexistent with the exception of various accents. The Philippines is the third largest English speaking country following the United States and the United Kingdom. English is the official language of instruction and government in the modern republic. While an overwhelming majority of Filipino nationals and Filipino Americans do speak English fluently, most also speak Tagalog, Visayan, Taglish, and Ilokano at home. Tagalog (also known as Pilipino) is the sixth most spoken language in the United States. Like most immigrant groups in the United States, fluency in Tagalog and various Filipino languages tends to be lost among second- and third-generation Filipino Americans as they become further acculturated into mainstream American society.


Filipino Americans tend to be highly educated. For example, the American Medical Association has deemed medical and healthcare education in the Philippines to equal the level of medical and healthcare education in the United States. Only Japan shares that distinction among the Asian nations. It is easy for Filipino nationals to enter the American healthcare workforce, inspiring them to settle and seek United States citizenship upon arrival. In fact with the shortage of American nurses created in the 1980s, clinics and hospitals in the United States have been hiring directly from the Philippines offering substantial salaries. According to the United States Census Bureau, 60,000 Filipino nationals migrated to the United States every year in the 1990s to take advantage of such professional opportunities.

40% of adult Filipino Americans are college and university graduates holding advanced degrees in the arts and sciences. Some Filipino nationals come to the United States for a college or university education, return to the Philippines and end up migrating to the United States again to settle. Younger generations of Filipino Americans born in the United States tend toward achieving college and university education, boosting the 40% statistic over time. Most study architecture, business administration, economics, education, engineering, medicine and nursing.


As a result of the level of education Filipino Americans have, most Filipino Americans are now in the middle class, and the community enjoys substantial economic well-being. This is especially true for those working in nursing where the United States suffers a deficiency in skilled labor. With the shortage of nurses in America, clinics and hospitals have been more than enthusiastic to pay top dollar for Filipino American nurses and certified nurse assistants.

There is however an issue over pay parity in non-healthcare professions in the United States. Filipino Americans architects and engineers are paid less than their Latino and African American counterparts. This is also true for those working in the corporate environs and education. The discrimination is found to be worse among Filipino Americans seeking entry-level positions and for those who join the hospitality industry.


Unlike most other Asian Americans, Filipino Americans largely share mainstream American religious beliefs and values. This is in part due to the Philippines being one of only two Catholic-majority countries in Asia (the other being East Timor), which is also the nationally recognized religion. The introduction, and subsequent adoption, of Roman Catholicism and christian values in the Philippines came as a result of 333 years of Spanish colonial rule over the archipelago. Filipino Americans tend to be devout in their faith traditions: attending church services every Sunday, reading the Bible and reciting the rosary, sending their children to costly parochial schools, and even donating to Catholic charities. There are a number of religious minorities subordinate to Catholicism in the Filipino community, with Protestant Christianity composing the majority of the difference.


First and second generation members descending from various Asian countries have a tendency to form close-knit neighborhood communities of their own in the United States. This has been historically true for the Chinese American and Vietnamese American communities. Filipino Americans however have a tendency to settle in a more dispersed fashion, settling down in communities across the country without a need for establishing ties with other Filipino Americans in a locality. Based on several sociological field studies and surveys, there are more instances of Filipino American families finding themselves in areas without other Filipino Americans than experienced by other Asian groups.

Though the trend of dispersement is true, there are instances where Filipino Americans do form close-knit neighborhoods of their own. This is especially true in states like California and Hawaii. A few townships in these parts of the country have established Little Manilas, civic and business districts tailored for the Filipino American community.

21st Century Challenges

Identity Crisis

When people speak of Asian Americans, they tend to think of Chinese Americans or Japanese Americans but almost never Filipino Americans. This is partly due to the fact that Filipinos are more Pacific Islanders than Asian. (This may be based on that Filipinos (as well as other Malays) and Pacific Islanders do indeed share a linguistic link, as their ancestral languages belong to the Malayo-Polynesian language family.) Sociologists identify the label of "Invisible Minority" as indicative of an identity crisis of the Filipino American community. Many Filipino American groups are leaping into action with campaigns to increase Filipino American consciousness by promoting unique accomplishments and talents.

In June of 2002, Philippines Republic President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and representatives of U.S. President George W. Bush presided over the grand opening and dedication of the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu, Hawai'i. It is the largest Filipino American institution in the United States with the goal of preserving Filipino American history and promoting the distinctive Filipino American culture nationwide.

Invisible Minority

Ease of integration and assimilation has gained the Filipino American the label of "Invisible Minority." Unlike other Asian Americans, recent Filipino immigrants tend to not stand out as much: they speak English fluently, they are highly educated, they have economic well-being and they are Christians. The label of "Invisible Minority" also extends to the lack of political power and representation of, by and for Filipino Americans. In the mid-1990s, only 100 Filipino Americans held elected office. All except for one served at the municipal or state legislative level.


As a result of the passage of Philippines Republic Act No. 9225, also known as the Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of 2003, Filipino Americans are eligible for dual citizenship in both the United States and the Philippines. Also afforded is the right of overseas suffrage, the ability to vote in Philippines national elections from the United States. Overseas suffrage was first employed in the May 2004 elections in which Philippines Republic President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was swept into a second term in office. To facilitate these special immigration opportunities, 11 consulates general were established in the United States. Each consulate general administers the consular needs of a larger region of the country. The consulates general are located in: Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Guam; Honolulu, Hawai'i; Los Angeles, California; Saipan; San Francisco, California; South Florida; New Orleans, Louisiana; New York, New York; Washington, D.C..


After the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, the United States government felt compelled to crackdown on Filipinos residing in the United States who have failed to meet the requirements of their original visas for entry citing a threat to national security. Many Filipinos have entered the United States on temporary education and work visas but often choose to stay well past their visa expiration dates. The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service was dissolved and Congress replaced it with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in hopes of becoming much more aggressive in the battle against visa fraud.

Racial Discrimination

Filipino Americans are leaping into action against racial discrimination in the workforce. Despite the level of education Filipino Americans have attained, the community continues to see discrepancies in the way salaries are proportioned among the different ethnicities represented at many firms. Filipino Americans seek across-the-board pay parity in all industries.

Due to the Abu Sayaff being liked to Al-Queda who is responsible for 9/11, some Filipino Americans are under suspicion, and sometimes being racially mistreated. Although hate crimes against Filipino Americans are almost nonexistent there have been cases of unreasonable deportation and visa rejection against Filipino Americans. Filipino Americans today are now active in the fight against racial discrimination against any race.

War Veteran Benefits

During World War II, over 200,000 Filipinos fought in defense of the United States against the Japanese in the Pacific theater of military operations. More than half died. As a commonwealth of the United States before and during the war, Filipinos were legally American nationals. With American nationality, Filipinos were promised all the benefits afforded to those serving in the armed forces of the United States. In 1946, Congress passed the Rescission Act which stripped Filipinos of the benefits they were promised. Of the 66 countries allied with the United States during the war, only Filipinos were denied military benefits.

Since the passage of the Rescission Act, Filipinos had migrated to the United States to lobby Congress for the benefits promised to them in lieu of their sacrifices. Over 30,000 of such veterans live in the United States today, most are United States citizens. Sociologists introduced the phrase "Second Class Veterans" to describe the plight of these Filipino Americans. Since 1993, numerous bills were introduced in Congress to return the benefits taken away from the Filipino American veterans. Each time, the bills died in committee. The struggle continues today.

Holidays & Celebrations

Extremely hospitable in nature, Filipino Americans are fond of celebrating with familes, extended families and friends. It is not unusual for a family to host as many as a dozen occasions each year (i.e., baptisms, birthdays, funerals, holidays, showers, weddings). Celebrations are highlighted by large buffets of traditional Filipino food including but not limited to adobo (savory soy sauce and vinegar stewed beef, pork or chicken), lumpia (egg rolls), pancit (fried noodles) and fresh grilled fish. Ilocano food tends to be bitter in flavor including pinapaitan (beef stewed in bile broth) and bittermelon casseroles and omelets. Often such affairs can grow to become major neighborhood block parties as families haul out folding chairs and bales of paper plates.

Filipino American fondness for celebrating has most recently led to the establishment of larger community wide festivals celebrating the Filipino culture. Most festivals occur in May during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Flores de Mayo, a Roman Catholic harvest feast in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Major Celebrations in the United States
Date Name Region
April Easter Salubong nationwide
May Asian Pacific American Heritage Month nationwide
May Filipino Festival New Orleans, LA
May Filipino Fiesta and Parade Honolulu, HI
May Flores de Mayo nationwide
June 12 Fiesta Filipina San Francisco, CA
June 12 Philippines Independence Day nationwide
June Pagdiriwang Seattle, WA
July Pista sa Nayon Seattle, WA
September 27 Festival of San Lorenzo Luis New Orleans, LA
October Filipino American Heritage Month nationwide
December 16 to 24 Simbang Gabi Christmas Dawn Masses nationwide
December 25 Pasko Christmas Feast nationwide
December 30 Jose Rizal Day nationwide


  • 1763, first permanent Filipino settlements established in North America near Barataria Bay in southern Louisiana
  • 1781, Antonio Miranda Rodriguez chosen a member of the first group of settlers to establish the City of Los Angeles, California
  • 1898, United States annexes the Philippines
  • 1903, first Pensionados, Filipinos invited to attend college in the United States on American government scholarships, arrive
  • 1906, first Filipino laborers migrate to the United States to work on the Hawaiian sugarcane and pineapple plantations, California and Washington asparagus farms, Washington lumber, Alaska salmon canneries
  • 1920s, Filipino labor leaders organize unions and strategic strikes to improve working and living conditions
  • 1930s, first Filipino women and children migrate to the United States
  • 1936, Philippines becomes self-governing. Commonwealth of the Philippines inaugurated
  • 1939, Washington Supreme Court rules unconstitutional the Anti-Alien Land Law of 1937 which banned Filipino Americans from owning land
  • 1946, Philippines becomes independent. Republic of the Philippines inaugurated
  • 1955, Peter Aduja becomes first Filipino American elected to office becoming a member of the Hawai'i State House of Representatives
  • 1965, Congress passes Immigration and Nationality Act to facilitate ease of entry for skilled Filipino laborers
  • 1974, Benjamin Menor appointed first Filipino American in a state's highest judiciary office as Justice of the Hawai'i State Supreme Court
  • 1975, Governor John A. Burns (D-HI) convinces Benjamin J. Cayetano to run and win a seat in the Hawai'i State Legislature despite Cayetano's doubts about winning office in a white and Japanese American dominated district; Kauai's Eduardo E. Malapit elected first Filipino American mayor
  • 1987, Benjamin J. Cayetano becomes the first Filipino American and second Asian American elected Lt. Governor of a state of the Union
  • 1990, David Mercado Valderrama becomes first Filipino American elected to a state legislature on the mainland United States serving Prince George's County in Maryland
  • 1991, Seattle's Gene Canque Liddell becomes first Filipino American woman to be elected mayor serving the suburb of Lacey City
  • 1992, Velma Viloria becomes first Filipino American and first Asian American elected to the Washington State Legislature
  • 1993, Mario R. Ramil appointed Associate Justice to the Hawai'i Supreme Court, the second Filipino American to reach the court
  • 1994, Benjamin J. Cayetano becomes the first Filipino American and second Asian American elected Governor of a state of the Union
  • 2000, Robert Bunda elected Hawai'i Senate President and Simeon R. Acoba, Jr. appointed Hawai'i State Supreme Court Justice
  • 2003, Philippine Republic Act No. 9225, also known as the Citizenship Retention and Re-Acquisition Act of 2003 enacted, allowing natural-born Filipinos naturalized in the United States and their unmarried minor children to reclaim Filipino nationality and hold dual citizenship

Notable Filipino Americans

Further Reading


Fiction & Poetry

  • Jessica Hagedorn, Dream Jungle (, Viking Adult, 2002

See Also

External Links



Web Communities


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