People (Filipino-Americans)

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The Filipino Americans: Yesterday and Today
(Copyright 2001 by Veltisezar Bautista)

(Excerpted from the chapter The Filipino Americans: Yesterday and Today in the book The Filipino Americans (1763-Present): Their History, Culture, and Traditions (Second Edition) by Veltisezar Bautista. Copyright 2001.)

Filipino Americans today are an emerging Asian ethnic group. Although they are currently number two only in total Asian American group population, next to the Chinese, they are expected to become the largest Asian American group after several years more, based on current statistics.

Records from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) show that the Philippines has become the second biggest source of immigrants to the United States for the second year in a row (1995 and 1996), surpassing India, Vietnam, and China, which ranked third, fourth, and fifth, respectively.

Total Population. Although the official 1990 Census shows that there are only 1.4 million Filipinos in the United States, they number about 2.2 million, according to the National Filipino American Council.

According to a report in the Filipino Reporter the INS admitted a total of 53,876 legal immigrants from the Philippines in fiscal year 1996.

Mexico, up to 1996, remains the top country of origin of all immigrants to the United States, with a total of 163,572 arrivals in 1996.

Increase of Arrivals. According to INS statistics, the number of Filipino immigrants to the U.S. increased by 2,892 from 1995’s total of 50,984 arrivals. In 1993 and 1994, the Filipinos ranked third, with 63,457 and 53,535, respectively. China then was ranked second during both fiscal years, with 53,985 in 1994 and 65,578 in 1993. China placed fourth in 1995 (35,463) and fifth in 1996 (41,728).

The state of California has been the first choice among Filipino immigrants. For 1996, 23,438 out of the 53,876 new immigrants from the Philippines chose to settle in California, mostly in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Hawaii was the second choice with a total of 5,208 arrivals, followed by New York, 3,719; New Jersey, 3,544, Illinois; 2,516; Guam, 2,220; Texas, 2,064; Florida, 1,796; Washington 1,688; and Virginia, 1,446.

Filipino American Contributions. The Filipino Americans are making a difference in government and private sectors-making their own contributions to the social, political, and economic development of the United States.

The Word Filipino. The name “Philippines” which was then known as the Philippine Islands originated from the name King Philip of Spain. The word Filipino (not Philipino) originally referred to Spaniards and Spanish mestizos (half-Spaniards) born in the Philippines. They were then called Españoles-Filipinos. Later, the natives were called Indios. Many years later, Filipinos in the United States were also called Pinoys. The term Pinoy became popular during the early 1900s when pensionados (scholars), nonsponsored students, and laborers came to America as nationals.

At that time, the Philippines, formerly called The Philippine Islands, was a colony of the United States.

In the 1980s, young Filipino Americans began to use the term Flip, which may mean “funny little island people” or “flippin’ little island people.” Since the word is derogatory which may also mean chink or gook, many Filipinos are opposed to using it.

Generally, the term Filipino is used for both male and female. However, Filipina is used only for a woman.


In the early 1900s, Filipinos came to the United States by ship, whether through Honolulu, Hawaii, or the California ports of Seattle and San Francisco. The immigrants were on the bottom part of the boat. Usually, the trip took one month.

First, the Trip to Hawaii. Let’s see in our imagination how the immigrants managed to reach Hawaii.

About two hundred or so, Filipino emigrants are brought to the very bottom of the ship. See how recruits and several families, with their bedding and new clothing for the trip, sleep on the floor on mats in one big room. The workers and their families talk with each other: retelling rumors and tales about Hawaii and how laborers work in the fields. They also wonder if the stories in letters from their townmates working in Hawaii, telling about the good life, are true or not. Almost all of them are excited and they are somewhat nervous. They don’t know what their life will be on the islands of Hawaii. Many of them become seasick for lack of pure air on the ship. But they can’t go upstairs on the deck; it’s prohibited. As they are about to reach Honolulu, the boat people are a little bit apprehensive; they are wondering about the outcome of going to Hawaii. Upon disembarking from their ship, you see them being assigned to plantations in Hawaii. A new life begins.

The Trip to the Mainland. The early Filipinos reached the continental United States by ships. The ships had laborers, pensionados, and nonsponsored workers. Usually, it took the ships one month to reach the Seattle or San Francisco ports.

How Does It Feel to Be Going to America? Here’s a typical reaction or feeling of a Filipino going to America in the years past.

(Excerpts from America Is In the Heart: A Personal History by Carlos Bulosan, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace & Company. Copyright 1943, 1946):

I found the dark hole of the steerage and lay on my bunk for days without food, seasick and lonely. I was restless at night and many disturbing thoughts came to my mind. Why had I left home? What would I do in America? I looked into the faces of my companions for a comforting answer, but they were as young and bewildered as I, and my only consolation was their proximity and the familiarity of their dialects. It was not until we had left Japan that I began to feel better.

One day in mid-ocean, I climbed through the narrow passageway to the deck where other steerage passengers were sunning themselves. Most of them were Ilocanos, who were fishermen in the northern coastal regions of Luzon. They were talking easily and eating rice with salted fish with their bare hands, and some of them were walking, barefoot and unconcerned, in their homemade cotton shorts. The first-class passengers were annoyed, and an official of the boat came down and drove us back into the dark haven below. The small opening at the top of the iron ladder was shut tight, and we did not see the sun again until we had passed Hawaii.

Airports, Not Seaports. Today, Filipino Americans enter the United States through airports. In 1976, when my wife and I arrived here, we disembarked from a Pan Am plane in Honolulu, Hawaii. I was quite surprised to see several American women driving buses. Moreover, I had the opportunity to see American workingmen doing street repairs. My first impulse was that I saw in my imagination images of American soldiers during the war, when we used to greet them, “Hello Joe!” “Hello Joe!” “Victory Joe!”

Moreover, I felt we were like herds of cattle to be branded when we were in line to be documented as immigrants to America. It was really a strange feeling in a strange new land.


In the 1920s and 1930s, the Filipinos were a mobile people. They were always on the go. Like birds, they moved according to seasons. They moved from city to city, state to state, in search of jobs, when certain crops were grown to be picked up or harvested.

In the 1930s, Filipinos concentrated in large West Coast cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, where they had large “Little Manilas.” Most of them lived in the San Francisco and Seattle areas because it was there where the ships brought them from Manila. While some worked in California and Washington cities, many worked as stoop laborers in agricultural fields: planting, cultivating, and harvesting seasonal crops, from California to Washington to Minnesota.

Little Manilas. The population in the “Little Manilas’ increased and dwindled according to seasons. For instance, in the summer of 1931, the population in Seattle was only a few hundred. In the winter, it usually would increase to 3,500, living in almost ghetto areas near centers of vice and entertainment.

In the San Francisco winter, they were on the Kearney Street area, along the northern part of Chinatown. In Stockton, during the summer months, the Filipino population numbered over 6,000. but in the winter it had only 1,000 Filipinos. In Los Angeles, they first created a Little Manila next to “Little Tokyo.” Later, however, they moved Little Manila to the neighborhood of Figueroa and Temple Streets, where they had Filipino barbershops, restaurants, grocery stores, pool and dance halls, and other centers of vice and entertainment.

There were also Little Manilas in New York City and Washington, D.C. Some of the Filipinos in New York City were described as well-to-do while others were considered as bums. The early immigrants to New York City were the Tagalogs. They settled on 6th Street, where there were pool halls, a barbershop, and small restaurants. Those who lived in Washington, D.C., were said to have a more organized social life.

There were also Filipinos in the Detroit, Michigan, area. Some of them worked at the Ford plants in Dearborn and River Rouge, Michigan.

In the 1960s, California’s agriculture continued to attract Filipino workers. In the 1960s in Hawaii, Filipinos were the majority of workers on plantations, about 40 percent of the employed males.

In the early 1970s, the Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay areas continued to attract large numbers of Filipinos. Other Filipino immigrants then moved towards Illinois, (most of them in the Chicago area), New York, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other states.

Where Do They Live Today? Today, Filipinos live all over the United States. But the majority of Filipino Americans, who came in large groups since 1965 after the approval of the amendment to the 1924 Immigration Act, live mostly in metropolitan areas, such as Honolulu, Chicago, New York, Jersey City, and Seattle, and in the suburbs of other large cities of America. Of course, some Filipinos stay in the confines of a major city, such as Detroit.

When the Filipino immigrant and his family arrive, they first rent an apartment. When they are able to save enough money for down payment on a house, they buy it, being their first house. When they make more money, then they move to the suburbs.

Normally, when a Filipino immigrant or naturalized U.S. citizen is already in the suburbs, he invites his relatives or friends whose families are still in a metropolitan city, such as Detroit, to come to the suburbs.

For instance, when we first arrived in the United States in 1976, my family and I rented an apartment in the western part of Detroit, Michigan. In that apartment, when it rained, it poured. When the children of my wife’s brother came to Detroit for a visit in the 1980s, one of them asked, “You lived here?” He was shocked.

When my wife became a medical resident of a hospital in Harperwoods, Michigan, we moved to another apartment in that city. When we had some money saved, we bought a three-bedroom bungalow in East Detroit (now Eastpointe), Michigan.

After living there for eight years, our relatives in the suburbs always said, “Come over here in the suburbs. You’ve been left behind there!”

“Here’ we come!” my wife and I answered in 1990. We decided to construct a detached condominium home here in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

This always happens to Filipino families: They move and move to a better place if the financial situation warrants it. By the time they reach retirement age, when all the children are grown and gone and on their own, some couples sell their house and live in an apartment again. Those who have enough money buy a small house. Those doing this are mostly in winter states who move to the sunbelt areas, particularly Florida, Nevada, Washington State, Texas, or where their savings or retirement benefits can take them. All they want is the sunshine. Of course, some retirees go back home to the Philippines where they want to spend the rest of their lives.


The key units of the Philippine social structure are the elementary family and the bilateral extended family. The elementary family, which serves as the nuclear unity around which social activities are organized, is composed of the father, the mother, and the children. The bilateral extended family includes all the relatives of the father and the mother. However, in the Philippines, the typical family is composed of one elementary family with the addition of one or more close relatives, including grandparents.

The Interests of the Family. In Philippine society, the interests of the family are the priority, not the interests of the individual. Because of the close family ties, even in adolescence, the Filipino’s peers do not replace his family. They merely widen his social circle.

The Individual’s Rights. In the United States, individualism is priority. Every person has his own rights, obligations, and responsibilities. That’s why sometimes Filipino parents and children in America have family conflicts. The children demand their rights as individuals to be respected. On the other hand, the parents demand that their “rights” as parents should prevail. Many a father may say to his son or daughter, “As long as you live in this house I’m the one to be followed because I’m the head of the family. My decisions prevail.” Of course, in many instances, they patch up their differences, compromising on certain behaviors or practices.

Compromise. Sometimes, the daughter may have arguments with her mother on how a Filipina should dress or act in public or at social functions. Again, they pursue a compromise. That is, the mother may allow certain actions of her daughter as a Filipina American in the United States.


In the United States, a family is typically composed of father, mother, and children. The children may number two or more. (If the children were born in the Philippines, they would usually number from three to six. If they were born here, then there would probably be only two.) In some households, the family may include the parents of either or both husband and wife. These senior citizens, if still capable of physical work, help in household chores. They also help in taking care of the kids, especially if they are still young, when the husband and wife are at work. In others, the family may even include a brother or sister of either husband or wife.

Usually, the children, even if they are over 18, as long as they are still single, may stay with their parents. Of course, they leave their home when they go to out-of-state colleges, or work out of state, and come home only on holidays and vacations.

Income.Today, according to the National Filipino American Council, Filipino Americans consist of more than 511,000 households, with an annual collective income of $12.7 billion. According to the NFAC survey, Filipino Americans generally surpass the U.S. national averages in median household income, educational levels, and home values. The survey also shows that an average Filipino household consists of four members and makes at least $25,000 a year versus the national average of $17,200. The Filipino household generally owns at least an $80,000 house versus the national average of $47,200.

Filipino Names. Filipinos in the Philippines and Filipino Americans have usually one given first name; for instance, Hubert, Lester, Melvin, and Ronald, although there may be some who have names such as Peter John, Mary Joyce, or Steven Michael. But there are Filipino Americans who have names that repeat themselves, such as Bong Bong, Jeng Jeng, Deng Deng, and Ling Ling.

Filipino Americans take their mother’s surname or last name as their middle name. When a woman, for instance, Mary Joyce Icban marries a Bautista, Icban becomes her middle name. Her name may be Mary Joyce Icban Bautista or merely Mary Joyce I. Bautista.


In the early period of their immigration, the Filipinos were discriminated against at work, on the road, in hotel and restaurants, and in almost any place in the United States.

Here’s an excerpt from America Is In the Heart: A Personal History by Carlos Bulosan, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace & Company. Copyright 1943, 1946:

I came to know afterward that in many ways it was a crime to be a Filipino in California. I came to know that the public streets were not free to my people: we were stopped each time these vigilant patrolmen saw us driving a car. We were suspect each time we were seen with a white woman. And perhaps it was this narrowing of our life into an island, into a filthy segment of American society, that had driven Filipinos like Doro inward, hating everyone and despising all positive urgencies toward freedom.

(Note: Doro was Bulosan’s companion in a car on way to Lompoc, California.)

What Did You Do During the War, Daddy? This question might have been asked by some Filipino Americans. During World War II, about 80,000 Filipinos tried to enlist in the armed forces of the United States. But they were rejected because they at that time were considered as aliens, not nationals of the United States. So President Roosevelt issued a proclamation allowing the Filipinos to be drafted into the armed forces.

In the Philippines, the Filipinos fought side by side with the American soldiers. U.S. officers saw the courage of the Filipinos in battles in the mountains of Bataan and Corregidor. The bravery of the Filipinos was recognized throughout the world. With the help of Filipino soldiers, it took the Japanese forces months to capture Bataan and Corregidor, delaying the time-table of Japan’s conquest of Asia.

From that time on, the outlook of Americans towards Filipinos changed for the better. However, today, discrimination and prejudice still exist at work, in school, and at some social functions. In some hospitals, nurses are prohibited from talking in their own national language, Tagalog or Pilipino.

In appointments to any positions, Filipino Americans also experience a kind of discrimination and prejudice. Some of them are barred from attaining higher positions in private and government establishments because of the color of their skin and their accent. Many Americans are critical of the accent of the Filipino Americans, even though some Americans have their own regional accents. This, the Filipinos can’t understand.

They usually say, “You have an accent.” Or one may say, “I’ve met a foreigner who has also an accent like you. Maybe he’s a Filipino like you,” particularly addressed to foreign-born Filipino Americans.

Of course, unlike in the years past, Filipino Americans of today have no problem in being admitted to hotels, restaurants, and other public places. In many ways, they are co-equal with other Americans.

Discrimination in School. Many Filipino American students are also often discriminated against. Here’s the story of a Filipino American who complained of discrimination and prejudice in school:

Born and raised in the United States, this student became ashamed of being Asian. He often told his classmates that he was of Spanish descent. In grade school, he said, some kids used “to pull their eyes back, stick out their teeth and chant, ching-chong, ching-chong!'”.

When he was in high school, he was called Jap, chink, and other names. He was mistaken for belonging to any Asian ethnic group, but not being a Filipino American. He hated what he experienced.

Fitting in. The Filipinos and the Americans have had close association since the United States sent soldiers to the Philippines in 1889. American soldiers in the beginning served as teachers in Philippine schools. Then the Thomasites went to the Philippines to take over the jobs of American soldiers as teachers. English has been the medium of instruction in public and private schools up to now, although Pilipino is taught in the lower grades, along with English. In the years past, American textbooks were used in schools and Filipino students were exposed to American history, literature, society, and culture. Today only one percent of the Filipino American population can’t speak English at all. Very few immigrant groups can claim that statistic.

Yet, Filipino Americans, especially the first-generation immigrants, have difficulties in fitting into American mainstream society. While they speak good English and know good grammar and usage, and spelling, they have a different way of pronouncing some English words. Some of them pronounce “f” as “p” and the “th” such “d” as in “them” (dem). So when they talk in accented English, some Americans, especially those who have not had any acquaintance with Filipino Americans, sometimes find it hard or refuse to understand such words, especially when talking over the telephone.


In years past, cockfighting, even if it were illegal, became one of the Filipinos’ favorite forms of recreation. They also engaged in gambling: playing cards and dice. They went to dance halls or cabarets. These dance halls were established in cities on the West Coast, such as Los Angeles, Stockton, Sacramento, and San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington; and Portland, Oregon. There were also dance halls in Honolulu, Hawaii for the sugarcane and pineapple workers.

There were instances in dance halls that rival Filipino gangs, belonging to different ethnic groups, engaged in altercations, fist fights, or stabbings. Such fights resulted from rivalry over women. Of course, there were occasions when Filipinos fought with American laborers over women or job opportunities.

In gambling dens, many workers gambled and lost some or all of a hard day’s wage.

Dance Halls Are Gone. Today, those dance halls are gone. But they dance with their wives and friends during wedding and club or association dinner-dance parties. No more houses of prostitution for Filipinos. No more cockfighting games, either. Filipino Americans have their own families, not like the years past when most of them were bachelors. Even husbands who were once playboys in the Philippines are now in their own homes with their wives. However, some of them go to Las Vegas, Nevada, to Atlantic City, New Jersey, or to Windsor, Canada, trying to find their luck in gambling-playing cards or playing slot machines.

Like any other Americans, Filipino Americans watch baseball, basketball, football, and hockey games in the confines of their homes. Like any other sports enthusiasts, some also go to the stadiums to watch these games. When I first saw a football game, I couldn’t understand it. I thought that whenever there was a “down,” it was a touchdown.

Movie Stars and Singers. There are entrepreneurs who bring to their community movie stars and singers from the Philippines for the Filipinos to be entertained. When the Filipino Americans hear Philippine songs and watch Filipino folk dances, they are always reminded of home, the Philippines, and their relatives and friends.

Holiday Celebrations. In the years past, the Filipino Americans celebrated Philippine national holidays, particularly Rizal Day, December 30, in celebration of the death of Dr. Jose Rizal, considered as the greatest Filipino hero. Today, some communities hold dramas in celebration of the event.


In the 1920s and 1930s, many Americans expressed indignation over the Filipinos’ wish to be with or marry white women. The Filipinos had no choice; there were only a few Filipinas at that time.

Little Brown Men. For instance, Judge D.W. Rohrback, proposed a resolution to the Monterey County Board in California. The resolution referred to the Filipinos as “little brown men about 10 years removed from a bolo and breach cloth…strutting about like peacocks, endeavoring to attract the eyes of young American and Mexican girls.”

In 1930, speaking before the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, a white male said, “The Filipinos are a social menace. They will not leave our white girls alone.”

V.S. McClatchy castigated the Filipinos’ presence “for the white women and the willingness on the part of some white females to yield to that preference.” In his testimony before Congress, he called Congress to limit the entry of Filipinos to the U.S.

In reference to what some Americans charged that Filipinos liked white women, Author Elaine Kim, in Asian American Literature, sums up writer Carlos Bulosan’s opinion: “The white woman is a dream, an ideal. She symbolizes the contradiction between what is brutal in America and what is kind and beautiful. Concretely, the Filipino man’s interest in white women did not stem merely from sexual desire…Marrying a white woman would free him from sexual oppression and emasculation, give the possibility of a stable family life and at least a partial entry into the mainstream of American life.”

Marriage Ban. In the 1920s and 1930s, Filipinos or Malays were banned from marrying white women in many states. However, the laws against Filipinos were later declared as unconstitutional.

Brown Men with White Women; Brown Women with White Men. Today, it’s seldom that heads turn when they see brown men with white women or brown women with white men. There are now many Filipino American men married to white women and Filipino American women married to American men. There are also a few cases of mixed marriages involving Filipino Americans and other Asian Americans and Filipina Americans and African Americans. Therefore, white women are no longer criticized for being with Filipino men, whether in theaters, malls, or wherever. Their children are exposed to two cultures: American and Filipino. Many American men and women enjoy eating Filipino foods, especially the pansit (rice noodles) and fried lumpia (meat egg rolls).


In 1902, the U.S. Congress declared that all residents of the Philippine Islands who were Spanish subjects as of April 11, 1899, were all citizens of the Philippines Islands. Included in the declaration were their children.

The immigration law passed in 1917 stipulated that while most Filipinos could not become citizens, they were not considered as aliens. In other words, they were nationals of the United States. Their being nationals was also continued in the 1924 immigration act that specified that they were not aliens, but nationals free to enter the United States. This provision was effective until the Tydings-McDuffie Act, also known as the Philippine Independence Act, was passed by Congress and approved by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1935. At that time, the quota of Filipino immigration was pegged at 50 immigrants per year.

On June 14, 1946, President Harry Truman signed the Filipino Naturalization Bill, giving eligibility to Filipinos for becoming U.S. citizens.

On July 2, 1946, Congress gave American citizenship to foreign-born Filipino residents in the U.S. who had entered the United States before March 24, 1934. The proclamation set the Filipino immigration to the U.S. at 100 persons a year. This quota was enforced until the passage of the 1965 Nationality Immigration Act.

On October 15, 1948, more Filipinos were granted permission to petition their wives and children under 18 years of age to come to the U.S. as “non-quota immigrants.” Those were the Filipinos who had lived in the United States continuously for three years before November 30, 1941.


Filipino American parents, in raising their children, try to implant Filipino values in their children’s minds-respect for elders, good education, good values, and good morals and right character. The children are told that they should act like Filipinos and should not forget the good things about being Filipinos and their culture.

In short, Filipino American children are forced to live in two worlds: being Filipinos and being Americans.

Since Filipino American parents teach their children to respect their elders, children in many homes call their brothers and sisters by different terms. For instance, among the Tagalogs, the oldest son is called kuya or kuyang (by the succeeding children, whether male or female); the second son, diko; the third son, sangko; and the fourth son (if there is any), kuya again, Kuya or Kuyang Felix, then diko, etc. The eldest daughter is called ate, the second, ditse; the third, sanse (then back to ate Millie or kuya Boy, or etc.). In my family, my youngest child, Janet, calls her brothers kuyang, diko, sangko, and Kuyang (Ronald).

Speak in English, Then in Filipino. In Filipino American homes in America, parents usually talk with their children in English when they are little in order that their children won’t have any foreign accent in English. Their other purpose is for the parents to improve their English pronunciation and reduce their Filipino accent.

Since the children grow up with American friends, they speak without an accent. When they are grown, the parents talk to them in Pilipino or another Philippine dialect so that they can converse with relatives and other Filipinos when they go home to the Philippines for a visit. The children usually answer in English. In other words, they understand Pilipino (Tagalog), but they can’t talk in Pilipino. When they say a few words in Pilipino, they normally have an American accent. That is, Pilipino words are pronounced as if they were English words. I know of a Filipino who has an accent both in English and in Pilipino although he belongs to the Tagalog ethnic group.

Because of the fact that their U.S.-born children can’t speak in Pilipino, some parents even send their teenaged sons or daughters to the Philippines for a few weeks or months to learn Pilipino and Filipino culture. Some students attend Pilipino classes in their universities in the U.S. or some Pilipino classes held by Filipino associations.


Second-generation and third-generation Filipinos are usually in search of identity. They are called Fil-Ams or Filipino Americans. Those born here sometimes can’t understand why although they were born here and are considered Americans, some Americans don’t treat them as equals. And other times, they can’t consider themselves as Filipinos, either. They don’t know Pilipino language or any other Philippine dialects and they don’t know anything about Philippine history or culture.

One of the various reasons why Filipino Americans can’t speak their own national language is that their parents don’t teach them when they are little. They don’t want their kids to have Filipino-accented English.

For example, Tia Carrere, born Althea Dujenio Janairo, a Hollywood movie actress, who describes herself as Filipino/Spanish/Chinese was quoted in Filipinas magazine:, “My dad never taught us Pilipino because he didn’t want us to have an accent. I understood it was because he was an immigrant and didn’t want us to be left out. But I do think it’s a shame to leave behind that important part of your heritage, your language. ”

(Carrere’s father, Alexander, hails from Cebu, Philippines. Her mother Audrey’s grandmother was Filipina. A native of Kahili, Hawaii, Carrere has appeared in High School, with Jon Lovitz. She also appeared in Rising Sun, which also starred Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes. (See her profile in Part IV: Profiles of Notable Filipino Americans).

Famous Filipino American singer Jocelyn Enriquez swears she considers herself as Filipino first, American second. Enriquez was born and raised by her first-generation Filipino parents in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sometimes, some young Filipino Americans hate themselves in the beginning because they are different from other Americans. (See her profile in Part IV: Profiles of Notable Filipino Americans).

“Why Is My Hair Not Blond?” I still remember when my only daughter was little, she asked me, “Daddy why is my hair not blond? I’m the only girl in my class whose hair is black. Probably, if I were born here, my hair would have been blond.” Later, she seemed to have been searching for her identity. She used to rent tapes of Filipino movies from Filipino American stores. The only thing I didn’t like was that I became tired of translating to English the stars’ conversation. My daughter has been to the Philippines four times and she enjoyed every minute of her visit to our mother country.


Filipino Americans still observe their customs and traditions.

In some communities, fiestas of their own are held. Some civic-spirited individuals also hold barrio fiestas to show Filipino folk dances, paintings by Filipino American artists, and performances by singers. Some associations teach folk dances to the young generation so that they’ll know about the native folk dances to preserve the Filipino culture and traditions. They hold their own festivals, such as Flores de Mayo, a religious festivity. They celebrate Philippine Independence on June 12 of every year. They also observe the death anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal, their national hero, on December 30 of each year. In the past, they held programs and they even had their own queens during the Rizal Day celebration. Now, in observation of the event, some social groups hold dramas depicting the life and times of the national hero.

“Where Shall I Sleep?” Once, when a mother told her U.S.-born 16-year-old daughter to vacate her room so that another person could sleep there, she asked, “Where shall I sleep? This is my room.” That’s not an unusual question by a person who’s not familiar with Filipino customs and traditions. “Well, you may sleep with your sister in the basement. This is our ugaling Pilipino (Filipino trait), as part of hospitality,” the mother answered.

One of the Filipino traits as part of hospitality is giving by the family of its bedrooms (even the master bedroom) and extra beds, including the living room to visitors to sleep in. Not only that. The table is laden with enough food for the visitors.

I knew of a 12-member Filipino American family who toured the whole United States in a month’s time – staying in friends’ and relatives’ houses, instead of hotels. They were our relatives. We let them occupy all the rooms and the living room. Members of my family all slept in the basement. We really enjoyed the occasion.

From the West Coast to the East Coast, or vice versa, touring families or groups of friends may say, “We’re coming!” Of course, “We’ll be waiting for you!” will be the answer. The satisfaction when they meet after a long absence is mutual. Hosts and visitors enjoy the visiting occasion, particularly for those people with big dwellings with nice decor and furnishings-it’s the time to show off their social status in their own community. Then the visitors are given tours and are dined around the city and other areas. They ride in nice cars, including Mercedes and BMWs, for people who have them. Of course, the visitors’ turn as hosts will come. What a way to enjoy Filipino life in America!

Regionalism. The concept of regionalism exists among Filipino Americans. It may be defined as regional groupings of different ethnic groups in different regions or islands of the Philippines. Particular groups, such as the Tagalogs in Manila and neighboring provinces, Kapampangans or Pampanguenos in Pampanga, Ilocanos in the Ilocos Region, Ilongos in Iloilo, and others, have their own characteristics, beliefs, and ways of life. That’s why in the United States, associations are formed based on which provinces in the old country they came from. For instance, there are associations such as Nuevo Ecijanos of Michigan, the Ilocano Association of Michigan, the Pampanguenos Club, etc.

(See Chapter 13: Philippine Culture, Customs, and Traditions in the book The Filipino Americans (1763-Present) Their History, Culture, and Traditions by Veltisezar Bautista).


The Filipinos, in coming to America, brought not only their customs and traditions, but also their culture. Among Asian nations, the Philippines may be considered as the most-influenced country by Western culture.

Pre-Spanish Era. The Philippines, has for many years, preserved a few of the classic examples of the extensive oral literature of the Pre-Spanish era. The literature featured epical stories and chants. There was also the corrido, modelled after the Spanish ballad of chivalry, written in different dialects. An example of those epical stories and chants was the pasyon (passion), the story of the Redemption chanted during the Holy Week.

The writing of corrido was led by Francisco Balagtas (1788-1862), recognized as the first modern Filipino poet. Writing in Tagalog, his best known work was Florante at Laura.

Spanish Era. During the Spanish regime, Dr. Jose Rizal (1861-1896), the Philippines’ greatest hero, wrote the novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. They became classic novels and were his major contributions to the Philippine Revolution.

Early Filipino Writers. Filipino writers emerged even in the early years of Filipino immigration to America. There are narratives depicting the immigrant’s life in the classic books, I Have Lived with the American People by Manuel Buaken, and America Is in the Heart: A Personal History, by Carlos Bulosan.

Contemporary Writers. Among the well-known Filipinos in contemporary Philippine literature in English are fiction writer N.V.M. Gonzalez; poet Jose Garcia Villa; fiction writer Bienvenido N. Santos, known for his novel, The Man Who Thought He Looked Like Robert Taylor; and poet Manuel Viray.

Among the other well-known novelists and short story writers are Ninotchka Rosca, whose second novel, Twice Blessed, won the prestigious National Book Award in 1993; Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, another award-winning novelist and short story writer; and Jessica Tarhata Hagedorn, novelist and artist. Brainard, the recipient of several writing awards, is the author of When the Rainbow Goddess Wept, (her first novel in the U.S.), published by E.P. Dutton in the United States. On the other hand, Hagedorn is the recipient of literary awards that include a National Book Award nomination for her novel Dogeaters in 1990. (See their profiles in Part IV: Profiles of Notable Filipino Americans.)

Among other Filipino American writers with samples of their work are as follows: Michelle Cruz Skinner (Balikbayan: A Filipino Homecoming), Marianne Villanueva (Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila), Alberto S. Florentino (Sabrina), Paulino Lim, Jr. (Michelle and the Jesuit), Luis Cabalquinto (Phalaenopsis), Nadine R. Sarreal (Tuition), Nutzka C. Villamar (Falling People), Manuel R. Olimpo (Images), Julia L. Palarca (In America, Restaurants Are Crowded), Virginia R. Cerenio (Dreams of Manong Frankie), Samuel Tagatac (Small Talk at Union Square), Ligaya Victorio Fruto (The Fan) and Jean Vengua Gier (Dancers).


In the 1920s and 1930s, there were Filipino publications from which immigrants got their news and read stories about their countrymen. Such was the Philippine Mail, published in California. Even college students had their own publications.

Today, there are a number of national and local publications, newspapers. and magazines. In some cities, particularly in Los Angeles, California, there are radio and television programs geared toward the Filipino American audience.

The most popular newspapers are the Philippine News, a weekly newspaper with headquarters in California, and the Filipino Reporter, a New York City-based weekly newspaper.

The most widely circulated magazines are the Filipinas, based in San Francisco, California, and The Special Edition Press: The Filipino American Quarterly, with offices in New York City.

(A list of these publications are in the book The Filipino Americans (1763-Present): Their History, Culture, and Traditions by Veltisezar Bautista.


Several Filipino Americans have made their names in the competitive field of journalism.

Print Media. Two Filipino Americans, Alex Tizon and Byron Acohido, both reporters of The Seattle Times, were presented the much-coveted Pulitzer Prizes at the luncheon awards ceremonies held at Columbia University in New York City on May 29, 1997. Tizon, together with three other recipients, won his prize for investigative reporting and Acohido, for his beat reporting.

Tita Dioso Gillespie, who has the equivalent of a master’s degree in French language and civilization, is a general editor of Newsweek magazine; Cielo Buenaventura, former features editor in Manila for We Forum, an affiliate publication of Malaya, is now the New York Times’ “Metropolitan” section editor; Howard Chua, formerly a reporter and researcher of Time magazine, is now the magazine’s senior editor; and Hermenegildo “Hermie” A. Azarcon, formerly on the staff of The Evening News and The Manila Times in Manila, is a copy editor of The Detroit News, in Detroit, Michigan.

Libertito “Bert” Pelayo, formerly with the Manila Times in Manila, Philippines, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Filipino Reporter, a New-York based weekly Filipino-American newspaper; Mona Lisa Yuchengco is the publisher of Filipinas magazine; Fernando M. Mendez, who has won more than 30 awards in the fields of art and advertising, is the publisher of the Special Edition Press: The Filipino American Quarterly; Gene G. Marcial, formerly with the Manila Chronicle, and author of the book Secrets of the Street: The Dark Side of Making Money, is a columnist, writing The Wall Street in the national publication Business Week; Alberto M. Alfaro, also formerly with the Manila Chronicle, is the editor-in-chief of the Virginia-based Manila-US Mail serving Washington, D.C. and neighboring states; and Veltisezar B. Bautista, formerly with the Manila Chronicle, is now a successful author and publisher in the United States. (See their brief profiles in Part IV: Profiles of Noted Filipino Americans of this book.)

Broadcast Media. The British-accented Filipino American Veronica Pedrosa, currently based in CNNI’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, is the anchor of CNNI World News and CNNI World News Asia; Denise Dador, born in Warrensburg, Missouri, and raised in San Francisco, California, is a health reporter and news anchor on television station Channel 7 in Southfield, Michigan; and Emme Tomimbang, who worked for 12 years with KITV Channel 4, and NBC affiliate KHON’s Island Style, is now the host and producer of the monthly television show Island Moments that profiles Hawaiian personalities, and offers a glimpse of the local culture and the aloha spirit. (See their profiles in Part IV: Profiles of Notable Filipino Americans of the book, The Filipino Americans.)


During the Spanish regime, several Filipinos became well known artists.

Famous Painters. Among the painters were Juan Luna (1857-1899) and Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo (1855-1913). They won recognition as expatriates in Spain with their paintings in romantic and impressionist style.

Those who made their names in paintings during the American regime were Fernando Amorsolo for his landscape paintings and Fabian de la Rosa for his portraitures. These two artists became directors of the School of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines. Carlos Francisco and Vicente Manansala have been recognized as most outstanding muralists. In musical compositions, the names of Antonio J. Molina, Antonino Buenaventura, and Eliseo Pajaro are to be mentioned.

U.S.-Based Artists. In painting, among the well-known international Filipino American artists in the United States are New York City-based Pacita Abad, an international artist; Genara Banzon, a nature artist; Manuel Rodriguez, Sr., a New-York-based artist who is the father of Philippine graphic arts; Venancio Igarta, the oldest and most celebrated Filipino American master colorist of the visual art scene; and Jose Romero, a Michigan-based international acrylic-impressionistic artist. (See their profiles in Part IV: Profiles of Notable Filipino Americans.)


Filipino folk dances on stage were popularized by the Bayanihan Folk Arts Center of the Philippine Women’s University, which has toured the world.

In the United States, dance troupes have been organized, too. They perform in different parts of the country and the world to showcase the culture of the Filipinos.

Folklorico Filipino Dance Company of New York, a nonprofit company, is one of the most well-known dance companies in the United States that specialize in Philippine folk dance. Since 1973, Folklorico Filipino with over 50 members, has been showcasing the “Best of the Philippines” in New York parades, cultural festivals, and socio-civic presentations.

Incorporated as a non-profit corporation, Folklorico Filipino has been receiving a yearly grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. It was in 1973 when Folklorico did its debut performance before members of the United Nations General Assembly.


There are Filipino Americans, or Americans of Filipino descent, who have been making news in movies and on television shows. They are Tia Carrere, who tangoed with Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies; Lou Diamond Phillips, who became a rising star in La Bamba; Radmar Agana Jao, who has been cast as a cook on the popular TV show, The North Shore; Sumi Sevilla Haru, who was cast by producer Ralph Nelson in 1964 in Soldiers in the Rain; Nia Peoples, also a singer, who became a television actress in the 1980s and hosted the musical show Party Machine; Rob Schneider of the popular NBC’s popular show Men Behaving Crazy and who has been featured in such films as “Home Alone 2,” “Demolition Man,” and “The Beverly Hillbillies”; and Tamlyn Tomita, who rose to fame in Karate Kid II.

(See their profiles in Part IV: Profiles of Notable Filipino Americans of The Filipino Americans (1763-Present): Their History, Culture, & Traditions by Veltisezar Bautista.


In the music industry, the following names may be mentioned: Lea Salonga, a movie actress, Broadway star and singer, who won the prestigious Tony Award; Jocelyn Enriquez, the first Filipino American and Asian American who penetrated the mainstream music industry with her pop-dance hits; Josephine “Banig” Roberto, another singer who is threatening to conquer the mainstream music industry; Neal McCoy, an up and coming country music star; Prince, (The Artist), who is reportedly part Filipino; Tia Carrere, a movie actress and singer; and Nia Peeples, a television actress and singer; Jaya, a former San Jose, California, resident and daughter of Philippine comedienne Elizabeth Ramsey who had the first Filipino single to hit the charts in the U.S. with her song If You Leave Me Now; and Glen Madeiros, a Filipino American from Hawaii, who, like Jaya, had only one hit song. (See their profiles in Part IV: Profiles of Notable Filipino Americans of this book.)


In the field of business and finance, the most well-known Filipino Americans are Loida Nicolas Lewis, chair and CEO of a $1.8-B business empire, TLC Beatrice International; Josie Cruz Natori, international fashion magnate and head of the $40M-a-year business, of the New York-based The House of Natori; and Lilia Calderon Clemente, chair and chief executive officer of Clemente Capital, Inc. and dubbed by Asiaweek Magazine as the Wonder Woman of Wall Street. (See their profiles in Part IV: Profiles of Notable Filipino Americans of this book.)


Since 1955, many Filipino Americans have been elected or appointed to public offices in the United States.

Peter Aduja became the first Filipino American elected to public office in the United States. He won in his bid for a seat in the Hawaii House of Representatives. After statehood was achieved, he was elected three times, first in 1966, to the Hawaii House of Representatives.

In 1958, Bernaldo D. Bicoy was elected to the Hawaii House of Representatives, where he represented West Oahu. Bicoy was followed in the Hawaii House of Representatives by Pedro dela Cruz, representing the island of Lanai. He served the House for many years.

From 1962 to 1967, Alfredo Lareta was the director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Lareta was appointed by Hawaii Governor John A. Burns. He became the first Filipino American to hold a state cabinet position in the United States.

In April, 1974, Benjamin Menor, became the first Filipino to be appointed to the Hawaii Supreme Court. Menor served with the First Filipino Infantry Regiment during World War II. Thelma Buchholdt was elected to the Alaska State House of Representatives in the 1974 elections.

In 1975, Joshua C. Agsalud was appointed by Hawaii Governor George Ariyoshi in 1975 as director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Also in 1975, Eduardo E. Malapit of Kauai, Hawaii, became the first elected mayor in the United States. Prior to his being elected mayor, Malapit served as member of the Kauai County Council for several years.

In California, in the 1970s, Maria Lacadia Obrea served as a Los Angeles municipal judge. Glenn Olea became a councilman in the Monterey Bay community of Seaside, California.

In 1983, Ronald E. Quidachay, half-Filipino, half-Irish, was appointed as law and motion judge in Municipal Court, Civil Division, in San Francisco, California. Later, he was elected and reelected to the same position.

In 1985, Irene Natividad, a political activist who champions women’s rights, was elected as president of the influential National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC). Thus, this former waitress became the first Asian American to be elected to the position. She was reelected in 1987.

In Washington State, Gene Canque Liddell became the first Filipina American to become mayor of a U.S. city on April 11, 1991. She was elected mayor by members of the city council of Lacey City, a suburb of Seattle, Washington. Earlier, she was elected as a council member in 1988. Liddell served as deputy mayor in 1990.

Eduardo “Eddie” G. Manuel was appointed as a council member in Hercules City, California, in November 1991. He was elected as a council member to the seat he had held the past year. Later, he served from November 23, 1993 to December 4, 1994, as mayor after he was elected to the position by his fellow council members.

Running against 10 Goliaths, a David, David Mercado Valderrama became the first Filipino elected to a state legislature on the United States mainland in Maryland’s November 1990 General Assembly elections. In November 1994, he was reelected to the same position, representing Prince George’s County.

In Washington State, Velma Veloria was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives in the 1992 elections. Thus, she became the first Filipino to be elected as a state representative in Washington State and the second Filipina to be a member of a state legislature in the United States. (The other was Thelma Buckholdt who was elected to the Alaska State Legislature.) Veloria ran unopposed and won in the November 1994 and November 1996 elections.

Benjamin “Ben” Cayetano, holds the distinction of being the first and only person of Filipino descent to become a governor of a state. He was elected governor of Hawaii in the November 1994 elections.

Judge Mel Red Recana was elected as the presiding judge of the Los Angeles (California) Municipal Court for 1996. Prior to his election, Judge Recana had been an assistant presiding judge since 1994. It was in 1994 when he was appointed as a municipal judge of Los Angeles, California.

Robert Bunda is currently a state senator in Hawaii. He was elected to the State Senate in the 1994 elections. He did not resign from the Senate to run in the second congressional district race in the November 1996 elections. He lost in the last elections but he still is in office to finish his term won in the 1994 elections.

In the November 1996 elections, Romy Cachola, a member of the Hawaii State House of Representatives, ran unopposed and was reelected for the seventh time to the State House.

Nestor R. Garcia serves as a member of the majority leadership team in the Hawaii State House, as majority whip for the Democrats. Garcia was first elected to the State House in 1994 and won again for the same seat in the November 1996 elections. In the November 1996 elections, Ron Menor was reelected to the Hawaii State House of Representatives. Menor first served in the House in 1982. He was elected to the State Senate in 1986. He was elected to the House in 1992.

Also in the Hawaii State Legislature, Reynaldo Graulty won a seat in the State Senate in 1992. He first entered public service in 1982 when he was elected to the State House of Representatives.

Henry Manayan, a council member, became the mayor of Milpitas, California, after he clinched the top position of that Silicon Valley’s city government during the November 1996 elections. Manayan was elected to the Milpitas City Council during the November 1994 elections.

Maria Luisa Mabilangan Haley, a member of the board of the Export Import Bank, is the highest Filipino American official in the Clinton administration. She is considered by Filipino Americans as the “key” to the White House.

In March 1997, Pete Fajardo became the first Filipino American to be elected mayor of a progressive city in the United States through a direct vote of the people when he won the mayoralty race in Carson, California. He was a member of the city council of Carson prior to his election as mayor of the city.

(For their profiles, see part IV: Profiles of Notable Filipino Americans in this book. Also, see the profiles of many Filipino Americans in the new second edition of The Filipino Americans.)


In the field of sports, the great Filipino athletes that made their name in the United States were Pancho Villa, a flyweight champion of the world; Ceferino Garcia, the bolo punch boxer who tried two times to wrest the welterweight title of the world, losing to a controversial fight with Barney Ross in 1937 and Henry Armstrong in 1936; Roman Gabriel, the well-known quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams; Tai Babilonia, the other half of the famed Babilonia-Radner skating team; Elizabeth Punsalan, a fifth-time and current U.S. ice dance champion and a 1994 and 1998 Olympic competitor with her partner and husband, Jerod Swallow; Vicky Manalo Drakes, who won two gold medals in swimming in the 1948 Olympics in London; Salvador (Dado) Marino, who lost a bantamweight championship of the world fight to Manuel Ortiz in 1949, but wrestled the flyweight world crown from Terry Allen in 1950; Speedy Dado, the Pacific Coast bantamweight champion who attempted to be world flyweight and bantamweight champion of the world; Bernard (Big Duke) Docusen from New Orleans, Louisiana, who challenged but lost to Sugar Ray Robinson for the welterweight championship of the world in Chicago in 1948; and Jim Washington, a six-foot-seven forward, who was drafted in 1965 by the St. Louis Hawks of the National Basketball Association.

(Profiles of some of these outstanding athletes may be read in Part IV of this book.)


Several Filipino Americans have made names for themselves in the field of medicine and dentistry. Among them are Jose L. Evangelista, M.D., appointed by President Bill Clinton as a member of the National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation; Stella Evangelista, M.D., Michigan Hall of Famer and former member of the Michigan State Board of Medicine; Ernesto M. Espaldon, M.D., plastic surgeon and six-term Guam senator; and Rolando A. De Castro, D.D.M., famous dental professor-artist, dubbed as the “Frank H. Netter” of the dental profession.


There are only three Asian American generals in the Armed Forces of the United States, and two of them are Filipino American generals in the U.S. Army. They are Major General Edward Soriano, currently assigned as the director of operations, readiness, and mobilization in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans of the U.S. Army in the Pentagon; and Brigadier General Antonio Taguba, assigned as a special assistant to the commanding general at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia. (See their profiles in Part IV: Profiles of Notable Filipino Americans.)


Filipino foods, such as pansit (rice noodle) and egg roll (lumpia), are the favorites of non-Filipinos at parties and in Filipino restaurants. These non-Filipinos usually are wives, husbands, or friends of Filipinos. Of course, friends of Filipinos, especially at work, have been exposed to Filipino food. In fact, some of these Americans get recipes and try to cook Filipino foods. For genuine Filipno recipes, see the book Filipino Cuisine: Recipes from the Islands by Gerry G. Gelle.

(Excerpted from the chapter, The Filipino Americans: Yesterday and Today, in the book The Filipino Americans (1763-Present) Their History, Culture, & Traditions by Veltisezar Bautista. To see the complete chapter and other interesting chapters, see the book in your local library. If it’s not available there, you may request the library to purchase a copy of the book. Inquiries about the book may be sent to: Bookhaus Publishers, P. O. Box 836, Warren, MI 48090-0836. Email: