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Filipino Adaptation in the Contemporary US


The first Filipinos appeared in the USA at the beginning of the 18th century. Many things have changed in their culture, outlook and life values since that time. The findings of this study will show the extent to which Filipino immigrants have adapted in the US through the history of their immigration, distinguishing the features of their ethnicity among other immigrants and their position in the contemporary USA. Further, this study also demonstrates the various challenges that they experience, Filipinos extend in the contemporary USA, changes in their family structures and the ways in which they protect their culture and heritage in America today. Filipinos have faced political, social and educational marginalization over the last three centuries of immigration history in the USA, but succeeded to demonstrate the best, compared to other immigrants, assimilation, acculturation, and accommodation results. One thing that makes this a feasibility study is that there is a significantly large gap concerning the existing research on the lives of Filipinos in the US today, specifically their adaptation. Also, literature analysis indicates the need to investigate the topic of Filipino immigrants in the USA.

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Evidence of Successful Adaptation of Filipinos in America

History of Filipinos Migration

Filipino immigrants are considered to be the second-largest Asian immigrant group in the US. Their history is long and unique. Their hard social and educational experiences demonstrate that the well-being of Filipino immigrants was often ignored. Consequently, “immigrants had to struggle to re-establish their rights and life” (Okamura 2013, 31).

The researchers of Filipino migration to the USA distinguish its three major waves (Baldoz 2011, 45; Espiritu 2013, 16). The first signs of Filipinos in America reached the second half of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. Anywhere, the number of immigrants was not significant. Thus, the scientists admit that the first big wave of immigration is connected with the US annexation of the Philippines during the Spanish-American war. As a result, many Filipino students got sponsoring in receiving US education. Till 1906 the majority of Filipino immigrants in the US were under 30 years old, but after 1906 the shortage of the cheap agriculture workforce allowed older Filipinos to immigrate to America too. (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 144) The second wave, however, covers military years of the Second World War. Late 1920 and early 1930 years were full of hostility from the American side, but the shortage of military force and many USA military positions in the Philippines again assisted mass immigration. The final, third wave came following the removal of the national origin system (Espiritu 2013, 16). It happened after 1965, when the Immigration and Nationality Act abolished the migration quota for Filipinos, which was 100 people per year, and “gave preference to family members and certain skilled workers” (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 145).

In 1990, the Immigration Act eased the process of family visas for Filipinos. Consequently, many Filipinos have moved to the USA. Susan Paik, Shierlier Choe, and Matthew Witenstein indicate that a quarter of all Filipinos in America has migrated to the country since 2000 (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 146). As a rule, the dwellers of islands move to the land hoping to find a better life. They know that America opens huge opportunities for a good education, better-paid job, and higher living conditions. Roddy Espiritu writes in her autobiography book Tagtaginep – My Dream to Opportunity that “immigrated to the US we are indeed very grateful for the economic and cultural opportunity” (Espiritu 2013, 31)

Distinguishing Features of Filipinos among Other Asian Immigrants

The process of Filipino adaptation to American life was not easy, but they managed to overcome the difficulties with better success than other immigrants. Appreciation of education, fluent English, quick acculturation, and determined attempts assimilate and integrate more, than hold apart, gave many of them the tickets to a better life. Espiritu underlines that Filipinos were able to “become manifestly “Western” in many aspects of their culture, behavior, and ambition” (Espiritu 2013, 12).

After 1965, only Filipinos and South Asian migrants have gained a neutral attitude or receptivity from Americans (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 138). It had a great influence on their employment and helped them to navigate “mainstream America easily than most new Asian immigrants (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 139). Moreover, besides desperate attempts to integrate into the American system, many Filipinos regarded themselves as Americanized. Colonial education, egalitarian and rhetoric propaganda influenced their world-view enormously and added self-sufficiency and high self-appraisal to their mentality (Espiritu 2013, 88). Filipinos came to America to gain permanent status and be equal with its population in all spheres. Besides, their co-ethnic communities existed till 1965, as Filipinos rights were limited. Unfortunately, shortly after that, they collapsed, as each participant has to search and do their best to get his/her better social position and future in an individual manner. It does not mean that Filipinos do not respect their family roots and traditions, but it shows that they came to the USA ready for complete changes and integration, contrary to many other immigrants, who prefer to stay in their settlements and remain at a distance from Americans. Thus, Filipinos came to America to change the way of their lives when others came to change the land where they continued to live.

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Filipinos in the Contemporary USA

Since the first days of migration to the USA, Filipinos have worked mainly as agriculture and military force. The prevailing majority of them were men. Within the first wave of immigration, the USA welcomed the students from the Philippines, but they had to return home after studying. Filipinos women migrated to the States two centuries later. Yen Le Espiritu in the book “Filipino American Lives” indicates that only “after the war Filipino women came to the US in greatest number” (Espiritu 2010, 18). It was caused by the shortage of nurses in the USA.

Nurse occupation prevails among Filipino women till nowadays. For example, in California, 20% of registered nurses are Filipinos when they count only 1.2 million out of 36 million of state population (Rodis 2013). Most of the nurses got their medical education in the Philippines and had to pass the state nursing board exam in the USA to have a right to work. Unfortunately, only 15-20% of nurses managed to pass those tests, but their believe in better future and ambitiousness caused that the amount of schools for nurses in the Philippines has raised in 100 times since 1940 to 1990 years, and there were nearly 1700 establishments in 1990 (Rodis 2013). Nowadays their number has reduced to 429, as women have the opportunities to get medical education in the US instead of the Philippines.

Challenges Filipinos Faced within the Adaptation Process

The Challenge of American Education but Philippines Employment

Paik, Choe, and Wittgenstein distinguish three types of government policy to immigrants. They are receptive, indifferent, and hostile (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 138). Filipinos contrary to other Asian groups faced all three of them. America changed its position from inclusionary to exclusionary. But even reception had its hidden pitfalls. As America won the war with Spain, it became the world’s most powerful state. Describing Filipinos as “monkeys” and “gooks” in the American periodic (Espiritu 2013, 11), the USA established many programs to educate Filipino students, on condition that they would return home after graduation. Of course, even American certificates promised less prosperous life in the Philippines than it could be in America. Many of the former students tried to cheat officers with rough hands and came back to the US as workers of sugar and pineapple plantations (Espiritu 2010, 6).

The Challenge of Poor Work Conditions

America very soon allowed a great number of Filipino men after 30 to work in Hawaii and Alaska, because of the shortage of cheap workforce. Immediately the number of Filipino workers prevailed Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 147). The reasons for such increase were that Filipinos lived in the plantations without their families, as women’s immigration was strictly limited, so the owners of plantations could lodge many Filipinos workers in the house where only one or two other immigrant’s family could live. Moreover, as the Philippines were the colony of the USA, there were no representatives who protected Filipinos rights. Espiritu assumes that “they would leave for work before of dawn and return long after the dark” (Espiritu 2010, 8).

The Challenge of Bachelors Lives

The absence of women has exacerbated American exploitation. Men could earn some money but had no chances to build a family in America, as women’s immigration was allowed only after World War II. Moreover, Filipinos were forbidden to marry white women. The social order of the USA has propagandized racial purity and enforced the law of anti-miscegenation. However, many Filipinos men demonstrated “unwillingness to abide by the color line” (Espiritu 2013, 122) and Filipino-Americans bastards were born. As the government saw that the law could not control dating and illicit sexual relations, it proclaimed the Independence of the Philippines and forced its citizens to return to the islands. Consequently, the immigration quota of 50 people per year was established.

The Challenge of War Participation

With the beginning of World War II, the USA felt the next need of Filipinos men. This time States allowed immigration only for military workers. Many of them sacrificed their lives without proper protection, war equipment, and food supply. Those, who were lucky to retire, had to back “hometown with meager US Navy pension” (Espiritu 2013, 12).

The Challenge of Career Demotion

In the middle of the 20th century, the USA felt a significant shortage of nurses. As the Philippines had many nurse schools, Filipino women immigrated to the US. Many of them could not pass the state nursing exams properly and had to work as ordinary nurses even when they received a medical education in some medical university in the Philippines. It was the only way for families’ reunification and women migration to the USA.

Extend of Filipinos in the US and Safeguard of Their Culture and Heritage

Extend of Filipinos in the Contemporary USA

There are more than 3.4 million Filipino Americans in the USA nowadays (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016,136). The majority of them inhabits the state of California when there are “more than 100 000 in each state of Illinois, Texas, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, and Florida. The large groups of Filipinos also extend Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico” (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 141). Till 1965 Filipinos preferred to live in co-ethnic communities. It means that the members of their nationality aimed to live in geographical proximity to each other (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 139) Under such circumstances it was easier to safeguard their culture and national heritage, but it was harder to penetrate in mainstream America. That is why, after 1965, when the perception of the USA changed from hostile to indifferent, many Filipinos chose to leave their settlements in search of a better life.

From one side it made the Filipinos ethnicity weak, but from the other, each Filipino became stronger. Thanks to educational programs many Filipinos spoke fluent English and were familiar with the American lifestyle. It assisted them to build their lives in less ethnic groups. Most of the adults realized the difficulties of their path, but immigration was “very stressful for Children due to new social context, tires family network, exposure to a new language and culture” (Espiritu 2013, 74).

According to Census 2010, Filipinos are “the 12th most populous nation on the planet” (Espiritu 2013, 3). There are 98 million inhabitants in the country and 11 million people abroad. Contemporary Filipinos in the USA appreciate their culture and learn their language and literature in parallel with other school subjects (Espiritu 2013, 31), but prefer such a career or profession to work shoulder to shoulder with other Filipinos. Hence, California and western states account for the largest numbers of Filipinos, but representatives of this nationality spread all over the USA. Today Filipinos work not only in service, agriculture and military branch, but also in medicine, education, and business.

The Changes of Family Structure

Spanish landed on the Philippines islands in 1565 (Espiritu 2013, 6) and brought the first changes to their cultural and social life. Before the acquaintance with Europeans, Filipinos had “simple and colorful culture” (Espiritu 2013, 4). Leaders had royal titles like “sultan”, “rajah” and “datu”, and political and social hierarchy. The nation had its written and spoken language and original animistic and Islamic religious (Espiritu 2013, 4). After the Spanish invasion, the belief in the spirits of their ancestors was substituted by Christian beliefs. Nowadays 82% of Filipinos are Christians, 10% Islamic, 8% belong to other religions. Spanish-Filipinos intermarriages cause “the indios” children birth (Espiritu 2013, 6). As Filipinos preferred to live in the extended family clan with their spouses, godparents and close family friends before, such changes were atypical for their culture.

Another hit to their extend socialization was men migration to the USA during the first and second waves. There were only 2,500 Filipinos women among 42,500 Filipinos men in California within the first agriculture migration wave (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 149). The mentality of Filipinos values the elders, group solidarity, and obligations. It is a great honor for every Filipino child to preserve the family status and ease parents’ life. Therefore, the educational trend valued the family extends and families allowed their sons, brothers, and nephew to go abroad for the clan glory.

After World War II, Filipinos women, as professional nurses, migrated to the USA in a large amount, which made families and culture reunite. Nowadays there are both mixed and pure Filipino families in America. Their way of life is mostly similar to typical Americans. However, they did not lose their educational ambitiousness and such character traits as hard-working and patience. The majority of them go home for Christmas holidays, send remittances and regularly communicate with homeland (Okamura 2013, 7).



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Safeguard of Filipinos Culture and Heritage

The fact that the Philippines dwellers are America focused does not mean that they forget about their own culture. There exist many organizations, which help advance the welfare of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, maintain social and economic ties and promote a culture for children of later immigrants (Paik, Choe, and Witenstein 2016, 150). Jonathan Okamura even appeals to change Filipinos status in America from national minority to Diaspora, “because of their significant cultural, social, economic linkages with their homeland (Okamura 2013, 8). Rene Ciria-Cruz in her interview with Yen Le Espiritu proves these facts and says “Part of our existence here in the USA is helping our families, relatives, and compatriots ‘back home’ cope with some very burdensome realities” (Espiritu 2003, 4 ch.). In 1986, 6% of the Philippines’ households considered the gifts and receipts from abroad as their primary income (Okamura 2013, 130). Of course, since Filipinos migrated to America their personalities, worldview and ways of thinking have changed substantially, but they still highly appreciate their family ties and help their impoverished homelands. Children study the language and literature of their ancestors at particular school courses and attend the lectures of welfare organizations to preserve their Filipinos ethnicity throughout their American life.


In conclusion, the struggle that many Filipino immigrants face as they attempt to adapt to the new way of life in the US makes it critical to gain an understanding of this process. Their struggle confirms the claim that the process of adaptation of immigrants is complicated. Political, social and educational marginalization, racism and prejudice are not all the tests that Filipinos had to pass before gaining an equal, receptive and respectful position among Americans. Nowadays, many of them successfully work in various branches, build mono- or mixed families and give American education to their children. Contrary to other minorities, they prefer to leave in their ethnic communities and struggle individually, but it did not break their relations with relatives. Filipinos still often visit and make calls to their homeland, send presents and money to their relatives. In other words, family extend lost its geographical meaning for them but saved its sacred meaning. Till nowadays they value hard work, education, family status, and obligations more than individual desires, usefulness, and laziness as those features helped them to win their battle for the American dream. Protection Status