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Fil-Am editor traces 250-year old history of Pinoy migration to the US


The emergence of Filipinos as the fourth largest minority group in the United States is not due to the mass exodus of skilled workers to the "land of milk and honey" in the past 30 to 40 years.

According to the executive editor of an online news site for immigration communities in New York, the sizeable amount of Filipinos in the US it is the result of multiple “waves of migration” spanning more than a century and several Filipino generations.

In a public lecture on the history of Filipino migration to the US Tuesday at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Noel Pangilinan of immigraNation.com said that contrary to popular belief, the arrival of Filipinos in the US did not start when Americans colonized the Philippines in 1898.

According to Pangilinan, Filipinos leave for the US is not so much because they do not love the Philippines but only due to the gainful economic opportunities that abound there.

The “waves of migration” that occurred through the years show that Filipinos are driven to seek greener pastures abroad because of their desire for a better life.

Data from the US Census show that as of 2010, Filipinos comprise 2.5 million of the entire American population. The Philippines is only eclipsed in numbers by Mexico, with 3.8 million migrants, followed by China with 3.3 million and India with 2.8 million.

But despite the emergence of Filipinos as a sizeable minority group, Pangilinan said the subject of immigration status remains to be an iffy topic for them to discuss because they know a fairly large number of Filipinos who stay in the US illegally.

Based on data from the US Department of Homeland Security, there are around 270,000 undocumented Filipinos living in the US as of 2011.

“More often than not, hindi mo direktang maitatanong sa isang Pinoy sa States kung may papeles ba siya o wala. You don’t do that. It’s just awkward. Kung sakali mang itatanong mo yun, dapat talagang magkaibigan na kayo ng Pinoy at siya yung unang magbi-bring up ng issue,” he said.

Although the discussion about Filipino migration and immigration status-- whether in the US or in the Philippines-- remains taboo for some, Pangilinan said it will always take place because the subject just happens to be too close to Filipinos’ hearts.

“All of us have at least one relative who works or lives in the US. Hindi pwedeng hindi mapag-usapan ang tungkol sa migration dahil in a way, bawat isa sa atin ay naaapektuhan ng issue na yan,” he said.

250-year journey

Historical records show that Filipinos first set foot in the US as far back as the 1760s, when several sailors from Manila and their families arrived in Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico and set up fishing villages near Barataria Bay.

It would take almost 150 years, however, before the first organized group of Filipinos-- the pensionados-- headed for the United States in 1903 to study under scholarship grants from the American colonial government.

Pangilinan said the success of the pensionados program encouraged wealthy people in the Philippines to study in the US, even without a scholarship. Most of the Filipino students who arrived in America until 1920, he said, settled in Chicago.

The Great Depression beginning 1929, however, forced a number of Filipino students to become “unintentional migrants” who had to quit school and took on odd jobs to survive.

Halfway around the globe in Hawaii during the early 1900s, Filipino workers from Northern and Central Luzon also began arriving at sugar plantations to till the land.

The increase of Filipino communities both in the mainland and in Hawaii eventually triggered racial discrimination in various states against the brown-skinned migrants in the 1920s to the 1930s, Pangilinan said.

“White resentment against Filipinos grew strong that several racial riots targeting Filipinos occurred that time. The whites hated them because they're increasing in numbers and because they see them as a sexual threat,” he said.

Pangilinan explained that white American men might have been “insecure” of the Filipino men's inherent sweetness and gentlemanly ways that they barred their wives or other female relatives from seeing Filipino men.

The racial hatred for Filipinos became so intense that public clamor for the repatriation of the brown-skinned migrants gained ground in the early 1930s.

The US Senate then enacted the Tydings-Mc Duffie law, which Philippine history students know as the landmark legislation declaring Philippine independence from American rule after ten years. What was not well-known about the law was its provision mandating the immediate repatriation of Filipinos back to the Philippines and control of Filipino migration to the US.

“When [I was] in college, we used to debate whether the Tydings-McDuffie Law gave us genuine independence because while it gave us freedom-- after 10 years-- it also tied us to economic treaties which weren't beneficial to us and declared Filipinos as aliens in the US immediately,” he said.

While the legislation slowed down the influx of Filipino migrants to the United States, it failed to completely wipe out Philippine presence in Americans' lives. This is because the US Navy continued to allow several hundred Filipinos to serve in the US Navy from 1947 to 1973.

Pangilinan said the massive recruitment of Filipinos by the US Navy gave rise to the emergence of large Filipino communities in areas where there are US bases nearby such as Norfolk, Virginia, Jersey City, New Jersey and San Diego, California.

The passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965 opened the gates for Filipino migrants to enter the US in droves provided they meet immigration requirements and are skilled professionals.

While the law is considered as a boon by Filipinos with the undying “American dream,” it has also been blamed for the start of “brain drain” in the Philippines since a large number of Filipinos opt to work in the US than in their own country. - VVP, GMA News

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