Professor Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, Assistant Professor, History, San Francisco State University

Dawn Mabalon tape log: Filipino exclusion segment
Interview by Stephanie Loleng
Seeds of Citizenship

My name is Dr. Dawn Mabalon and I’m an assistant professor of history at San Francisco State University.

[Explain to me the Tydings McDuffie Act?]

The Tydings McDuffie Act is an unfortunate collusion of two groups. One um, one group essentially wanted Filipino exclusion from the United States the other group was pushing for the independence of the Philippines. The tragedy in the Tydings McDuffie Act was that the act gave the Philippine Islands independence from the United States. The act was passed in 1934, independence would come in 1946 which appeased people who wanted Philippine independence it didn’t promise immediate Philippine independence obviously but it promised it um essentially within ten years, it happens in 1946 is what I mean, it promising it in 1944 and then world war II comes and changes that so the other group of course wants Filipino exclusion and the difficulty of excluding Filipinos at this time is (29:45 time remaining) that Filipinos are classified as nationals. The Philippines is a colony of the United States therefore the citizens of the Philippines are treated in the same way that American Indians are treated and actually the citizenship of Filipinos or the non-citizenship rather of Filipinos is modeled after the ways that Indians are treated as subjects of the United States so Filipinos as subjects owe the United States therefore they’re able to come to the United States as nationals. They’re not restricted by any of the other immigration laws that passed that restricted Chinese and Japanese and so Filipinos were coming to the United States pretty much unfettered by these exclusion laws (time remaining: 29:02). The, people who wanted to exclude Filpions – politicians, labor leaders, um, business elites, essentially allied with people who wanted independence for the Philippines and they created the Tydings McDuffie act which excluded Filipinos from coming to the United States with the exception of 50 per year and then promised Philippine independence within 10 years. So that’s a long explanation of the tragedy of this bill. On the one hand Filipnos who want independence are given independence, the Philippine Islands are given independence at the expense of Filipinos coming at least in terms of Filipino immigration to the United States.

[Can you explain the repatriation act]

(time remaining: 28:04) The repatriation act is signed into law in 1935 by President Roosevelt and it offers Filipinos um a one-way ticket home (laugh). During this time you have massive repatriations of Mexicans, illegal repatriations we know now and many Mexicans are actually trying to address, now address this aggredious violation of civil liberties. Many Mexican Americans were put on trucks and essentially deported against their will. Similar thing happens to Filipinos at this time, a law was passed in 1935 promising a one-way ticket home to any Filipino who wants to take it on the condition that they’ll never return. There are some Filipinos who actually petitioned President Roosevelt in 1934 saying you’ve promised us this land of gold and opportunity instead we’ve found extreme poverty, this is the, we’re in the depths of the Depression here and Filipinos are finding it difficult to not only become successful like their American teachers had promised them but they’re finding it difficult just to survive and find work in the fields. So thre are a few Filipinos and we have evidence of that and they asked Roosevelt please help us find a way home but they’re a tiny tiny minority the vast majority want to stay so the repatriation act in a sense becomes um a it becomes a law in a sense to try to deport Filipinos um because with the offer of a one-way ticket home on the condition that they can never return (time remaining: 26:30) You know it’s part of the Filipino exclusion movement in a sense of well here’s an idea, let’s let them go home (laughs) essentially on our dime but we never have to deal with them again. Only 2,000 Filipinos a little over 2,000 Filipinos took them up to the US government up on this offer which says a lot about how the Filipinos wanted to come to the United States and how much they wanted to stay. You know if, you know if conditions were so bad that they wanted to go back to the Philippines um you would imagine that hundreds more would have if not several thousands more would have taken this opportunity. But like I said only a little over 2000 Filipinos went back to the Philippines.

[So why did the Filipinos come to the United States anyway, at that time the 20s and 30s?]

(time remaining: 25:33) Well, Filipinos start coming to Hawaii at the turn of the century 1906 is when Filipinos arrived to work the sugar cane plantations. Recruiters go to the Philippines specifically to bring over single Filipino men and also Filipino families from the Visayan region of the Philippines and from the Ilocos region the northern part of the Philippines, essential part of the Philippines to get a cheap labor force for the sugar plantations. It’s also important to remember that the generation um, who are educated under the American colonial system after the turn of the century, are told by their American teachers how successful they would become if they came to the United States, I mean I’ve done dozens of oral histories in which Filipinos who came over um in the 1920s and early 1930s talk about their American and Filipino teachers telling them how they would come to the United States and they could pick gold up off of the streets, that was how rich they could become in the United States so many Filipinos of the lower middle-class and also some of the peasant class who were able to mortgage land or put money together started to come to the United States. Many of them when asked why they came in the 20s and 30s by researchers and scholars who were interested in Filipino immigration, they were told were these people doing research were told that Filipinos were coming over to be educated that the American colonial system and their teachers told them not only could they come pick gold up off the streets they can come get college educations. And so there are these dreams of um, upward mobility. You know, not only coming and getting a good job and becoming rich but becoming educated. And so um, the big waves of Filipino immigration in the late 1920s and the first years of the 1930s, many of them come intending to become educated and find that the only opportunities available to them are working in the fields (time remaining: 23:30) are working in the Alaskan salmon canneries or Alaskan SALmon canneries (laugh) as my family would always say or working in the service sector. There is um, a significant population who come right at the turn of the century, they’re called pensionados, they come on a government fellowship to some of the most elite universities in the United States and then most of them return.
But when we talk about the bulk of Filipino immigrants who come before World War II they come not on government scholarship and they come really on the hopes and dreams of their families to you know, to make a better life. For a very impoverished life for people in the Illocos region and in the Visayan region, a lot of it facilitated by American capitalism (laugh)

[When you say a lot of them came to do labor was it manual labor? Is that what was going on?]

(time remaining: 22:33) Well, farmers in the Central Valley by the 1920s and 1930s, they need a cheap, reliable labor force. So farmers in California, farmers in Washington State, farmers in Oregon in particular um, with the exclusion of Chinese, Japanese and South Asians and Mexican immigration had yet to really start in large numbers until the 19, late 1920s um 1930s, Filipinos kind of fill that labor vacuum for California farmers they become some of the most sought after workers in California agriculture. And in West Coast agriculture, they really become the engine for economic growth in California in the 1920s and 1930s. Particularly in crops like lettuce in Salinas and asparagus in the Stockton San Joaquin Delta area. Um in terms of other kinds of labor the Alaskan salmon cannery industry depends on Filipinos from the 1920s up until the 1950s and 60s and I still have uncles who go up and work in the Alaskan salmon canneries so um, their labor in the agricultural field, in the Alaskan salmon canneries and in the service-sector as busboys, as houseboys, as cooks um, in Los Angeles and San Francisco and these in urban areas. (21:05) these are the jobs that Filipinos are finding and the tragic thing is that even Filipinos who has PhDs, who are highly educated because of racism found themselves working alongside Filipinos with third and fourth grade education.

[Why were the Filipinos getting the jobs and not the Chinese or Japanese?]

(20:19) Well, in terms of California agriculture, if you look at the Asian American role or the Asian immigrant role in California agriculture, I mean, Chinese play such a pivotal role. As as, one as the immigrant labor you know, that creates the levy system in the San Joaquin Delta which essentially um, opens up thousands of acres of this extremely furtile land in Northern California and in the Delta region so that, that role of Chinese immigrant labor being extremely important, um Chinese farmers are pivotal in California agriculture. Japanese farmers beginning a little later I mean when we talk about Chinese immigrant labor we are looking from the 1850s up you know up until the early 20th Century. In the 1880s 1890s Japanese families begin moving to California and having children and settling in California and buying land under the names of their children, their second generation children. And becoming very hard-working and prosperous farmers throughout California. Now the immigration um, exclusion acts that are passed in the first decades of the 20th century, um the 1917 immigration act that bars pretty much it, all immigrants from Asia and the 1924 immigration act that completely bars anyone ineligible for citizenship, which meant anyone with Asian ancestry. Those acts essentially cut-off (18:39) the labor that is needed to keep these farms going. So what you have is a very interesting situation in California that Filipino workers when they come in are not just working for white farmers or for Italian American farmers or Irish American farmers. They’re also working for Japanese American farmers and Chinese you know in some rare cases, Chinese American farmers. Many of them are working in um under some very prosperous second, third generation Japanese American farming families. And you actually see a lot of racial antagonism between the groups over labor, and over space, especially as we move towards World War II. And beginning essentially during the Depression.

[Talk a little bit about the labor unions forming by Filipno farm workers]

17:43 time remaining : Yeah, you know key to the exclusion movement was the fact that Filipinos, people who wanted to exclude Filipinos really saw Filipinos as quote unquote not knowing their place. You know and and you kind of see that um, in the ways that white supremacists southerners talk about African Americans during the Jim Crow era. Filipinos who were coming over to the United States um, in the 20s and 1930s are dating white women because of the gender imbalance um and this enrages, this enrages people essentially. Another thing, in terms of the labor movement is that Filipinos are militant labor organizers, and in 1934 and this is very pivotal in 1934 the Tydings McDuffie Act is passed, 1935 the repatriation act is passed, this is the time, the early 1930s when Filipino labor is at it’s most militant. The Filipino labor union in Salinas you know, has waged a strike in the lettuce industry, um some of the most radical Filipinos. People like Carlos Bulosan um are organizing Filipino workers um, to fight for better wages and better conditions and also to agitate for citizenship. So, these Filipinos are coming in um, and their treated as cheap labor, but they’re certainly not silent. You know, they’re increasingly radical, they’re increasingly vocal about the hypocracy of the United States that you know, here we were growing up under this American colonial tutelage, told that we would come here and be so successful, now suddenly we find ourselves second, third and fourth class citizens in the United States, ineligible for citizenship you know and how radical the Filipino population is becoming directly coincides with how virulent anti-Filipino exclusion that movement is also is also becoming so Filipinos kind of step out of, try to kind of step out of their role as third and fourth class citizens on the West Coast. The anti-Filipino exclusion movement um grows.

[Let’s talk about the racial tension that was going on]

15:19 time remaining.
Well there’s, during the Philippine-American war, this idea of Filipinos as the dark savage, as the other, you know, certainly is implanted in American minds. And you only have to glance at some of the political cartoons that were drawn at the time to understand how and why Americans could rationalize colonizing the Philippines. When Filipinos come to the United States in large numbers in the 1920s, Americans are kind of confronted with the bodies of these foreigners who would who in a sense had been far away psychologically, as well as physically from them and kind of confronted with the spector of colonial coming to the to kind of the colonizers home you know and there’s a lot of racial tension like I had mentioned, about Filipino men dating white women you know and you have a number of academic as well as popular essays written about how this is going to mongrelize the California population and we can’t allow Filipinos to marry within the white race um the anti-mysogination laws in California and many other states prevented whites from marrying non-whites. In 1932 Salvador Roldan is a Filipino immigrant who lives in Los Angeles, his fiancé is white, they attempt to get a marriage certificate, he’s denied on the basis of, of these anti-mysegination laws, essentially because he is a Mongolian. Well, Roldan challenges this and saying that he’s Malay, he’s not Mongolian, he wins he’s able to marry his white fiancé, then California changes the laws to include Malay (laughs) in their anti-mysegination laws. I mean in terms of the horrifying spector to anti-Filipino exclusionists, um of Filipino men marrying white women, this is kind of one aspect of racism, direct racism against Filipinos. There’s also, there are also a lot instances in which um, white mobs attack Filipinos um you know, in Watsonville, in the 1930s, um a lot of that having to do with labor competition as well as anger about Filipino men and white women dancing in dance halls which was (12:44 remaining) extremely, an extremely popular leisure activity for Filipino men in the late-1920s and 1930s so you have a lot of incidence of mob violence, death and um, intimidation for Filipino men particularly in the labor camps and also in the streets in San Francisco, in Los Angeles in Stockton in Little Manila, in Seattle you’ll have a lot of stories about Filipinos not able to leave, for example the Little Manila neighborhood or King’s Street in Seattle or Temple Street, or First Street in Los Angeles. It kept these segregated Filipino communities and not able to move or live anywhere else, under the spector you know the possibility of racial violence.

[So tell me a little bit about the Watsonville riots]

11:43 time remaining:
Well, Filipinos had been working in the Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Pajaro area throughout the 1920s, becoming a very significant and powerful labor force in that area. In January of 1930, it was learned that Filipinos were trying to create a dancehall where it was reported that they would have contact with white women which enraged locals in Watsonville. In January of 1930 a mob attacked a Filipino bunk house and Fermon Tabera was killed and he was shot through the heart. A bullet pierced through a bunk house and he was killed. And his body was brought back to the Philippines and the day of his funeral was called National Day of Humiliation in the Philippines in terms of how can the United States treat us this way, when you know we’re a colony of the United States we claim allegiance to the American flag you know and um and so you know like I had said before the hypocracy of this, the um, the humilitation that Filipino immigrants were experiencing at the hands of racist mobs, really kind of brought home the ways that Filipinos were being treated horribly in the United States during the Depression, I mean this happens in January 1930 as farmers and white workers and as workers of color on the West Coast and around the nation are probably feeling the affects the depression the most. And it felt them the first before even the urban sector in the United States and so Filipinos and white laborers farmers I mean they had been engaged in kind of long simmering tension in the late 1920s on.

8:53 (time remaining)

Well, Filipinos who are in the United States at the outbreak of World War II, are Filipino men in particular, there’s a small percentage of women, the majority of the population is male. Um, Thousands of Filipino men join the first and second infantry regiment in 1942 and 43. My grandfather Deflin Buhalano was one of them and he was able to become a citizen. All of these Filipinos who joined the US Army in these segregated units are given citizenship. Um it’s tragically enough, FDR issues the executive order for the internment of Japanese Americans the same day he gives the executive order for the creation of these Filipino Infantry regiments (laughs) so that’s one way that Filipinos are able to become citizens in this period between the passage of the Tydings McDuffie Act and Philippine Independence in 1946. The loose seller act is passed in 1946 and Truman signs this into law and this gives um Indians and Filipinos citizenship. And so, Filipinos who are living in the United States who you know didn’t join the US Army you know either they were women or they just didn’t join the army, are able to become naturalized citizens. And from that point on, they can then petition their relatives to join them. And so from World War II on you have the phenomenan of Filipinos who had been living in the United States then reunifying their families. Petitioning their mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, spouses, husbands, wives you know to join them in the United States um in 1952 the McHarrin walters act allows aliens who had been previously ineligible for citizenship, the naturalization rights so Filipinos actually got it in 1946,Japanse Americans get it in 1952 from the McHarrin Walters Act.

[How many Filipinos were there around 1946]

6:47 time remaining
In 1946, there are a little over 100,000 Filipinos living on the West Coast and that number grows exponentially from 1946 on as Filipinos become citizens, as they reunify their families and the number explodes in 1965 with the passage of the 1965 immigration act when the quota system is completely revamped, you know, in terms of allowing thousands more Filipinos and Asians who had been previously excluded through various laws, allows them to come to the United States as families begin to reunify they are able to come through different immigration preferences.

[You mentioned that there were a lot more men that came over…why is that?]

5:55 time remaining:
The majority of the population um was male. The Filipino American population before World War II. Number of reasons for that. One is that many of the immigrants had come expecting to stay only for a few years. They were going to work, they were going to become rich they were going to get their college educations and they were going to return. So there’s this sense of you don’t have to bring your family if you’re only going to be here for a few years. There’s also a Spanish Colonial culture in which women are expected to stay home you know and it’s a very repressive culture for women at this time in the sense that women should not be leaving home without a chaperone so you have 16,17,18 year old Filipino you know going out to the United States on their own which would be unheard of for Filipino women. There is a significant population of women who come over in the 1920s and 1930s. The population is about 10 percent female, up until the 1940s and these are women who are for the most part educated (4:46 time remaining) some of them are married, many of them have come over as family units um to Hawaii and worked on the sugar plantations and came over with their families to the United States in the 1920s as the um, as making a living became harder in the sugar plantations. And so you do have a sizeable population of women and families in the United States though the vast majority of Filipinos were men.

4:01 (time remaining)
The 1924 immigration act excluded all aliens ineligible for citizenship which meant that Chinese and Japanese, anyone who was not white, according to the 1790 naturalization law was barred from entering in to the United States. This opens up a loop-hole for Filipinos to enter in the United States without immigration restriction because they’re nationals. They’re not aliens, they’re not citizens, they’re in this kind of middle ground that the government creates for them because they are essentially subjects of the United States and since the United States does not want to think of themselves as an empire they are not calling them subjects, they’re calling them nationals. So the Tydings McDuffie Act makes these people who are nationals into aliens. It creates, a situation in which Filipinos now you know, can only enter into the United States at 50 per year um, they lose this kind of elevated status above alien, you know now they’re all aliens um and the Philippines, the sad part about it is Philippines doesn’t get their independence until 1944 and so it’s this kind of 10-year limbo period for you know Filipinos in the United States not really knowing what their status is going to be. And the status doesn’t change until 1946 with the Loose Seller Act which allows Filipinos to become citizens and it’s very key to understand that this act is passed right at the end of World War II when the Philippines is given their independence and the Philippines is a staunch ally of the United States during the Cold War so it’s extremely important that Filipinos are allowed to become citizens in the United States lest the Unites States look as though it’s continuing it’s historic policies of racial discrimination and as they attempt to refashion their image worldwide as you know the leader of the free world.

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