Immigration History

1. Early Period

In 1763, Filipino Americans established their first recorded North American settlement in St. Malo, Louisiana after escaping forced labor and enslavement during the Spanish galleon trade. Other settlements appeared throughout the Louisiana bayous with the Manila Village in Barataria Bay being the largest. From 1763 to 1906 other Filipino groups such as mariners, adventurers and domestics followed and eventually grew in numbers. With the passage of time some of them migrated to the West Coast, Hawaii, and Alaska to expand their opportunities in the fishing and whaling industries.

2. 1900-1965

After the Spanish-American War (1898)

The US colonization of the Philippines from 1900 to 1934 had a tremendous impact on Philippine immigration. Mass migrations began, as Filipinos became US nationals and were given the opportunity to live legally in the US under the protection of its law. Demand for labor on Hawaiian plantations and California farmlands attracted thousands of Filipino immigrants known as Sakadas (plantation workers) who came mostly from the provinces of Ilocos and Cebu to replace the Japanese work force who intended to leave the Hawaiian plantations. Although the Sakadas came to Hawaii as American Nationals, they were not given full rights as American citizens and were the first Filipino Americans to experience racial discrimination and cultural oppression (Cordova, 1983). The Pensionados were a special group of privileged elite young men who came to the US in the early 1900s as government sponsored scholars. The scholarship program was intended to educate these young men about the US government system, so that they would return to the Philippines to administer their own government in a similar fashion. After attaining their degrees most of them went back to the Philippines, but some remained in the US and blended in with the later Filipino immigrants known as Pinoys. Most of the Pinoys worked as farmers in California in the San Joaquin Valley, Salinas, and Sacramento. Some became factory workers in the Alaskan fishing and cannery industries, while others took low-paying custodian, busboy, and domestic service jobs. The Pinoys had the most extensive experience with racial discrimination resulting from:

  • changes in immigration policies
  • anti-miscegenation laws (see below)
  • and oppressive farm management practices

Many migrant families lived in poverty and children were forced to get educated, speak English only, and mainstream quickly.

Anti-Miscegenation Laws

Also known as miscegenation laws, anti-miscegenation laws were laws that banned interracial marriage and, in some cases, sex between members of two different racial groups. These laws were enforced in the North American Thirteen Colonies from the late seventeenth century on. They continued to be enforced in several US states and territories until 1967 ( Some Filipino older adults and family caregivers may have been part of this group (McBride, 2006; Tompar – Tui & Sustento-Seneriches, 1995; Yeo, 1998). In 1934 the US Federal law known as the Tydings-McDuffie Act was passed to limit Filipino migration to 50 persons per year. This law was later offset by the US Navy’s recruitment of Filipino Americans who were exempt from such law.


During this period more Filipino women and families immigrated to the US. They were a combination of US military dependents (war brides), World War II veterans, professionals, and students, The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 permitted many Asian residents in the US, including Filipino Americans, to apply for citizenship. The law also gave those who had served honorably for three years in the US Armed Forces the opportunity to become eligible for naturalization. The law also allowed US citizens and permanent residents to sponsor family members to immigrate to join them in the US Filipino Americans during this period experienced significant economic exploitation and social injustice despite their contributions to American society.

3. 1965-1990

The Filipino American community became more diverse during this period due to the immigration of highly educated professionals, mostly in the health care field (i.e., nurses, doctors, and medical technologists). The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which liberalized immigration laws, made it possible to sponsor other family members such as minor children, spouses, unmarried and married adult sons and daughters, and parents of adult US citizens. Similarly, a high proportion of international students were enrolled in American Universities (Cariño, 1996). Some professionals who were not successful in obtaining professional licenses accepted lower status employment in the health field and in other areas. Some started small businesses. In the mid 1970s economic and political refugees from the Marcos regime and shortstay visitors (overseas contract workers, students, people in business, and tourists) added to the socio-cultural, educational, economic, and political diversity of the community. Filipinos with short-term visas evolved into a labor pool for low paying or unpopular jobs such as nursing assistants, orderlies, or clerks in long-term care services (nursing homes, home care, live-in childcare or elderly caregivers). Some retired, professional older Filipinos who joined their families sought these types of employment or became surrogate parents for their preschool and school-age grandchildren.

4. 1990-Present

The 1990 amendment to the Immigration and Naturalization Act brought in an influx of aging WWII Veterans who were given instant American citizenship because of an unfulfilled promise to grant them US citizenship for fighting for the Allies in WWII. Many of these veterans migrated to the West Coast and a large number live in California. They were allowed to immigrate but were not given service-related benefits. Without health benefits, they are accessing non-VA Services and a protracted advocacy for their welfare is an ongoing issue in the community. Aside from the WWII veterans, there was also a steady growth in the number of Filipino-born veterans engaged in activeduty military service during the Vietnam War, Korean War, and post-war era (Terrazas, 2008). The number of Filipino immigrants dramatically increased, making them the second largest immigrant group in the US after Mexican immigrants. Many of the elderly Filipino immigrants who migrated to the U.S had less professional occupational backgrounds, and were thus less likely to find job opportunities in the American labor market. The jobs they do find are usually at minimum wage without benefits, or they are service-oriented jobs (such as baby sitting, care of the disabled or care of the elderly in the community) with private wage arrangements that don’t require deductions for income taxes. These older adults are one of the minorities in the U.S that depend and rely on government assistance. The family values of reunification, interdependence, social cohesiveness and collectivism continue to persist within the Filipino American community despite the existence of socio-economic and health care disparities and racism. The effects of acculturation on inter-generational Filipino families contribute to the heterogeneity within this population, particularly in its values, health beliefs, health practices, and attitudes toward health care and social services.