When Philippine President Gloria Arroyo visited the US State Department in 2003, then US Secretary of State Colin Powell complimented her for reaching out to the “2 million Filipinos and Filipino Americans in this country who are the living bond between our two great peoples”. Two million? A San Francisco Chronicle news article on December 8, 2007 reported that there are “2.3 million Filipinos who live in the United States, according to the census bureau (356,378 in the Bay Area)”.
In a news conference in Manila last month, US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney estimated that there are 3 million Filipinos in the US according to the US Embassy’s review of the number of US immigrant and non-immigrant visas issued to Filipinos. Three million? The most recent online Wikipedia encyclopedia entry on “Filipino Americans” reported that “in 2007, the Filipino American population numbered approximately 4 million, or 1.5% of the United States population.”
Just exactly how many are we?
The 2000 census that the San Francisco Chronicle relied on was defective and grossly undercounted the number of Filipinos in the US. Over the last 7 years, I have spoken with hundreds, if not thousands, of Filipino “overstaying tourists” (a more apt and polite description than “undocumented aliens” or “illegal immigrants” or “TNTs”) and not one of them who was present in 2000 ever contacted the US Census Bureau to fill out the form that would document his or her presence in the US. If there were 500,000 of them in 2000, the 2000 census should have been 3 million. This half a million estimate has likely doubled by 2008.
Also, in the last 7 years, there have been at least 80,000 Filipinos each year who have legally immigrated to the US including thousands who married US citizens and adjusted their status in the US. Adding all the totals would bring the actual number of Filipinos in the US today to be closer to the 4-million Wikipedia estimate.
Historians and demographers generally agree that there were three “significant immigration waves” of Filipinos who have settled in the United States.
The “first wave” were the agricultural workers or "Sacadas", approximately 125,000 of them, who were brought to work in Hawaii and the West Coast from 1906 to 1935. After the Filipino Exclusion Act (otherwise known as the Tydings-McDuffie Philippine Independence Act) was passed in 1935, legal Filipino immigration to the US was reduced to 50 a year, a quota which lasted until 1965.
The “second wave” refers to the Filipinos, mostly in the US military, who came after 1946, including about 7,000 agricultural workers who were brought to Hawaii and referred to as the “1946 boys”, another 5,000 Filipinas who came after passage of the 1946 War Brides Act and 20,000 Filipino navy recruits who were brought into the US Navy to serve as stewards as part of the 1947 US-RP Military Bases Agreement.
The “third wave” of immigration started in 1965 after passage of the Immigration Act of 1965 which increased legal immigration from the Philippines from 50 to 20,000 a year, including about 4,000 a year for Filipino professionals.
The Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) believes there should be a separate category for pre-1906 Filipinos. Their numbers may not justify referring to them as "waves" but more as “ripples”.
The “first ripple” may refer to the Filipino mariners or sailors who worked on commercial ships that docked in US ports. Dozens of them jumped ship in New Orleans in or around 1825 and settled in St. Malo in Barataria Bay in Louisiana as documented in Lafcadio Hearn’s 1875 article which appeared in Harper’s Weekly (“The Mahogany-colored Manilamen of Louisiana”). An 1892 editorial in Graciano Lopez-Jaena’s La Solidaridad referenced the existence of Filipino mariner colonies in Philadelphia, New York and New Orleans. (A Filipino mariner from Manila named Francisco Escalante arrived in San Francisco in 1830 and officially became a citizen of San Francisco in 1849).
An “urban legend” has also appeared in several books reporting that Filipinos from Vera-Cruz, Mexico traveled across the Gulf of Mexico to Barataria Bay, Louisiana in 1763 and many opf them later joined Jean Lafitte’s buccaneers in the 1812 Battle of New Orleans.
A “second ripple” may refer to the Filipino Ilustrados who went to the US, instead of Spain, to further their education. In 1903, a group of 100 students (“fountain pen boys”) left for the United States to study in US colleges and universities. By 1910, all had returned back to play major roles in education, business and government.
A tiny ripple may have caused a major wave. According to Wikipedia, “a chance encounter in 1901 between a trustee of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) and a band of Filipino musicians en route to the United States led the planter to speculate about Filipinos as potential plantation workers, for he felt that these musicians had a "healthy physique and robust appearance." This led that trustee to recommend Filipinos as replacements for the Chinese, Japanese and Korean workers who were banned from immigrating to the US in 1906.
Aside from the 125,000 Filipino workers who comprised the “first wave”, there was a also a “third ripple” of Filipinos, numbering about 14,000, who came to the US to study and who returned back to the Philippines after completing their studies.
According to the 1960 US census, there were about 69,070 Filipinos in Hawaii and another 65,459 in California, the two states accounting for about 76% of all Filipinos in the US. The West Coast numbered about 146,340 Filipinos accounting for about 83% of the total while the East Coast and the South held slightly more than 10,000 each and the Mid-West numbered about 8,600.
By 1980, the official number reached 781,894, with 92% living in urban areas. By 1990, the numbers reached 1,450,512 with the West Coast accounting for 991,572, or 68.4%. California in 1990 contained almost 50 percent of the total with Hawaii falling to second place. The 1990 US Census showed that Filipinos lived in all 50 states with Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Washington each being home to more than 30,000 Filipinos.
Because numbers empower, let’s get our numbers right.