History of Filipino-Americans in Seattle

Education and Organization Although the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 severely curtailed immigration of Chinese and Japanese to the United States, it did not affect Filipinos. Because the Philippines was a territory of the United States, Filipinos had the unique status of “nationals,” rather than “aliens.” They were not required to carry a passport and could enter the country without restrictions. Attracted by employment and educational opportunities, they became the fastest growing Asian population in Washington state, taking the place of the barred Chinese and Japanese workers on railroads, in canneries, and on farms. In the Philippines, word spread of job opportunities in Washington state. By 1924, there were enough Filipino filam-seattle3students enrolled at the University of Washington to support a publication, The Seattle Colonist. In 1928, 58 UW students approached Filipino businessmen to acquire a clubhouse. In 1929, members adopted the name Seattle Filipino Community Clubhouse. It incorporated in 1933. Numerous other community organizations formed in the 1920s and 1930s. Some were social clubs, others were religious societies, and some brought together people who had immigrated from the same region of the Philippines. In 1935, in anticipation of the establishment of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Seattle Filipinos organized a banquet to be held on November 15, 1935, the inauguration of the commonwealth. The organizers decided also to form the Philippine Commonwealth Council of Seattle (PCCS), a sort of umbrella organization that brought together the many smaller Filipino clubs and other organizations to promote the interests of the Philippines and the Filipino American community. In the coming decades the FCS would support a legal challenge to a ban on Filipinos’ ownership of land, develop cultural and youth programs, work closely with the Philippines consulate, and serve as a liaison between Seattle’s Filipino Americans and local government. By 1928, Filipinos showed signs of assimilation in Seattle. Filipino entrepreneurs opened restaurants and pool halls. The Filipino Forum was published in the city as the “independent organ of the Filipino community in the Pacific Northwest.” Yet Filipinos still encountered widespread discrimination and resentment.

Scapegoating and Discrimination

Despite some successes, newcomers frequently found themselves relegated to work as houseboys in hotels and residences, stoop laborers in the fields, and as “Alaskeros” (cannery workers) doing menial labor. In 1928, white residents of Dryden and Wenatchee, Washington, told Filipino workers to leave town or face violence. Mob riots victimized some. Elsewhere in Central Washington, white ranchers who employed Filipinos faced threats of lynching. After arriving in Seattle, 339 Filipinos who had been exposed to spinal meningitis were quarantined in Port Townsend for two weeks. A Seattle Times article stated: “Seattle should not be a dumping ground for the carriers of an epidemic disease.” Soon after, the Seattle City Council apparently responded favorably to a petition to limit the immigration of Filipinos into the city. However, the duration and extent of this limit is uncertain. Two years later, the Surgeon General wrote in a letter that the prevalence of spinal meningitis on ships from Asia could not be traced to Filipinos.

The Thirties

By 1930, 3,480 Filipinos lived in Washington state, including 1,600 in Seattle. This number included a diverse cross-section of society, including professionals, businessmen, students, families, and a number of second-generation Filipinos. Filipino musical performers, such as Seattle’s Moonlight Serenaders, traveled up and down the West Coast. Filipinos frequented taxi dance halls and held popular boxing matches. However, the Great Depression afflicted Filipinos as it did many others. In Seattle’s multi-racial Hooverville, or Depression camp, a shanty town constructed by otherwise homeless people, two Filipinos won seats on the “city council.”

During the 1930s, anti-Filipino sentiment throughout the United States was strong. Several attempts in Congress to limit immigration failed. However, in 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act promised independence to the Philippines in 10 years and, of more immediate significance, changed the status of Filipinos from “nationals” to “aliens,” limiting the number accepted into the country to 50 per year. In 1935, the Filipino Repatriation Act passed. The Act called for the government to pressure Filipinos to return by offering them free passage back to the Philippines. By the time the repatriation program was declared unconstitutional in 1940, some 2,190 Filipinos had returned to the Philippines. By that year, the Filipino population in Washington state had dipped to 2,222 from 3,480 the decade before. When World War II began, Filipinos, eager to show support, rushed to join the military. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) granted U.S. citizenship to enlistees, resulting in many new Filipino American citizens. Filipinos also showed their support by buying $107,925 worth of War Bonds.

Culminating the second wave of immigration, the War Brides Act of 1945 permitted Filipino veterans to bring their wives and children to the United State. In 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the Filipino Naturalization Bill, enabling Filipinos to become citizens. In the same year, on July 4, the Philippines gained its independence. To celebrate this, Filipinos in Seattle began an annual tradition of picnics at Pinoy Point in Seward Park. The picnic’s date was later changed to June 12 in recognition of the declaration of the Philippine Republic’s independence from Spain in 1898. The 1950s and 1960s saw continued growth of the Filipino community. By 1957, Governor Albert Rosellini recognized its rise to prominence by breaking precedence and attending a luncheon at the Washington Hotel hosted by the Filipino American Citizens League. In 1965, the Congress amended the Nationality Act, lifting national quotas.

Independent nations outside the Western Hemisphere were allowed to send up to 20,000 emigrants to the United States per year. The huge influx of Filipinos marked the end of the third wave. During the 1940s, the PCCS had changed its name to the Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc.(FCS). In 1965 the FCS purchased the Empire Bowling Alley on Empire Way S (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way S), providing the FCS with its first permanent home. By the late 1990s the building needed renovations and the organization needed more room. Supported by grants, member donations, and fundrasing activities, FCS carried out a renovation and expansion project that was completed in 2008.

Challenges and notable achievements have marked the fourth wave of immigrants. Recently arrived Filipinos have struggled to adjust to a new country and culture, adding pressure to the family structure. Filipino gangs (or gang “wannabes”) have been blamed for drive-by shootings like that of Melissa Fernandez outside Seattle’s Ballard High School in 1994. Domestic violence in the form of murder-suicide has afflicted the Filipino American community. In response, Filipino Americans have organized workshops on domestic violence and raised funds for the families of victims. Yet, according to the Seattle Police Department, the Filipino American community remains unique in being virtually free of child abuse.

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