(Still) Hidden in Plain Sight

The saying goes “you learn something new every day.”  Last Tuesday the post “Obscurity vs. Notoriety: An Immigrant’s Dilemma” taught me something.  I knew next to nothing about the Basque people.  They are not one of the ethnic groups that I think of when discussing immigration history in the United States.  That post and our class discussion brought me to think, what immigrants groups are overlooked today?  Well, I did a little searching and there are quite a few.

Today’s immigrants certainly get their share of “notoriety.”  An increased emphasis on homeland and border security has brought the topic of illegal immigration to the forefront.  This has caused certain ethnic groups, namely Hispanics and Muslims, to be labeled as potential “threats” or “aliens.”  But I am not here to discuss national security or illegal immigration.  Instead, I wanted to highlight a group of modern immigrants that are often overlooked, Filipinos.

While searching “US immigration statistics,” I came across a Department of Homeland Security document outlining the statistics of new legal permanent US residents in 2009.  I was surprised by some of the statistics, namely the 550,000 Filipino immigrants who compiled 4.4% of the total residents.  Only Mexico with 26.3% had a higher percentage of residents.[1]  Though followed closely by several nations, Filipino immigration was higher than both that of China and India, which are substantially more populous countries.

I wondered about the catalyst for Filipino immigration.  Naturally, I began to think of my knowledge of Filipino history, specifically late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century military history.  After a few moments, I thought I had a good guess.  The US acquired the Philippines after the Spanish-American War and fought a war of attrition against a determined Filipino resistance.  Then the Japanese overran and occupied the islands in the late-1930s and early-1940s. This was followed by Allied liberation during WWII and the Filipino’s acquisition of sovereign nation status after the war.  Surely, I thought, America’s history with the Philippines has something to do with this trend of immigration.

It turns out that my guess was pretty close.  Another integral part of the story is immigration law and restrictions.  Throughout American history, Asian immigration has often been restricted or cut-off completely and the same applies to Filipinos.  The Tydings-McDuffy Act of 1935 granted the Philippines sovereignty come 1946, but severely limited immigration to the US.  Then the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 opened the door for freer and more significant numbers of Filipino immigrants.  More on both US immigration history and Filipino emigration can be found at the Harvard University Open Collections Program and at Asian-Nation.

What exactly is the message of this little exercise? (besides the fact that Filipino emigration is interesting)  It really is that there are scores of new immigrants who come to the United States each year and they bring their own unique culture.  I know several Filipino-Americans and was aware that many native-Filipinos immigrate to the US.  Generally speaking though, as immigrants their presence in the US is often hidden in plain sight.  The same can be said for Peruvians or Guatemalans.[2]  Sheer numbers is not the only thing that defines the contributions of a specific ethnic group.  Just as Americans celebrate the contributions of past immigrants in the formation and growth of the United States, today’s immigrants reflect continuing changes in the nation.  The United States population has never been static or homogenous, making knowledge and understanding of its many ethnic groups exceedingly important.

[1] Nancy Rytina, “Estimates of the Legal Permanent Resident Population in 2009,” Population Estimates (November 2010): 4, accessed February 21, 2011, http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/lpr_pe_2009.pdf.

[2] Ibid.

4 thoughts on “(Still) Hidden in Plain Sight

  1. My best friend is Filipina. She grew up in Southern California in a Filipino community, and the school and church she went to reflected the surrounding Filipino culture. Many of the holidays celebrated and food eaten in LA is influenced by the abundance of Filipino-Americans who live there. This is common on not just the West Coast. Filipinos create tight-knit communities all over the U.S.

    Half Filipino actors and singers such as Bruno Mars, Enrique Iglesias, and Vanessa Hudgens don’t hide their Filipino heritage, however, I do think that most of America doesn’t identify them as Filipino. It can be easier to just say that they are Latino, but in reality, they are very proud and vocal about their Filipino heritage.

    There are many Filipinos who are part of mainstream pop culture today, such as members of Jabbawockeez and Apl.de.ap from Black Eyed Peas. I think it is easy for Americans to assume that the Jabbawockeez are just Asian-American and Apl.de Ap is African American, however, they don’t hide the fact that they are Filipino.

    In most Black Eyed Peas songs, Apl.de.ap raps in Tagalog and references Filipino-American culture. There is a very popular Black Eyed Peas’ song that is played often in clubs in the Bay Area and LA. The music video below is a small snapshot of the strong Filipino culture in Southern California.

    1. The original version of the music video outlines early Filipino culture. It is set in the 1930s in Northern California (Stockton). It is interesting to see this video’s representation of early Filipino-American culture in comparison to the culture in the 21st Century. It is really interesting to note that they chose to highlight the tight-knit Filipino community. The alternate version is here:

  2. I appreciate the insight into both Filipino communities and their mainstream contributions. There is undoubtedly a proud and vocal group of Filipino-Americans citizens. I agree, though, that many Americans might misidentify Filipinos as either Latino, African-American, or just as Asian-American. Furthermore, many modern American perceptions of immigration is often limited and one-dimensional. As a result many contributions by Filipino-Americans go unrecognized as such. Individuals like Apl.de.ap certainly help give a voice to a large and oft underrepresented American constituency.

  3. Did anyone see the SNL skit about Apl.de.ap and Taboo!? It addressed the fact that most Americans have no idea who they are (including Khloe Kardashian apparently). It also pokes fun at the fact that they are racially ambiguous. SNL picks up on the fact that their racially ambiguity makes them even more hidden in the group. Are Will.i.am and Fergie the stars because they are easy to put into racial boxes?

    The SNL clip is available here: http://www.hulu.com/embed/hDmBu-R4cf8NgLACMAi-xw

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