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. 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. 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.
 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.