Long history of hate against Fil-Americans | Inquirer Opinion

Long history of hate against Fil-Americans

The growing incidence of racism against Asian Americans is so distressing. But racism against Asians, especially Filipinos, is not a recent happening.

American racism against Filipinos dates back over 120 years.


Remember when Filipinos in loincloths were displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904? Then there was the massacre of Filipino migrant workers in California (for dating white women), the reference to Filipinos as “monkeys” without tails, and the blanket claim by some white Americans that Filipinos who fought in World War II were cowards. And what was the pretext given to justify US colonization of the Philippines? “To Christianize and educate the savages in those islands.” Ironically, these “savages” were largely Christianized and cultured by then. The list of racism incidents against Filipinos goes on and on.

To this day, most Americans do not know or understand that, unlike other Asian countries, the Philippines was forcibly colonized in 1898 by the United States. During that period, until 1946 when independence was finally granted, Filipinos were American nationals and, for those who traveled abroad, holders of US passports. No other Asian group fell into this category. The Philippines was the first and officially the only colony of the United States. Filipinos are the only Asians who at one time in their history were American nationals.


Despite being forcibly colonized by the United States, despite the fact that Filipinos fought the Philippine-American War against American invaders only a few decades before World War II, and despite the fact that thousands of Filipinos lost their lives in their fight for freedom against the American colonizers, the Philippines threw its lot with and fought for America in World War II. The Philippines lost over a million of its young fighters and Filipino civilians in that war.

The soldiers fought and/or sacrificed their lives not only for the Philippines, but also for the United States.

In a limited sense, some recognition has been extended by America to Filipino veterans who fought in World War II. In 2017, they were given the highest civilian award the US Congress can give—the US Congressional Gold Medal (the first ever recipient of that medal was President George Washington). Incomplete recognition at best, but this honor in a way confirms the right of Fil-Americans to reside in the United States. They are, after all, in a manner of speaking, “Gold Medal” descendants of their Filipino veteran forebears.

Fil-Ams can point to the “trial by combat” their veteran forebears went through in World War II. They can assert that their forebears fought in that war not simply as Filipinos but as American nationals, and not simply for the Philippines but also for America. As an Asian American veteran (not a Fil-Am) recently declared as he showed his scars of war on TV: “Is this patriot(ic) enough?”

Thousands of Filipinos are even now in the forefront of another war for the United States—the many Filipino nurses and doctors who are quietly fighting the pandemic in that country as medical frontliners. In California alone, there are, at last count, over 30,000 nurses on the pandemic frontlines. If all Fil-Am medical frontliners in the United States came home to the Philippines today because of the threat of racism, the health systems of some states of the Union, and maybe the United States itself, could collapse and many more Americans would perish.

Historically, too, Filipino settlements existed in America long before the Pilgrims came. The arrival of the Pilgrims is the cornerstone of White America’s claim to the United States. But the ties between Filipinos and America started long before the Pilgrims arrived. And if Filipinos arrived in America ahead of the Pilgrims, America has no basis to demand that Fil-Ams return “to where they came from.”

Few people know that there may be linguistic and cultural ties between Filipinos and Native Americans. Take the similarities between Tagalog/other Philippine dialects and certain Native American languages. In the North Dakota Sioux language, the word for mother is “Ina,” as it is in Tagalog. Do these language similarities give credence to the claim that seafaring people from our part of the world are, by virtue of sea and overland migrations, related to Native Americans? Maybe so. Maybe our ancestors landed in America long, long before the Pilgrims did. Maybe they were there when Native Americans came to be.


Quite frankly, I do not agree that people should be typed by the color of their skin. To begin with, there is no such thing as a “White” person. Put a white sheet of paper beside any “White” man. He will most certainly not be white. The so called “White” man is pink, and all the shades from there to flushed red. So when some, and there are many, talk about “People of Color” to refer to the brown, black, and yellow populations, the little bell of racism in my brain starts ringing.

Wittingly or unwittingly, the phrase “I am White” or “You are a Person of Color” is racism itself at its most insidious. It translates to “I am White! I am special and unique! All other races are colored.” The term “People of Color” has become to some “White” people a pejorative to discriminate against non-whites. But these “White” bigots fail to realize and understand that they, too, are people of color. They, too, are non-whites! And many “People of Color” have swallowed the lie hook, line, and sinker.

The story of the relations between the United States and the Philippines is a long and sometimes rocky one. There is so much more to that story that can be written about, but it’s a story that Fil-Ams should learn by heart, so that they can claim their rightful place in American society.


Rafael E. Evangelista is a retired capital partner of the international law firm of Baker & McKenzie, a former vice chair of the Bank of Commerce, immediate past national commander of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, former consul AH of Lithuania to the Philippines, and former president of the San Juan Rotary Club, among others.

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TAGS: fil-americans, Philippines, racism, US
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