El Salvador
South Korea


by Nadine Fujimoto

*Author’s note: Although the spelling “Filipino” is most commonly used in Santa Clara County, some prefer the term “Pilipino.” Given the tremendous diversity in this community, the statements and terminology in this text may not apply to, or be used by, all Filipinos in common.

Context for Filipino Immigration

History and Government

By the 5th century A.D., immigrants from Malayasia, Indonesia, China, Vietnam, India, and the Middle East had integrated with the indigenous population of the Philippines, resulting in a new civilization from the mixture of cultures. In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to reach the islands in service of Spain. From 1565 to 1898, the Philippines was a Spanish colony, and conversion to Christianity by the Catholic Church was an important aspect of Spanish rule.

Chief Lapu-Lapu successfully led the first Filipino revolt against Magellan. In the late 19th century, the Philippine League, later led by Emilio Aguinaldo, waged organized resistance against Spain. In 1897, a pact was signed guaranteeing Spanish reforms within three years, conditional upon the withdrawal of Filipino leaders from the islands. In 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the U.S. following the Spanish American War, and Aguinaldo returned to the islands where his forces resisted U.S. colonial rule but were defeated in 1901. In 1902, U.S. civil government replaced military authority.

>From 1902 to 1934, American policy towards Philippine independence shifted repeatedly under various presidencies. In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Bill was passed, which granted independence by 1946 and provided for interim commonwealth status. Japan occupied the Philippines during World War II. Shortly after granting independence in 1946, the U.S. obtained military bases on a 99-year lease, shortened to 25 years in 1959.

The new Republic of the Philippines was faced with problems of economic rehabilitation and internal strife. In central Luzon, the Communist Hukbalahaps (“Huks”) organized a rebel government with its own military, civil, and administrative bodies. In 1953, former Defense Minister Ramon Magsaysay was elected president, and waged a successful campaign against the Huks.

In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos was elected President. In the early 1970s, the Communist New People’s Army and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Mindanao-based Muslim separatists, waged guerrilla warfare against the government. In 1972, Marcos imposed martial law. The congress was dissolved, opposition leaders imprisoned, strict censorship imposed, and Marcos ruled by decree. In 1983, opposition leader Benigno Aquino was murdered, and in 1986 Marcos won the presidential election against Corazon Aquino, Benigno’s widow. Reports of election fraud and widespread popular rebellion forced Marcos into exile. Aquino became president in 1987, and won the enactment of a new constitution.

In 1992, the last U.S. military bases closed, and General Fidel Ramos was elected president. During the early 1990s, the southern Philippines was the site of renewed guerilla activities by Muslim separatist forces. In 1996, a peace agreement was reached with the MNLF, but other rebel groups continue to oppose the Philippine government. In 1998, Joseph Estrada was elected president, and removed from office in 2001 on charges of corruption and graft. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became president, but ongoing contention exists between Estrada and Arroyo forces over the presidency.

The current government is a republic. The president is elected to a single, six-year term, and a bicameral legislature seats 24 senators and a maximum of 250 house representatives. The Supreme Court is presided over by a chief justice and 14 associate justices who are appointed by the president on recommendation of the Judicial and Bar Council. Governors head 73 provinces plus the national capital region.


The economy is a mixture of agriculture, light industry, and supporting services. The total labor force is an estimated 32 million, with 40% engaged in agriculture. The 1998 per capita income was $3,500 annually, accompanied by an inflation rate of 9.7% and a negative real growth rate of –0.5%. In 1997, an estimated 32% of the population was below the poverty line. The Philippines had a $51.9 billion external debt in 1999, and was the recipient of $1.1 billion in economic aid.

Filipino Immigration

The earliest Filipino settlers to the U.S. immigrated after deserting Spanish galleons in Mexico during the late 1700s, and migrated to the bayous of Louisiana where they established several hamlets specializing in fishing and drying shrimp. From 1910 to 1938, young Filipino men enrolled as students in American colleges, encouraged by the Pensionado Act created by Governor General Taft’s administration. Many became trapped as service and agricultural laborers as they were overwhelmed by the high cost of living and tuition.

Significant numbers of Filipinos began arriving from 1906 to 1934, when the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) actively recruited thousands of unskilled laborers from economically depressed regions of the Philippines for employment in Hawaiian sugar cane fields. Because they were U.S. nationals, the HSPA was able to use Filipinos as replacement labor after a series of anti-Asian immigration laws restricted their use of other Asian workers. Filipino men also immigrated to the western U.S. to work in agricultural fields, canneries and service industries in significant numbers.

During the 1920s, Filipinos represented the largest group of Asian farm laborers on the U.S. mainland. Due to anti-Asian discriminatory land ownership and leasing laws, Filipinos were never able to move beyond laborer status. In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act restricted Filipino immigration to 50 per year, solidifying a gender imbalance. Because prior immigrants were predominately male laborers, the restrictive quota meant that women did not immigrate in significant numbers. Racially discriminatory anti-miscegenation laws forbade Filipino from marrying white women. This left a generation of single men who were unable to marry or send for family members in the Philippines, greatly restricting family formation.

From 1898 to 1934, Filipinos were classified as U.S. nationals and could enter and leave the U.S. with an American passport, but were unable to obtain citizenship. From 1934 to 1946, Filipinos were designated aliens ineligible for citizenship. A series of U.S. Supreme Court cases declared that only whites or persons of African descent were entitled to citizenship via naturalization. This effectively barred Filipinos from practicing medicine, law and other professional occupations since most states required citizenship to practice licensed professions. Filipinos were also legally barred from public facilities such as swimming pools, movie theaters and tennis courts. Race riots and acts of racial violence were frequent. As U.S. nationals, Filipinos had no ambassadors or consuls to support them, and without citizenship, they lacked many of the legal avenues necessary to defend themselves.

Despite such barriers, Filipinos were instrumental in shaping the 1930s labor movements on the mainland and in Hawaii. Though banned from membership in the American Federation of Labor and attacked by white vigilantes, in the 1930s they formed the Agricultural Workers Industrial League to organize field workers. In 1933, the Filipino Labor Union struck against California lettuce growers. From 1920 through the 1950s, Filipinos in Hawaii organized and participated in a variety of work actions that led to important labor victories and political power. In 1959, Filipinos led the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, which later merged with Cesar Chavez’s union to become the United Farm Workers.

The period from 1946 – 1965 saw a second wave of immigration as Filipinos who were military recruits and war brides entered the U.S. This group included some 7,000 “1946 boys”, agricultural laborers brought to Hawaii by sugar planters to break up the first interracial, territorial-wide strike in the sugar cane fields. Instead, Filipino workers joined the strike, which resulted in the first major victory for agricultural workers in Hawaii. A 1947 U.S. military agreement with the Philippines also allowed recruitment of men to work in mess halls and as personal attendants to officers in the U.S. armed forces.

In 1965, the 1934 Naturalization Act was amended, eliminating restrictive national-origins quotas and bringing in a third wave of immigrants. The post-1965 Filipino immigration differed from the pre-1965 immigration in two major ways. First, it included both large numbers of English-speaking Filipino professionals and skilled workers, particularly in the medical fields, between the ages of 20 and 40, as well as unskilled laborers. Second, this wave was characterized by a large influx of Filipina women and families, both nuclear and extended.

In Santa Clara County, 60% of randomly surveyed Filipinos cited economic problems as the main reason they left the Philippines. Fifty three percent also reported a desire to reunite with family. Similarly, 65% of public benefits recipients cited family reunification as the main reason they left their home country. Fifty-three percent reported economic reasons.

Social Characteristics of the Filipino People

Religious & Ethnic Diversity

In the Philippines, 83% are Roman Catholic, 9% Protestant, 5% Muslim, and 3% are Buddhist and other religions. About 91% of the population is Christian Malay, with 4% Muslim Malay, 2% Chinese, and 3% other ethnicities.

Family Life

Family relationships are very important to Filipinos. In the Philippines, extended family structures provide sustenance, such as sharing food, labor and financial resources. Extended family members, compadres (ritual or honorary kinsmen, godparents), and sometimes neighbors and fellow workers are all tied together by a system of lifelong support and obligation. Traditional families are patriarchal with men as providers. Children are taught to show respect and deference to adults and authority figures.

Health Care Practices

Life expectancy in the Philippines is 67 years. It is 65 for females and 70 for males. Adults are expected to care for sick or injured family members until health is regained or eventual death. Traditionally, elders are cared for in the home. The father or eldest son may act as the family spokesperson. However, decisions are usually made by the entire family. Close family members should be included in medical discussions. Those who do not use English regularly are more comfortable using their native dialect to discuss sensitive issues such as medical diagnosis or prognosis, sexually related matters, and socioeconomic status, since such information is considered personal. When using an interpreter, a family member should be included for sensitive topics. It is better practice to request income as a range, not a specific figure.

In the Philippines, access to mental health services is limited to extreme cases requiring institutionalization, and mental health problems are highly stigmatized. Individuals tend to seek help first from a local priest, extended family members, or close friends. It is better practice in community outreach and individual service to avoid using the term “mental health.”

Educational System in the Philippines

The literacy rate is 94.6%. Historically the Catholic Church operated schools, until the U.S. instituted a universal education system based on the American model, with English as the language of instruction. Education is compulsory between the ages of 7 and 12.

Filipinos in Santa Clara County


The Filipino community is scattered in the suburbs of San Jose, Milpitas, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale. While most speak English, many do not consider it their first nor most frequently used language. Significant differences exist between public benefits recipients and the general population represented by random sample surveys.

Public benefits recipients tend to be more recent immigrants, having resided an average of four years in Santa Clara County. They are older, with a median age of 67. The majority are between the ages of 50 and 86. Fifty two percent cite Tagalog as the language they most frequently use, 13% use a language other than English or Tagalog, and only 11% use English regularly. Just over half have 10 to 14 years of schooling, and almost 30% have less.

In contrast, Filipinos responding to random sample surveys tended to be younger, have lived longer in the U.S., have more education, and use English more frequently. They averaged 18 years in the U.S., with 53 years as the median age, and the majority were between the ages of 40 and 64. Of this group, 31% cited Tagalog, 23% English, and 37% English and another language as most frequently used languages. About 54% had 13 to 16 years of schooling.

Both groups had an average household size of four people, but differed significantly in income. Almost half of public benefits recipients earned between $10,000 and $50,000 in 1999, and 22% earned less than $10,000. In contrast, 45% of randomly surveyed adults earned between $30,000 and $70,000, with 17% earning $90,000 to $110,000.

Social Customs

Interpersonal Communication

Most Filipinos speak English, but recent immigrants may be unfamiliar with idioms and slang, and have difficulty with accents and pronunciation. The most common dialects in Santa Clara County are Tagalog, Ilocano, Visayan, Pangasinan, and Capangpangan. The culture of the Philippines is highly complex, with a great deal of regional, local, and provincial variations. In a general sense, Filipinos can be said to be group and not individualistically oriented. Politeness is valued, and they tend not to be directly confrontational. Many are quiet in formal settings or unfamiliar surroundings, while lively among friends and family. Silence does not mean assent, but rather can be a form of politeness. Filipinos are taught to be respectful to elders and authority figures. For those who are more acculturated, these practices are less applicable.

Emotional Support

Filipinos maintain extended family relations as support networks. In random sample surveys, 49% said they would talk to a spouse for an emotional problem, followed by a friend (39%) or a relative (31%). Very few would consult a teacher, doctor, community leader, or mental health specialist. The majority relied on family members to care for children under the age of 12, generally the mother or father, followed by a grandparent or relative. Seventy five percent felt that homebound seniors or the disabled should be cared for in the home by family members, trained care givers, or a combination of the two.

Religious Traditions & Holidays

Filipinos in America follow U.S. traditions, but also celebrate Philippine Independence Day and frequently participate in hometown fiestas. Christmas, Easter, and Holy Week have religious importance for the majority who are Catholic.


In the U.S., Filipinos wear American clothes. Occasionally men may wear a barong (embroidered dress shirt) and women a kimona (dress with large, puffed sleeves) for formal occasions such as baptismals, weddings, or fiestas.


Filipino cuisine has numerous indigenous and foreign influences, including Chinese, Spanish, American, Malay and Arab. Filipinos are very familiar with American food. Traditional immigrants tend to eat rice with every meal; like food with sauce or broth; think American cuisine is bland; and may enjoy rice porridge when ill. Some Filipinos are lactose intolerant.

Challenges in Santa Clara County

Focus group participants and interviews with community service providers identify orientation to American life as the most critical need for new immigrants. As a solution, they proposed an orientation center to provide education on U.S. laws regarding child abuse, domestic violence, and other matters. Physical discipline of children is acceptable in the Philippines, and domestic violence is seen as a family problem that does not lead to government intervention. In the U.S., families are broken up when Child Protective Services remove children from the home and police incarcerate parents for child abuse or domestic violence.

Affordable housing was also cited by the same respondents as a basic need. Fifty one percent of public benefits recipients needed housing assistance. The high cost of housing results in overcrowding, which in turn creates stress on families. Rent control and housing construction with federal or state funds are community proposed solutions.

Many families lack affordable medical, dental and vision insurance. Low-income medical insurance programs are limited to children and seniors, and nothing is available for moderate income families. Approximately 83% of public benefits recipients cited a need for medical insurance. Employer and government provision of affordable insurance would address this issue.

Female focus group participants identified the high cost of child care as a barrier to employment. They could not afford licensed child care providers. They proposed after school care at school sites, employer provided child care, child care by high schools and colleges, and government funded child care for low and moderate-income families.

Both focus group participants and service providers stated that culturally specific mental health services were lacking in the community. Education to reduce stigma and government funding for culturally and linguistically appropriate services are solutions.


Filipinos did not report high instances of discrimination, with the exception of the workplace. Forty six percent of random sample respondents felt they had been discriminated against by their employer, and 29% by a co-worker. Most felt respected by police when stopped, but an equal number felt they did not know the law or their rights.

Barriers to Education, Services & Benefits

Lack of transportation (35%), time (32%), and information (32%) are cited by public benefits recipients as the major obstacles faced in accessing education, services and benefits. Random survey respondents also cited lack of time, lack of information and scheduling as barriers in similar percentages. Community service providers reported the stigma attached to public benefits, mental health, and domestic violence issues as serious obstacles. They also state that professionals who are not able to practice their occupation in the U.S. often work long hours at lesser jobs, and thus lack the time necessary to pursue their family needs.

Employment & Working Conditions

Occupational Data & Barriers

Many professionals cannot practice the occupation they had in the Philippines due to lack of employment opportunities. Their credentials or licenses are not recognized in the U.S., or different occupational requirements exist. Many take lesser jobs, working long hours, and more than one job to support extended family both in the U.S. and in the Philippines. Unemployment is low.

Many Filipinos in the random survey reported that the number employed as professionals in the Philippines decreased upon entering the U.S. Thirty-three percent stated that having no license or credential in the U.S., or having different job requirements in the two countries (21%) were reasons their occupations were different.

Similarly, public benefits recipients in Santa Clara County noted a decrease in the number of Filipinos employed as professionals and semi-skilled workers upon entering the U.S. One third also reported not having a license or credential as the reason their job was different, and 30% cited lack of employment training as the cause. Only 24% felt their current job was better than the one they had in their home country.

Working Conditions

Among random survey respondents, 34% of families reported two wage earners in the family; about one fourth reported only one; 13% reported three. Eighty percent worked for only one employer; 19% for two or more employers. The majority worked for employers with more than 25 employees in non-unionized jobs, averaging 40 hours per week. About 42% worked a swing, graveyard or weekend shift, and 46% were required to work overtime.

Small Businesses

Few Filipinos report family members in small business in either group surveyed. The greatest obstacle to starting and managing a business was knowing what ideas might be successful (68%) and finding information on getting started (67%). This was followed by obtaining loans (59%), information on legal and permit requirements (49%), and knowing where to get help (43%). The majority of Filipino businesses are small, and tend to have English, not Filipino names.

Public Benefits in the Filipino Community

Knowledge and Adequacy of Benefits

Only 6% of Filipinos responding to the random sample survey knew the program requirements for CalWORKs, 16% for food stamps, and 5% for the Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI). The highest level of knowledge was for SSI, at 32%, followed by 28% for MediCal, and 14% for General Assistance. Of the very few respondents who reported family members receiving benefits, none felt the amounts were adequate for CalWORKs, food stamps, General Assistance, or CAPI. Forty two percent felt the amounts were adequate for SSI and 62% for MediCal. Among all surveyed public benefits recipients, less than 10% were familiar with CalWORKs and General Assistance requirements, and 15% with CAPI requirements. Thirty percent were familiar with SSI requirements, and 24% with food stamp requirements. Fully 82% knew the requirements for MediCal, and 75% thought the amount of benefits for MediCal were adequate.

Culturally Competent Services

Interviews with community service providers indicate that a lack of culturally and linguistically appropriate services for Filipinos is a serious problem. Government agencies do not have staff who are bilingual in the major Filipino dialects used in Santa Clara County. While most Filipinos speak English, it is not always their first language nor the language they use most frequently. Particularly in discussing emotional problems or sensitive issues, immigrants are more fluent and comfortable using their native dialect.

Educational Access

K–12 Education

Roughly half the respondents to random sample surveys have children under 18 years old in school. About 44% participate in school lunch and breakfast programs, but families tend not to access other school services. Only 38% reported receiving information on services in a language they understood. The vast majority of parents preferred that their children be schooled in English and another language, or in English and their native language.

Employment Training

Public benefits recipients received job training in the U.S. as receptionists, office workers, and health workers. One third reported receiving training at a private business or institute, and 19% received multiple training. Filipinos responding to random sample surveys received training mostly as semi-skilled office workers and technicians, with 48% receiving training at a private business or institute, and 26% at community colleges.


Eighty percent of Filipinos who responded to random sample surveys rated their English language ability as excellent to good. About 72% stated that employment was their most important need for English, followed by daily living situations at 63%, continuing their education, reading literature and community involvement at about 50% each. In contrast, only 40% of public benefits recipients rated their ability as excellent to good, 34% as average, and 25% as poor to none at all. Their most important need for English was for employment (52%), daily living situations (53%), and filling out applications and paperwork (39%). While 57% felt that TV was the best way to learn English more quickly, 41% thought having English speaking friends was the best way.


About 74% of randomly surveyed Filipinos were naturalized U.S. citizens, and 42% did not require assistance with the naturalization process. In contrast, only 17% of public benefits recipients were citizens. About 41% needed help in paying or waiving the $250 INS fee, and 27% needed help with citizenship classes and filling out the application.

Communication & Outreach in the Filipino Community

Over 95% of Filipino families have TVs and telephones at home, and over 80% have radios and VCRs. About 77% of random sample survey respondents own computers; 57% have Internet access; and 49% have email. Families get important information most often from English language TV programs (85%) and the San Jose Mercury News (80%). Friends (61%) and family members (53%) are the next most common information sources.

Public benefits recipients had similar levels of TV, telephone and radio ownership, but only 58% had computers, and one third had Internet and email access. Important information is most often obtained from English language TV (77%), the San Jose Mercury News (58%), and TV in their primary language (52%). About half also rely on friends and family members.

Filipinos in Action: Josephine Hughes

Filipinos are actively involved in civic affairs, contributing to the community. Hometown association activities are common. The majority are involved in a religious group and one-third participate in a school or parent organization. As of December 2000, 21,820 Filipinos were registered to vote in Santa Clara County. While 4,400 voted in the November 1990 elections, 7,552 voted in the March 2000 election. Sixty-nine percent of the randomly sampled Filipinos report they are registered to vote, in contrast to only 10% of public benefits recipients. About 60% of random sample respondents who don’t vote regularly cite lack of time as the number one reason for not voting.

One person who has been a model of success for the community has been Josephine Hughes. Success did not come easily to Josephine. Back in the Philippines where she grew up, she recalls how hard it was to earn a living in a developing country where jobs did not pay well. At the age of eighteen, Josephine juggled three jobs to put herself through college. She worked full-time as an administrative assistant, managed the family restaurant on weekends, and ran her own clothing boutique, frequently traveling across Asia on purchasing trips. After nine years she obtained her B.A. in business administration from Philippine Christian University.

In 1983 Josephine migrated to the U.S. Her degree was not recognized, so she worked as an administrative assistant for five years. In 1988, she started her own business, Josephine’s Personnel Services, an employee placement firm which she ran by herself for five years. Today, her business sees $10.5 million in annual revenue, has 12 staff, maintains 300 to 500 employees, and has won three business awards from the San Jose Business Journal.