A People With Two Navels

Book Review: The Third Asiatic Invasion: Empire and Migration in Filipino America, 1898-1946 by Rick Baldoz (2011)

(Source: facebook.com)

(Source: facebook.com)

It’s no accident that Filipino American History Month, or Filipino American Heritage Month, was first recognized in California in 2006 by the California Department of Education and by the California State Assembly in 2009. That it’s also widely celebrated in Hawaii is not a coincidence. Rick Baldoz’s The Third Asiatic Invasion: Empire and Migration in Filipino America, 1898-1946 (published 2011) presents an engaging and comprehensive account of how and why there are large populations of Filipinos and Filipino Americans particularly in California and Hawaii.

Moreover, Baldoz offers a compelling argument that Filipino immigration to the United States is profoundly entangled with American imperialism abroad and racial hierarchies at home. The phrase “third Asiatic invasion,” for example, was coined by anti-immigrant and nativist Americans who perceived the presence of Filipinos in the United States as a “social problem”; the arrival of the Chinese and the Japanese, respectively, were seen as the first and second.

The so-called “Filipino problem” of the Americans hinged on four key issues: public health, interracial relationships, labor competition and the threat of communism through the Filipinos’ union leadership and activism. The nativists perceived and promoted themselves as guardians of American public interests, often taking matters into their own hands when they felt that the federal and local governments’ responses to the “Filipino problem” were inadequate or slow moving.

This was the case in Watsonville, California, in January 1930, when hundreds of white men “formed Filipino hunting parties” and gunned down or beat Filipinos for several days. Baldoz shows that the 1930 Watsonville Riots was only one of several episodes of racial violence by whites against Filipinos because the former viewed the latter as dangerous to whites’ economic security and racial purity, particularly regarding Filipino men’s relationships with white women. 

While the Filipinos “belonged” to the United States, the United States did not “belong” to the Filipinos.

The book opens with the story of Rafael Lopez de Onate and Eleanor (Ellen) Wilson McAdoo, a young couple whose aspirations to marry were derailed by California’s anti-miscegenation law and opposition from Ellen’s family. Ellen, after all, was the granddaughter of former President Woodrow Wilson and daughter of US Senator Williams Gibbs McAdoo. Rafael Lopez de Onate—although he could have passed for white due to his light skin and Spanish blood—was born in the Philippines and categorized by the United States as Filipino “Malay.” De Onate’s personal history and legal status in the United States, in conjunction with his insistence that he was white, points to the complex historical relationship between the United States and the Philippines since the beginning of the 20th century. 

In Chapters 1 and 2, Baldoz sets the context of Filipino immigration and settlement into the United States by demonstrating how the United States viewed the Filipinos. The United States conducted ethnological surveys in the Philippines that determined the racial “fitness” of the Filipinos for self-rule. With the unsurprising finding that the Filipinos were “unfit” due to three centuries of Spanish colonization, the United States promoted as beneficial and necessary the colonization of the Philippines. This image was perpetuated partly through ethnological exhibits of purportedly “savage” Filipinos, a famous example being the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair display of live indigenous tribes. The “border-crossing” of Americans into the Philippines also included the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association’s recruitment of Filipinos, which brought the first group of Filipino laborers to Hawaii in 1906. Eventually, Filipinos migrated to Alaska as cannery workers and along the West Coast as farm workers. 

Chapters 3 and 4 detail the efforts of anti-immigrants and nativists to curtail the entry of Filipinos into the United States. The Filipinos occupied what Baldoz calls the “political twilight zone” as nationals, hindering their efforts to gain access and rights to citizenship, marriage and property ownership, which exacerbated their experiences of racial violence from whites.

Chapters 5 and 6 deal with the issues of “belonging” and uneven power relations. In Chapter 5, Baldoz discusses the exclusionists’ efforts at restricting the immigration of Filipinos, along with the Philippines’ campaign for independence from the United States. Baldoz demonstrates the lopsided relationship between the United States and the Philippines. The primary examples are the series of laws, including the 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act, also known as the Philippine Independence Act, the 1942 Second War Powers Act, and the 1946 Bell Act. In each, the United States gained substantially more advantages than the Philippines. Baldoz argues that while the Filipinos “belonged” to the United States, the United States did not “belong” to the Filipinos. In other words, the United States was able to make claims on the Filipinos, but the Filipinos could not make claims on their “mother country.” This was especially poignant in the case of the Filipino World War II veterans in the Philippines whose rights and benefits as “American veterans” were rescinded after their service during the war.

One of the most striking and significant aspects of the book is its constant reference to other racialized populations in the United States and globally in the context of empire. Baldoz reminds readers that while the Filipinos’ historical relationship with the United States is unique, the lives of Filipinos and Filipino Americans are not only intertwined with the lives of white men and women, but also with other marginalized peoples subjugated by white supremacy then and now. Filipino American history, therefore, is also—to borrow from Howard Zinn (1980)—part of the people’s history of the United States. 

Jimiliz M. Valiente-Neighbours

Jimiliz M. Valiente-Neighbours

Jimiliz M. Valiente-Neighbours is a Ph.D. candidate and completing her dissertation on Filipino World War II veterans at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Sociology Department. She was born and raised in the Philippines until she was ten years old when she relocated to Long Beach, California, where her immigrant parents Jimmy and Lisa Valiente still reside. Jimiliz lives with her husband, Robert Valiente-Neighbours in Santa Cruz.