Monday, November 30, 2009

Filipino Immigrants and The Great Depression

In the decade before World War II, there was a worldwide economic depression known as The Great Depression. In most countries, it began in 1929, but was prominent in the 1930s and 1940s. The depression began in the United States on Black Tuesday, when the stock market crashed in October of 1929. Unemployment in the United States was at about 25% and everyone suffered. Around this time, Asian Americans were beginning to migrate to the United States in more significant numbers. The biggest groups of Asian Americans were Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Asian Indians, and Koreans. These Asian Americans immigrated to the United States as a source of cheap labor.

At this time, Asian Americans felt the impact of racism. They were not allowed to own land and were denied the legal right to citizenship, with the exception of the Filipino. Filipinos were the exception because they were colonial subjects. Although all Asian Americans experienced racism before the Great Depression, during the depression, it was felt even more, especially for Filipinos. Since the labor market was dwindling down, Americans throughout the West Coast began to violently drive out Asian American laborers. Filipinos were targeted the most since they began to arrive in significant numbers to America at this time. Since Filipinos were given the juridical status of U.S. nationals, it allowed them to move between the Philippines and the United States freely. This made the Filipino stand out from the other Asian Americans. Since it was so easy for them to move freely between their homeland and the United States, during the depression, the US government presented Filipinos with a chance to repatriate, or go back to their own country. This repatriation came with a price: if the Filipino went back to the Philippines, they would forfeit their right to reenter the United States. As expected, very few Filipinos took this opportunity, but there were a few cases reported of forced repatriation.

To prevent more Filipinos from migrating to the United States, the Tydings-McDuffie Act was passed in 1935. This act allowed the Philippines to be self-governed and gave Filipinos independence from the United States for ten years. Although it allowed Filipinos independence, it still allowed the United States to maintain their military forces in the Philippines. This slowed immigration from the Philippines to the United States since Filipinos were no longer free to come and go as they pleased. This act also changed the statuses of the Filipinos already living in the United States. Now they were seen as aliens and were no longer able to work legally in the United States. It changed the quota of immigrants from the Philippines to 50 immigrants per year.

The Tydings-McDuffie Act changed the immigration laws for Filipinos in an attempt to make labor more available to US citizens. Even though the Great Depression mainly affected the United States, it indirectly affected the Philippines as well. With less work available, cheap labor wasn’t needed as much, which changed Filipino immigration indefinitely.

By: N.N.