After its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris.
On February 4, 1899, just two days before the US Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American forces and Filipino nationalists who sought independence rather than a change in colonial rulers. The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years. (State Department)
Even as the fighting went on, the colonial government that the United States established in the Philippines in 1900 under future President William Howard Taft launched a pacification campaign that became known as the “policy of attraction.”
In 1907, the Philippines convened its first elected assembly, and in 1916, the Jones Act promised the nation eventual independence. The archipelago became an autonomous commonwealth in 1935, and the U.S. granted independence in 1946. (State Department)
In Hawaiʻi, shortage of laborers to work in the growing (in size and number) sugar plantations became a challenge. Starting in the 1850s, when the Hawaiian Legislature passed “An Act for the Governance of Masters and Servants,” a section of which provided the legal basis for contract-labor system, labor shortages were eased by bringing in contract workers from Asia, Europe and North America.
Of the large level of plantation worker immigration, the Chinese were the first (1850,) followed by the Japanese (1885.) After the turn of the century, the plantations started bringing in Filipinos. Over the years in successive waves of immigration, the sugar planters brought to Hawaiʻi 46,000-Chinese, 180,000-Japanese, 126,000-Filipinos, as well as Portuguese, Puerto Ricans and other ethnic groups.
For the first 15-Filipino sakadas (probably derived from the Ilocano phrase “sakasakada amin”, meaning, barefoot workers struggling to earn a living) who got off the SS Doric on December 20, 1906, amid stares of curious onlookers, the world before them was one of foreboding.
The 15-pioneers would soon be joined by thousands of their compatriots, thanks to the relentless recruitment of the Hawaiʻi Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA). (Aquino)
Upon arrival in Hawaiʻi, Filipino contract laborers were assigned to the HSPA-affiliated plantations throughout the territory. Their lives would now come under the dictates of the plantation bosses. They had no choice as to which plantation or island they would be assigned. Men from the same families, the same towns or provinces were often broken up and separated. (Alegado)
Between 1906 and 1930, the HSPA brought in approximately 120,000-Filipinos to Hawaiʻi, dramatically altering the territory’s ethnic demographics. (Aquino)
By the 1920s, Filipinos in Hawaiʻi were still largely male, men outnumbered women by nearly seven to one, and unmarried. They represented, at one point, half of the workers in the sugar industry. Initially the Filipinos tended to be “peasants” of lower education than other groups. (Reinecke)
Comprising only 19-percent of the plantation workforce in 1917, the sakadas jumped to 70-percent by 1930, replacing the Japanese, who had dwindled to 19-percent as the 1930s approached. (Aquino)
On the continent, during the 1920s, there was already uneasiness about the growing number of Filipinos, reviving earlier nativist fears regarding Chinese and Japanese laborers. With the rise in unemployment during the depression and the development of Filipino labor activism in the early 1930s, a new reason for excluding Filipinos was added.
Granting commonwealth status to the Philippines was largely a legal cover for racially excluding Filipinos, who were hit especially hard by the economic downturn of the depression.
Then, on March 24, 1934, President Roosevelt signed the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which provided for a Philippines Commonwealth Government that would be followed by complete independence in ten years. (Schiller Institute)
Tydings-McDuffie Act grew out of widespread opposition, particularly in California, to the rapid influx of Filipino agricultural laborers after annexation of the islands and limited Filipino immigration to only 50 per year. For the tens of thousands already in the country, it meant that they could not become naturalized citizens and were cut off from New Deal work programs.
Due to the restriction put on immigration, a threat was put on the supply of cheap labor forces needed within agricultural sector. To many plantation owners, Filipino laborers were a great group in regards to hard work and good work ethics.
The immigration restriction made it almost impossible for Filipino-Americans already living in the U.S. to petition their loved ones and family members. This accentuates the inability for many of the laborers to develop of connect with their families. In other words, Filipino hopes of family reunification were shattered.
In some respects, Filipinos were in a worse position than the previously excluded Chinese and Japanese, for at least Chinese merchants were allowed to bring wives, and Japanese wives and family members had been exempted from the restrictions of the Gentlemen’s Agreement.
Exemptions to the act did, however, allow Hawaiian employers to import Filipino farm labor when needed (though remigration to the mainland was not permitted) and enabled the US to recruit more than 22,000 Filipinos into the navy (between 1944 and 1973), most of whom were assigned to work in mess halls or as personal servants. (ImmigrationToUS)