The Third Asiatic Invasion: Empire and Migration in Filipino America, 1898-1946. Rick Baldoz. New York: New York University Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780841791097
The United States prefers to ignore its history as a colonial power, conquering the Philippines as well as several other Spanish possessions in the Pacific and the Caribbean in 1898. U.S. policymakers and the public have remembered American rule in the Philippines, either as the exception to what was an otherwise consistent opposition to imperialism, or as a righteous intervention to build up a democracy and promptly transfer power, akin to U.S. interventions in postwar Japan or Germany. Rick Baldoz’s rich and detailed work challenges Americans to examine the implications of U.S. colonialism for its own domestic history of racism and nativism, and it provides the opportunity for historians and students of empires to reinsert U.S. rule over the Philippines into recent conversations over the implications of imperialism for current-day immigration “problems.”
Baldoz traces the implications of classifications of race and imperial allegiance for Filipino migrants to the United States during formal U.S. rule in the Philippines from 1898 to 1946. After establishing how U.S. colonial officials placed Filipinos into U.S. racial categories (through ethnological studies and exhibitions at such venues as the St. Louis World’s Fair), Baldoz shows how Filipinos came to settle in the United States in the early decades of the 20th century, largely following imperially-managed labor networks to sugar plantations in Hawaii, salmon canneries in Alaska, and fruit-and-vegetable farms across the U.S. West Coast.
Focusing particularly on Filipinos on the West Coast, Baldoz demonstrates how local white nativists confounded Filipino attempts to work within their court-defined status as “nationals” (rather than citizens or aliens) to achieve naturalization as U.S. citizens. Nativist sentiment repeatedly entered legal reasoning to deny Filipino naturalization claims, and nativists who had previously succeeded in securing U.S. exclusion of Chinese and Japanese immigrants sought to use similar tactics to stymie Filipino migration, restricting Filipino intermarriage with whites and Filipino land ownership. Filipinos’ status as imperial subjects made these efforts troublesome for federal officials eager to portray the United States as a generous imperial master, and Baldoz shows how the Filipino community used the ambiguity of their imperial ties to maximize their rights. However, nativist lobbies succeeded in shaping U.S. public discourse about Filipino immigration as a social problem, portraying Filipinos as unhygienic and as particularly dangerous for their unwillingness to abide by the color line, most provocatively by consorting with white women. Unable to secure formal legal exclusion, nativists violently attacked Filipino communities, who were discursively framed as the cause of their own persecution due to their exorbitant defiance of white supremacy.
Even when these attacks reached a peak in 1930, Congress proved unwilling to exclude U.S. imperial subjects from American shores, but nativists joined forces with the pro-independence lobby in U.S. agribusiness and labor to add the exclusion of Filipino immigrants, along with Philippine goods, to the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, which established internal self-government in the islands and mandated independence in 1946. Under this curious regime, Filipinos became aliens in the United States, subject to strict immigration quotas, even as they remained politically aligned with their imperial ruler. This produced great confusion during the Second World War, when the Philippines faced Japanese occupation, as Filipino Americans had to fight for the right to serve as soldiers for their own colonial sovereign. Filipinos’ service to the U.S. war effort secured certain liberalizations in naturalization law, but with Philippine independence in 1946, the federal government largely jettisoned its wartime promises of equal benefits for veterans of the U.S.-drafted Philippine Army, and Filipinos under an independent Philippines became subject to restrictive immigration quotas.
Baldoz has provided an important entry into the history of U.S. race relations and immigration, Asian-American studies, and the history of the U.S.-Philippine relations. Baldoz illustrates the complex issues raised by U.S. rule in the archipelago, too often ignored by U.S. historians, and sheds light on the uneasy and fluctuating boundaries produced by the trans-Pacific networks of trade and political allegiance implied by U.S. rule. The book deftly mixes legal cases with contemporary newspapers, and though delving into U.S. and Philippine archives might have enriched his account, Baldoz offers a rich and varied perspective on Filipino Americans’ navigation of hostile immigration and legal systems. Although the weight of Baldoz’s sources and analysis emphasize the intensity of nativist, anti-Filipino prejudice in the United States, the book also continually demonstrates the ingenuity and resilience of Filipinos flexibly re-articulating their demands, appealing to U.S. values, and forming alliances, such as with Yakima Indians in eastern Washington, to achieve their aims of just treatment as U.S. nationals, rather than aliens. Baldoz shows how nativists used the fuzziness of standards of whiteness and citizenship to continually move boundaries to exclude Filipinos alongside other racial “undesirables,” but the flexibility of Filipinos in challenging those boundaries provides one ray of hope amid a dark tale of U.S. racism and hypocrisy. That ray should point us toward securing justice in the ongoing political challenge of Filipino World War II veterans’ claims to benefits, which still have not been settled in line with U.S. wartime promises.
Baldoz sometimes loses his argumentative thrust amid the incredible breadth of examples he provides, but his book clearly communicates the ways U.S. nativists and Filipinos attempted to articulate and challenge the color line in U.S. immigration. One wishes he had extended his study into the 1950s and 1960s in order to see the transformation of Filipino Americans’ standing and Filipino immigration after the achievement of formal independence, but even so Baldoz’s book remains an essential contribution to studies of empire, immigration, and U.S. history.
Although too detailed for high school audiences, the book as a whole or individual chapters would make for excellent reading in upper-level undergraduate courses or graduate seminars on the Philippines, U.S. race relations, or Asian-American history. Whether assigned as reading or not, this book should be read by U.S. high school teachers and instructors of U.S. history at all collegiate levels to provide material for lectures and discussions on the complex implications of U.S. rule in the Philippines. Neglecting this portion of U.S. history helps contribute to an unhealthy omission of U.S. imperialism from both American history and the history of empire. Baldoz provides numerous examples of racial discrimination and challenges to it from communities in California and Washington, which history teachers in those communities could use to illustrate how what Baldoz calls the “vectors of empire” reached into students’ own communities. Students all across the United States should be made aware of the phenomena Baldoz identifies: the ever-present consequences of U.S. empire, including the construction of immigration as a “crisis” and the lengths to which white nativists will go to enforce exclusion, a story with clear parallels in current U.S. debates over immigration. Baldoz’s work definitively shows students of the United States, and empires across the world, the imperial roots of postcolonial tensions over immigration: indeed, historians of immigration issues in post-imperial Britain and France should find consistent themes in this work. This is thus an important, well-written, and utterly timely history of the continuing legacies of empire, even for a nation such as the United States which imagines itself an exception.
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Edited by Ashley Dressel
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