The 1920s and 1930s saw a number of
young single Filipino men migrating to the United States. They, like millions
of immigrants who came before and after them, had their heart set on achieving
the American dream.
When Filipino immigrants arrived to the United States in the early to mid 1900s, they found work on sugar plantations in Hawaii and in fish canneries in Alaska. A number worked on the migrant farm worker circuit in parts of California. Advertising companies and exaggerated antidotes filled many of these young immigrants with hopes of wealth. Sadly, when many arrived, they were met with low wages, racism, and anti-miscegenation laws.
Filipinos Seeking the American Dream in Modern Years
Since 1990, Filipino immigrants have constantly been among the top five countries of origin for immigrants to the United States. As recently as 2013, they accounted for 4.5 percent of the immigration population in the United States.
As a result of the influence of the Catholic Church and the US influence in their home country, most foreign-born Filipino immigrants to the United States have strong English skills and are college educated. They have a higher chance of becoming naturalized US citizens, earn a higher income when compared to other immigrant groups, have lower poverty rates, and are more likely to be insured.
Filipino immigrants participate in the labor force at rates that are just slightly higher than other immigrants and US-born populations. Notably, US Armed Forces service among the Filipino immigrant population is on par with the native born population.
Are Filipino Immigrants Able to Achieve the American Dream?
The answer to this question is complicated because the definition of the American dream varies. Some see the dream as doing better than where they came from. Others see the dream as doing better than those around them. Filipino immigrants have a higher income compared to foreign and native born groups.
The medium income of Filipino immigrants was $82,370 annually in 2013. This compares to $48,100 annually for other immigrant groups and $53,000 for US-born households. Many Filipino immigrants transfer money to the Philippines online to help family members back home. In fact, in 2013 it was estimated that global remittances to the Philippines from the US totaled $25.4 billion USD. In that year, that was 9 percent of the country’s GDP.
Challenges Faced by Filipino Immigrants in the United States
Filipinos have developed a reputation as being hard-working and highly educated. This has been beneficial, but it has also led to some companies exploiting them. One Filipino worker said that if a company knows that a Filipino has skills outside of their current job, they will be asked to perform these additional skills without pay.
Some Filipino immigrants feel that they have to abandon their Filipino or personal values in order to survive in the United States. They are forced to adapt to a lifestyle where everyone and everything is in a hurry. Time is money, and many find themselves in an environment where chivalry is gone and a sense of entitlement abounds. They find themselves struggling to accommodate to their new country’s culture. However, they push forward because, as one Filipino immigrant commented, “At the end of the day, survival is the ultimate goal of everyone.”
Some of the challenges faced by Filipino immigrants are uniquely theirs, and others are age-old challenges faced by immigrants as a whole. New challenges include increased immigration regulations, paperless records, new disease management concepts, and complex work environments.
Filipino immigrants have shown a pride, determination, and strength that are at the heart of many immigrants. They have learned to bloom where they are planted. Although the United States has not always been the dreamland they have expected it to be, they have learned to work for themselves and those they love, making themselves a fundamental part of America’s patchwork.
Image credit: Expectation vs Reality via Notto Yeez/Shutterstock