Nativists Next Target: Filipinos
The international popularity for Filipino independence emerged through increasingly violent encounters between Filipino laborers and white populations. Ngai maintains that, “Filipino migration [laid] bare contradictions between the insular policy of benevolent assimilation and the immigration policy of Asiatic exclusion….” The 1930s developed into a dialogue between Filipino leaders requesting full independence and American politicians maintaining that the Filipino’s ability to self-govern had not yet been exemplified. Nativist politicians who participated in the anti-Asian movement became the Filipinos ally due to their desire to reduce the Filipino population in the United States by legally designating them as aliens instead of nationals. This change in designation would render Filipinos ineligible for citizenship and reduce their immigration quota from unlimited to fifty.
Nativist community members expressed their support for Filipino independence in violent ways. One of the most significant skirmishes between white community members and Filipino laborers were the Watsonville Riots of 1930. The Healdsburg Tribune reported on January 24, “Five days of bloody fighting were climaxed at midnight last night when the body of Filipino, shot through the heart, was found killed, at the bunk house on the Murphy ranch, three miles south of Watsonville.” The death of Filipino laborer Fermin Tobera caused an international outcry an increase in protection for Filipinos residing in the United States.
Nativist organizations responded to Filipino demands by sponsoring legislation for the island’s independence. The American Federation of Labor was a strong advocate for immigration exclusion on the basis of economic protections for white populations. The Madera Daily Tribune reported, “The federation at its annual convention adopted a resolution containing the demand for ‘immediate effective immigration restrictions of Filipino labor without having to wait for approval of an independence bill by the Filipino people.’” This local demand reveals a deviation in the American strategy for the Philippines. Kramer argues, “After nearly fifty years, the United States had achieved ‘independence’ from its colony; formal Philippine independence would be born as an act of American racial insularity.” The narrative of this colonial relationship originally depended on the United States’ recognition of the Philippines’ ability to self-govern. The nativist sentiment transformed foreign policy and instead gave the Philippines their independence while establishing an anti-Asian perspective of the newly freed island.
Roosevelt provides the Philippines their Independence
The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 granted the Philippines domestic autonomy by allowing the election of the country’s first Filipino President, set a date for full independence, and restricted Filipino migration to the mainland by applying limited quotas equal to other Asian populations. This new relationship still had ties to the Philippine-American colonial past. Ngai argues, “Independence, under commonwealth status, reproduced many features of the colonial relationship. Citizens of the Philippine Commonwealth continued to owe allegiance to the United States, yet the act declared that ‘citizens of the Philippine Islands who are not citizens of the United States shall be considered as if they are aliens.’” This new desigation as 'alien' legally placed Filipinos outside the realm of citizenship and the ability to naturalize. Filipinos had now felt similiar political and legal exclusions as their other Asian brothers; yet they still owed their alliegence to the American flag flying over Manila.
The Philippine Commonwealth emerged and remained present in American newspapers and political debates. The 1940s retained nativist perception of the Filipino population but these stereotypes and assumptions would soon be confronted by the emergence of World War II and the increased aggression of Japan in the Pacific.