The surge of border children crossing into the United States in recent months has prompted calls from Republican lawmakers for the U.S. government to offer these children free passage back to their home countries.
None of the children who risked their lives to travel great distances from their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, through the vast expanse of Mexico, to find safe haven in the U.S. will likely take up the offer as their homelands offer them nothing but poverty, unemployment and even death.
Such a U.S. government offer to repatriate large numbers of unwanted immigrants back to their homeland was made once before, nearly 80 years ago, to Filipinos.
Time magazine featured a report on the repatriation of Filipinos in an article published on October 3, 1938 entitled “Philippine Flop,” which described the result of such an effort.
“Aboard the S. S. President Coolidge when it cleared the Golden Gate for Manila last week were 75 guests of the U. S. Government. They were Filipinos taking their next-to-last chance to go home at U. S. expense. Already 1,900 had taken a free ride home since the Filipino Repatriation Act was passed in the summer of 1935. Just one more Filipino repatriation party is to be given before December 31, when the Act expires.”
“Although $237,000 has been spent to date on Filipino fares, both Immigration officials and California Labor regard the repatriation program as a flop. Remaining in the U. S. are 120,000 low-paid Filipino farm workers, houseboys, janitors, cooks. Half are in California, 97 percent are bachelors about 30 years old.
“The boys, explained Dr. Hilario C. Moncado, president of the Filipino Federation of America, do not want to go back without money or assurance they will earn a living.”
The ship mentioned in the Time magazine article was named after U.S. President Calvin Coolidge who, ironically, signed the Immigration Act of 1924 into law on May 26, 1924. The law, which included the Asian Exclusion Act which restricted immigration from Asian countries, had as its expressed aim – “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity.”
What was the “ideal of American homogeneity”?
Because some Italians are dark-skinned, the annual quota for Italy dropped from 20,000 to 4,000 after the 1924 Act was passed. In contrast, a pure Aryan nation like Germany saw its annual quota increase to over 57,000. In fact, more than 86 percent of the 155,000 total number of immigrants permitted to enter the U.S. under the Immigration Act of 1924 were reserved for those from Northern European countries, with Germany, England and Ireland receiving the highest annual quotas.
For the rest of the nations of the world, the maximum total number allowed to immigrate to the US was 50 a year.
The only non-white country that was exempt from this highly restrictive immigration quota was the Philippines and only because it was a US colony and its citizens were not considered as aliens but “US nationals,” officially since April 19, 1899.
From 1907 through 1925, over 125,000 Filipinos immigrated to the US to work primarily as farm laborers.
But the Philippines would not remain exempt for long. Nativist supporters of “the ideal of American homogeneity” realized that in order to exclude Filipinos, the Philippines had to be granted independence.
Following the Great Depression of 1928, an unlikely constellation of political forces banded together to support Philippine independence.
Leading the charge was organized American labor which desired to eliminate the competition offered by cheap Filipino labor. Also in the bandwagon were American sugar beet, tobacco and dairy farmers who opposed the low-tariff products from the Philippines, which existed as long as the Philippines remained a U.S. colony. Even American sugar interests in Cuba, which feared the heavy competition from Philippine sugarcane, joined the clamor for Philippine independence.
This broad coalition endorsed the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Independence bill, which was championed by Philippine independence leaders like Sergio Osmeña, Sr. and Manuel Roxas. Though Pres. Herbert Hoover vetoed the bill in 1932, the US Congress passed it over his veto in January of 1933.
But another Filipino independence leader, Manuel Quezon, opposed the Hare-Hawes-Cutting bill because he believed the provision restricting Filipino immigration to just 50 a year was too stringent. But it was strictly politics. Quezon knew that whoever brought independence to the Philippines would be elected president of the Philippine Republic. He did not want it to be Osmena or Roxas so he maneuvered successfully to get the Philippine Legislature to reject the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act.
Quezon then went to Washington, D.C. to negotiate passage of a revised independence bill, the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which passed the U.S. Congress in March 1934, was signed into law by Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and approved by the Philippine Legislature. It provided for a ten-year transition period to independence, during which the Commonwealth of the Philippines would be established. It would gradually impose tariffs on Philippine products over a 10-year period but the quota for the Philippines remained the same as the previous bill he rejected – 50 a year.
It would remain 50 a year from 1935 until 1965 when the Immigration Act of 1965 increased Philippine immigration to the U.S. to 20,000 a year.
Philippine history books describe Tydings-McDuffie as the Philippine Independence Act. This is historically inaccurate; it should have been called the Filipino Exclusion Act of 1934.
If there was any doubt about the true intention of the U.S. in passing Tydings-McDuffie, it was erased when the U.S. Congress passed the Filipino Repatriation Act on July 10, 1935, providing free transportation for Filipino residents of the continental United States who wished to return home to the Philippines but could not afford to do so. The goal of the new law was to return all 120,000 Filipinos in the U.S. back to the Philippines to preserve “the ideal of American homogeneity.”
On April 13, 1936, Time magazine featured an article about the Filipino Repatriation Act (“Lovers’ Departure”) which explained that the bill was the result of the lobbying of Pacific Coast Labor, which resented Filipinos for “selling their services for 10¢ an hour in competition with white men.”
“The Pacific Coast was interested in this subsidized exodus not only from the standpoint of labor but also from the standpoint of race and sex. In many places Filipinos are “problem children” for Pacific Coast authorities. To the intense dismay of race-conscious Californians, these little brown men not only have a preference for white girls, particularly blondes, but have even established to many a white girl’s satisfaction their superior male attractions.”
The Time article quoted extensively from San Francisco Municipal Court Judge Sylvain Lazarus, who presided in a case involving a Filipino man coveted by two white women. “This is a deplorable situation,” Judge Lazarus declared.
“It is a dreadful thing when these Filipinos, scarcely more than savages, come to San Francisco, work for practically nothing, and obtain the society of these girls. Because they work for nothing, decent white boys cannot get jobs.”
The widely publicized Lazarus denunciation of Filipinos as “scarcely more than savages” prompted the Filipino Community of San Francisco to pass a resolution denouncing Lazarus for his racist view of Filipinos. The resolution was sent to Washington, D.C. to Philippine Resident Commissioner Quintin Paredes who promptly wrote Judge Lazarus stating that “I cannot believe that you had in any way intended to refer to my people as a whole.”
Judge Lazarus immediately responded to Commissioner Paredes:
“I intend to be as straightforward with you as you have been considerate with me. Basing my conclusions on years of observation, I regret to say that there is probably no group in this city, proportionate to its members, that supplies us with more criminal business than the local Filipino colony. It is no compliment to the predominant race that most crimes committed by Filipinos have as background intimate relations with white girls.”
Judge Lazarus continued: “I am making allowance for the fact that there is a scarcity — I imagine almost a total absence — of Filipino girls in this country and that the kind of white girls who associate with these Filipino lads is not calculated to provide the best influences for them. However, the girls are satisfied and generally very happy in their relations with these boys. Their sweethearts are working — all of them — as waiters, elevator operators, janitors, bell boys, etc. and are able to supply them, according to their notions, with abundant attentions and diversion.”
“Some of these boys, with perfect candor, have told me bluntly and boastfully that they practice the art of love with more perfection than white boys, and occasionally one of the girls has supplied me with information to the same effect. In fact some of the disclosures in this regard are perfectly startling in their nature.” “Well,” said Senor Paredes urbanely, “the Judge admits that Filipinos are great lovers.” [Time, April 13, 1936].
It is so typical of Filipinos to fondly remember Judge Lazarus’ description of our men as “great lovers” but not his denunciation of us as “scarcely worse than savages” or to describe Tydings-McDuffie as “the Philippine Independence Act” not as “the Filipino Exclusion Act”.
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