Friday, February 23, 2018
February 23, 2018: Anti-Favorites: Anti-Filipino Racism
[On Valentine’s Day, I gave a Fitchburg State University Harrod Lecture on my book in progress: Exclusion & Inclusion: The Battle to Define America. These histories and stories couldn’t be more important to me these days, so I wanted to spend the next couple weeks highlighting some of them. Starting with this year’s version of my annual non-favorites series, focused on exclusionary moments from across American history. Add some of your least favorite histories, stories, or figures for a crowd-sourced weekend airing of grievances!]
On three dark and destructive moments of 1930s anti-Filipino discrimination.
1) The 1930 Watsonville riots: Anti-Filipino sentiments had been on the rise in the United States since (ironically) the initial US occupation of the islands during the Spanish American War, as illustrated by this bigoted and ugly 1899 Boston Sunday Globe political cartoon. But they boiled over in the first year of the Depression, and the California city of Watsonville became in January 1930 the starting point; a popular Filipino dance hall became the target of a marauding group of more than 500 angry white townspeople, and the conflict spread throughout the city over the next four days. Soon enough the tension and violence would likewise spread to many other California cities and communities, endangering Filipino Americans and their allies for many subsequent months. Exclusion stems from many sources and follows many paths, as the week’s examples have proved time and again; but in this case overt, communal violence set the stage for the later, more legal forms I’ll detail below.
2) 1934 and 1935 laws: As far too often in our histories, federal laws mirrored and extended these exclusionary sentiments toward an American community. The first such law was 1934’s Tydings-McDuffie Act, which ostensibly set the stage of Filipino independence from the United States but mostly focused on banning Filipino immigration to the US. As one of the law’s sponsors put it, ““It is absolutely illogical to have an immigration policy to exclude Japanese and Chinese and permit Filipinos en masse to come into the country … they will come in conflict with white labor … and increase the opportunity for more racial prejudice and bad feelings of all kinds.” And since that law did not directly impact the hundreds of thousands of Filipino Americans already in the country, the following year saw the Filipino Repatriation act of 1935, which provided subsidized, one-way travel for Filipino Americans to return to the islands, as well as ending family reunification policies and otherwise making it more difficult for the existing community to endure and grow. Taken together, these two laws were at least as discriminatory and purposefully destructive as the Chinese Exclusion Act and its aftermaths.
3) Judge Lazarus’s bigoted narratives: Communal violence and xenophobic laws are two central prongs of American exclusion, and the third—bigoted narratives about an existing American community—was present in these 1930s moments as well. Ruling in a San Francisco court case in which a Filipino man was accused of fraternizing (consensually) with two white women, in violation of the state’s anti-miscegenation laws, Municipal Court Judge Sylvain Lazarus ruled, “This is a deplorable situation. 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.” Lazarus would go on to defend his position, adding, “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.” Linking a community so thoroughly to both sexual and criminal “savagery” is a vital element to excluding them from national narratives and identity, and the words and work of a figure like Judge Lazarus were frustratingly influential in creating such links.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
PS. So one more time: what do you think? Other anti-favorites you’d highlight?