Historical colonialism, culture and panethnicity

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Ethnic and Racial Studies
ISSN: 0141-9870 (Print) 1466-4356 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rers20
Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian
American or Latino? Historical colonialism, culture
and panethnicity
Anthony C. Ocampo
To cite this article: Anthony C. Ocampo (2014) Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian
American or Latino? Historical colonialism, culture and panethnicity, Ethnic and Racial Studies,
37:3, 425-445, DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2013.765022
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2013.765022
Published online: 14 Feb 2013.
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Are second-generation Filipinos
‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino?
Historical colonialism, culture and
Anthony C. Ocampo
(First submission June 2010; First published February 2013)
This article examines how second-generation Filipinos understand their
panethnic identity, given their historical connection with both Asians and
Latinos, two of the largest panethnic groups in the USA. While previous
studies show panethnicity to be a function of shared political interests or
class status, I argue that the cultural residuals of historical colonialism in
the Philippines, by both Spain and the USA, shape how Filipinos negotiate
panethnic boundaries with Asians and Latinos, albeit in different ways.
Filipinos cite the cultural remnants of US colonialism as a reason to
racially demarcate themselves from Asians, and they allude to the legacies
of Spanish colonialism to blur boundaries with Latinos. While the colonial
history of Filipinos is unique, these findings have implications for better
understanding racialization in an increasingly multiethnic society
namely, how historical legacies in sending societies interact with new
racial contexts to influence panethnic identity development.
Keywords: panethnicity; colonialism; Filipino; Asian American; Latino; second
During his 2011 visit to the Philippines, Pulitzer Prize-winning Latino
author Junot Dı´az (Matilla 2011) had this to say to a local reporter:
You should come to the Dominican Republic because from what I’ve seen so far,
Filipinos would have no problem over there. You wouldn’t even notice you’d left …
Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2014
Vol. 37, No. 3, 425445, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2013.765022
# 2013 Taylor & Francis
We have certain strong similarities. Our countries have been colonized by both the
Spanish and [American]. I feel the similarities very strongly.
Having grown up around Filipinos in New Jersey, Dı´az is alluding to
the history of Spanish and American colonialism shared by the
Philippines and many Latin American societies. Dı´az implicitly blurs
the boundaries between Filipinos and Latinos by drawing from what
Cornell and Hartmann (1998, p. 237) term a ‘symbolic repertoire’
the stories, histories and cultural markers that bond different groups
together. These historical and cultural connections between Filipinos
and Latinos are echoed by scholars, historians and journalists (Pisares
2006; Morrow 2007; Guevarra 2012). However, within the US context,
Filipinos are classified as Asian rather than Hispanic by including the
US census. Filipinos were also involved in the establishment of the
Asian American movement and continue to participate in pan-Asian
organizations today (Espiritu 1992).
The links of Filipinos with both Latinos and Asians introduce an
interesting question: how do second-generation Filipinos understand
and negotiate their panethnic identity, given their connections to two of
the largest panethnic groups in the USA? In everyday life, race involves
the complex negotiation of factors beyond institutional designations,
including outsiders’ perceptions, cultural knowledge and ways of
behaving (Jackson 2001). Racial categorizations constantly evolve,
and groups may develop a panethnic consciousness that transgresses
‘official’designations. To address my question, I use multiple data sources
that elucidate Filipino panethnic identity patterns. First, I draw from
in-depth interviews and surveys of 50 second-generation Filipino adults
from Los Angeles, a multiethnic city and the primary destination of
Filipino immigrants. Second, I analyse two large-scale surveys of the
immigrant second generation the Immigrant and Intergenerational
Mobility in Metropolitan Los Angeles (IIMMLA) and Children of
Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS) which provide a baseline of
panethnic identity patterns of Filipinos and other Asians.
Although it was not the original intent of the study to examine how
colonialism affects panethnicity, the majority of interview respondents
themselves brought up both Spanish and US colonialism in the
Philippines when discussing identity. Previous research highlights
colonialism as an important historical backdrop for understanding
assimilation (Portes and Rumbaut 2001). As Massey and colleagues
(1993) have argued, colonialism matters because it creates cultural links
between members of the sending and receiving countries. However, past
studies mainly consider how colonialism links immigrant groups to
mainstream members of the host country.1 As such, this study focuses
on the way that colonialism shapes how immigrant groups relate with
minority members of society. Additionally, this study also examines
426 Anthony C. Ocampo
how colonialism might affect assimilation outcomes specifically among
children of immigrants in a multiethnic society. Although children of
immigrants may not have been socialized within the colonized society,
colonialism has an enduring imprint on the culture passed on to them
by their parents, which in turn affects identity (Kasinitz et al. 2008).
Filipinos draw on their colonially influenced culture when negotiating
boundaries between themselves and other groups.
Classical assimilation models once posited that immigrants and
their children would assimilate into a white middle-class mainstream
(Gordon 1967), but contemporary frameworks have shown them now
being incorporated into diverse segments of US society (Portes and
Zhou 1993). Ongoing Latino and Asian migration is dramatically
changing the US racial landscape, which in turn is reshaping immigrant assimilation processes. For example, in Los Angeles, among the
top destinations for Latino and Asian immigrants, nearly half of the
residents are of Latino descent, and non-Hispanic whites constitute a
mere 28 per cent of the population (Census 2010). Children of
immigrants living in such multiethnic contexts might find more
incentive in identifying with their minority peers, rather than align
themselves with groups associated with the white mainstream.
Understanding panethnic identity through a cultural lens, Filipinos
cited US colonialism as a reason to demarcate themselves from Asians
while alluding to the cultural legacies of Spanish colonialism to blur
boundaries with Latinos. While existing scholarship has explained
panethnicity as a function of shared class status or political interests
(Espiritu 1992), I find that the cultural legacies of Spanish and US
colonialism play a defining role for Filipinos’ panethnic identity
development. These findings challenge studies that suggest that
children of immigrants prefer identities associated with upward
mobility (in this case, Asian over Latino) and highlight the mechanisms that facilitate panethnic consciousness across class lines, a
phenomenon less discussed in previous research. This study also
considers how identity is shaped by the negotiation of cultural aspects
associated with both the pre-migration society and the multiethnic
landscape of contemporary US society.
Assimilation theory and panethnicity
Identity has long been considered a mechanism of immigrant-group
assimilation. Early scholars asserted that immigrants and their children
identify as unhyphenated Americans to fully assimilate into US society
(Park 1950; Gordon 1964). However, contemporary reformulations of
assimilation suggest that children of immigrants are incorporated into
different segments of society due to a constellation of structural,
economic and cultural factors, a perspective known as segmented
Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino? 427
assimilation (Portes and Zhou 1993). Notably, this framework posits
that connections to ethnic identity allow children of immigrants to
acquire social and economic resources that facilitate upward mobility
(Zhou and Bankston 1998). However, studies in this tradition say
relatively less about the mechanisms shaping racial or panethnic
identification. Some have critiqued these studies for overemphasizing
the negative aspects associated with ascribing to racial identities that
are externally imposed (Neckerman, Carter and Lee 1999).
Theories of panethnicity have highlighted the social, economic and
political advantages of identifying with one’s racial group (Espiritu
1992). Recent studies discuss the viability of panethnic identification,
highlighting how children of immigrants seamlessly switch between
ethnic and panethnic labels depending on the situation (Kasinitz et al.
2008), rather than viewing them as mutually exclusive options.
However, intragroup dynamics and racialized constructions in mass
media often prompt individuals to develop culturally based notions of
panethnicity (Dhingra 2007). When these individuals feel that they do
not fit the ‘rules’ for panethnic ‘membership’, they in turn express
ambivalence or resistance to being lumped into these racial categories
(Kibria 1998).
Colonialism and assimilation
Some scholars have argued that assimilation, identity and panethnicity
models are implicitly US-centric and overlook the transnational
nature of these processes (Espiritu 2004). Recent studies show that
assimilation and identity formation of immigrant groups are influenced by US economic or military presence in the home country
(Espiritu 2007; Kim 2008), transnational media (Roth 2009) and
migratory flows between sending and host societies (Jime´nez 2010).
Focusing on colonialism can highlight how historical and contemporary relations between sending and receiving nations interact with
immigrant experiences in the US context to shape assimilation.
The effect of colonialism on immigration and assimilation patterns
is multi-layered. Colonial regimes exploit the natural resources and
labour of the colonized society, and the resulting economic underdevelopment of the latter creates the impetus for members of its
society to migrate in the first place. Second, colonial relationships
influence policies that facilitate the socio-economic selectivity of
individuals who migrate even in the post-colonial period (Choy
2003). Third, the institutional and cultural influences of colonial
regimes ‘prepare’ members of the colonized society to migrate.
Potential migrants in these societies possess cultural and institutional
familiarity with the colonizing nation long before crossing international borders. This familiarity in turn facilitates the decision to
428 Anthony C. Ocampo
migrate and the ability to assimilate into mainstream jobs, neighbourhoods and organizations (Portes and Rumbaut 2001). Such findings
should not at all suggest that colonialism should be framed in any
positive light. Scholars show that colonialism breeds feelings of racial
inferiority among immigrant groups even after the colonial period has
ended, which in turn can lead to detachment from one’s co-ethnic
community (David and Okazaki 2006).
While studies have examined how colonialism affects the immigrant
generation, few address how it distinctly influences second-generation
outcomes. As Jime´nez (2010) argues, immigration scholars should be
more precise about colonialism’s effects across generations, rather than
assume that it permanently relegates immigrants with colonial
histories to second-class status. Without discounting the exploitative
history of colonialism, Waters (1999) notes that European colonialism
has served as a basis of panethnic consciousness among secondgeneration West Indians from different societies although Waters’
study is among the few that considers how colonialism creates
connections with other minority populations. Building on this research,
this study shows how Filipino children of immigrants negotiate their
colonial history when navigating panethnic boundaries with other
ethnic groups. Warikoo (2011) provides a template of how this might
occur. Her research shows that second-generation Indo-Caribbeans
inherit South Asian cultural practices from their immigrant parents’
society, but the degree to which it shapes their identity depends on the
value that Indian culture carries within their racial context.
Historical context
The Philippines became part of the Spanish Empire during the early
sixteenth century, the period when Spain established Nueva EspanËœa in
modern-day Mexico. Considered an extension of its empire in Latin
America, Spain established the AcapulcoManila galleon trade, which
facilitated extensive cultural exchange between Filipinos and Mexicans
for three centuries (Guevarra 2012). The Spanish period ended in 1899
but left enduring imprints on modern-day Philippine society. Spanish
language has had a strong influence on Tagalog, which along with
English is the current lingua franca of Philippine society (see Table 1).
Filipinos were also given Spanish surnames (e.g. Torres, Rodrı´guez,
Santos) during the colonial period. And similar to Spain’s Latin
American colonies, the Philippines remains a predominantly Catholic
society, one of only two throughout Asia.2 Over 80 per cent of Filipinos
living in the Philippines and abroad are Catholic (Rodrı´guez 2006).
Despite Filipino revolutionary efforts in 1899, the Philippines was
acquired by the USA following the SpanishAmerican War. Under the
guise of ‘benevolent assimilation’, the Americans used cultural
Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino? 429
imperialism to subjugate the native population, establishing US-style
schools and English as the medium of instruction and national
language (Choy 2003). Colonial policies granted Filipinos the status
of US ‘nationals’, a legal status created by the US government
specifically to facilitate large-scale migration of mostly male labourers
to low-wage agricultural and factory work. Despite their ability to
migrate, Filipino workers encountered violent resistance from white
nativists, who eventually helped lobby Congress to pass the 1936
Tydings-McDuffie Act,3 which granted the Philippines independence
and effectively halted Filipino migration (Baldoz 2011).
Ironically, the legacies of the American colonial period set the stage
for a highly selective group of Filipinos to migrate when the HartCellar Act reopened US borders to non-white immigrants in 1965. USmodelled schools socialized Filipinos to American ways of life and
provided widespread access to higher education. Filipinos had access
to health care training institutions, initially established to aid US
military stationed in the Philippines (Choy 2003). After US colonialism, the Philippine economy remained underdeveloped, and unemployment was rampant, creating a surplus pool of highly educated,
English-speaking Filipino workers. During the 1970s, the Philippine
government implemented aggressive labour emigration policies,
Table 1 Everyday words in English, Spanish, and Tagalog
English Spanish Tagalog
Table mesa mesa
Living room sala sala
Chair silla silya
Uncle tı´o tito
Aunt tı´a tita
Godfather nino ninong
Godmother nina ninang
Pants pantalones pantalon
Jacket chaqueta dyaket
Shoes zapatos sapatos
Fork tenedor tinidor
Spoon cuchara kutsara
Snack merienda meryenda
Monday Lunes Lunes
Tuesday Martes Martes
Wednesday Mie´rcoles Miyerkoles
430 Anthony C. Ocampo
transforming the country into a ‘labor brokerage state’ (Rodrı´guez
2010, p. 6). Millions within the surplus labour pool were primed to fill
shortages in US professional sectors, particularly within health care.
These legacies explain why Filipinos are more linguistically and
residentially assimilated than their Asian counterparts. Over two-thirds
of Filipino migrants speak English ‘very well’, in contrast to less than a
third of other Asian migrants (Portes and Rumbaut 2006). In addition,
there are no culturally homogenous ethnic enclaves for Filipinos that
compare to Chinatown, Koreatown or Little Saigon, as they generally
reside in racially integrated neighbourhoods (Vergara 2009). These
factors also explain why higher proportions of Filipinos enter mainstream, English-speaking occupations versus ethnic economies. Filipinos are actively recruited by US employers into health care, teaching
and other professional sectors (Ong and Azores 1994). However, the
language barriers and residential concentration more common among
Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese mean that these groups can remain in
occupational sectors that are ethnically insular (Zhou 2009).
Like their parents, Filipino children of immigrants are distinct from
their second-generation Asian peers. Among second-generation
Asians, Filipinos by far have the highest rates of being monolingual
English speakers (Zhou and Xiong 2005). Interestingly, while Filipino
migrants generally have more mainstream occupational pathways than
other Asian migrants, their children fare less well in their educational
outcomes than their other Asian peers. While most second-generation
Filipinos pursue higher education, they are less likely than their
Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese counterparts to attend four-year
universities, more likely to opt for less prestigious institutions and less
likely to graduate with a four-year degree (Teranishi et al. 2004; Zhou
and Xiong 2005). Moreover, research by Teranishi (2002) shows that
Filipinos are treated like remedial students, while their East Asian
counterparts are automatically perceived as more high achieving all
part of what Espiritu and Wolf (2001, p. 157) have termed a ‘paradox
of assimilation’.
Espiritu (1992) argues that the cultural differences rooted in
colonialism also explain why Filipinos of different generations have
faced challenges in developing panethnic consciousness with other
Asians. She suggests that the history of Spanish colonialism presents
the possibility for Filipinos to build panethnic alliances with Latinos,
or in the least can be utilized as political leverage within pan-Asian
organizations (Espiritu 1992, p. 172). While Asian cultures and
experiences are indeed heterogeneous, there are cultural distinctions
unique to Filipinos historically rooted in their dual colonial past.4 This
article explores how the cultural residuals of this past influence how
Filipinos negotiate panethnic boundaries between themselves and
other ethnic groups.
Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino? 431
In-depth interviews
This study draws from in-depth interviews with 50 second-generation
Filipinos from two middle-class, multiethnic neighbourhoods in Los
Angeles: Eagle Rock and Carson. Unlike other Asian immigrants in
Los Angeles, there are no ethnically homogenous Filipino neighbourhoods in the region comparable to Chinatown, Koreatown and Little
Saigon. Filipinos live in multiethnic neighbourhoods and are often the
primary Asian-origin group in the area (Census 2010). Eagle Rock and
Carson are two such neighbourhoods that are also well-known
Filipino settlements (Gorman 2007; IbanËœez and IbanËœez 2009). There
are Filipino restaurants, community centres and immigrant service
centres, although they do not dominate the neighbourhood landscape
in the same fashion as other Asian ethno-burbs (Zhou 2009).
Eagle Rock and Carson are majorityminority neighbourhoods that
are also middle class the median household income in both Eagle
Rock and Carson is about $67,000, well above the national average
(Census 2010). In both neighbourhoods, 20 per cent of residents are
Filipino and over 35 per cent are Mexican. However, in Eagle Rock,
the remaining population is white, whereas in Carson, it is mostly
African American with a small, but visible number of Samoans (about
3 per cent). Lacy (2008) suggests that comparing neighbourhoods with
distinct racial contexts yields insights into the heterogeneous identity
trajectories of middle-class minorities. While neighbourhood racial
context is not the central focus of this article, I do examine how it may
mitigate the relationship between colonialism and identity.
Officially, Eagle Rock is characterized as a neighbourhood with a
population of about 34,000, and Carson is considered a city with a
population of 90,000. However, individuals rarely conceptualize
the areas in which they live by official government designations
(Gottdiener and Hutchinson 2010). This was the case with Filipinos in
the study, who referred to Eagle Rock and Carson as ‘neighbourhoods’ without hesitation. In using the term ‘neighbourhood’ to
describe Eagle Rock and Carson, I am choosing to remain consistent
with respondents’ particular use of the term.
The interviews were conducted between March 2009 and January
2010, and each lasted approximately ninety minutes. Half of the
respondents were recruited through messages distributed on an online
networking website. One fourth of respondents were recruited through
contacts established during casual interactions in coffee shops,
churches, parks and shopping centres in the neighbourhoods. The
remaining were referred by those already interviewed. Respondents in
the study each had Philippine-born migrant parents, were born in the
432 Anthony C. Ocampo
USA (or had migrated by age five) and were between twenty-one and
thirty years old at the time of the interview.
Several interview questions addressed panethnic identity. I asked
respondents: (1) What would you consider to be your racial identity?
(2) Which ethnic and racial groups do you feel you and other Filipinos
are most similar to? (3) Have you ever identified as Asian American?
I also asked why Filipinos might or might not identify with certain
panethnic labels or groups. The interview included topics that previous
studies have linked to identify formation, such as neighbourhood
experiences, school experiences, and interactions with family and
friends. I noted moments when respondents discussed panethnic
identity both explicitly (e.g. ‘I am Asian American’) and implicitly
(e.g. ‘We [Filipinos and another group] are the same.’).
While the scope of the article discusses colonialism, this was not a
theme originally included in the interview protocol, nor was it a topic
that I introduced during the conversation. However, the majority of
respondents brought up the theme of colonialism of their own accord
when discussing Filipino identity. When they did, I probed further into
the way they used this frame when negotiating panethnic boundaries. I
also paid attention to whether the association between colonialism and
identity was mitigated by other factors, such as neighbourhood
context, socio-economic status or interracial encounters.
Following each interview, respondents were asked to fill out a brief
demographic survey with questions about their level of education,
socio-economic status (SES), and ethnic and racial identity choices.
Respondents first answered the open-ended question: ‘How do you
self-identify?’ For a subsequent question ‘What is your racial background?’ respondents were asked to indicate whether they identified
as white, African American, Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander.
Quantitative data
Immigrant and Intergenerational Mobility in Metropolitan Los
Angeles (IIMMLA)
The IIMMLA is a cross-sectional survey of second-generation adults
in the greater Los Angeles area conducted in 2004. Researchers
targeted adult children of immigrants5 of Latino and Asian origin.
Participants were surveyed during a thirty-five-minute telephone
interview and asked questions related to their incorporation and
mobility, including national origin, SES, educational background,
occupation and cultural involvements. In this article, I draw only from
surveys of the 1,617 respondents of the four primary Asian groups
included Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean also the four
Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino? 433
largest Asian ethnicities in Los Angeles (Census 2010). To examine
panethnic identity, I focus on their responses to the question: ‘For
classification purposes, we’d like to know what your racial background
is. Are you White, Black or African American, Asian, Pacific Islander,
American Indian, Alaskan native, or member of another race, or a
combination of these?’
Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS)
The CILS is a longitudinal survey of second-generation immigrants
from San Diego, California and Fort Lauderdale/Miami, Florida.
Three waves of the survey were conducted in 1992, 1995 and 200103,
when respondents’ average age was about fourteen, seventeen and midtwenties, respectively. The CILS shares similar objectives to the
IIMMLA in that it aims to elucidate the mechanisms underlying
second-generation assimilation and acculturation. Key variables
included language, educational achievement, SES, and ethnic and
racial identification. I draw only from the San Diego sub-sample
because the number of Filipino-origin respondents in Miami is
negligible. My analysis is limited to the four primary Asian descent
subgroups included in the survey Filipino, Vietnamese, Laotian and
other Southeast Asian (mainly Hmong and Cambodian). Because
wave two of the study (1995) was the only one that asked respondents
to both self-identify6 and choose from a discrete set of racial
categories, my analysis is based on the 921 Asian-origin respondents
surveyed during this wave. To examine panethnic identity, I focus on
their responses to the question: ‘Which of the races listed do you
consider yourself to be White, Black, Asian, Multiracial, Other?’
Although the interviews are not from respondents of the IIMMLA
and CILS, the surveys provide a baseline comparison of panethnic
identity patterns among second-generation Filipinos and Asians,
which complement the qualitative findings. In addition, both are
based in southern California, where Filipinos negotiate ethnic
boundaries vis-a`-vis the large numbers of Latinos and Asians in the
region. While surveys may not address respondents’ reasons for
selecting panethnic labels or may not show implicit forms of panethnic
consciousness, they illustrate how Asian panethnicity resonates
differently among Asian-origin groups.
Cultural marginalization within Asian America
Author: Do you ever identify as Asian American?
Ronald: Not really. It’s like denying what I am. It’s like denying that I’m Filipino, like
not really acknowledging my culture.
434 Anthony C. Ocampo
Despite its political origins, Asian panethnicity has evolved to take on
cultural meanings, as Ronald’s remarks indicate. When presented with
the question ‘What groups are Filipinos most similar to?’, respondents
interpreted this to mean ‘Whose culture is most similar to that of
Filipinos?’. Filipinos were generally reticent about identifying as
Asian, and this had to do with cultural factors. Few felt cultural
connections between themselves and other Asians, and the ones they
noted were superficial at best, such as food or geography. As one
respondent noted: ‘Filipinos’ diet is very Asian, like rice, fish, and stuff
a normal American wouldn’t eat.’ Beyond this, most associated Asian
American identity with East Asian cultural stereotypes, which they felt
did not fit Filipinos. As Kevin asserted: ‘The face of Asian Americans
is an East Asian face, literally. Not a Filipino one.’
Respondents referred to the Americanization of Filipino culture as
a reason to demarcate themselves from other Asians. Some felt
different from other Asians because the latter had a ‘real history
and therefore, had a real culture.’ Jenn noted that, in contrast to other
Asians, Filipino culture was associated with hybridity because of the
colonial influences throughout Philippine history:
We’re not really Asian. I feel like on a cultural level, we don’t relate. The Chinese have
this long history that’s very established, and it’s written. We’ve been colonized like
how many times? Where’s the identity in that? Are we Spanish, Muslim, Chinese, and
now, are we American? Because if you go to Manila, it’s practically like Los Angeles.
It’s so Americanized.
Echoing Jenn’s remarks, others felt that this colonial history was
antithetical to being Asian American because ‘real’ Asian culture is
‘untouched by Western influences’.
Others framed the post-colonial American influence as an advantage that made Filipinos ‘less foreign’ than other Asians. Franky
noted: ‘When whites see other Asian groups, they seem them as being
‘‘fobbier’’ [more ‘‘fresh off the boat’’]. But then they see Filipinos and
we’re more assimilated to American culture.’ Eddie pointed to the
Americanized aspects of Philippine media: ‘A lot of the popular
culture and styles and music are based on [America]. When you watch
Filipino variety shows, what do you see? They’re playing Usher, Lady
Gaga, and American pop and hip hop.’ Implicit in such comments is
the assumption that Asian culture is inherently foreign, while Filipino
culture is more westernized, and thus, not Asian. By contrasting up-todate trends in Philippine culture with a ‘fobbier’ Asian culture, these
remarks also imply that Asian identity is ‘uncool’, which may further
explain Filipinos’ aversion to pan-Asian identity.
Respondents also said that the English proficiency of Filipinos in
the USA an outgrowth of American colonialism distinguished
Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino? 435
them from Asians. Lynette recalled an uncomfortable moment in an
Asian American studies course in college when her class had a
discussion about the typical Asian American experience:
I felt like there was a difference between those who were Chinese, Korean, and those
who were Filipino. It just felt different. I think because a lot of the ‘‘Asian American
experiences’’ that we read about in our class talked about language. The other Asians
would talk about their parents only being able to speak Mandarin or Vietnamese and
having to be the mediator between two cultures that was the Asian American
experience. But I felt that wasn’t the case for me. I was like, ‘‘You know, my parents
speak English just fine.’’
Ironically, while Asian American studies was created to foster a shared
sense of panethnic identity among different Asian ethnicities, Lynette’s
experience served the opposite function it highlighted differences
between Filipinos’ experiences from those of East Asians, who many
felt dominated mainstream Asian American narratives.
Several noted the cultural construction of Asian panethnicity on a
global level. They recounted times when others referred to Filipinos as
the ‘wetback Asians’ or the ‘Mexicans’ or ‘blacks’ of Asia. Raymond
said: ‘[Filipinos] do the manual labor all over the world.’ Kevin, in
turn, argued that when people think of Asians, they automatically
refer to China, Japan and Korea, or as he noted: ‘The three countries
that have power.’ While Raymond and Kevin grew up middle class and
have professional parents, their remarks show how their sense of panAsian identity is influenced by the international community of
Filipino labourers. Their comments illustrate that panethnicity is not
entirely a US-based construction, but rather, at least in part, a
transnational ideological construction (Espiritu 2004; Roth 2009).
The lack of other Asian ethnicities in their childhood neighbourhoods also explains why Filipinos expressed weak panethnic ties.
Proximity facilitates opportunities for people to identify commonalities across ethnic lines and develop a panethnic consciousness.
In Eagle Rock and Carson, Filipinos had minimal opportunity to
interact with other Asians. Most did not interact with Asians until
their college years. As Jacob noted: ‘College was the first time I really
was around a bunch of Asians!’ Grace described her first days at UC
Irvine (where non-Filipino Asians are 40 per cent of the student
body) as a ‘culture shock’ because ‘everyone is super Asian’. Such
characterizations imply how both felt that Filipinos were not part of
the pan-Asian collective.
Post-colonial panethnicity: Filipino and Latino cultural connections
Even though respondents used colonialism to distance Filipinos from
other Asians, they used the colonialism frame to blur boundaries with
436 Anthony C. Ocampo
Latinos. While no respondent identified as Latino outright, many
more closely associated Filipinos with Mexicans and other Latinos
because of the shared history of Spanish colonialism, including some
who checked ‘Asian’ on the post-interview survey. Lia noted the
‘Latinizing’ effect of this history on Filipino culture, saying that
Filipinos ‘have more similarities with Latin culture than other Asians’.
Some felt Filipinos ‘must have Spanish blood’ because both coethnics and Latinos commonly mistook them as Mexican due to their
phenotype (e.g. they ‘looked’ Mexican) or their Spanish surname.
Nearly half of respondents recalled being spoken to in Spanish by
Latinos, and some were even mistaken as Latino by other Filipinos. In
her first days working as a nurse, Adriana recalled that her Filipina
co-workers spoke Tagalog to each other yet conversed with her in
English. When Adriana replied in Tagalog, one co-worker expressed her
surprise: ‘I didn’t know you were Filipina. I thought you were Hispanic!’
Respondents bonded with Latinos based on three main cultural
similarities: language, surnames and Catholicism. Jon, a hotel manager,
recalled being mistaken as Latino by the Mexican immigrants he
worked with:
When they see me in the hall, they speak to me in Spanish. Then I tell them, ‘‘No
hablo espan˜ol,’’ and they’re like, ‘‘Why don’t you speak Spanish?’’ and then I tell them
I’m Filipino. And then they insist, ‘‘Well, some Filipinos speak Spanish. You have
Spanish last names, right?’’
Respondents recalled efforts by Filipino and Latino immigrants to
communicate with each other when interacting in the neighbourhood,
given the heavy overlap in everyday words in Spanish and Tagalog (see
Table 1). When I asked him whether he saw Filipinos and Latinos
interact much, Jayson answered:
All the time! My mom, for example, whenever she goes to the market, she [and the
Latino workers] will be like, ‘‘Hola, amigo. Hola, amiga.’’ Because of the similarities
in our language, you can communicate in [each others’] native tongue.
While language bridged Filipinos with Latinos, it created further rifts
with Asians. Ronald said that interacting with other Asian immigrants
was relatively more difficult ‘because there’s virtually no overlap
between Tagalog and say, Chinese or Vietnamese.’
Catholicism was another colonial legacy that Filipinos used to liken
themselves with Latinos. Diana said Filipinos were ‘definitely’ more
similar to Latinos because:
[My] parents have santos and the Virgin Mary all around the house, and that’s just
like Latinos. I’d go to my Guatemalan friend’s house, and you’d see the same thing.
There’s a lot of religion intermingled with her culture and my culture.
Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino? 437
Many Filipino and Latino ethnic practices also have a religious
component. Alma noted how religion was embedded in rites of
passages for Filipina and Mexican young women (debuts and
quincean˜eras, respectively). She added: ‘When you hear Filipino and
Latino, you think Catholic automatically. I don’t think religion when I
think of Asians. Or if I do, maybe I think of Buddha, but not Jesus or
Mary.’ Although Catholicism might not have prompted outsiders to
racialize respondents as Latino, it nonetheless affected how Filipinos
racially positioned themselves vis-a`-vis Latinos and other Asians.
This cultural closeness became evident in situations where other
Filipinos were not even present. Alex attended a private college with
many East Asians and Latinos, but few Filipinos. Coming from Eagle
Rock, he initially felt disconnected from his Asian classmates, yet
noted a sense of closeness with his Latino peers, who also invoked the
colonial frame. At a party sponsored by one of the Latino organizations, Alex recounted:
I never felt out of place at the party, even though it was all Latinos. Funny enough.
My one friend who was half-Mexican, but looked more white and was from like a
bougie [rich], all-white town got flack for being there. They kept calling him ‘‘white
boy.’’ But with me, a bunch of the guys would come up to me and be like, ‘‘Oh what?
You’re Filipino? It’s practically the same thing [as Latino]. We all got punked by
Spain anyway, right?’’ Most of my friends in college ended up being Latino because
they were the next closest thing to Filipinos.
Alex’s experience shows that the negotiation of panethnic boundaries
is not determined solely by national origin otherwise his ‘whitelooking’ friend should have felt more at home at the predominantly
Latino event. Alex’s comfort stemmed from his experiences growing
up with Latinos, which allowed him to fit in more than someone who
was ‘biologically’ Mexican. Alex also noted that Latino events were
‘more fun’ and ‘cooler’ than those sponsored by other Asians, whom
he and other Filipinos stereotyped as studious and bookish.
This idea that Filipinos and Latinos were ‘the same thing’ was
echoed in conversations about interracial dating. While having dated
Mexican women in the past, Nelson expressed a new-found anxiety
about dating a Vietnamese woman:
Nelson: I’m kind of nervous about the girl I’m dating. She’s Vietnamese, so this is the
first time I’m dating someone from a different culture.
Author: Didn’t you say that you dated a bunch of Mexican girls before?
Nelson (laughing): Ha, that doesn’t count. Mexicans are the same as Filipinos!
For Nelson, cultural differences between Filipinos and Latinos are less
salient than those between Filipinos and Asians. Such comments
illustrate how the cultural boundaries of racial categories
438 Anthony C. Ocampo
subconsciously influence Filipinos’ sense of ‘we-ness’ with Asians and
Respondents’ identification with Latinos is interesting given that
Filipinos, on the aggregate level, have a higher SES than Latinos. At
the same time, Eagle Rock and Carson have a large minority middle
class, including middle-class Mexican Americans. The narratives
suggest that there was more class convergence between Filipinos and
Mexicans in these neighbourhoods than statistical data might indicate.
While nearly every respondent identified as middle class, most noted
having close connections with relatives who were working class (both
in the USA and abroad) or recalled having been working class earlier
in life. As such, class differences did not necessarily disrupt the
connections they felt with Latinos who lived in the ‘less nice parts’ of
Eagle Rock or Carson. However, FilipinoLatino connections did
weaken when negative media stereotypes of Latinos were discussed.
Franky said that while he felt close with Latinos in terms of religion
and culture, he did not relate to the ‘stereotypical Cholo [gangster]
looking ones’. In addition, FilipinoLatino connections seemed to
break down in the school context. Those attending public high schools
said that while teachers viewed Filipinos as high-achieving students,7
‘Latinos weren’t seen as honors students by school officials’. These
findings suggest that Filipinos’ connection with Latinos might decline
if the association potentially compromised their middle-class standing
or mobility.
Filipino panethnic identity patterns
Post-interview survey
Respondents filled out a brief survey that asked an open-ended
question about identity and then chose a racial identity from a set of
discrete options. I had the opportunity to observe respondents as they
answered these questions. For the open-ended question, every
respondent wrote ‘Filipino’ without hesitation. However, when asked
to select their racial background, many vacillated between the given
options. Half inquired whether they could write in ‘Filipino’ as their
race. Table 2 shows that respondents were split between choosing
‘Asian’ and ‘Pacific Islander’. There was also a clear relationship
between panethnic identification and neighbourhood.
Given the racial ambivalence of Filipinos in both neighbourhoods,
what explains this difference? The interviews suggest that choosing
‘Pacific Islander’ was a function of not wanting to choose ‘Asian’.
Eagle Rock respondents selected Pacific Islander, but had few concrete
notions of what this identity ‘meant’. When prompted about why he
felt Filipinos were ‘more Pacific Islander than Asian’, Vince said:
Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino? 439
‘I don’t know. Probably because the Philippines are islands in the
Pacific?’ Others displayed the same lack of investment, noting merely
that it was ‘better than choosing Asian’. Carson respondents had more
concrete ideas of Pacific Islander identity because of their interactions
with Samoans. Bryan said: ‘Pacific Islander is for the Samoans. And
there’s no Asians in Carson besides Filipinos, so I guess we can fill that
in.’ Such responses illustrate that Carson Filipinos did not necessarily
express strong attachments to Asian identity, even if they chose it on
the form. These findings show that Filipinos’ identity options depend
largely on the availability and meaning of categories within their local
Filipino identity patterns on the IIMMLA and CILS parallel those
from my interview respondents. Less than one half (47 per cent) and
two-thirds (63 per cent) of Filipino IIMMLA and CILS respondents,
respectively (see Tables 3 and 4), identified as Asian, in contrast to
about 90 per cent of other Asians. These findings are interesting given
Table 2 Panethnic identification of respondents (N50)
Eagle Rock Carson All
Asian 20% 84% 52%
(5) (21) (26)
Pacific Islander 80% 16 48%
(20) (4) (24)
100% 100% 100%
(25) (25) (50)
Table 3 Panethnic identification by ethnicity, second-generation Asians
Filipino Chinese Vietnamese Korean
Asian 47% 96% 98% 98%
(189) (395) (393) (393)
Pacific Islander 45% 1% 1% 1%
(182) (5) (4) (2)
Other 8% 3% 1% 2%
(31) (13) (4) (6)
100% 100% 100% 100%
N (402) (413) (401) (401)
Source: IIMMLA 2004
440 Anthony C. Ocampo
that ‘Asian’ is stereotyped as a middle-class or upwardly mobile identity
(Zhou 2009). One might expect that Southeast Asians, the most socioeconomically disadvantaged subgroup, would be least inclined to
identify as Asian, given that studies show panethnicity to be a
function of class commonality (Carter 2005). Ultimately, these
findings complement the interview data by illustrating that Filipinos’
panethnic ambivalence occurs across different contexts (Los Angeles
and San Diego) and ages (adults and teenagers8
Despite linguistic, socio-economic and cultural differences, ethnic
groups develop panethnic consciousness by organizing for political
interests, emphasizing cultural commonalities or highlighting shared
racial experiences. Filipinos have done all these things with both
Asians and Latinos, and thus can justifiably be categorized as either.
Ultimately, they are officially Asian, according to the US census.
Despite this, individuals do not always ascribe to the panethnic labels
imposed on them, and the unique colonial history of the Philippines
has prompted Filipinos to be vocally ambivalent about their racial
designation. In Espiritu’s (1992, p. 107) seminal book Asian American
Panethnicity, one Filipino despondently asserted that Filipinos were
Asian because of a ‘geographical accident’. Espiritu has noted the
possibility of Filipinos joining Latino panethnic coalitions, but
ultimately acknowledges that both the pan-Asian and pan-Latino
option bring significant challenges.
If these historical and cultural connections mean that Filipinos are
‘kinda Asian and kinda Latino’, as one respondent put it, how did the
young adults in this study negotiate panethnic identity? The term
‘Asian American’ was born as a politicized identity, yet it was not a
lack of political engagement that prompted their ambivalence. Rather,
Table 4 Panethnic identification by ethnicity, second-generation Asians
Filipino Vietnamese Laotian Southeast Asian
Asian 63% 91% 93% 89%
(351) (172) (98) (59)
National origin 22% 5% 4% 2%
(121) (9) (4) (1)
Other 15% 4% 3% 9%
(89) (8) (3) (6)
100% 100% 100% 100%
N (561) (189) (105) (66)
Source: CILS 200103
Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino? 441
the cultural legacies of Spanish and US colonialism in the Philippines
played a more significant role in how respondents negotiated
panethnic boundaries. It is worth nothing that despite the cultural
links between US and Philippine societies, no respondent identified as
an unhyphenated American, signalling the continued significance of
race in American society.
As the narratives revealed, the cultural hybridity resulting from
Spanish and US colonialism was a central part of Filipino ethnic
identity. Whether talking about culture, language or religion, respondents would embed them within colonial contexts. This culturally
based understanding of ethnicity extended to their negotiation of
panethnicity. US colonialism created a rift between Filipinos and other
Asians. Their experiences of feeling more Americanized, having
English-speaking households, and being less bicultural than other
Asians prompted their feelings of disconnection. This social distancing
was further amplified by their internalization of the Asian ‘forever
foreigner’ stereotype and lack of interaction with other Asians in their
neighbourhoods. Moreover, the surveys reflected the lukewarm
resonance of Asian panethnicity for Filipinos, relative to other Asian
In turn, Spanish colonialism bonded them with Latinos, a sentiment
that at times was mutual, as the opening quote from Junot Dı´az
illustrates. In their everyday lives, reminders of Spanish colonialism
are present in their parents’ language, surnames and religion. The
presence of Latinos in their neighbourhood further ‘replenished’ the
Spanish aspects of Filipino ethnic culture (Jime´nez 2010), making
the FilipinoLatino link especially salient. These findings challenge
previous studies that suggest that Filipinos should align themselves
with Asians, a group stereotyped as upwardly mobile. Within the
context of a middle-class neighbourhood, colonial commonalities
prompt Filipinos to blur boundaries with Latinos (except in situations
where it compromised their social standing).
Are Filipino Americans a unique case? Certainly the extensive
colonial history in the Philippines distinguishes them from other
Asians. Nonetheless, colonialism also represents an extreme case of
cultural shifts in pre-migration societies that persist today, due to US
militarism, foreign policy, transnational media and migration-related
cultural exchanges (Kim 2008). Cultural shifts in the pre-migration
society shape the identity ‘toolkit’ that children of immigrants use to
relate with groups in a multiethnic society (Warikoo 2011). However,
the use of this toolkit is also contingent on the value of ‘symbolic
repertoires’ that children of immigrants possess. In a ‘Latinized’ city
like Los Angeles, there is symbolic value to aligning oneself with
Latinos rather than Asians, particularly for young adults who at the
time may be more concerned with social standing than economic
442 Anthony C. Ocampo
mobility. Although a study of Los Angeles may not be generalizable to
second-generation experiences across the country, the choice of
research site elucidates important social phenomena bound to take
place in other parts of the country affected by migration: negotiation
of race beyond the blackwhite binary, the emergence of new
panethnic categories, and the interaction of historical legacies with
new racial contexts. Ultimately, the Filipino case highlights the everevolving process of panethnic identity construction a process that is
not US-centric in nature, but one shaped heavily by the interaction of
historical legacies with the changing racial landscape of American
I am grateful to Min Zhou, Roger Waldinger, Wendy Roth, Jennifer
Jones, Kerry Ann Rockquemore, Anthony Alvarez and the reviewers
for their feedback throughout various stages this manuscript.
1. Studies of European migration have more thoroughly detailed how colonialism affects
assimilation among post-colonial migrants. Studies of the Indian migration in the British
colonial era show how colonial policies facilitated the movement of Indian professionals
to East Africa during the early twentieth century (Poros 2010). BritishIndian colonial
relations allowed Indians in East Africa to then migrate to the UK when African societies
later gained independence. While their colonial status allowed them entry into Britain, it also
became a marker of their second-class citizenship in their new host society (Dhingra 2012).
2. East Timor, a former Portuguese colony of one million people (1 per cent the size of the
Philippines), is the only other Catholic society in Asia.
3. Filipino migrants of the early twentieth century encountered hostility and violence
from white nativists hoping to halt Filipino migration. However, it was not until 1934 that
nativists coalesced with Midwestern agribusiness players who were worried about competition with Philippine agricultural products. These constituencies lobbied Congress to pass the
Tydings-McDuffie Act in 1936 and grant the Philippines independence following a ten-year
transition period succeeding its passage (Baldoz 2011, pp. 156193).
4. The Philippines is not the only Asian country with a colonial past. While countries, like
Korea, experienced colonialism, they are qualitatively different in many respects. First, the
Philippines was colonized for longer than most other Asian countries. Second, the legacies of
both Spanish and US colonialism are more deeply embedded within the mainstream culture
of contemporary Philippine society. The closest parallel is British colonialism in India, which
lasted nearly as long as in the Philippines. This partly explains why besides Filipinos, there
are challenges to including Indians within the pan-Asian collective (Kibria 1998).
5. Second-generation studies generally includes both 1.5 and second-generation individuals.
6. Before asked about panethnic identity, respondents were asked the open-ended
question: ‘How do you identify, that is what do you call yourself?’
7. Teranishi (2002) revealed that Filipinos were treated as remedial students while Chinese
were dubbed model minorities. In this study, Filipinos were the only Asians present in the
Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino? 443
school, leading teachers to designate them model minorities relative to the other groups
8. When surveyed, IIMMLA respondents were adults, while CILS respondents were
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Are second-generation Filipinos ‘becoming’ Asian American or Latino? 445

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