On Fil-Am History Month, looking at America’s anti-Filipino history of racism

October is Filipino American History month. We take a look back at some of the defining moments from the early 1900’s, that were not friendly to overseas Filipino workers.

It’s the land of the free, but America has a dark history when it comes to racism. Some 90 years ago, long before civil rights zoot suit riots and the black lives matter movement, Filipinos were the targets of discrimination.

Shortly after World War I, Filipino farm workers were a major labor source for agri-businesses along the west coast from Washington State down to Central California.

But the hard work in the fields was just the beginning of a hard-fought life.


“White people accused them of stealing their job and stealing white women, dating white women, so there’s a lot of sentiment especially during that time especially Foreigners and Filipinos,” said Joe Bernardo, from This FilAm Life. “Because they were coming in large numbers at the time. They were the number one targets in California for a time.

With Filipina women unable to enter the United States, these early century OFWs would meet mingle with white women at taxi dance halls.


The 2006 Black Eyed Peas “Bebot” music video depicted the taxi dances, while Apl de Ap and Fergie made them look festive — the history was bloody.

The sentiments eventually sparked the 1927 Yakima Valley Washington riots.

These old newspaper clippings show how the Ku Klux Klan organized to drive Filipinos out of the area. It continued into the next year in neighboring Wenatchee Valley.

In California, interracial dating fanned the flames for the 1920 Exeter riots.

In 1930, an attempt to shut down a taxi dance hall turned deadly, when a Filipino man Fermin Tobera was shot leading to a five-day riot.

Around the same time, the Filipino community center in Stockton was bombed.


“Its buried a lot sometimes, you’ll see it in ethnic studies classes but that’s if you have the privilege to go to college,” said Bernardo. “It’s not taught in our educational systems, there’s been some campaigns to kind of change that.”

Eventually, with the lifting of anti-miscegenation laws, along with a push for worker and civil rights, Filipinos have been welcomed to the country, and have become a growing segment of America’s diversity.


Almost a hundred years later, isolated cases against Filipinos still happen, from a vandalism incident in Stockton this month, to on-going viral videos of racists encounters.

But if one thing these moments have taught us, Filipinos have stood in the face of adversity.

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