The road to Filipino citizenship in the United States was a long and arduous journey. Though the majority of acts regarding citizenship were passed in the twentieth century, the struggle for recognition dates back to the eighteenth century.
The struggle for citizenship began in 1790, with the passing of the Naturalization Act which granted citizenship for immigrants who were designated as free whites and of good moral character. This act was in effect for nearly one hundred years, though during that time the application of citizenship laws were greatly contested and deliberated.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, Congress passed the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery in the United States which called for the government to re-evaluate who was a citizen.
Five years later citizenship was granted to African Americans in 1870, making African Americans and Free Whites the only groups that qualified for citizenship, thus excluding anyone from Asian or Native American background.
In 1899, the Filipino American War began as an extension of the Filipino fight for independence and the 1896 revolution.
After the Filipino American War ended in 1902 and the United States annexed the Philippines, the extent of citizenship was once again deliberated. By the summer of 1902, Congress enacted the Philippine Organic Act permitting the people of the Philippines to travel between the two nations but restricting their citizenship.
By 1913 hundreds of Filipinos had migrated to the United States to work as agricultural laborers though their participation in the work force and continued residency was greatly contested through anti-miscegenation laws, unreasonable working conditions and racism. In 1913 the state of California passed the California Alien Land Law outlawing any alien ineligible for citizenship to own land thus placing Filipino, Chinese, and Japanese migrant workers at a significant disadvantage occupationally and in terms of attaining the rights of a citizen, though at the time Filipinos were classified as nationals not aliens.
By 1924, Congress passed yet another act prohibiting citizenship in the form of the National Origins Act which not only upheld the notion that aliens of Asian descent were ineligible for citizenship, but also greatly restricted Asian immigration, making them the scapegoat for fears of unemployment which was high among American citizens.
By the 1930’s the government re-evaluated Philippine immigration and citizenship with the passing of the 1934 Tydings-McDuffie Act. This act not only increased Filipino immigration, but reclassified all Filipinos as aliens instead of nationals which still restricted them from citizenship. When the Second World War started many Filipino Americans found themselves conscripted into the United States Army though their status within the country was still that of an alien. One year into the war the United States Congress passed the Nationality Act in hopes of unifying the continental United States and its territories. The act defined who was eligible for citizenship including those who sought to become citizens through naturalization and through birth. This included Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Hawaiians and those from other territories for the first time but was still limiting in some aspects.
After the war ended however, Congress passed one final act that determined Filipino citizenship and independence, the Luce- Celler Act. In 1946 the United States granted the Philippines their independence in addition to allowing one hundred Filipino immigrants into the United States per year and allowing Filipino Americans to become naturalized citizens.
Though the road to citizenship was paved with oppression and injustice, Filipino Americans remained contributing members of society in all spheres of life from the fields to the cities. With the passing of the 1946 Luce-Celler Act, Filipino Americans were finally able to become citizens and reunite with loved ones. Though they were considered citizens by the state there were still many aspects of society from which they were barred including inter-racial marriage and property rights.