The Filipino Community in New York City
by Lourdes Marzan

Currently, Filipinos are said to be the largest growing Asian American minority in the United States. It has been estimated that by the year 2000, Filipinos will comprise the largest Asian American group in the U.S . The New York City metropolitan area has one of the larger concentrations of Filipinos. Based on the 1980 census and the rate of immigration, we would estimate that today there are close to 50,000 Filipinos in the New York area. This is not as substantial as the Filipino presence in Hawaii (about half a million) and the West Coast--in the Los Angeles area (200,000) and the San Francisco Bay area (100,000).


History: The immigration history and socio-economic development of the Philippines have been closely linked to the U.S. when the Philippines was ceded to the U.S. by Spain in 1898. The Philippines later gained their independence in 1946. The first wave of Filipino immigration into the U.S. started in the early 1900s when thousands of young Filipino men were recruited for the thriving agricultural industry in Hawaii and the West Coast. Another big wave occurred during World War II when Filipinos and Americans were allies. After the war Filipinos came to the U.S. as servicemen or veterans, bringing along their families and settling down mainly on the West Coast.

Here in the East, the first substantial immigration of Filipinos started with the 1965 Immigration Act that removed racial barriers. The first immigrants to the New York area consisted mainly of professionals--doctors, nurses, other medical personnel, engineers, and accountants. Thousands of nurses and medical school graduates were recruited during those years as exchange scholars. After a few years, these professionals converted their temporary visas to immigrant visas and eventually became naturalized U.S. citizens. They then were able to sponsor their immediate relatives to become immigrants under the family reunification provision. Thus, the initial community was diversified and now encompasses Filipinos with various levels of education, skill, and legal status. The presence of a Filipino community and the United Nations in New York continue to draw Filipinos to this area. The U.N. and its foreign missions are a potential source of diplomatic status for Filipinos wishing to remain here, as diplomatic status are granted to U.N. employees-- about 60% of the U.N.'s support staff are Filipino. With the years of repression and economic deprivation under Ferdinand Marcos, and the continuing problems in the Philippines, this trend of steady immigration remains today.


Demographics: Filipinos in the New York area are scattered as far as Connecticut, Rockland County and northern New Jersey. The largest concentration is in Queens--the Woodside Elmhurst/Jackson Heights area. There is also a large number in Jersey City, New Jersey. These two areas are serviced by Filipino grocery stores, restaurants, and bakeries. There are also numerous smaller pockets in Jamaica, Queens, in Brooklyn, and in parts of Long Island. There is no concentration of Filipinos in any particular occupation or business. Filipinos tend to be professionals or white-collar workers--clerks, secretaries, bookkeepers, accountants--but a growing number work in the service industry. There is also an increasingly visible sector working as domestic help.


Organizations: For many years, New York Filipino community organizations have been mostly social in character. The majority of them are paper organizations that hold an annual dinner-dance or an occasional beauty pageant. Most Filipino groups are members of an umbrella organization called Philippine Communities Executive Council. Organizations that focus on providing social services to Filipinos are very few, with the exception of the Philippine Center for Immigrant Rights which offers lawyer referrals and information on legal issues. Around 80% of Filipinos are Roman Catholics, and in New York there is only a small number of Filipino churches. As a whole, Filipinos attend worship at neighborhood churches and do not actively participate in after-service programs. There also has been a progressive presence in the community. Since the early 1970s a number of organizations and issue-oriented associations have worked on immigrant rights, discrimination in the workplace, defense against wrongful prosecution, as well as issues related to the struggle for democracy in the Philippines. Among these organizations are the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), the Campaign for Democracy and Independence in the Philippines (CAMDI), and the Movement for a Free Philippines.

More recently, a growing number of Filipinos have shown interest in political empowerment and participation. There is now a Filipino presence in Democratic and Republican party politics as well as more active involvement in the campaigns of particular politics candidates. During the 1989 New York City mayoral campaign, a group of Filipino Americans supported David Dinkins by fund-raising and conducting voter registration.


Lourdes Marzan is a a member of the Campaign for Democracy and Independence in the Philippines (CAMDI), and a longtime community activist.


January, 1991