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The Paradox of Assimilation: Children of Filipino Immigrants in San Diego -- Yen Espiritu


Yen Le Espiritu and Diane L. Wolf

For: Ruben Rumbaut and Alejandro Portes eds., Ethnicities. Berkeley: UC Press. 1999


Filipinos constitute the largest Asian-origin immigrant group in California and in the United States; their post-1965 migration to the United States is the second largest only after the Mexicans. Despite these numbers, Filipino Americans remain a remarkably understudied and overlooked group both in US culture and in academic research. Some speculate that Filipinos are neglected by academics in part because they "blend in" so easily into the US landscape, particularly those who arrived after 1965, due to their largely urban, professional and middle class backgrounds and lifestyles. Indeed, coming from a former U.S. colony, Filipino immigrants tend to be proficient in English and have long been exposed to U.S. life-styles, cultural practices, and consumption patterns, so much so that before "the Filipino . . . sets foot on the U.S. continent--she, her body, and sensibility--has been prepared by the thoroughly Americanized culture of the homeland" (San Juan 1991: 118). Despite and perhaps because of this ability to blend in, it is imperative that we better understand this group of immigrants.

Drawing on quantitative data from the longitudinal CILS study and qualitative data we have collected in our own research, this paper examines the adaptive trajectories of the children of Filipino immigrants in San Diego, California by focusing on their patterns of academic achievement and ambition, ethnic identify shifts, and psychological well-being. The Filipino case is paradoxical. On the one hand, the socioeconomic data indicate that Filipino immigrants and their children are relatively successful, acculturated, and assimilated. On the other hand, the data on ethnic self-identities and emotional well-being suggest a concurrent counter-trend: First, a significant proportion of young Filipinos reject the assimilative identity "American"; and second, they register relatively lower self-esteem and higher depression than other immigrant groups. We argue that these findings raise significant questions about the conception of assimilation as a linear process--one that leads to increasing identificational assimilation and to improvements in immigrant outcomes over time and generation in the United States. (Rumbaut 1997).

Our paper begins with the broader historical context of Filipino immigration to the United States, to California, and to the research site, San Diego, followed by a delineation of the socioeconomic status of the Filipino CILS sample and the academic achievements and ambitions of young Filipinos. We then examine what it means to grow up as children of Filipino immigrants in San Diego by focusing on shifts in ethnic identity and perceptions of discrimination, the quality of family relationships, and emotional well-being. From our analysis, it is clear that race and gender color and mark most aspects of young Filipino lives and constitute crucial axes along which children of Filipino immigrants must be understood.


Unlike European or other Asian groups, Filipinos come from a homeland that was once a U.S. colony. Therefore, Filipino American history of immigration and settlement can best be understood within the context of the colonial and postcolonial association between the Philippines and the United States. In 1898, following the Spanish American War, the United States assumed colonial rule of the Philippines, thereby extending its "Manifest Destiny" to the Pacific. The U.S. occupation affected all segments of Philippine society (Agoncillo and Guerrero 1970, 303-42). Beside creating strong military and business connections between the two countries, this colonial heritage produced a pervasive cultural Americanization of the population, exhorting Filipinos to regard American culture, society, values, political system, and way of life as superior to their own (Pomeroy 1974, 171; Carino 1987). Perhaps most importantly, U.S. colonizers revamped Philippine educational institutions and curriculum using the American system as its model and English as the language of instruction. Filipino historian Renato Constantino contends that the colonial educational system was an instrument of assimilation or Americanization because it "de-Filipinize(d) the youth, taught them to regard American culture as superior to any other, and American society as the model par excellence for Philippine society" (Constantino 1994, 39). Infected with colonial culture and with grand illusions about the United States, Filipinos soon started to migrate to what they had been taught to think of as the land of opportunity and fair play.

Like other Asian immigrants, pre-World War II Filipinos were an indispensable labor force that helped to build the American West and Hawaii. After U.S. immigration laws had barred the entry of Chinese in 1882 and Japanese laborers in 1908, Filipinos became the favored source of labor because of their legal status as U.S. nationals (Vallangca 1977). As nationals, Filipinos could migrate freely to the United States; the Philippines thus became "the only available source of permanent labor supply" to fill the labor shortage created by the exclusion of other Asians (Dorita 1975, 40). In Hawaii, Filipinos toiled in the islands' sugar plantations; along the Pacific Coast, especially in California, most flocked to agriculture, forming the backbone of the migratory labor force that moved with the harvests (Chan 1990, 37). During the late 1920s and 1930s, as the Filipino population along the Pacific Coast grew and as the Great Depression engulfed the nation, white resentment against Filipino laborers intensified. To enable the government to restrict the number of Filipino immigrants, their status as U.S. nationals had to be changed. In 1934, yielding to anti-Filipino forces, the U.S. Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Independence Act, granting the Philippines eventual independence, declaring Filipinos to be aliens, and cutting Filipino immigration to a trickle of fifty persons a year (Melendy 1977, 27-28, 40-44).

Among the few who were exempted from this immigration restriction were Filipinos who served in the U.S. armed forces, especially in the U.S. Navy. Soon after the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain in 1898, its Navy began actively to recruit Filipinos. Prior to and during World War I, the U.S. Navy allowed Filipino enlistees to serve in a range of occupational ratings. However, after the war, the naval authorities issued a new ruling restricting Filipinos, even those with a college education, to the ratings of officers' stewards and mess attendants (Lawcock 1975, p. 473). In the early 1970s, responding to the demands of the Civil Rights Movement and a senatorial investigation on the use of stewards in the military, the U.S. Navy amended its policies to grant Filipino nationals the right to enter any occupational rating (Espiritu, 1995, 16). These navy-related immigrants form a distinct and significant segment of the Filipino American community. In U.S. cities which have large naval facilities, such as San Diego, one can find sizeable Filipino communities made up largely of Filipino navy families.

The 1965 Immigration Act abolished the national-origins quotas and permitted entry primarily on the basis of family reunification or occupational characteristics, dramatically increasing the number of immigrants from Asia. In the twenty years following passage of the 1965 Act, about 40 percent of the legal immigration to the United States has come from Asia (Bouvier and Gardner 1986). The Philippines has been the largest source, with Filipinos comprising nearly one quarter of the total Asian immigration. From 1961 to 1965, fewer than 16,000 Filipinos immigrated to the United States; from 1981 to 1985, this increased to more than 221,000. Since 1979, more than 40,000 Filipino immigrants have been admitted annually, making the Philippines the second largest source of immigration to this country, after only Mexico (Carino et al, 1990, 2). The 1990 U.S. census of population counted close to 1.5 million Filipinos in the United States, 50 percent of whom resided in California.

Frustrated by scarce or inappropriate employment opportunities (and also by overpopulation and deteriorating political conditions), and influenced by images of U.S. abundance peddled by the educational system, the media, and relatives and friends already in the United States, many well educated Filipinos seized the opportunity provided by the 1965 Act to emigrate. The push from the Philippines was also political. Declaring martial law in 1972, President Marcos prorogued the legislatures, controlled the media, suspended the writ of habeas corpus, and arrested many of his alleged political opponents (Berry 1989, 168). During the Marcos era, an estimated 300,000 Filipinos emigrated from the Philippines to the United States (Steinberg 1990, 129-30).

Since the 1960s, the Philippines has sent the largest number of professional immigrants to the United States (Rumbaut 1991). Due to the shortage of medical personnel in this country, particularly in the inner cities and in rural areas, doctors, nurses, and other health-related practitioners are over represented among the recent Filipino immigrants. Just as the early Filipino immigrants were recruited for farm labor, by the 1970s recent medical graduates in the Philippines were recruited to work in U.S. hospitals, nursing homes, and health organizations (Pido 1986, 85). In fact, the Philippines is the largest supplier of health professionals to the United States, sending nearly 25,000 nurses to this country between 1966 and 1985, and another 10,000 between 1989 and 1991 (Ong and Azores 1994, p. 154). Indeed, many of the nursing programs in the Philippines are oriented towards supplying the U.S. nursing labor market (Ong and Azores 1994). Once in the United States, however, strict licensing procedures and racial discrimination have forced many Filipino medical professionals to work as nurses' aides and laboratory assistants or in jobs that were totally unrelated to their knowledge and expertise (Takaki 1989, 434-36).

Not all of the contemporary immigrants from the Philippines are professionals, however. Instead, the dual goals of the 1965 Immigration Act--to facilitate family reunification and to admit workers needed by the U.S. economy--have produced two distinct chains of emigration from the Philippines: one comprising the relatives of Filipinos who had immigrated to the United States prior to 1965; the other of highly trained immigrants who entered during the late 1960s and early 1970s. During the period from 1966-1975, about the same proportion of Filipino immigrants (subject to numerical limitation) came under the occupational preference categories as under the family preference categories. However, in the 1976-1988 period, the proportion of occupational preference immigrants dropped to 19-20 percent while the proportion of family preference immigrants rose to about 80 percent--the result of tightening entry requirements for professional immigrants in the mid-1970s and their subsequent reliance on family reunification categories to enter the United States (Carino et al 1990, 11-12). Because new immigrants tend to be of similar socioeconomic backgrounds as their sponsors, family reunification immigrants represent a continuation of the unskilled and semi-skilled Filipino labor that had emigrated before 1965. In contrast, professional immigrants originate from the middle to upper social, economic, and educational sectors of Philippine society; and they, in turn, sponsor relatives who possess the same backgrounds (Liu et al 1991). As a result of these two distinct chains of emigration from the Philippines, the contemporary Filipino American community is more diverse than it had been in the past in terms of class.

San Diego County is the third largest U.S. destination of contemporary Filipino immigrants (Rumbaut 1991, 220). In 1990, numbering close to 96,000, Filipinos Americans were the county's largest Asian American group, comprising approximately 50 percent of this population. As in other parts of the U.S. mainland, the majority of the first group of Filipinos in San Diego were laborers. While the farm workers concentrated in the agricultural communities of El Centro and Escondido, the urban laborers lived and worked in downtown hotels and restaurants. Although numerically small (see Table 1), the prewar Filipino community was vibrant. Barred from renting or purchasing homes outside of the business district, most Filipinos lived in the downtown section of the city. There, around Market Street, Filipinos ran small restaurants, pool and gambling tables, and sponsored dances and other cultural events. Rizal Day-a yearly observance in honor of Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal-was the most celebrated festivity, drawing several hundred Filipinos from all over the county (Castillo-Tsuchida 1979).

San Diego--the site of the largest U.S. naval base station and the Navy's primary West Coast training facility--has been a prominent area of settlement for Filipino navy men and their families since the early 1900s. In the 1940s and 1950s, the majority of the Filipino families in San Diego were navy-related. Reflecting this Navy dominance, a pioneer Filipino organization in San Diego was the Fleet Reserve Association and the first community center was the Filipino American Veterans Hall (Espiritu 1995). The Navy presence continues to be prominent today. Indeed, Ruben Rumbaut (1991, 220) reported that during 1978-85, more than 51 percent of the 12,500 Filipino babies born in the San Diego metropolitan area were delivered at the U.S.Naval Hospital.

-Table 1 about here--

As in other Filipino communities along the Pacific Coast, the San Diego community experienced a dramatic growth in the twenty five years following passage of the 1965 Immigration Act. New immigration contributed greatly to the tripling of the county's Filipino American population in the 1970-1980 period and to another doubling of the population between 1980 and 1990 (see Table 1). Many post-1965 Filipinos have also come to San Diego as professionals--most conspicuously as nurses. The arrival of the new immigrants--and the resultant class divisions--has made it more difficult for San Diego's Filipinos to maintain the closeness once shared by the smaller group (Espiritu 1995, 24-25).

SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS, EDUCATIONAL ACHIEVEMENT AND AMBITION The CILS Filipino sample mirrors the larger post-1965 Filipino immigration to the United States in that a sizeable proportion are college educated professionals who end up in the US middle class. However, what is striking about the Filipino case is that Filipino women have higher educational attainment, often higher occupational status, and concurrent higher earnings compared with Filipino men (Wong and Hirschman 1983; Woo, 1985). Of the students sampled for CILS , thirty percent of their fathers but almost fifty percent of their mothers had at least a college degree or more; indeed, very few parents had less than a high school degree. The proportions of parents in white collar occupations matches closely their educational attainment with almost 60% of the mothers but only about 40% of the fathers in white-collar positions. These data are even more intriguing in light of the fact that Filipino fathers in the sample were more likely to be U.S. born--and thus more acculturated--than mothers (16.8% and 2.5% respectively).

Table 2 about here

Reflecting the prominent role that the U.S. Navy plays in the immigration of Filipino men, over 50 percent of the 1992 CILS respondents indicated that their fathers worked for or were retired from the U.S. Navy. These jobs range from service and blue collar positions to white collar jobs. While the Navy employs many Filipino fathers, Filipino mothers are clustered in medically related professions as nurses, health technicians, nursing attendants, or the like, and in accounting. In 1992, close to a quarter of the CILS respondents indicated that their mothers worked in the field of health care; of these, about half were registered nurses. Finally, table 2 indicates that 43 percent of the fathers but only 28% of the mothers are in either blue collar or low wage service jobs, reminding us that not all Filipinos are middle class professionals. It is also interesting to note that a slightly higher percentage of mothers are in the labor force compared with fathers, another feature of Filipina immigrants more generally.

Although clearly not every Filipino/a in the labor force is in a white collar or upper blue collar occupation, the majority of the Filipino youth surveyed lived in middle class households, the result of having both parents in the labor force. Almost 75 percent of the CILS sample come from families that own their home, a strong indicator of middle class status. At T1, 85 percent of the sample categorized their families as "middle class" and another 3 percent stated that they were wealthy; in contrast, just 11 percent of the sample described their families as "working class," and less than one half percent stated that they were poor. Although these figures may under report less well-off economic conditions, they fit with the general 1990 Census figures showing that Filipinos in California had the lowest proportion living below the poverty line--5.8 percent--compared with all other Asian groups (Oliver, et al. 1995:3-32). Finally, when asked to compare their economic situation in 1995 (T2) to that in 1992 (T1), eighty percent of the CILS sample felt that it was the same or better suggesting a perpetuation of middle class status at the very least.

As would be expected from a group of young Asian Americans coming from solid middle class backgrounds with fairly well educated parents, most Filipino Americans plan to seek higher education after high school (Kao, 1995). Again, what is interesting about the Filipino CILS data is the gender pattern: Filipino females had higher educational achievements and aspirations than did males. Filipino parents also reported higher educational expectations of daughters than of sons. However, while young Filipinas generally had higher grades and educational aspirations than did Filipino males, they also tended to curtail their aspirations much more so than did boys.

---Table 3 about here----

As demonstrated in Table 3, girls' grades were higher than boys' grades at both T1 and T2, with an average GPA of 3.16 for girls at T1 and 3.09 at T2, compared with 2.7 for boys at T1 and 2.62 at T2. Indeed, when GPAs are broken down at T2, almost 60 percent of the males had less than a 3.0 GPA while more than 60 percent of Filipinas carried above a 3.0 GPA. Girls' performances on standardized reading and math tests at T1 also exceeded boys' scores. In CILS data not presented here, over time, females consistently felt more strongly than boys about the importance of achieving good grades. This difference is reflected in their study habits. Filipino girls spent more time studying and watched less television than did Filipino boys in both time periods. At T2, when grades are more important for qualifying for college, girls exceeded boys in only one category of watching television--the "less than one hour per day" grouping.

.-Table 4 about here--

The CILS data indicate that young Filipinos have high educational aspirations. As seen in Table 4, a higher proportion of young Filipinas expected to attain an advanced degree compared with Filipino males. Table 4 also shows that parental educational aspirations for their children are positively related to their own educational attainment, with most parents hoping that their children would complete college at the very least. Interestingly, parents had higher aspirations for their daughters than for their sons. A higher proportion of parents of daughters hoped their child would attain an advanced degree compared with the parents of sons (70% and 60% respectively). The highest aspirations for daughters came from college-educated mothers: while 72 percent of college-educated mothers hoped that their son would obtain a graduate degree, 86 percent of college-educated mothers hoped their daughter would do the same. Indeed, even parents without college degrees had very high expectations for their daughters' education.

These differences, however, can be linked with the respondents' desired occupations and the occupations that parents hope their child will pursue. Those (predominantly males) hoping to become engineers do not need more than a B.S. degree to obtain a job in their field. In contrast, those (predominantly females) seeking medical or teaching careers do need advanced education and training. At T2, the occupations that drew the largest numbers of male respondents were: engineering (25%), physician (18%), nurse/physical therapy (15.5%) , business (11%), and computing (11%); for females: physicians (29%), nurse/physical therapy (29%), business (13%), and teaching (9%). In other words, one-third of the males but two-thirds of the females aspired for an occupation in medicine, either as a physician, nurse, or physical therapist--all of which require an advanced degree.

In terms of the type of college they would like to attend, Filipinas again aspired higher than Filipino males of the same age. Almost thirty percent of the girls wished to attend the University of California at San Diego compared with 16 percent of the boys. Proportionally fewer females set their sights on San Diego State University (by ten percent) but about the same proportion of males and females were aiming for a local community college. And, more females than males hoped to attend a college elsewhere in California or outside of California altogether. Finally, about 19 percent of the females and 22 percent of the boys had "no plans" at age 17 when asked about their hopes and desires.

The data become disturbing when we compare students' desires and hopes with what they "realistically" believe will happen. At T2, the community college category grew for both sexes by over 250 percent while the UCSD option declined more substantially for females (43 percent) than for males (28 percent). The options of attending a college outside of San Diego also dropped markedly as both sexes admitted the unlikelihood of going far from home. Finally, what is also disconcerting is that the "no plans" category swells up to almost one-third of the entire sample when "reality" sets in, increasing by one-third the numbers of females and by one-quarter the numbers of males who chose this category. Together, these data suggest that while Filipinas may have higher aspirations than their male counterparts, the lack of feasibility of their plans, for whatever reasons, hits them harder and forces more of them to "aim lower" than do males. This setting of sights lower than is necessary, especially in light of their high academic achievements, may actually thwart possibilities of upward mobility.

Interviews with young Filipino Americans confirm the importance of gender in their lives. Many second generation Filipinas resent what they see as gender inequity in their families: the fact that their immigrant parents regularly place far more restrictions on their autonomy, mobility, and personal decision than on their brothers' (Espiritu 1997). The restrictions on girls' movement sometimes spill over to the realms of academics, possibly affecting their educational trajectories. The high school teachers and counselors Wolf (1997) interviewed reported that some Filipino parents pursued contradictory tactics with their daughter's education by pushing them to excel in high school, but then "pulling the emergency brake" when they contemplated college by expecting them to stay at home, even if it means going to a less competitive college.


The socioeconomic data just discussed suggest that most Filipino Americans have achieved economic assimilation. This section examines the assumption that upward social mobility is linked to sociocultural similarity by focusing on ethnic self-identity and language preference--two key indices of cultural assimilation. An assimilationist perspective would predict that over time and generation, immigrants and their children will move in the direction of both increasing identificational assimilation (i.e. as an unhyphenated American) and increasing linguistic assimilation (i.e. anglicization) (Rumbaut 1997). However, the available data suggest a more dynamic and complex pattern of cultural adaptation: While most Filipino Americans self-identified by national origin, most also preferred English to their parents' native language. Race also shapes the identity of these young Filipinos as they struggled between their belief in the American dream and their experience with racial discrimination.

Reactive Ethnic Consciousness

The CILS data indicate that ethnic self-identities vary significantly over time--but not in the direction predicted by the linear assimilation perspective. As indicated in Table 5 (which records changes in ethnic self-identity from T1 to T2), in 1992, the majority of the Filipino students in the sample (59%) selected a hyphenated Filipino American identification and about one third (31%) identified as Filipino. In very few cases (about 5%) did respondents choose the unhyphenated "American." In sum, in 1992, close to 90% of the Filipino respondents ethnically self-identified with being Filipino. By 1995, even more Filipino students (92%) in the sample self-identified with their or their parents' immigrant origins. However, the proportion of those who selected "Filipino" and "Filipino American" reversed to 55% and 37% respectively. Thus from T1 to T2, the most significant increase by far was in the proportions choosing the immigrant or national origin identity "Filipino." Furthermore, an overwhelming 80% of those who identified as Filipino at T1 kept that identity by T2, and 75% who identified as Filipino at T2 reported that their ethnic self-identity is "very important" to them--a testament to the strength and stability of this "unassimilated" identity. In comparison, about half of those who identified as Filipino American at T1 kept that identity by T2; the other half shifted to the unhyphenated Filipino label. Of the 34 individuals who identified themselves as American at T1, only about 15% of them did so again by T2; a significant percentage (38%) shifted to the Filipino American identity and another 29% to the Filipino identity. These results indicate that for the Filipinos in the CILS sample, ethnic change over time has not gravitated toward an assimilative or American national identity (e.g. American) but rather toward an immigrant or national-origin identity.

--Table 5 about here-

In a qualitative study of Filipino Americans in San Diego County, Espiritu (1997) also found that most Filipinos rejected the assimilative American identity. Instead, they equated "American" with "white" and often used these two terms interchangeably. For example, a Filipina who is married to a white American referred to her husband as "American" but to her African American and Filipino American brothers-in-law as "black" and "Filipino" respectively. This practice--of equating American with white--reflects the racialized history of Filipinos and other Asians in the United States. Historically, U.S. immigration exclusion acts, naturalization laws, and national culture have simultaneously marked Asians as the inassimilable aliens and whites as the quintessential American (Lowe 1996). Excluded from the collective memory of who constitutes a "real" American, Asians in the United States, even as citizens, are expected to

remain the "foreigner-within"--the "non-American." In the case of Filipinos, emigrants from a former U.S. colony, their formation as racialized minorities does not begin in the United States but rather in the "homeland" already affected by U.S. economic, social, and cultural influences (Lowe 1996, 8). Cognizant of the enduring significance of race, a Filipino man who has lived in the United States for thirty years explains why he still does not identify himself as American, "I don't see myself just as an American because I cannot hide the fact that my skin is brown. To me, American means white" (Espiritu 1997),

The growing ethnic awareness among Filipino youth in the sample corresponded with an increase in their experiences and expectations of race and ethnic discrimination. As indicated in Table 6, close to 90 percent of Filipinos in the sample at T2 agreed that there is racial discrimination and much conflict between races in the United States. The majority--about two thirds-- related that they had experienced racial and ethnic discrimination. They also reported more such experiences of rejection or unfair treatment against themselves as they grew older. In 1992, already 63.5% had experienced direct discrimination against themselves; in 1995, 69% had. The proportion of respondents who expect that people will discriminate against them also increased from 38% at T1 to 42% at T2. This increase in perception of discrimination may be a response to the growing anti-immigrant sentiment embodied in the passage of Proposition 187 in California in November 1994. The politics of Proposition 187 was such that those with immigrant origins were forced to confront their backgrounds and identities even if they were legal immigrants who had successfully assimilated into the US economy thus far. Given their experiences with and perceptions of ethnic/racial exclusion and rejection, it is not surprising that the majority of Filipino respondents did not self-identify as American.

It is important to note that Filipino parents were less likely than their children to report that they have experienced racial discrimination (40% compared to 69%). Yet, parents clearly perceived the social distance that separates Filipino and white Americans. For example, over 70% believed that white Americans consider themselves superior to Filipinos; 30% thought that their child will experience opposition if s/he wants to join a club of White Americans; and about 20% feared that their child will face resistance if s/he wants to move in a white American neighborhood or marry a white American.

Table 6 about here

Among young Filipinos suffering discrimination, their own race or nationality were the overwhelming forces perceived to account for that unfair treatment (66.8% of boys and 73.3% of girls). In-depth interviews with second generation Filipino/as in San Diego County corroborate these findings: Many of those interviewed reported that they had been verbally and/or physically harassed by others for their perceived racial differences (Espiritu 1994). These racial incidents constitute key events in the ethnic experiences of these Filipino Americans, a background against which they interpret subsequent incidents and reevaluate their assigned place in U.S. society (see Essed 1991). The CILS data also indicate that such experiences of discrimination tend to be associated over time with the development of a more pessimistic stance about their chances to reduce ethnic and racial discrimination through higher educational achievement (Rumbaut 1994a). For example, when asked to agree or disagree with the statement, "No matter how much education I get, people will still discriminate against me," 38% of the Filipinos in the CILS sample agreed in 1992; a few years later, this proportion increased to about 44 percent. The enduring presence of racism in the lives of young Filipino Americans indicates that "a European-non European distinction remains a central division in [U.S.] society" (Lieberson and Waters 1988, 248). This division--as manifested in institutional discrimination and personal prejudice--shapes not only the life outcomes but also the eventual identities of immigrants of color and their descendants.

The growth of a reactive ethnic consciousness is also reflected in the friendship patterns of children of Filipino immigrants. At T1, close to 70% indicated that many or most of their friends were from abroad and about 90% reported that they had Filipino friends. At T2, about 60% said that many or most of their close friends' parents are foreign born. Again, their social networks closely resembled those of their parents: over 70% of the parents surveyed reported that they socialized mainly with other Filipinos; and about half stated that most of their neighbors are Filipinos. However, Filipino youngsters were much more likely than their parents to have friends from diverse racial/ethnic groups. Over 40 percent of young Filipinos reported having other Asian (other than Filipino) friends; about a quarter had Latino friends; and 18 percent had white friends. In comparison, less than seven percent of their parents reported that they socialized mainly with Asian, Latino, or white Americans. Reflecting the social distance between Filipino and Black Americans, less than four percent of both Filipino children and parents befriended Black Americans.

A logistic regression analysis of the two most salient ethnic identity variables--Filipino identity and Filipino American identity as of T2-allows us to identify which of the observed predictors has the strongest effect on ethnic identity. As a whole, nativity had the strongest influence on the type of identity selected. In other words, respondents who were born in the Philippines and whose parents were also born in the Philippines were significantly more likely to identify as Filipino; conversely, those who were born in the United States and who had one U.S-born parent were much more likely to identify as Filipino American. Citizenship status is also significantly associated with ethnic self-identification, with non-citizens more likely to call themselves Filipino and citizens to adopt the Filipino American label. These findings are in keeping with responses from the entire CILS sample at T1 (Rumbaut 1994). Parental nativity looms importantly in children's ethnic self-identification in that if at least one parent is US born then respondents were less likely to identify as Filipino; again, conversely, respondents with one US-born parent tended to gravitate towards a hyphenated identity. Indeed, this is likely the case in the many marriages of Filipino servicemen with US-born wives.

Parental ethnic identification at T1 had weak but nonetheless significant effects on children's identity-if parents identified as Filipino at T1, their children were more likely to identify as Filipino as well, at T2. Conversely, if parents identified as Filipino-American at T1, children were more likely to identify as the same, in T2. Finally, having both parents of the same national origin-namely, Filipino-had a significant effect, again weakly, on the respondent's propensity to identify as Filipino. It is very interesting that perceptions of discrimination washed out with regards to respondents' ethnic identification.

Assimilative Trends

The data on ethnic identity shifts, experiences of discrimination, and friendship patterns just described all point to the rapid growth of a reactive ethnic consciousness among young Filipino Americans in San Diego. However, there is also a concurrent counter trend in the direction of assimilation. Despite their growing awareness of racial discrimination and ethnic inequality and their inclination to socialize mainly with other Filipinos and immigrants, many Filipinos in the sample continued to believe in the "American dream"--in the promise of equal opportunities for all. Over 50 percent agreed with the statement that "non-whites have as many opportunities to get ahead economically as whites in the United States." Even more tellingly as seen in Table 6, nearly 63% of these students agreed in the 1992 survey that "there is no better country to live in than the United States," and that positive appraisal grew to 76% in 1995. Also, at both T1 and T2, more than half of the sample preferred American ways of doing things all or most of the time. This belief in the promise of equal opportunity and the rousing endorsement of the United States--even in the face of racism--testifies to the enduring power of the ideology of the United States as the land of opportunity, fair play, and abundance.

More importantly, on the issue of language preference, Filipino children of immigrants are unequivocally moving toward monolingual English. Even as they self-identified by national origin, an overwhelming majority preferred English to their parents' native tongue. Although over 90% of the Filipino sample reported speaking a language other than English at home, they were not fluent in this language. As seen in Table 6, only about one in ten indicated that they spoke a Filipino language "very well" and even fewer could read it "very well." In contrast, nearly nine out of ten Filipinos reported speaking and reading English "very well." Indeed, Filipinos were the most linguistically assimilated of all the CILS groups surveyed, with 96% of the respondents preferring English by T2.

The rapid transition toward monolingual English--experienced by all groups in the CILS sample-reflects in part the hostility toward bilingualism and the clamor for "English-only" in many parts of the United States. Given this context, many Filipino immigrant parents and their children strive to perfect their English--to speak proper and accent-free English. A Filipino immigrant who left the Philippines as a teenager explained why he worked so hard to improve his English, "When we arrived in San Diego, . . I was ridiculed because [of] my accent . . . . I knew that if I wanted to succeed in this country, I had to find a way to improve the way I speak English " (Espiritu 1995, pp. 172-73). In fact, it is not unusual to find ads in Filipino newspapers from private teachers offering to help English-speaking Filipinos lose their Filipino accent in English. In great part, owing to the legacy of U.S. colonialism in the Philippines, over 97 percent of the Filipino parents surveyed for the CILS reported that they speak, understand, read, and write English well or very well. Because they are proficient in English, Filipino parents may be less compelled to teach their children the Filipino language. As a Filipino immigrant parent explained, "We don't teach the children Tagalog because we're comfortable in English also. English comes out almost automatically when we speak to them. Even the grandparents speak English" (Espiritu 1994, 257).

Along the same lines, CILS data suggest that there is a lack of active cultural socialization--the deliberate teaching and practicing of the languages, traditions, and history of the Philippines--in Filipino American homes. Although close to three-quarters of the parents surveyed stated that it is very important for their child to know about the Philippines, over half (57%) reported that they seldom talked to their child about the Philippines and close to three quarters (72%) admitted that their family seldom celebrated special days connected with the Philippines. A Filipino American tells of the 'cultural void" in his family:

Not much was going on at my house. Nothing. It wasn't made explicit

that Filipino culture is something that we should retain, that we should hold

on to, as something that's valuable. There wasn't that much sense that we should

keep the language. So you don't really get taught, you know. And I found that to

be a real common experience among Filipinos my age. Our parents don't realize that

we don't know anything about the old country: who was the first president, when was

independence day, who was Jose Rizal? (Espiritu 1994, 258).

This perceived lack of cultural transmission in Filipino American homes can be attributed in part to the parents' long work hours and/or to the pressure that force immigrants to assimilate the mainstream culture. As a Filipina American stated, "We don't celebrate these holidays because growing up in my neighborhood, white-washed suburbia, we just couldn't" (Espiritu 1994, 259).

The quantitative and qualitative data on Filipino Americans just described indicate that ethnic identification is, in fact, a more dynamic and complex social phenomenon than has been predicted by either the pluralist or assimilationist model. On the one hand, the data show that the majority of second generation Filipino Americans self-identify by national origin and socialize mainly with other Filipinos. These data seemingly support the pluralist position which expects immigrants and their descendants to remain as distinct national communities. On the other hand, the data also indicate that many Filipino Americans overwhelmingly favor life in the United States and prefer English to their parents' native language--a seemingly assimilationist stance. Together, these data challenge the position that identity is bipolar-meaning that one gravitates toward either the pole of nativism or the pole of assimilation. As the data indicate, most Filipino Americans maintain a strong Filipino and Filipino American identity and network and conform to the forces of acculturation and assimilation.


The cultural assimilation issues just discussed--ethnic identity shifts, language shifts, and perceptions of discrimination--involve highly subjective and emotional processes. In this section, then, we will examine the psychological well-being of young Filipino/a children of immigrants by examining two key cognitive and affective dimensions of psychosocial adaptation: self-esteem and depression. Although the kind of educational achievement and English language fluency experienced by Filipino young people is typically associated with positive self esteem and psychological well-being, Rumbaut (1996, 162) found that among all the different nationalities in CILS, only the Filipinos (and Vietnamese) reflect statistically significantly lower self esteem scores, net of other factors and higher depression scores, particularly among the females. Given the comparative socioeconomic advantages of the Filipino population, these findings are surprising and suggestive of "assimilation and its discontents" (Rumbaut, 1997b ).

As seen in Table 7, during both times surveyed, females had consistently lower self-esteem and higher depression scores than did males. A test of means from data at both T1

-Table 7 about here--

and T2 confirms that gender differences in depression scores and self-esteem scores are highly significant. In data on self-esteem scores not presented here, across all categories (low, medium and high self esteem), females consistently registered lower self esteem compared with males. However, girls' overall self-esteem rose more than did males' self-esteem between ages 14 and 17, thus substantially narrowing the gap between males and females. For example, the 12 percent gender gap in the high self esteem category at T1 closes to only four percent by T2. Despite overall lower self esteem, this shift in female's self esteem over time is a very positive one, particularly in light of the generally lower self-esteem experienced by young women of the same age group in the larger society.

Depression scores by gender demonstrate that both males and females register slightly higher scores at T2 than at T1, with females again having consistently higher scores. In Table 7, depression scores at T2 are broken down further, demonstrating that the majority of males cluster in the low depression score category while the majority of females cluster in the high depression score category. When these data are compared with T1 data (not shown here), we see a different trend from the shifts in self esteem just discussed. While the difference between male and female self esteem narrowed considerably over time, a substantial gender gap is maintained in depression scores: the 19 percent gap between males and females in the category of high depression level in T1 declined little over time and by T2, but there is still a considerable difference of 14.5 percent.

Finally, GPA is inversely related to depression and positively related to self esteem. In other words, the lower the GPA, the more likely the Filipino/a child of immigrants is to have lower self esteem and higher depression. GPA is also inversely related to family conflict. For some young people, problems at home may overwhelm their ability to study, concentrate, and do well at school; with others, not doing well at school could be at the root of some family conflict and their resultant depression.

The CILS data are all the more troubling in view of the recent reports by the Federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on surveys of teen risk behavior among San Diego public high school students, that found a high proportion of Filipina female students reporting suicidal ideation (45.6%) and suicidal attempts (23.3%) in the year preceding the survey--the highest levels of any major ethnic group surveyed. Although Filipino males did not receive the same kind of media attention as did Filipinas (Lau, 1995), 29.4 percent of them had suicidal thoughts and 12 percent of them had attempted suicide in the preceding year, the latter rate being close to double that of all other males surveyed. Thus, these relatively high rates of depression and low self esteem, particularly among Filipinas, need serious attention since they have often translated into emotional despair.

In Wolf's focus groups with Filipino children of immigrants attending the University of California, she found that six of the twenty two students interviewed (27 percent), all female, admitted to having had suicidal ideation and some had attempted suicide, while others referred to suicidal attempts by siblings. Most mentioned the intense pressure they felt from parents to succeed and feeling unseen and unheard. Furthermore, students felt unable to discuss their distress with parents for fear of sanctions. Discussing these problems outside the family-e.g., with a friend or counselor-was not considered an option due to the possibility of "gossip" which would bring shame on the family. In sum, the little data that exist on this issue point to a relatively troubling profile of psychological well-being in a context of relative middle class "success" and "assimilation, " suggestive of an "achievement paradox" (Rumbaut 1998).

Given the oft-hostile outside world, many immigrants and their children look to the family to sustain and support them (Glenn 1986, 193). The data demonstrate that an overwhelming majority of young Filipinos in the CILS sample live with their two biological parents in an intact family. In both T1 and T2, 80 percent of the samples lived in a family setting with both parents while less than ten percent lived in a step family and less than ten percent lived with only one parent. This low level of family disruption compared with US averages may not necessarily reflect more harmonious marriages, but instead, Filipino ideologies of family cohesion, unity and loyalty, a Catholic aversion to divorce, and perhaps a greater need to cohere to the smaller family unit due to the absence of the wider family network. It is important to note that while the prevalence of intact biological nuclear families among Asians is often used as an indicator of family cohesion and perhaps as the basis of "family values," such measures may obfuscate problematic contradictions and conflict.

Like other immigrant groups, Filipino American women and men identify the family (sa pamilya) as a tremendous source of cultural pride (di Leonardo 1984; Kibria 1993; Hickey 1996). In focus groups with Filipino children of immigrants in Northern California, Wolf was struck by the "strong, spontaneous and emotional statements about family as the center of what it means to be Filipino" (1997:461). Similarly, in a study of Filipino American families in San Diego County, Espiritu (1997) found that most Filipinos believed themselves to be superior to white Americans because they are more family oriented and more willing to sacrifice for one another. However, this ideology of family cohesion contrasted with many of the same subjects' experiences of pressure and conflict emanating from that same group.

In the CILS data, the ideology of the family as an important primary group is expressed as well, but is not necessarily matched by the actual practice or feelings of family cohesion and consensus. Importantly, female respondents appear to experience more conflict and contradiction than male respondents. At T2, while almost two-thirds of the sample feels strongly that family togetherness is always or often important, only about half live in families in which family members feel close and not quite forty percent are in families that enjoy spending time together. In other words, while the great majority of the respondents indicated that the ideology of family togetherness and cohesion is extremely important to them, few actually experienced this cohesion in their family life.

In many of their responses to the questions on family togetherness, a majority of females expressed more distance from the family and less desire to spend time together than did the males. This gender difference is corroborated by the family cohesion scale which is based on three variables concerning the degree to which the respondent thinks family togetherness is important, whether the respondent's family likes to spend time together and whether they feel close. The average score of the family cohesion scale at T2 was 3.62 for males and 3.48 for females. This difference could be attributed to more family conflict experienced by daughters than by sons due to stronger attempts to control female behavior and sexuality. Females also experienced more family conflict than did males. At T1, about 30 percent of the females compared with 21 percent of the males clashed with parents all or most of the time. At T2, proportionally more females than males argued about conflicting goals with their parents. These findings suggest that more males are in concert with parental goals than are females.

Finally, we turn our focus to a least-squares regression analysis of both measures of psycho-social well-being--self-esteem and depression--at T2 when the respondents were 17. Parent-child conflict emerges as the strongest predictor of both self esteem and depression: the higher the parent-child conflict, the lower the self-esteem and the higher the level of depression. It is likely that in most cases, this high level of conflict is affecting young people's senses of self, particularly in light of the importance of family ideology for these young people and in Filipino culture, it could also be the reverse in that those who are depressed and apathetic may experience more pressure from parents. Gender, or being female was the second strongest factor predicting depression which is not surprising given the strong gender differences that persisted over time in the depression variable. Interestingly, at T1, gender also constituted the second strongest predictor of self esteem but at T2, moves to being the fifth most important factor.

English proficiency was the second most important variable in predicting self esteem meaning that the better the respondent's English, the higher his/her self esteem, although it was not significant in predicting depression. . However, related to English proficiency, GPA had the third strongest effect in predicting both self-esteem and depression. For the depression variable, GPA had a moderate and negative effect, meaning that lower grades were able to explain a higher level of depression. These patterns simply strengthen the bi-variate patterns we have discussed earlier in terms of the interrelationships between psychological well-being, family conflict, and doing well at school. Rumbaut (1998: 27) also found that variables that signify English language proficiency and educational achievements, what he termed, "competence in role performance" had strong and significant effects in predicting self-esteem in the entire CILS sample.

Foreign language proficiency had a positive and strong effect at T2 in that the more Tagalog (or other Filipino language) they knew, the higher their self esteem. This suggests that maintaining a strong ethnic identity helped young Filipino children of immigrants have a stronger and more solid sense of self. However, as with English language proficiency, foreign language proficiency again was not significant in predicting depression. At T1, experiencing discrimination was the third strongest variable in explaining depression but is no longer significant at T2. In other words, young people may have initially internalized racial discrimination but over time, as their own ethnic identity solidified and they became more conscious of their Filipino identity as a group, they internalized discrimination to a lesser extent. In his multivariate analysis of all the CILS groups, Rumbaut (1998:27) found that discrimination and other related variables that create the "experience of perceived danger and lack of control over threatening life events" were also significant in predicting depression.

At T2, having one parent born in the US or a naturalized citizen was significant but had weak effects on positive self esteem. Although at T1, having a Filipino or Filipino-American identity was significant but had negative but weak effects on predicting self esteem. All identity variables wash out by T2 in predicting self esteem.


What is it like to grow up Filipina/o in San Diego as the child of immigrants? These data point to several interesting and seemingly contradictory patterns. First, as predicted by the pluralist model, second generation Filipinos, like others in the CILS sample, move toward an ethnic rather than an American identity over time. But they also conform to the forces of assimilation because they believe in the "American dream" and prefer English to their parents' native language. These data suggest that ethnic identification is a more dynamic and complex social process than has been predicted by either the assimilationist and pluralist perspectives. Second, young Filipinas have higher educational aspirations, higher grades, and more academic demands on them from parents than do Filipino males. Filipinas appear to work harder and achieve more success in school, strive higher than males reproducing gendered patterns that exist among their parents. Unfortunately, the data also suggest that despite these ambitions, Filipinas also end up accepting less and aiming "downwards." Rapid acculturation does not necessarily lead to conventionally anticipated outcomes.

Third, psychologically, Filipinas experience more family conflict, more depression and lower self esteem than do their male counterparts. Indeed, as has been pointed out elsewhere (Rumbaut, 1996;Wolf, 1997; Espiritu, 1997), their psychological indicators are unexpectedly dramatic particularly in light of the seeming ease and success they and their families have had in "assimilating" into US society and their solidly middle class status, compared with other groups in the CILS sample. Several possible explanations are suggested. One is that Filipino parents' middle class status allows them to tighten their controls over their children, since they are already part of the system as opposed to being marginalized by it compared with other immigrant groups. Another possibility is that our notion of "assimilation" is flawed in that it suggests more ease and integration than what may be occurring for some. Speaking English and owning one's home do tell us about economic integration, but not about socio-emotional matters. In other words, such measures cannot and do not elucidate the process and meaning of assimilation for those who live and experience it. Thus, our analysis underscores that rather than navigating a path towards a sense of ease and belonging, the process of assimilation is a complex one, ripe with contradictions and disrupture; indeed, this case encourages a critical rethinking of the notion of assimilation in and of itself.

Table 1: Filipino Population in the United States, California, and San Diego, 1910-90


Year United States California San Diego

1910 2,767 5 __

1920 26,634 2,674 48

1930 108,260 30,470 394

1940 98,535 31,408 799

1950 122,707 40,424 NA

1960 181,614 67,134 5,123

1970 336,731 135,248 15,069

1980 774,652 358,378 48,658

1990 1,406,770 733,941 95,945


Sources: Up to 1950, the data are from H. Brett Melendy, Asians in America: Filipinos, Koreans, and East Indians (Boston: Twayne, 1977), whose sources include the annual reports of the U.S. Immigration and the U.S. Census of Population and Housing for each area. Melendy's records for San Diego through 1950 were for the city itself; the numbers from 1960 to 1900 are those for San Diego County.

Table 2: Family Socioeconomic Status of Children of Filipino Immigrants in San Diego, CA



% College Graduate 29.9 47.4

% High School Graduate 26 17.9

% in Labor Force 74.3 77.4

% White Collar 40.0 57.9

% Blue Collar & Low Wage Service 42.5 28.1

Family Economy

Class Position at T2:

%Wealthy 3.4

%Middle Class 85

%Working Class 11

%Poor .3

% Family owns Home at T2 73

Family's Economic Situation (since 3 years ago)

% Better 43

% Worse 18.4

% Same 38.1

Table 3: Educational Achievements, Aspirations, and Expectations of Children of Filipino Immigrants in San Diego, CA by Gender, in 1992 (T1) and 1995 (T2)


GPA (average) Male Female

T1 2.71 3.16

T2 2.62 3.10

T2 GPAs (N=716)

Under 2.0 16.2 5.3

>2.0 and < 3.0 42.3 28.9

> 3.0 39.6 62.7

Educational Desires at T2 * Educational Realities at T2 **

Males Females Males Females

Community 9.2 8.7 24.2 22.4


SDSU 24.2 14.8 23.1 18.8

UCSD 16.4 28.6 11.7 16.2

Other, CA. 16.9 19.9 7.8 9.8

Other,not CA 6.1 7.8 1.9 3.1

Military/ 5. 1.4 3.3 1.1


No plans 22.2 18.8 28.1 28.6

* The question asked "What college do you want to attend?"

**The question asked "What college do you think you'll attend, realistically?"

Table 4: Educational Aspirations of Children of Filipino Immigrants and of Their Parents by

Gender, in 1995 (T2)


Children's Aspirations Male Female

% Less than advanced degree 61.8 49

% Advanced degree 38.2 51

Parents' Aspirations

Less than advanced degree 40.1 31.9

Advanced degree 59.9 68.1

Parents' Aspirations for Children

Achieving an Advanced Degree by

Parental Educational Attainment *

Father's Education

High School Degree 64.1 80.7

College Degree 68.8 79.6

Mother's Education

High School Degree 59.9 79.3

College Degree 72.3 86


* These numbers do not add up to 100 percent because parental aspirations for children attaining a college degree only are omitted. Thus, the difference between each number and 100 is the percentage of fathers or mothers in that educational category who hope their son or daughter will achieve a college degree only.

Table 5: Ethnic Self Identity Among Children of Filipino Immigrants in San Diego, CA,

Time 1 and Time 2 Crosstabulation


Ethnic Self Identity, T2


American Filipino. Filipino Black Asian Mixed Total

American Other


Ethnic American 5 13 10 6 34

self-identity, T1 14.7% 38.2% 29.4% 17.6% 100%


Filipino 6 200 206 4 8 424

American 1.4% 47.2% 48.6% .9% 1.9% 100%


Filipino 40 178 1 4 223

17.9% 79.8% .4% 1.8% 100%


Black 1 1 2 4

25.0% 25.0% 50.0% 100%


Asian 1 1

100.0% 100.0%


Mixed 8 1 1 3 17 30 Other 26.7% 3.3% 3.3% 10.0% 56.7% 100.0%


Total 11 262 396 2 8 37 716

1.5% 36.6% 55.3% .3% 1.1% 5.2% 100%


Table 6: Perceptions of Discrimination, Perceptions of American Society, and Language Preference and Proficiency Among Filipino Children of Immigrants in San Diego in 1992 (T1) and 1995 (T2)


T1 T2



There is racial discrimination in U.S. 83.0 87.0

% Has experienced being 63.5 69.0

discriminated against

% Expects discrimination 38.2 44.2

regardless of merit

Perceptions of U.S.

% Believes U.S. is best country 62.5 75.7

to live in

% Prefers American Ways 51.8 53.5


% Prefers English 88.3 96.1

% Speaks English "very well" 85.9 88.4

% Reads English "very well" 87.2 88.4

% Speaks Filipino language 12.3 10.6

"very well"

% Reads Filipino language 9.4 8.3

"very well"


Table 7

Self-Esteem and Depression by Gender

Male Female Total

Self Esteem (scale of 1-4)

T1 3.31 3.18 3.25

T2 3.37 3.27 3.32

Depression (scale of 1- 4)

T1 1.54 1.82 1.68

T2 1.59 1.86 1.72

Depression Score by Categories (T2)

Low (< 1.5) 44.8 27.5 36.2

Medium (1.5 < 2.0) 29.5 32.5 31.0

High (>2.0) 25.6 40.1 32.8

Depression Score by

Level of Parent-Child

Conflict (T2)

Low conflict 1.46 1.72

Medium conflict 1.83 1.93

High Conflict 1.77 2.36

Self Esteem Score by

Level of Parent-Child

Conflict (T2)

Low Conflict 3.47 3.42

Medium Conflict 3.20 3.21

High Conflict 3.15 2.75