Filipino Resistance to Anti-Miscegenation Laws in Washington State

by Corinne Strandjord


"No Race Deterioration in Mixed Marriages, Says Filipino Writer." Catalino Viado was one Filipino voice arguing that mixed marriages would not lead to social chaos, as part of a campaign against two anti-miscegenation bills introduced into the Washington State legislatture in 1935 and 1937. This article is from the Phillipine Advocate newspaper, March 1937.

Along with pervasive racist stereotypes, the economic tensions that accompanied the Great Depression caused certain white Seattle residents to perceive the growing Filipino population in Seattle as an economic and racial threat. Consequently, two anti-miscegenation bills were introduced into the Washington State legislature in 1935 and 1937. The bills were ultimately blocked as a result of successful activism and political mobilization on the part of Seattle’s communities of color. Using the newspapers Philippine-American Chronicle and the Philippine Advocate as a medium, Seattle’s Filipino community effectively articulated the injustice and absurdity of anti-intermarriage legislation. By appropriating American themes of egalitarianism and anchoring their arguments in the language of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution, Filipino writers asserted their own American identity in their arguments for intermarriage.

Since the Philippines was a U.S. colony in the early twentieth century, Filipinos had the unique status as “U.S. nationals,” allowing them to come and go without restriction. The Philippines was thus a source of considerable migration, with Seattle forming a major center for the Filipino population in the Pacific Northwest.[1] Like many other Asian immigrants, Filipinos came to the U.S. in search of greater economic opportunities, finding work almost exclusively as domestic and agricultural servants.[2] However, as historian Quintard Taylor explains in his chapter “Blacks and Asians in a White City,” Filipinos “as a colonial people… felt an identification with United States culture unknown to Chinese and Japanese immigrants.”[3] As a result of American administration and colonial education in the Philippines, Filipino immigrants were introduced to United States political culture before their arrival to the United States. Filipinos of the early twentieth century were exposed to notions of U.S. democracy and freedom, thus nurturing the hope that annexation would “make these things a reality” for them.[4] Unfortunately, as Ruby Tapia argues, “such legends were only part of the colonial project to condition Filipino servitude to capitalist European America and white supremacist ideology.”[5] In reality, Filipinos immigrants were met not with freedom and democracy, but with considerable racial discrimination.

The growing Filipino population in Washington State, coupled with the mounting economic Depression, caused the white labor force to perceive Filipino labor as threatening to their economic security. The vast majority of the Filipino population in the Pacific Northwest engaged in agricultural migratory labor. Although many hoped to return to the Philippines with “American-earned wealth,” meager wages and the high cost of living in the United States made it difficult to do so.[6] As historian Dorothy B. Fujita-Rony explains in her book, American Workers, Colonial Power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, Filipinos “felt they had little choice but to accept poor wages allotted to them.”[7] Consequently, white laborers resented Filipinos for “undercutting wages.”[8] Economic tensions, along with the large Filipino population “sparked a nativist response similar to the earlier calls for Chinese and Japanese exclusion.”[9] As Fujita-Rony argues, labor competition was the primary factor driving anti-Filipino sentiment in Washington State, increasingly motivating white workers to engage in violence directed against Filipino workers.[10]

Although economic tensions drove anti-Filipino sentiment, the “flash point” of violence was often articulated in terms of sexual resentment.[11] As labor migration meant an overwhelmingly male immigrant population, Filipino men had little chance of finding Filipina partners. According to the 1930s census, 1,529 Filipinos and only 29 Filipinas over the age of fifteen lived in Seattle.[12] Naturally, then, it was increasingly common for Filipino men to mingle with white women. As Tapia argues, the Depression of the 1930s offered a context in which the stereotype of the Filipino “as a subhuman stoop laborer” was transformed into an acutely perceived “threat to the purity of the United States.”[13] Certain whites used popular racial stereotypes of the hypersexual Filipino male in support of anti-miscegenation policies. As Tapia describes, in popular and political discourse, Filipino men "began to fully assume the form of an American nativist-sculpted sexual beast, equipped with a penis impressive enough to penetrate all of white America, leaving a permanent stain of racial and social inferiority on its people (read: men)."[14]


Filipino men boarding a ship to Alaska form Seattle's Pier 40, April 27, 1939. The prospect of jobs, many in canneries up and down the West Coast, brought many Filipinos to the Northwest. (Special thanks to Fred and Dorothy Cordova and the Filipino American National Historical Society for permission to display this image.)

In Seattle, this anti-Filipino sentiment culminated in House Bill No. 301. On February 6, 1935, King County Representative Dorian Todd proposed a bill “prohibiting marriages” between “white persons” and “Negroes, Orientals, Malays, and persons of Eastern European extraction.”[15] According to the Northwest Enterprise, an organ of Seattle’s African American community at the time, Todd introduced the bill following “the application of a Filipino for a license to marry a white girl.”[16] Seattle’s communities of color quickly mobilized to resist the proposed anti-intermarriage ban. Seattle’s African American community formed the Colored Citizens’ Committee in Opposition to the Anti-Intermarriage Bill, joining the efforts of several civil rights organizations, including the Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc.[17]

The day after the Bill No. 306 was first read, the Northwest Enterprise reported that the Citizen’s Committee planned “to fight on the anti-intermarriage bill” by sending representatives to Olympia to lobby members of the Legislature.[18] Later in the month, The Philippine-American Chronicle, a bi-weekly paper published in 1935 and 1936 devoted primarily to labor issues, reported that the Filipino Labor Union Local had sent delegates to Olympia to “voice their opinions against” Bill No. 301.[19] Mr. Briones, part of the delegation, was particularly concerned about the bill, “himself married to an American girl” and “the father of a son.”[20] According to The Philippine American Chronicle, Mr. Briones remarked that he was prompted to protest the bill because of its “future effect not only on [his] son but to others of American mothers or fathers,” adding that “It would be unfair for any government to manage the affair’s of one’s heart.”[21] Another delegate, Mr. Alonzo, “declared that this is the most vicious bill ever presented in the House,” arguing that denying United States nationals their right to the pursuit of happiness by “[dictating] to whom one should marry or not” was profoundly unconstitutional.[22] In addition to lobbying efforts, the Citizens’ Committee hosted protest meetings and passed on protest letters to Olympia.[23] Ultimately, the cooperation of several Seattle civil rights groups, progressive labor unions, the Washington Commonwealth Federation, and the Filipino Community of Seattle, Inc. were ultimately successful in blocking the intermarriage ban in 1935.[24]

In February and March 1935, The Philippine-American Chronicle published two editorials that voiced the Seattle Filipino community’s opposition to the proposed intermarriage ban. The publication not only demonstrated Filipino resistance to racist legislation, but the editorials also revealed that Filipinos, as United States “nationals” exposed to American political culture, “had expectations that America’s egalitarian beliefs would inspire fair treatment.”[25] Using The Philippine-American Chronicle as a medium, Filipinos articulated their arguments against the intermarriage ban in decidedly “American” terms. An editorial on February 15, 1935 entitled “Intermarriage Dilemma” asserted the Filipino right “as humans under the laws of a Supreme Being irrespective of race, color or creed” to choose their mate “whether [they] be a white or a colored one” provided the couple “adore and understand one another.”[26] The only “dilemma” the author located in the intermarriage issue was the “other law we are apt to—our environment.”[27] Although intermarriage affected individuals’ “standing with the public,” “children,” and “social activities,” the author argued that people should be “cosmopolitan” and “broadminded enough” to see that, despite skin color, our “blood is the same red color.”[28] Here, the author makes a firm case by echoing the founding principle that “all men are created equal.”

The editorial concerning Bill No. 301 in the following issue of The Philippine-American Chronicle was far more explicit in harnessing “Americanism” as an argument against the intermarriage ban. The editorial, entitled “Unamericanism,” claimed that “Americanism,” or “liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness,” did not “only belong to white Americans, but to all people living under the American Flag.”[29] Tapping into American historical memory, the author proclaimed that the “pending marriage law which prohibits intermarriage” was wholly opposed to “the spirit of 1776.”[30] The author also pointed to the irony that Filipinos “educated and reared under the American Administration on the Philippines” that are practicing “American habits and customs… on the shore of the continental United States,” were still perceived by certain white Americans as an “unassimiliable element.”[31] Lending supreme authority to the American Constitution, the author claimed that, in a representative government, “the Constitution must not be made subservient to the fickle will of the people.” The author then insisted that Bill No. 301 was an unconstitutional “product of human fickleness.”[32] Finally, the author evoked the popular American conception of itself as the “melting pot,” arguing that "It has been deeply rooted in the hearts of every people of the world that this country is the melting pot. The fire that keeps the pot melting is now smoldering into ashes of insignificance, because of laws that are being made in this country which [are] a direct violation of individual freedom."[33]

In this editorial, the Filipino author relied on American themes to expose the unjust nature of the intermarriage ban. In doing so, the author also asserted his own American identity, effectively dismantling the notion that intermarriage will somehow threat the purity of “America.”

After Bill No. 301 failed, a second bill prohibiting “marriage between white and colored (including oriental) people” was introduced to Washington State legislature in 1937 by Representative Earl Maxwell.[34] Once again, the bill was successfully killed as a result of the cooperation and advocacy on the part of Seattle’s communities of color and progressive labor movement.[35] In March of 1937, the Philippine Advocate published an article by Catelino Viado, a Filipino author, claiming that there was “no race deterioration in mixed marriages.”[36] Here, the argument was based not only on American ideals but on the fallacy of racist pseudoscience in claiming that intermarriage would produce “race deterioration.”[37] In making his point, Viado used the example of plant and animal hybridization to produce superior natural products, arguing that the notion of “race deterioration” from mixed marriages was a product of “petty jealousy and race sentimentalism” and could potentially improve the human race.[38] Viado went on to defend Filipinos against the notion that children of “white-brown” marriages would be socially and economically insecure, arguing that Filipinos “love to the core,” making “all sacrifices to provide [their children with] food, clothing and shelter.”[39] Viado ended his article with the familiar argument that anti-intermarriage legislation did not represent American political values, proclaiming it “an act of paganism not in line with the policy of international peace, good-will, and neighborliness.”[40] Describing the “American scene” as one of “racial confusion and disharmony, sectarian division and hostility,” he asked readers if “this is the America that Franklin and Jefferson dreamed of when they achieved, through their wisdom and heroism, its political and mental freedom.”[41]

In the Philippine-American Chronicle and the Philippine Advocate, Seattle’s Filipino community articulated freedom and equality as the basis of American values. In doing so, they demonstrated their own American identity over and against the “un-American” nature of anti-intermarriage policies. Ultimately, the mobilization of Seattle’s communities of color in claiming American identity as a basis for civil rights proved successful in fighting anti-intermarriage legislation in Washington State.

Copyright (c) 2009, Corinne Strandjord
HSTAA 105 Winter 2009


[1] Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994), 123.

[2] Ruby C Tapia, “Just Ten Years Removed from a Bolo and a Breech-Cloth: The Sexualization of the Filipino ‘Menace’” in Tiongson, Jr. Antonio T, Edgardo V. Gutierrez, and Ricardo V. Gutierrez, Positively No Filipinos Allowed: Building Communities and Discourse. (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2006), 62.

[3] Taylor, 122.

[4] Tapia, 62.

[5] Tapia, 62.

[6] Taylor, 123.

[7] Dorothy B. Fujita-Rony, American Workers, Colonial Power: Philippine Seattle and the Transpacific West, 1919-1941. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 112.

[8] Fujita-Rony, 112.

[9] Taylor, 125.

[10] Fujita-Rony, 108-113.

[11] Fujita-Rony, 112.

[12] Taylor, 124.

[13] Tapia, 62.

[14] Tapia, 64.

[15] “Here’s the Anti-Marriage Bill, House Bill No. 301,” Northwest Enterprise, (February 14, 1935).

[16] “Committee Plans Fight On Intermarriage Bill,” Northwest Enterprise, (February 7, 1935).

[17] Taylor, 94.

[18] “Committee Plans Fight On Intermarriage Bill,” Northwest Enterprise, (February 7, 1935).

[19] “Filipino Labor Union Local Sends Delegates to Olympia; Report Findings on Bill 301” The Philippine-American Chronicle, (March 1, 1935).

[20] Filipino Labor Union Local Sends Delegates to Olympia; Report Findings on Bill 301” The Philippine-American Chronicle, (March 1, 1935).

[21] Filipino Labor Union Local Sends Delegates to Olympia; Report Findings on Bill 301” The Philippine-American Chronicle, (March 1, 1935).

[22] Filipino Labor Union Local Sends Delegates to Olympia; Report Findings on Bill 301” The Philippine-American Chronicle, (March 1, 1935).

[23] Taylor, 94.

[24] Taylor, 130.

[25] Taylor, 130.

[26] “Intermarriage Dilemma,” The Philippine American Chronicle, (February 15, 1935).

[27] “Intermarriage Dilemma,” The Philippine American Chronicle, (February 15, 1935).

[28] “Intermarriage Dilemma,” The Philippine American Chronicle, (February 15, 1935).

[29] “Unamericanism,” The Philippine American Chronicle, (March 1, 1935).

[30] “Unamericanism,” The Philippine American Chronicle, (March 1, 1935).

[31] “Unamericanism,” The Philippine American Chronicle, (March 1, 1935).

[32] “Unamericanism,” The Philippine American Chronicle, (March 1, 1935).

[33] “Unamericanism,” The Philippine American Chronicle, (March 1, 1935).

[34] “No Race Deterioration in Mixed Marriages Says Filipino Writer,” Philippine Advocate, (March 1937).

[35] Taylor, 130.

[36] “No Race Deterioration in Mixed Marriages Says Filipino Writer,” Philippine Advocate, (March 1937).

[37] “No Race Deterioration in Mixed Marriages Says Filipino Writer,” Philippine Advocate, (March 1937).

[38] “No Race Deterioration in Mixed Marriages Says Filipino Writer,” Philippine Advocate, (March 1937).

[39] “No Race Deterioration in Mixed Marriages Says Filipino Writer,” Philippine Advocate, (March 1937).

[40] “No Race Deterioration in Mixed Marriages Says Filipino Writer,” Philippine Advocate, (March 1937).

[41] “No Race Deterioration in Mixed Marriages Says Filipino Writer,” Philippine Advocate, (March 1937).