Tydings-McDuffie Act (United States) (1934)

The Tydings-McDuffie Act grew out of widespread opposition, particularly in California, to the rapid influx of Filipino agricultural laborers after annexation of the islands following the Spanish-American War in 1898 (see Filipino immigration). The measure of 1934 granted the Philippines commonwealth status and promised independence within 10 years. As a result, Filipinos were reclassified as aliens and thus no longer enjoyed unrestricted access to the United States.
In 1910, there had been only 406 Filipinos in the mainland United States; by 1930, the number had risen to 45,208. More than 30,000 lived in California, but they numbered in the thousands in Washington, Oregon, Illinois, and New York. Most Filipinos took jobs not easily filled by whites, with 60 percent working in agriculture and 25 percent as janitors, valets, dishwashers, and other areas of personal service. During the 1920s, there was already uneasiness about the growing number of Filipinos, reviving earlier nativist fears (see nativism) regarding Chinese and Japanese laborers. With the rise in unemployment during the depression and the development of Filipino labor activism in the early 1930s (see Carlos Bulosan), a new reason for excluding Filipinos was added. Granting commonwealth status to the Philippines was largely a legal cover for racially excluding Filipinos, who were hit especially hard by the economic downturn of the depression. The Tydings- McDuffie Act limited their immigration to only 50 per year. But for the tens of thousands already in the country, it meant that, because they were not “white” and therefore could not become naturalized citizens, they were cut off from New Deal work programs. In some respects, Filipinos were in a worse position than the previously excluded Chinese and Japanese, for at least Chinese merchants were allowed to bring wives, and Japanese wives and family members had been exempted from the restrictions of the Gentlemen’s Agreement. Exemptions to the act did, however, allow Hawaiian employers to import Filipino farm labor when needed (though remigration to the mainland was not permitted) and enabled the United States to recruit more than 22,000 Filipinos into the navy (between 1944 and 1973), most of whom were assigned to work in mess halls or as personal servants.

A–Z index