Originalmente publicado en The Dish:

Journalist Jo Becker has a new book out on the marriage equality movement. The revolution began, it appears, in 2008. And its Rosa Parks was a man you would be forgiven for knowing nothing about, Chad Griffin. Here’s how the book begins – and I swear I’m not making this up:

This is how a revolution begins. It begins when someone grows tired of standing idly by, waiting for history’s arc to bend toward justice, and instead decides to give it a swift shove. It begins when a black seamstress named Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a bus to a white man in the segregated South. And in this story, it begins with a handsome, bespectacled thirty-five-year-old political consultant named Chad Griffin, in a spacious suite at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco on election night 2008.

After that surreal opening, the book descends…

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2014 Atlanata OAH Annual Meeting

Ayer 10 de abril, dio inicio la conferencia anual de la Organization of American Historians (OAH) en la ciudad de Atlanta. Fundada en 1907, la OAH es una de las organizaciones profesionales más antiguas y respetadas en el mundo académico estadounidense. Todos los años, cientos de sus miembros se reúnen a discutir y compartir sus investigaciones recientes.  Como parte de su trabajo de divulgación del quehacer historiográfico en los Estados Unidos, la History News Network estará publicando vídeo entrevistas con algunos de los participantes de esta conferencia.

Comparto con mis lectores una entrevista  al Dr. Robert Self (Brown University), analizando el impacto del año 1964 en el desarrollo del movimiento feminista en los Estados Unidos.


‘Lost’ history of Panama Canal is now found in exhibit at KC’s Linda Hall Library 


The Kansas City Star   April 7, 2014

18Iohl.St.81In a year busy with centennials — World War I and Union Station — make room for the Panama Canal. It also has been 100 years since the Atlantic and Pacific oceans were joined by one of the wonders of the modern world

That may seem to have little to do with Kansas City, but the Linda Hall Library has the “lost” papers of the office engineer for the Culebra Cut, the key section of the canal project that cut through the continental divide.

The papers of A.B. Nichols, inaccessible for more than 80 years, are now part of a series of remembrances that will begin with an exhibit opening tonight at the library and culminate in October with a visit by historian David McCullough, author of a book about the canal.

Even McCullough did not have access to the Nichols material, which includes about 1,200 photographs, 1,300 blueprints, 100 maps and more than 100 journals. Before they came to the Linda Hall Library, they were decaying on shelves in New York.

“They were technically lost,” said Lisa Browar, the library’s president. “Because if something isn’t cataloged, the general public or the research public can’t find it. And you can’t use what you can’t find.”

To make the centennial observance more fun, a functioning scale model of a Panama Canal lock is being built on the north lawn of the library, 5109 Cherry St., with water and model ships. It is a partnership with the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s School of Computing and Engineering.

The Panama Canal is a man-made connection, excruciatingly excavated between the oceans, that greatly cut travel time and shipping costs. It was a huge accomplishment and, along with the First World War, it signaled the beginning of the “American century.”

The centennial exhibit includes more than 100 items. Co-curators Eric Ward and Donna Swischer said Nichols’ records were meticulous, down to the amounts of dynamite used and the numbers of cubic tons of earth moved.

“He has books that look like Excel spreadsheets for daily excavations, the costs of every part of the operation in tiny little pencil marks, and cross-references to different books,” Swischer said.

Nichols, of Philadelphia, was first hired by the Isthmian Canal Commission in 1899 to survey a Nicaraguan route. In 1904, he was assigned to the Panama Canal. In 1906, he was appointed office engineer there and retired in 1914.

“This is first-person history,” Browar said. “The artifacts in the Nichols collection represent what one man who was eyewitness to the entire project felt was important to save.”

One journal records Nichols’ thoughts about an explosion of 44,000 pounds of dynamite on Dec. 12, 1908, that killed 26 people and wounded 49. Speculation about the cause included a chemical reaction with acidic water, but Nichols had his own theory.

“It is practically certain that the powder man in charge of loading the holes was drunk the night before the explosion and he was also seen in a saloon in Bas Obispo drinking about 9 a.m. the day of the explosion,” Nichols wrote. “This is probably the sort of chemical action which caused the explosion.”

Nichols’ papers had been warehoused at the Engineering Societies Library in New York. When it closed in 1995, most of the library’s material was moved to the Linda Hall Library, the largest privately funded library devoted to science, engineering and technology.

The library has digitized the Nichols collection for its website, and on Aug. 15, the 100th anniversary of the opening of the canal, will post a digital version of the centennial exhibit.

The canal is undergoing an expansion project.

Alberto Aleman Zubieta, chief executive officer of the Panama Canal Authority from 1996 to 2012, will speak about the project at 7 tonight at the library.

McCullough will speak about the creation of the canal at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at Unity Temple on the Plaza.

The model lock and the centennial exhibit are free and continue through Dec. 31. The lectures are free, but e-tickets are required.



Hello Louie: Satchmo and His Horn Ride High Again 

Bruce Chawick

HNN  April 9, 2014

Close to the end of his life, Louis Armstrong, the jazz legend, played the swanky Waldorf Astra Hotel, in New York. His appearance there was the culmination of an unbelievable career that took him from a shack in New Orleans, Louisiana, to dizzying heights of fame and fortune. He and his horn, and his always present handkerchief, were his signatures and the thundering applause was his trademark

In this scintillating new one man show, Armstrong, in his dressing room between Waldorf concerts, reminisces about his life and career over the tumult of racial history, rekindling sometimes bitter and sometimes sweet memories. It is an often tender, often biting and always fascinating and provocative show. It stars John Douglas Thompson in a memorable performance as the jazz great.

Satchmo is a play about show business history, but it is a play about American racial history, too, from colored water fountains in Alabama to white only crowds in the North’s ritziest night clubs. It is the always absorbing story of a man and his music, and the ever changing landscape of America that he traveled over in his 70 years.

In the early 1920s, he left the South and went to Chicago to make a name for himself. He hooked up with white manager Joe Glaser, signed contracts with white clubs and even worked in clubs run by gangsters, such as New York’s Dutch Schulz and Chicago’s Al Capone. With his trombone and cornet, he became one of the most famous musicians in the world.

There is a twist to the show. Armstrong often expresses rage that he did not find the love of black audiences and that black performers often called him an “Uncle Tom.” He was a traitor to music, black critics said, because he left the smoke filled barrooms of Louisiana behind in a career that often found him entertaining white audiences. Other black critics said he was wrong to cut number one mainstream hits such as Hello Dolly! and What a Wonderful World. Still others said he never did enough to protest racism.

In Terry Teachout’s remarkable play (Teachout also wrote a biography of Armstrong), Satchmo complained bitterly about this hatred of him by black musicians such as Miles Davis. In the middle of the play, expressing his racial rage, he even said that if he had one hour left in his life, he would like to spend in “choking a white man.”

Armstrong grew up in the World War I era in a neighborhood so tough that it was named the Battlefield. In the early 1920s, he went to Chicago, America’s jazz capital, to join Joe ‘King’ Oliver’s band, one of the best in the nation. The jazz superstar rode a thousand buses and trains, alone and with his band, that crisscrossed the country, to stardom.

He was a superb musician and extraordinary entertainer from the first nights of his long career. He had new arrangements of famous songs and was an innovative performer. He was well known for ‘scat’ singing and playing until the wee hours of the morning. He had a tremendous stage presence with his hoarse voice, wide smile and oversized personality.

The play is long on entertainment history and offers a juicy look at the differences between black and white clubs in the 1930s and the influence of the mob on entertainment.

The strength of the play is its racial history. Armstrong, and all black entertainers, constantly battled it as they drove through the South, playing black and white clubs and using black and white restrooms and separate water fountains. There is a wonderful story about how, after he was famous, he and the musicians he worked with had to go to the back of a white restaurant on the road to get something to eat from the all black wait staff. That night, they might have performed for the people that owned the restaurant.

There is another story, a sad one, about the encounter between Armstrong and his musicians with an aging King Oliver in a southern city. Oliver had become famous and yet lost all of his money. He was destitute when the band met him and they emptied their pockets to help him out.

There is much humor in the play, such as the story about how Satchmo recorded the theme song to Hello Dolly! and then, a few months later, forgot the lyrics and had to have his manager mail them to him on the road.

There is not much on his personal life, a weakness. He was married four times and yet he does not discuss his wives very much.

Despite that, Satchmo at the Waldorf is a titanic look at a towering giant of American entertainment and his times, at our times, and how, over the years, they changed.

The play succeeds because of the masterful performance by John Douglas Thompson. He enters the stage at 70 years of age, barely able to walk, sits down and starts to breathe on an oxygen machine. Thompson has Satchmo’s unique gravelly voice and smile down pat and makes ample use of Armstrong’s famed white handkerchief. I have never seen a one man play in which the performer reminded you so much of the character.

Note: one the way home from the theater, one of the New York radio stations played Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. I had to smile, even though I was in the middle of a fierce rainstorm.

PRODUCTION: Produced by the Long Wharf Theater, the Shakespeare Company, others. Sets: Lee Savage, Costumes: Ilona Somogyi, Lighting: Kevin Adams, Sound: John Gromada. Directed by Gordon Edelstein. Runs through August 3.

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.


Are We giving Cesar Chavez Too MuchCredit?

Frank P. Barajas

HNN   April 7, 2014

In anticipation of the premiere of the movie Cesar Chavez, and immediately thereafter, commentary circulated critical of the film’s central narrative on the leader for which it is titled.

Critics pointed out the minimization of the role of people such as Dolores Huerta (the National Farm Workers Union’s founding vice-president), Helen (Cesar’s wife), Larry Itliong (the labor leader of Filipino workers that initiated the Grape Strike of 1965), and the supporters of the farmworkers movement from all walks of life. These are valid points that subsequent motion pictures on the experience of Mexican-origin farmworkers can focus greater attention.

I am culpable of this rather imperious criticism.

When an English department colleague with whom I co-teach a course on the Sixties suggested we assign the film to our students, I replied that the early buzz was that Cesar Chavez was hagiographic—a trite criticism that many privileged sons and daughters of el movimiento (the Chicano Movement) have vouchsafed to suggest an elevated insight in relation to recent histories that reveal the shortcomings of Cesar’s leadership.

One flaw being his refusal to delegate control of the union’s authority to his subalterns at the union’s headquarters in Delano, California and organizers in distant parts of the nation who found themselves empowered by Cesar’s focused determination for social justice.

But Cesar was a human being.

My colleague reminded me that we assigned Spike Lee’s Malcom X and Rob Epstein’s documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. Both hagiographic films.

As a veteran of the protean movements of the Sixties, she pointed out the significance of these movies lay in how they portrayed the struggle and sacrifice of people for civil rights. Cesar Chavez accomplished this forcefully.

The film highlighted the realities of what farmworkers experienced in the past and present. People who watched the film were brought to tears by episodic scenes of farmworkers, Filipino and Mexican, being terrorized by vigilantes.

Cesar Chavez also illustrated the feudal rule of the agricultural industrial complex consisting of growers interlocked with the institutions of law enforcement, politics, agencies of the state, and finance.

In fact, prior to the Grape Strike of 1965, citrus mogul Charles Collins Teague coordinated the resources of such interests in the creation of the Associated Farmers in the 1930s to bust unions.

This translated to a culture of violence inflicted on farmworker families that entailed grinding economic deprivation, substandard housing, the fragmented schooling of children, and work conditions that denied campesinos (fieldworkers) basic human rights such as free and clean drinking water and porta potties for men, women, and teenagers to relieve themselves.

Another scene of the movie depicted how helicopters hovered directly above the picket line of striking grape workers of the San Joaquin Valley. As picketers dispersed, Kern County law enforcement officers pursued them as they wielded their batons.

A similar event occurred in Ventura County, the community where I was born and raised and whose single-parent abuelita(grandma) from Batopilas Chihuahua in Mexico toiled in the strawberry fields of the Oxnard Plain with her three teenage daughters. She too was an activist of the la union de campesinos, the United Farm Workers AFL-CIO.

In 1974 over six hundred Ventura County strawberry workers joined Cesar’s UFW. Like the grape workers in Cesar Chavez, they went on strike to win a living wage and humane labor conditions.

As strawberry workers picketed one field in the suburb of El Rio, a Ventura County Sheriff helicopter hovered directly over them to break the protest line. When strikers allegedly threw rocks at the aircraft and defended themselves they were arrested and charged with felony and misdemeanor charges of assault and trespassing.

The use of the department helicopter to intimidate the strawberry strikers ceased only after a recently elected county supervisor of Irish Catholic descent made the demand to the sheriff.

In listening to the stories of farmworkers and their allies, the film poignantly shed light on this abuse. Therefore the film succeeded in exposing the exploitation inherent within industrialized agriculture and the collective struggle of people to overcome.

So the film is both inaccurate and is true.

It is the former because it is a commercial representation of a complex narrative embedded with the usual contradictions of history. For example, as Cesar Chavez depicted, farmworkers themselves were prone to violence. Indeed, Cesar embarked on a 25 day fast in 1968 to recommit his movement to nonviolence. He also admonished people not glorify farmworkers as they were people like everyone else.

At the same time, however, Cesar Chavez is true in its conveyance of a narrative of struggle and perseverance through the life of one person.

Que Viva Cesar Chavez!

Frank P. Barajas is a California State University Channel Islands professor and the author of “Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961.”



Wonkette.com March 30, 2014

super-green-beretYou’ll never guess what fun topic we’re going to address this week, kids! That’s right: The years of Mitt Romney’s mission in France! We’ll learn all about how the Vietnam War was a just and important fight to save Southeast Asia from being crushed by dominoes, and why things happened as they did — or as Donald Rumsfeld recently analyzed the war with characteristic depth, “Some things work out, some things don’t, that didn’t.”

With typical clarity of purpose, our 8th-grade textbook, America: Land I Love (A Beka, 1994, 2006), explains exactly why America had to fight in Vietnam:

Concerned Americans believed in the domino theory of Communism in the poorer areas of the world. President Eisenhower had first used this term while referring to Southeast Asia. He said all of the countries there were like a row of standing dominoes. South Vietnam was the first domino, and the Communists were trying to knock it over. lf South Vietnam fell, all of the others — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia — would fall, too. Lesser developed nations were especially vulnerable to Communism. Foreign policy planners began to refer to the poorest nations as the “Third World.”

Eisenhower believed it, and it must have been so. Also the third world (no, they don’t explain the term). Strangely, Land I Love makes no mention of how, following the fall of South Vietnam, all those other countries turned communist as well.

Our other text, the 11/12th-grade United States History for Christian Schools (Bob Jones University Press, 2001), is a little less absolute about all this; it devotes space to the initial involvement in Vietnam in the ’50s and early ’60s in fairly objective terms, and described the shift in American troops’ role from “advisors” to combatants with this up-to-date metaphor:

Ostensibly the troops were there to train the South Vietnamese army and to protect American personnel. However, the situation in Asia, as one historian has noted, was proving to be like a “tar baby”: the more the United States tried to free itself, the more entangled it became.

Surprisingly, considering its tendency to be the less frothing-mad of the two texts, U.S. Historyhas no doubt about the reality of the event that led to the expansion of the U.S. role:

In the midsummer of 1964 the American destroyer Maddox repulsed an attack by North Vietnamese patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Although the affair was relatively minor, Johnson denounced this attack on an American vessel and asked Congress to pass a joint resolution giving him authority to respond to Communist aggression in Vietnam.

Land I Love at least calls it an “alleged” attack, but in its eagerness to justify the fight against atrocity-committing communists, weirdly suggests that it came after American soldiers were in frequent combat:

Communist guerrillas, called Viet Cong, terrorized innocent South Vietnamese villagers, forcing men, women, and children to help them. The Viet Cong sometimes equipped little children with explosives and sent them on suicide missions against unsuspecting American soldiers who had come to liberate the villages. In 1964, the North Vietnamese navy allegedly attacked American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Apart from that Gulf of Tonkin slip, U.S. History presents a pretty fair discussion of the Vietnam conflict, noting that it was “not a clear-cut conflict between two separate nations, as the Korean War had been. Americans were fighting both the North Vietnamese and pro-Communist South Vietnamese (called the Viet Cong).” U.S. History even notes that the South Vietnamese government, while non-Communist, “was corrupt, undemocratic, and unstable. The only advantage it offered to Americans was that it was ‘better than the Communists.’” We’re wondering if Bob Jones University has investigated the loyalty of whoever wrote that — nothing of the sort appears in Land I Love.

And then there’s the whole “limited war” strategy; U.S. History suggests that it was not a simple decision:

Johnson was committed to the idea of a limited, defensive war. He did not want to risk an outright war against North Vietnam — a war which might draw in the Soviet Union or Communist China, divert dollars from the Great Society at home, and prove politically damaging.

Land I Love knows, of course, that the real purpose of teaching history is to tell children who the good guys and bad guys were:

President Johnson wanted to fight the Communists in South Vietnam, but Congress refused to allow American forces to take the offensive and invade Communist North Vietnam. Congress opposed a clear military victory and the President himself wavered in his commitment because he did not want military spending to interfere with social welfare programs.

Under President Johnson, the United States sent some 500,000 American soldiers to South Vietnam to defend freedom in a no-win conflict known as the Vietnam War. These men fought bravely but they were not allowed to win. Conservative Americans felt that if the military had been allowed to fight the war as it should have been fought, fewer people would have been killed and Communism would have been defeated in that part of the world.

Land I Love is not quite as certain about how the war “should have been fought,” but it knows for sure that we should have won, because we’re America.

To its credit, U.S. History includes this lovely cynical comment from an unidentified girl in the early days of the campus protest movement: “I was told if I voted for Goldwater we would be at war in six months. I did — and we were.” It even acknowledges that the Johnson administration was deceptive about he progress of the war:

President Johnson feared that if Americans knew how deeply committed the United States was to the war and how it was actually going, they would stop supporting the programs of the Great Society. Therefore, he attempted to disguise the number of U.S. troops involved in the conflict and to cover setbacks. All that the American people generally heard were cheery, optimistic reports of how well the war was going.

U.S. History even blames Johnson’s deceptions — partly — for the public response to the 1968 Tet Offensive, noting that after the Viet Cong’s initially successful assault on targets all over South Vietnam, U.S. and South Vietnamese troops eventually “drove back the enemy, recapturing what had been lost and inflicting massive casualties”:

Militarily, the Tet Offensive was a failure for the Communists, but it had a dramatic effect on the American public. Television newscasts emphasized the negative aspects — the suddenness of the attack and the heavy losses — thus leading many Americans to believe that Tet was a Communist victory. The U.S. government, to some extent, reaped what it had sown. Having misled the American people and media about the course of the war, the government now faced the wrath of a public who wanted to know how things could come so close to disaster so suddenly. After Tet, many Americans were seemingly no longer looking to win the war; they only wanted a way out.

That’s really not much different from Kid Zoom’s secular textbook, The American Pageant, which says the Tet offensive “ended in a military defeat but a political victory for the Viet Cong.”

Happily, we have Land I Love to infuse a much-needed taste of Pure Wingnut Bullshit:

The Tet Offensive. Congress’s refusal to allow the American military to take an offensive position and fight to win was exposed in early 1968 when the Viet Cong began a series of devastating battles known as the Tet Offensive. As American and South Vietnamese troops suffered heavy casualties, it became clear that unless Congress allowed the troops to invade North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and wipe out the Communist guerrillas and their war factories, the Vietnam conflict would never end.

Land I Love is so busy with the “what we shoulda done” to even note that the Tet offensive didn’t succeed in holding any significant territory — so yep, that really was some political victory for the Viet Cong; it even convinced rightwing textbook editors that all was lost.

We’ll let Land I Love have the last word this week, because it’s just so brilliantly paranoid, right down to the paragraph heading:

Betrayals all around. Although Congress refused to allow the needed military action, American and South Vietnamese forces managed to hold the Communists back. But Communist troops from North Vietnam continued to pour into the South, and European countries who sympathized with the Communists continued to supply North Vietnam with food and medical supplies. Some conservatives felt that Communist sympathizers in high-ranking government positions were deliberately hindering the U.S. military’s ability to achieve a victory in Vietnam.

Yes, this Christian textbook just complained that North Vietnamese were allowed to eat and get medical supplies. And of course, we never find out who those high-ranking traitors were, with all their back-stabbing, but they were almost certainly there.

Next Week: We’ll wrap up Vietnam and look at the dangerous radicals in the “peace” movement; take a wild guess which textbook makes no mention at all of My Lai, the Pentagon Papers, or Kent State? Hint: It’s the one that’s sure America was betrayed.

[Image Credit: Cover of Tod Holton: Super Green Beret (1967). Read the whole incredible mess at Ethan Persoff's blog]

Read more at http://wonkette.com/545253/sundays-with-the-christianists-u-s-history-books-that-won-in-vietnam#gRL3CPftg9kVRjiD.99

The Nativist Origins of Philippines Independence

Richard Baldoz

Truthout April 1, 2014

The flag of the United States is lowered while the flag of the Philippines is raised during the Independence Day ceremonies on July 4, 1946. (Photo: <a href=" http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/Philippine_Independence%2C_July_4_1946.jpg" target="_blank"> via Philippine Presidential Museum and Library/a>)

The flag of the United States is lowered while the flag of the Philippines is raised during the Independence Day ceremonies on July 4, 1946. (Photo via Philippine Presidential Museum and Library)

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which established conditions for the United States to grant the Philippines its independence after nearly five decades of American rule. The circumstances surrounding the passage of this historic legislation serve as a reminder of our nation’s lamentable experiment with overseas empire-building and a reckoning with this imperial past help us to understand one of the most visible legacies of this complicated relationship, the large number of Filipinos currently living in the United States.

The act often was hailed as evidence of the benevolent character of the American imperial project, which was motivated by the desire to “uplift and civilize” the native population who had suffered under more than three centuries of Spanish domination. The US annexed the Philippines in 1899 in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, despite objections from Filipino leaders who already had formed an independent government. American statesmen, however, declared Filipinos unfit for self-rule. Only after a protracted period of intensive colonial tutelage would Filipinos be allowed to run their own affairs. Adding insult to injury, American officials argued (without irony) that the US was duty-bound to take possession of the islands to protect them from the nefarious designs of self-serving foreign powers.

The eventual withdrawal of US sovereignty over the Philippines was far from a foregone conclusion that vindicated the American way of empire, and the origins of the Tydings-McDuffie Act offer a far more complex story involving racial animus, economic competition and the entanglement of domestic and foreign policy objectives.

Filipinos, as American colonial subjects, were exempted from restrictive laws that barred immigration from Asia countries. The exponential growth of the agribusiness sector in Hawaii and the West Coast during the early 20th century spurred a large demand for cheap, flexible labor. Agribusiness concerns actively recruited Filipinos to do field and cannery work previously carried out by Chinese and Japanese immigrants.

Filipino immigration to the United States during the early decades of the 20th century generated significant controversy, especially on the West Coast, where their arrival was characterized as the “third Asiatic invasion” (following on the heels of the Chinese and Japanese “invasions”). Following the popular cultural script of the period, the newcomers were accused of stealing jobs from white citizens, spreading disease and displaying a propensity for criminality. The fact that the first wave of Filipino immigrants was made up overwhelmingly of young male laborers without traditional family moorings was viewed as a budding social problem.

Beginning in the late 1920s, the powerful West Coast nativist lobby pressed federal officials to enact legislation barring the entry of Filipinos. These efforts failed to make headway in Congress, with many lawmakers expressing concern about the diplomatic fallout that might result from excluding Filipino immigrants while they lived under the American flag. Key Congressional leaders worried that such a course of action would violate international norms followed by other imperial powers allowing colonial subjects unimpeded access to the “mother country.”

The failure of the federal government to take action compelled nativist leaders to ratchet up their campaign, hoping to galvanize greater public support for exclusion. Alarmist rhetoric accusing Filipino immigrants of brazenly defying the color line by pursuing social relationships with white women attracted significant media attention. Filipinos, moreover, were charged with exhibiting a penchant for labor militancy that threatened to upend the traditional balance of power between agribusiness and immigrant workers.

Moral panics about interracial sex and political subversion soon spurred public action most visibly manifested in a series of race riots and vigilante campaigns targeting Filipino immigrants on the West Coast in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Violence and acrimony directed at the “invaders” attracted national media attention and eventually prompted Congress to hold hearings on the “Filipino problem.” The nativist lobby used the platform to press its case for exclusion, soliciting support from Southern Congressional representatives, drawing comparisons between Filipino and African-American men’s alleged ardor for white women. Legislation aimed at restricting Filipino immigration stalled again, with the Philippines status as a US possession remaining the chief sticking point.

Nativist leaders quickly adopted a new strategy, embracing the cause of Philippine independence in the early 1930s. Once the Philippines was granted its sovereignty, they reasoned, Filipinos would no longer be exempt from restrictive immigration quotas. While there had long been a vocal base of support in Congress for Philippine independence, it was opposed by powerful constituencies in the federal government who viewed the archipelago as a valuable geo-strategic asset.

The nativist lobby entered into a makeshift coalition with two other important groups pushing for independence. The first was Midwestern agricultural interests, concerned about the importation of inexpensive Philippine products that entered the US duty-free because of the colonial status of the islands. Domestic sugar beet growers feared competition from cheap Philippine cane sugar, and dairy farmers saw coconut oil (formerly a key ingredient in margarine) as hurting the demand for butter. Their political agenda ran parallel to that of the nativists, except they advocated independence as a way to restrict the free entry of Philippine goods, rather than Filipino labor.

Filipino nationalists made up another segment of the independence coalition. Their demands for self-determination pre-dated the Spanish-American War, and indignity surrounding racist treatment and violence against Filipinos living in the US gave their campaign a renewed urgency. While Filipino leaders recognized that they their political allies had less-than-noble intentions, they believed that a Faustian pact was the price to pay for freedom.

The Tydings-McDuffie Act was signed into law in March 1934, despite opposition from the State Department and War Department. The act bore the hallmarks of the various interest groups involved in its passage. In a nod to the opposition, the Philippines would have to complete a 10-year probationary period before the US would formally relinquish its sovereignty over the islands. The status of Filipinos remained largely unchanged during this so-called “Commonwealth” period. They continued to “owe allegiance” to the United States while the Philippines remained under US administrative jurisdiction.

Although independence was delayed for 10 years, two key sections of the act went into effect immediately. Tariffs targeting Philippine sugar, coconut oil and other products were implemented quickly – a clear victory for Midwestern agribusiness interests. In addition, Filipinos immediately were subject to restrictive immigration laws barring the admission of other Asian groups. The Philippines was granted a token quota of 50 immigrants per year, the lowest number allotted to any country in the world. Nativist leaders were quick to take credit for the harsh new quota, believing that it reflected the prevailing racial animus towards Filipinos in the United States.

The unsavory political forces that helped push the Tydings-McDuffie Act through Congress were not lost on Filipino leaders, who observed that the act was as much about the “independence of America from the Philippines” as it was about independence for the Philippines. Filipinos living in the United States faced an uncertain future and remained a feature of everyday life, a fact evidenced by the passage of the Filipino Repatriation Act in 1935, which aimed to “relocate” resident Filipinos back to their homeland.

The Philippines’ march to independence was thrown into peril halfway through its 10-year probation, when Japan attacked the Philippines on December 8, 1941. Interestingly, a little-known provision of the Tydings-McDuffie Act empowered the president of the United States to conscript all Philippine military personnel into the US armed forces. President Roosevelt did just that and approximately 200,000 Filipinos eventually would serve under US military command during World War II.

The Allied war victory ensured that Philippine independence was put back on track and the war-torn country finally was granted its sovereignty on July 4, 1946. The date was a conscious choice made by US officials that would serve as a permanent reminder of America’s lasting influence over the islands. The large and growing Filipino population currently residing in the United States is one enduring consequence of that influence. Filipinos have long been coveted by American employers because of their English language skills and familiarity with US culture. These traits, of course, are the inheritance of empire and a reminder that Filipinos came to the United States only after Americans came to the Philippines.

Richard Baldoz is an assistant professor of sociology at Oberlin College and the author of the award-winning book The Third Asiatic Invasion: Empire and Migration in Filipino America, 1898-1946.


The African-American Connection to the Philippines

By Bill Fletcher, Jr., The Michigan Citizen | Op-Ed

From the Philippines to the NSA: 111 Years of the US Surveillance State

By Mike Morey, Occupy.com | News Analysis

Filipino Gov. Misused Public Funds as People Suffer From Post-Typhoon Devastation

By Jessica Desvarieux, The Real News Network | Video Interview

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