Emil Guillermo: The other Filipino vets, war brides, and why Veterans Day means a lot to the Filipino American community

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Every one in the greater AAPI community has a Veterans Day story. I encourage you to email me,, to share it, and I will post and talk about as many as I can.

For example, I am constantly reminded about the 442nd Regiment ,the “Go For Broke” Japanese Americans that fought heroically in WWII. I live by a stretch of freeway in California that commemorates them specifically. They help me fight the traffic jams.

And then there’s my pal, the late photographer Corky Lee, who worked over the years to let people know about the Chinese Americans who served.

But today, I want to make sure you remember the First and Second U.S. Army Regiment of World War II, manned mostly by Filipinos in America at the time.

Often they get conflated with the veterans in the Philippines who answered President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s call to join the U.S. Armed Forces in the Far East (the USAFFE) and then get rewarded with citizenship. Later in 1946, the U.S. went back on its word. That is who most people think of when they think of “Filipino vets.”

I honor them, of course. But today I want to honor the men who were part of the regular U.S. Army. They had come from the Philippines to the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s as “colonized” American nationals. When they arrived, they experienced a discrimination so complete that by law, they couldn’t own land, vote, or marry. As they found work, they were accused of stealing jobs during the Depression.

Mostly men, the Filipinos formed a bachelor society, just like the other groups of Asian men, but the Filipinos mixed. Especially with white women. That brought the ire and jealousy of white men. The anti-Asian hate of the ’20s and ’30s was anti-Filipino. Laws were invoked to change their status. Filipino men were asked to self-deport.

When WWII began, many felt that if they could prove their loyalty to America, the politics would change. So laws were passed to allow foreign nationals from the Philippines to join the Army, and that was what made the First and Second Regiments different.

Yes, the 442nd had something to prove, just like the Filipinos. But the Japanese Americans were American. The Filipinos in the U.S. were not.

Prof. Dan Gonzales, one of the first academics to emerge from the San Francisco State strike in 1968 to form the College of Ethnic Studies and dedicated Asian American and Filipino American Studies classes, joined me in conversation on my program.

The upshot is that without the Filipino U.S. Army vets, there likely would be a much smaller Filipino American community.

Filipino American soldiers met Filipino women in the Cebu, the Visayan region of the Philippines. It’s the reason there are so many mixed Filipino marriages among mostly Ilocano Filipinos (who were the majority of Filipinos who came in the 1920s and 1930s) with the Visayans.

The women came to be known as “War Brides,” which was both good and bad. Was it love at first sight? Or love at first soldier? For some it was a lasting union, but there was often a stigma attached to some women who were looking to escape the Philippines.

There also was the undeniable presence of the “comfort women,” Filipino women sold into sexual slavery to serve the needs of the Japanese Army who occupied the Philippines.

And then there were the outmarriages of Filipino women who met African American and Latinx soldiers.

It all leads to a kind of “shame” that means usually no one in the community is willing to talk about this history.

And yet, the positive outcome is that many of those marriages did survive and the Filipino women came to America with their veteran husbands to start Filipino American families.

Prof. Gonzales’ mother and father are an example of such a union, as was his wife’s father and mother.

The “War Brides” provided the base of the WWII baby boom for Filipinos.

Add to that the GI Bill, and later laws that allowed for the Filipinos in the Army to gain citizenship, and you can see how the mere fact that one was a WWII vet made a difference in Filipinos’ lives in America.

The racism of the 1920s and 1930s wasn’t exactly fully mitigated, but many Filipinos now had a chance to buy homes and get jobs in the domestic military or through military connections.

It is not hyperbole to say the military is responsible for starting the first generation of a mass Filipino American middle class.

Veterans Day to Filipinos? It’s more than war. It really was establishing a foothold in American life.

Great for those with fathers and grandfathers who were able to join.

Of course, my father was 4F. Asthma kept him stateside, working in San Francisco restaurants, and not in the war. And it made all the difference in the life we were able to find in this country.

Check out my conversation with Prof. Gonzales on Show 177 (11/10/21) on Facebook and check back for Part 2 on the upcoming Show 178. Or watch on my YouTube channel.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

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