The Riddle of the Alien-Citizen: Filipino Migrants as US Nationals and the Anomalies of Citizenship, 1900s–1930s

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This article interrogates the classification of Filipino migrants in the United States as US nationals, during the period of American sovereignty in the Philippines. It reveals the history behind this legal status by looking at two broad aspects. Firstly, this article narrates the circumstances that led to the creation of Philippine citizenship even if the Philippines was not a sovereign state. This citizenship had legal force only because Filipinos owed allegiance to the US, and because of this allegiance Filipinos could not be classed as aliens and denied entry to the US at a time of stiff racial barriers. Secondly, this article examines how the range of Filipino migrant responses to racial prejudice and violence in the US, especially in the late 1920s and the 1930s, pushed the limits to reveal the contradictions of both Philippine and US citizenships. Because Filipinos asserted their entitlement as US nationals, US government officials eventually admitted the anomalous exclusion of Filipinos from US citizenship. An illuminating case is the successful claim of Filipino fishers in Alaska for their traditional fishing rights not to be curtailed as a local territorial law had intended.