Filipino war brides: Their plight ends in equality
Asia News Network
MANILA — The story of the war brides’ experiences is replete with accounts of abandonment, neglect and discrimination.
Historian Caridad Concepcion Vallangca, in her book “The Second Wave: Pinay and Pinoy (1945-1960),” narrated the plight of some brides who did not make it to the United States as their GI husbands did not file the requisite application for emigration to America.
Other brides were either “unclaimed” upon arrival in US ports or were “ostracized” by their in-laws.
After independence, the US bases in the Philippines, which remained until 1991, provided another chance for the GIs and Filipinos to interact and develop interpersonal relationships. Some sexual relationships led to marriages for three main reasons.
First, the US presence ensured interracial mixing. Historian Maria P. Root said as much in her book “Filipino Americans: Transformation and Identity.”
“The US military presence in the Philippines guaranteed continued racial and cultural mixing for Filipinos. In a patriarchal structure, the colonized is constructed as a female to be dominated by the superior colonizing male. Consider that the Philippines and all other colonized countries are referred to in the female gender,” Root wrote.
“And consider that patriarchy constructs itself as heterosexual, possessive and aggressive; it will possess the women.”
Root pointed out that centuries-old colonization—started by Spain and followed by the United States—had left the Philippines with “a multiracial people without an appropriate road map in a system that subscribes to a monoracial ideology that values pure race. The Filipino struggle with identity bears much resemblance to the process of working out a mixed racial identity, particularly when one group is oppressed or subjugated by another.”
Second, economic consideration played a factor in the interracial marriages between GIs and Filipino brides.
Some of the war brides were escaping poverty in a war-torn country. Manila and Warsaw (in Poland) were the most devastated cities at the close of World War II. To say that the GIs’ arrival in the country was timely is an understatement. They came at a time when Filipino women and their families were reeling from the devastation of war. Triumphant Americans were perceived as powerful, and this racial stereotyping quickly transformed even low-ranking GIs into scions of a “rich and powerful” class in the eyes of the Filipinos.
Third, the American colonial officials’ justification for the annexation of the Philippines relied, for the most part, on the so-called superiority of the American way of life.
The colonial educational system peddled images of American abundance and greatness, thus Filipinos took advantage of any changes in the immigration laws to reach American shores.
The US War Brides Act of 1945 presented such a window of opportunity to women in particular. It cleared the way, for the first time, for the mass migration of Filipino women to the United States.
In her book, Vallangca narrated how Juanita Santos met A.B. Santos, a Filipino-American draftee in the US Army. After the war, he became a contact representative at the US Veterans Administration in the Philippines, where he met Juanita in 1946.
“When you leave your country, you leave everyone that you love, everything that is familiar. I was feeling so lost,” Juanita said, after her arrival in the United States.
Ying Angeles also met her GI husband, a US Army medic, at about the same time. She arrived in the United States in 1949. Vallangca also discovered Fanny Sumaong’s marriage to an unnamed Filipino-American GI; Gloria Santiago’s decision to wed William Clement, a GI with German, French and black ancestry; and Lydia Pataki’s wedding to a white US Army officer.
These brides traveled to the United States aboard US military ships that were on a massive undertaking to facilitate the reunification of American soldiers with their spouses and dependents. The United States had provided all war brides with free transportation to America.
Once in America, the Filipino war brides had to navigate around preexisting cultural and racial biases because racism was pervasive. Nonwhites—Filipinos included—were considered inferior and could not easily mingle with the whites.
The Oriental immigrants were covered by miscegenation laws, and thus subjected to the same discrimination suffered by other Asian war brides. Filipino women, like many war brides, discovered that the United States was a far cry from a land of equal opportunity portrayed by the American colonial government overseas. Root said Filipinos in the United States were thus “conscious of being nonwhite immigrants in a white-dominated society. From being a racial minority in the Philippines, they have become a racial minority among competing minorities.”
As with other immigrants, war brides became victims of the anti-immigrant sentiment that saw ebb and flow with the politics of a given time. But interracial marriages continued despite racial and cultural prejudices against foreign wives. Did GIs ignore the ethnicity of Filipino women when they married them? Motives for intermarriage are hard to ascertain, let alone measure.
Richard Buttny, a professor of communication and rhetorical studies in New York, found the idea of intermarriage problematic.
In his study “Legitimation Techniques for Intermarriage: Accounts of Motives for Intermarriage from US Servicemen and Philippine Women,” Buttny discovered that as long as individuals could justify the circumvention of the prevailing group norms in having “exogamous choices,” interracial marriage could be tolerated within the cultural milieu of both spouses.
Thus, motives can function as explanation for an action as long as the motive to marry is culturally acceptable.
Ethnicity and culture had factored in the union between GIs and their Filipino brides since both parties considered the perceived risks involved in interracial marriages. Buttny’s study, conducted in 1987, established that intermarriages between Filipino women and US military personnel then assigned at Subic Naval Station in Olongapo City supported this finding.
The study found that the GIs saw the greatest risk in the disapproval of American society because of miscegenation laws, which banned interracial marriages. The husbands also expressed concern about problems that their children would encounter in the United States. The women saw the greatest risk in the disapproval of their families.
Despite these legal, cultural and societal restrictions, American GIs continued to marry nonwhite and non-American wives before, during and after the war. This defiance of societal norms torpedoed antimiscegenation laws.
To the GIs’ credit, they inadvertently helped weaken the foundation of a patriarchal system that had oppressed nonwhites since the founding of America in 1776. Viewed through this lens, the intermarriages between GIs and Filipino women were not a historical fluke, and thus could not be separated from the widespread cultural undercurrent that eventually blossomed into the nonviolence movement in the 1960s.
Interracial marriages were stones in the edifice of the civil rights movement identified with Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., who came to symbolize the stern defiance of segregationist and discriminatory policies still in place half a century ago.
With the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it came as no surprise that the US Supreme Court—mirroring the changing times, albeit belatedly—struck down the miscegenation laws in 1967.
All these cultural, social and legal forces finally came together to give flesh to the preamble of the US Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Studying interracial marriages between GIs and Filipino women illuminates the effects of the relationship between culture and policy, and between sex and power.
The Filipino war brides’ experience shows that sexual relations and intermarriages cannot be isolated from the larger social and cultural hierarchies that regulate them.