introduction
The Contours of a
Filipino American History
This book examines the unique and dynamic relationship between the
professionalization of nursing and the twentieth-century migrations of
Filipinos to the United States. Specifically, it analyzes the creation of an
international Filipino professional nurse labor force primarily in the his-
torical context of U.S. imperialism. In doing so, it asks us to reevaluate
our most cherished cultural associations and assumptions about nursing
(in particular, women’s selfless and seemingly innate ability to care) as
well as U.S. immigration (such as the inevitable assimilation of all immi-
grants) by acknowledging the complicated histories of nursing’s role in
U.S. colonialism and the racialization of Filipinos in the United States. It
is my hope that this project helps us to confront the continuing legacies
of U.S. imperialism as well as to better understand the dynamics of
contemporary U.S. migration and labor.
In U.S. hospitals today, nursing is no longer exclusively practiced by
white and black women in white uniforms. Between 1965 and 1988,
more than seventy thousand foreign nurses entered the United States,
the majority coming from Asia. Although Korea, India, and Taiwan are
among the top Asian sending countries, the Philippines is by far the
leading supplier of nurses to the United States.∞
The late 1960s marked the beginnings of a profound racial and ethnic
transformation of the foreign-trained nursing labor force in the United
States when the increasing migrations of Filipino nurses ended de-
cades of numerical domination by foreign-trained nurses from European
countries and Canada. Paul Ong and Tania Azores estimate that at least
twenty-five thousand Filipino nurses migrated to the United States be-
tween 1966 and 1985. They go so far as to suggest that in the United
States ‘‘it could be argued that a discussion of immigrant Asian nurses,
indeed of foreign-trained nurses in general, is predominantly about Fil-
ipino nurses.’’≤
By 1989, Filipino nurses comprised the overwhelming
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