Filipino: Becoming Minnesotan

The Philippines, CIA World Factbook 2011

Map of Homeland

Filipino Stories

Quick Facts

U.S.: 2,364,815 (2010)
Minnesota: 15,660 (2010)
Philippines: 101,833,938 (July 2011 est.)

Major Religions: Roman Catholic 80.9%, Muslim 5%, Evangelical 2.8%, Iglesia ni Cristo 2.3%, Aglipayan 2%, other Christian 4.5%, other 1.8%, unspecified 0.6%, none 0.1% (2000 census)

Ethnic Groups: Tagalog 28.1%, Cebuano 13.1%, Ilocano 9%, Bisaya/Binisaya 7.6%, Hiligaynon Ilonggo 7.5%, Bikol 6%, Waray 3.4%, other [including Chinese] 25.3% (2000 census)

Major Languages: Filipino (official; based on Tagalog) and English (official); eight major dialects - Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray-Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinan.

Current Government: Republic

Geography and Climate: Group of over 7,000 islands with a total land area the size of Arizona. The land is mostly mountains with narrow to extensive coastal lowlands and a tropical marine climate.

Source: CIA World Factbook 2011 and U.S. Census 2010.

Population Comparison






  • Introduction
  • Religion & Culture
  • History & Geography
  • Finding a New Home
  • Investigate Further


The Philippines is an island archipelago in Southeastern Asia; its residents are called Filipinos. The country was a Spanish colony from the 1500s to 1898, and Spanish influence lives on in the language and culture of the people. The Philippines was a U.S. territory from 1898 until 1935, and the U.S. retained a military presence in the country until the 1990s. This connection led many Filipinos to immigrate to the United States throughout the 20th century, seeking professional opportunities and escaping the harsh Marcos regime of the 1970s and 80s.

Religion & Culture

Philippine culture, though Asian in origin, has been heavily influenced by the culture of its two Western colonizers, Spain and the United States.


The vast majority of Filipinos – about 80% - are Roman Catholics. The practice of Christianity was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish, who first arrived in 1521. Conversion of the islands’ inhabitants to Catholicism was a major goal of the colonizers, and missionaries spread the religion throughout the country over the following century. An additional 10% of Filipinos are members of other Christian denominations, including mainstream Protestant churches and Philippine-based sects like the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and Iglesia ni Cristo.

About 5% of Filipinos practice Islam; most Philippine Muslims live in the Mindanao region of the Philippines. Islam was introduced to the Philippines in the 1300s, through trade with neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia; Buddhism and Hinduism also spread throughout the Philippines at this time. Spanish dominance, beginning in the 1500s, stamped out these practices in most regions of the country. However, Islam retained a firm footing in the southern Philippines, Filipino Muslims have remained a culturally and political distinct group in Mindanao and neighboring regions despite continued attempts at conversion and assimilation.

Prior to Spanish arrival, Filipinos practiced traditional tribal religions based on Animism and Shamanism, and undercurrents of these beliefs remain in Filipino culture, blended into Catholicism and other Western religions.


Life in the Philippines tends to be centered around the family and the church. The family may be an extended one, with close relationships with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Traditionally the family has been patriarchal, with the father in charge, and the children expected to have great respect for their elders. Like many other cultures, some Filipino families have faced difficulties in the United States between the traditional expectations of the parents and the desires of the children for a more Western style or less strict upbringing.


There are over 100 languages spoken in the Philippines, all of them part of the same Malayo-Polynesian language group. 90% of Filipinos speak one of 13 major regional languages, which each have over one million native speakers. Tagalog is the most widely spoken language in the country; it is a first language for about 1/3 of the population and is a second language for most others. Cebuano is another widely spoken language, with about 20 million speakers; other major languages include Ilocano, Hiligaynon, and Waray-Waray. Many of the languages are quite different from one another and are not mutually intelligible.

Spanish became an important language in the Philippines for politics, education, trade, and communication during the time of Spanish rule (1500s-1800s), though it was only used by a few as a main language. The use of Spanish gradually began to fade in the Philippines following U.S. takeover of the country, and it ceased to be an official language in 1973. Many words in Tagalog, Cebuano, and other Philippine languages are of Spanish origin, however, as are most names. Several Spanish creole dialects continue to be used in the Philippines, with vocabulary based in Spanish and grammar based in Filipino languages. These languages are termed Chavacano, and are mostly spoken around Zamboanga City. Over 2 million people use Chavacano as their native language.

Today, the two official languages of the Philippines are English and Filipino. The Filipino language, established in the 1930s, is essentially the same as the Tagalog spoken in the Manila area, however. This language is used for communication between speakers of different Philippine languages, and it is the main language for entertainment in the Philippines including TV and movies. Most Filipinos who have emigrated throughout the world use Tagalog to speak to one another.

English became common in the Philippines after 1898, when the U.S. gained control of the country. It is currently the main language for government, education, law, science, and business, and other formal settings, and for the publication of books and some newspapers. Many Filipinos learn English in school as a second language; however, very few use it as a primary language.


Filipino food is a unique combination of Southeast Asian, Spanish, Chinese and American styles and flavors. Rice, noodles, pork, salted fish, ox-tail, and tropical fruits are main ingredients. Favorite dishes include adobo (pork or other meat simmered in a marinade of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and other flavors), sinigang (a sour soup flavored with tamarind), and spaghetti perpared with a unique sweet sauce made from banana ketchup and sometimes topped with sliced hot dogs and cheddar cheese. American style hamburgers and fried chicken are also popular, especially at fast food restaurants.

Because of Western influence, Filipinos eat with silverware instead of the chopsticks which are common throughout the rest of Asia. However, Filipinos normally use a fork and spoon instead of a fork and knife.

History & Geography

The Philippines is an archipelago nation composed of 7,107 islands, between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. Many of the islands are extremely small, and only about 1,000 are populated – 11 large islands are home to 95% of the population. The islands are divided into three groups: Luzon in the north, Visayas in the center, and Mindanao in the south.

The islands of the Philippines are volcanic in origin; most are mountainous with narrow coastal plains, and most Filipinos live on the coasts. The climate of the country is wet and tropical, with a monsoon season in the winter. The islands used to be covered with tropical rainforest, but there has been extensive deforestation due to logging.

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1521, the Philippines was home to numerous separate tribes and kingdoms of Austronesian people. Explorer Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to set foot on the islands, and Spain sent a colonizing force to establish a permanent settlement in 1565. They founded the town of Manila, now the country’s capital, in 1571. As part of the Spanish East Indies, the territory of the Philippines was unified for the first time under the Spanish, who also introduced Christianity and European style law, government, agriculture, engineering, architecture, and education.


Political unrest began to spread in the Philippines in the 1870s. A group of educated Filipinos including Jose Rizal, began to advocate for reforms, including legislative representation for the Philippines in Spain, and later for independence. The Philippine Revolution began in 1896 when simmering rebellion expanded into open revolt. The Spanish authorities sought to squash the rebellion by disposing of its leaders. José Rizal, who had been in exile because of his well-known work and writing in favor of Filipino nationalism and independence, was forced back to the Philippines and executed December 30, 1896. That day is commemorated in the Philippines as Rizal Day.

The rebellion continued but did not gain much ground until 1898, when the United States entered into war with Spain over Spain’s territory of Cuba. The U.S. Navy sailed to the Philippines, a key Spanish territory, in May and began to attack Manila, giving the Filipino rebels the opportunity to win battles and take land through the rest of the country. In June most of the country was in U.S. or rebel hands, and the rebellion’s leaders declared their independence from Spain and began to establish a government. Meanwhile, however, Spain had conceded defeat to the U.S. in the Spanish-American war in August, and a peace treaty was finally signed between the two nations in December 1898. This treaty gave the Philippines, along with other Spanish territories to the U.S. Filipino leaders, having no desire to become a U.S. colony, began to fight the American forces occupying Manila, and declared war against the U.S. in June 1899. The U.S. declared victory over the Filipinos in 1902, though fighting continued until 1913. Over 1 million Filipinos were killed in the Philippine-American war.

The United States occupied and administered the Philippines as a U.S. territory from 1898 until the 1930s, gradually allowing the country more opportunity for self-government and planning for eventual independence were put into place. In 1935 the U.S. approved a new constitution for a Commonwealth of the Philippines, based on the U.S. Constitution, which would usher the country through a 10 year period to full independence. The new commonwealth government was entirely Filipino, but the United States maintained a military presence in the country.


The day after the Pearl Harbor attack on the U.S. on December 8, 1941 the Japanese launched a surprise attack on U.S. and Philippine forces in the Philippines. Most of the outnumbered Americans and Filipinos retreated to the Bataan Peninsula, and were finally forced to surrender to the Japanese in April 1942. The Japanese occupation was harsh on the Filipinos, and many of them were forced into slave labor or threatened with other types of violence, and the invaders faced strong resistance from Filipino underground movements, bands of guerilla fighters, and the remainder of the Philippine army. The resistance fighters managed to retake much of the islands from the Japanese before the war ended, including most of Luzon.

The U.S. military under General MacArthur launched an invasion to liberate the occupied Philippines in October 1944. Though the U.S., along with Filipino forces, quickly took control of much of the islands, and Japan was losing ground elsewhere in the Pacific as well, fierce fighting continued, especially in Manila, until Japan’s surrender on August 15, 1945. Over 1 million Filipinos were killed in the war, and much of the city of Manila and other parts of the country had been destroyed.


The United States ceded full control of the Philippines on July 4, 1946, and the country became a fully independent republic. Politician Ferdinand Marcos became president in 1965, with an aim to bring industrialization to the country. His second term, beginning in 1969, saw growing violence and unrest in the country, due to increasingly poor economic conditions. The attempted assassination of the country’s defense minister in 1972 led Marcos to declare martial law. Marcos abolished congress and began to rule by decree, he clamped down on individual freedoms and freedom of the press, rewrote the constitution to allow himself additional terms and more power, and began to arrest his opponents.

Marcos was initially supported by the public, as crime rates fell and the economy improved under his regime. However, as the 1970s continued, public unhappiness with the extent of government corruption and with the force used by the military against dissenters grew. Anger at the 1983 assassination of a Marcos opponent, Benigno Aquino, Jr., and at the bankruptcy of the country led to Marcos’s call for a new election in February 1986. The election was very close, and Marcos claimed victory over his opponent, Aquino’s widow Corazon Aquino. There was evidence of widespread fraud, however, and Filipinos held mass protests against the election results. Large portions of the military began to desert Marcos, and with the army and the public against him, he and his family were evacuated to Hawaii by the U.S. military on February 26, 1986. This peaceful uprising, which exiled Marcos and installed Corazon Aquino as president, became known as the People Power Revolution.

Finding a New Home

The first Filipino immigrants to the United States arrived in the early 20th century, shortly after the Philippines’ annexation by the U.S. The new arrivals were primarily agricultural workers or university students, sent to the U.S. to gain knowledge and skills they could bring back and use in the Philippines. Most of these individuals came to western U.S. states including Hawaii and California, but others made their way further east, including to Minnesota.

The majority of Filipinos who came to Minnesota prior to the 1960s were young men planning to study at the University of Minnesota or other local colleges. Most of these students returned to the Philippines following the completion of their studies, as it was almost impossible for a Filipino to find work in the Twin Cities at that time other than as a servant, waiter, or other service worker in a home, hotel or restaurant. Other Filipinos came to Minnesota as farm workers recruited to work seasonally on the state’s sugar beet farms and canning factories. Some of these students and laborers did decide to stay in Minnesota permanently, and they became Minnesota’s first Filipino immigrants.

Since very few of the first Filipinos to arrive in Minnesota were women prior to the 1940s most male Filipino immigrants married local women of European heritage. The couples in these mixed marriages and their children often faced discrimination from the women’s families and from society at large. The small number of Filipino women who immigrated to Minnesota before World War II mainly came as wives or fiancées of male Filipino students.

The 1965 Immigration Act opened the door for Asian immigrants to begin arriving in the U.S. in much greater numbers, including Filipinos, who had faced a strictly limited immigration quota since 1934. Filipino workers had continued to arrive in Minnesota in the 1930s and 40s, but they came from other U.S. states, rather than directly from the Philippines. The immigrants who began to come after 1965 differed from the earlier arrivals in that they were mainly professionals who had received education and started careers in the Philippines which they planned to continue in the U.S., and in that they came as family groups. Many of these immigrants were members of the medical profession. Additional Filipinos began to immigrate to the U.S. and to Minnesota in the 1970s and early 1980s due to repression under the harsh regime of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

While Filipinos have been one of the largest immigrant groups to the United States over the second half of the 20th century and early 21st century (second only to Mexicans in numbers arriving), the community in Minnesota remains relatively small. Over half of the 2.5 million Filipinos who live in the U.S. (as of 2010) live in California; only 13,000 people with Filipino ancestry live in Minnesota. Due in part to the prevalence of Western culture, languages and religion in the Philippines, Filipinos have had an easier time assimilating to American culture than many other Asian groups. Because English has been taught in Philippine schools since the U.S. takeover at the start of the 20th century, and because the Philippines has many different native languages, most Filipinos in the U.S. speak English to communicate with one another, and very few have retained the use of their native languages into the second generation. However, other cultural traditions have been promoted, taught, and preserved through participation in local community associations, like the Fil-Minnesotan Association.

Investigate Further


Cultural Society of Filipino Americans:
This Twin Cities based cultural association was founded in 1972.

Fil-Minnesotan Association:
This cultural association holds community events all year long and includes a separate youth organization.

Filipino Express:
The website for a major Filipino American newspaper.

The Philippine Star:
This newspaper caters to Filipinos across the world.


Brainard, Cecilia Manguerra (ed.). Growing Up Filipino: Stories For Young Adults. Santa Monica, CA: PALH, 2003.
In this short story collection 29 Filipino American authors explore what it means to be a Filipino American teenager. Fiction, good for grades 9-12.

Gilmore, Dorina K. Lazo. Cora Cooks Pancit. Walnut Creek, CA: Shen's Books, 2009.
Cora helps her mother make pancit (Filipino noodles) for the first time in this picture book. Good for ages 5 and up.

Gourlay, Candy. Tall Story. New York: David Fickling Books, 2011.
The story of a Filipino British girl and her brother, who suffers from gigantism, and their struggles to fit in and form a family. Non-fiction, good for grades 5-9.

Francia, Luis H. A History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos. New York: Overlook Press, 2010.
An introduction to the history of the Philippines from the Spanish arrival in the 1500s to the present. Non-fiction.

Holthe, Tess Uriza. When the Elephants Dance: a Novel. New York: Crown, 2002.
A 13 year old Filipino girl and her family share stories, myths and legends while they try to hide from the Japanese occupation during World War II. Non-fiction.

Robles, Anthony D. Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel. San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press, 2006.
Filipino American Lakas tries to help his neighbors save their home in this picture book with text in both English and Tagalog. Good for grades 2-4.

Rodell, Paul A. Culture and Customs of the Philippines. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.
A good overview of Philippine culture by a specialist in the country’s history and society. Non-fiction.

Schraff, Anne. Philippines. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 2009.
An introduction to the country’s landscape and culture for kids. Non-fiction, good for grades 2-5.

Skog, Jason. Teens in the Philippines. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2009.
An introduction to the lives of teenagers in the Philippines. Non-fiction, good for grades 7 and up.


Citation Sources

Holmquist, June Drenning (ed.). They Chose Minnesota: A Survey of the State’s Ethnic Groups. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1981.

Andrada, Belen S. The Filipino Experience in Minnesota, 1918-1953. Minneapolis: Burgess Publications, 1977.

Wikipedia website, 17 August 2011.

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