How Filipino Nurses Saved America

If there are any stereotypes associated with Filipinos it’s maybe three things. The first one in my head is that Filipinos are amazing at karaoke. I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s their church activities, maybe’s it’s that they have been called the Black people of Asia but gosh darn it can Filipinos SING. They got soul, for real. The second stereotype is that Filipinos love their sports. From basketball to Manny Pacquiao to . . . actually that’s it. Regardless they are ride or die. However that third thing is that all Filipinos are nurses. I can confirm to you that not all Filipinos are nurses, however, I can confirm to you that a lot of my Filipino friends are nurses. As part of AAPI History month, I wanted to shed a light on Filipino nurses in America. Shining a light not on just Asians – but rather Filipinos (mostly women) in particular is important as I feel that the group is underrepresented. I had actually tweeted about this a few years ago during the start of the pandemic and the anti-Asian hate trend was going around but I felt that for AAPI month that it would be important to dive deeper and expand on the topic.

Did you know that since the 1960’s there have been well over 150,000 Filipino nurses that have immigrated into America, with 20% of Californian nurses being Filipino, even though Filipinos only make up 4% of the Californian population. And since 2019, one out of 20 registered nurses in the Untied States were trained in the Philippines. Yes, those are some crazy numbers but let’s get to the bottom of why these numbers exist in the first place. Let’s put context into why the American healthcare system would crumble without Filipino nurses

Origins

We have to go back to 1898, when the Philippines became a US colony. Remember when the British, and the Spanish, and the French, and the Portuguese, and the – I can stop here – decided to conquer the mongrels of North America when in reality they were committing genocide of an entire race of indigenous North Americans? Well Americans liked that so much that when they became a legit player in the world of global affairs, they decided themselves to pick up their own colony in the Philippines by way of purchase from the Spanish. The incentive in owning the Philippines was that it gave America a venue into Asia while also preventing possible threats from taking it over (Japan and Germany for instance). The Philippines, understandably so did not like the move so they fought back for their country. This lead to the tragic deaths of 200,000 Filipinos. After committing these acts of terror, the United States decided to justify their disgusting deed by ushering forth an action of benevolent assimilation.

Benevolent assimilation was America’s attempt at taming the beast. Americans considered themselves the ones of class and taste (yes they actually believed this after killing 200,000 people for the sake of expansion), while the people of the land were considered savages. One of these efforts in the move for benevolence was to set up an Americanized healthcare system, as at the time the country lacked one. And if Americans are going to stick around their new colony, they have to get shit organized. This lead to Filipinos being trained into becoming nurses with an American curriculum with American educators, all in English. But Baron, how did they get to America?

The 1940’s

During WW2, there was a great need of nurses in America. Many American women signed up in order to support their boys on the frontline. However after the war, resources going towards nurses were starting to slow down. There just weren’t enough incentives like good pay or benefits anymore and more nursing positions opened up. Instead of doubling down on pay or benefits, the American healthcare system decided to do what they’ve always done when it comes to playing the game of capitalism and they outsourced the job to a cheaper alternative. Coincidentally there was this entire American colony with American trained nurses, thus creating this pipeline for Filipino nurses to move to America for work. This was an easy sell for Filipino nurses as nursing jobs were quite shite in pay back home. This seemed like a win-win for everybody. Except it wasn’t, because the pay in America wasn’t that great and many nurses just left America after their terms ended. Although some did stick around to form little pockets of Filipino communities in an effort to start their new lives.

The 60’s and 70’s

Culturally speaking the 1960’s were a wild decade in America. At the time, civil rights were going crazy. President Lyndon B. Johnson had handed the south to the Republicans as he signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and the Voting Rights of 1965 (yes the south hated civil rights back then too). The Vietnam war which seemed like it was going well – well it wasn’t and perhaps it was the first time the Americans ever publicly conceded in a global affair that they were directly involved with – which just gave more power and ammunition to the hippies that were anti-war. Two of the most prominent figures in American civil rights in MLK and JFK both rise and fall in this decade. Yeah, that was a short lived prime for those two. Pretty much everybody took an L but white people (as per usual). And eventually this trickle down L, made it’s way to the now independent country of the Philippines.

As white women were now becoming more empowered, this meant that white woman were starting to leave their posts at the hospitals and now working office or phoneline jobs – shit that is easy, gets you paid, and doesn’t require you to wait on sick people. Again we have immigrants bailing out America’s heavy ass. This is like when you break up with your girl because you think you can do better but in reality, she was actually better than you. And then one night you decide to give her a call because you’ve just been so lonely and she gets back with you. She probably knew that this was going to happen and she’s more mature than your sorry ass. America, if you didn’t give women their rights, then you wouldn’t have to rely on immigrants again. That is a joke, I don’t mean it – I repeat that this is a joke.

On the other hand, the Philippines were going through their own bit of change. The new President of the Philippines wasn’t great. Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, decided that it was his time to shine and became a dictator. He believed in mass incarceration’s, killing his citizens, and torture. His rule over the country, gave more reason for why people wanted to leave the Philippines. However, one thing he was keen on was money. His rule lead to a huge downfall in the economy and instead of helping his citizens, he decided to use them instead. He understood that the nurses who left for America were actually sending money back home. At this point, the government decided to boast and publicize its labor exporting, leading to many Filipino nurses being sent all around the globe but primarily the United States. Now one-third of all foreign born nurses are from the Philippines. And that is how there are so many Filipino nurses in America. That was a long winded journey for myself.

Modern Times And My Theories

Over the years, Filipino-American nurses have fought against discriminatory practices – ranging from only allowing English to be spoken at the workplace between nurses to just flat out racism. To this day, the research shows that a large sum of Filipino nurses are working in bedside and clinical care – some of the most stressful and dangerous nursing work. This can be something that is blown out of context for myself, someone who is not working in healthcare but from my virgin healthcare eyes, this seems a little sus. Due to the pandemic, there have been less and less Filipino nurses immigrating out of the country as the Filipino government has not allowed nurses to leave the Philippines due to the possibility of nursing shortages (which without research, is something that I’m assuming definitely happened everywhere during the pandemic).

Now here are my personal beliefs on why I think that there are still so many Filipino nurses, even among Filipinos who grew up in North America. I can take a stab at it and guess that many Filipinos grew up with one or more of their parents being nurses or working in healthcare – leading to the children to also becoming nurses or healthcare practitioners. Kind of like how a lot of teachers have kids who also end up being teachers. Why not right? The pay is good, the benefits are great. Sure the work is hard but if you’re built different and you’re from a country that is that close to the equator – shit you can probably handle all kinds of heat.

My second and final reason to why I think so many Filipinos still become nurses in America is probably because they freaking love God. All my Filipino friends are ride or die Christians. In fact 92.5% of Filipino-Americans are Christian, 80% being Catholic. Holy crap, maybe this article should be about why so many Filipinos love God. Actually I could write that article but I feel like it’s a lot more messy of an article to write, so maybe not (but let me know in the comments if you think that I should). If you love God, you probably love Their creation of humanity, meaning that you want to do good in serving Their will and helping your fellow man. Nothing punches a ticket to the pearly gates quite like saving a few lives.

Closing Remarks

I wanted to write about this because I feel like Filipinos don’t get the spotlight that they deserve. When we think of Asians we often think about light skin Asians like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean – and only think of South East Asians when it comes to going on vacation or food – which is not right. As a country, the Philippines has gone through a lot of hardships and I feel that they need some more exposure in their come up. I don’t have a big stage to put them on but I will do what I can do to get the story out. In the pandemic, not a single North American when into a hospital without a Filipino nurse or healthcare practitioner (this I am guessing but I would say my chances are quite high). We have all benefited from them and I just wanted to show my respect. I hope that you learned something today and that you too have a new found respect for this great group of people. Something that I find remarkable is how prideful every Filipino person I know is of their country. I absolutely love that and after doing a little research, I understand why.

This article was something a little different than what I usually write and I listed all my sources below. If you like more research focused articles like this, please let me know in the comments and also subscribe, share, and tell your mom I say hey.

Sources
  • https://news.berkeley.edu/2019/05/28/filipino-nurses-in-the-us-podcast/
  • https://www.vox.com/2020/6/30/21307199/filipino-nurses-us
  • https://time.com/6051754/history-filipino-nurses-us/
  • https://www.history.com/topics/us-politics/democratic-party
  • https://www.history.com/topics/1960s/1960s-history
  • https://geriatrics.stanford.edu/ethnomed/filipino/introduction/religion.html#:~:text=An%20estimated%2092.5%25%20of%20Filipinos,Iglesia%20ni%20Cristo%20(2.3%25)
  • https://history.state.gov/milestones/1899-1913/war#:~:text=Americans%20who%20advocated%20annexation%20evinced,or%20Japan)%20might%20do%20so.

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