Early Filipino immigrants were party animals

(Screencap from


Our History books often emphasize that our heroes, such as Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal, did not submit to colonial rule. Instead, they resorted to their own ways of showing disapproval—but who knew being fly and swag also equated to being subversive?

Apparently, these manongs (early Filipino migrants to the US) did, as a feature piece by points out.

After work, these manongs would unwind in a taxi dance hall, where mostly white women danced for hire for 10 cents each, plus a tip in the form of a drink or a pretend marriage proposal.

Donned in their best McIntosh suits, they busted moves on the dancefloor and amazed every woman present. They resisted their poor, sweaty farmer stereotype by transforming into Mr. Suave, wooing any girl they desired.

But these migrants—mostly men who came to US in the early 1920′s and 1930′s—were farmers who toiled in California and were often overworked and underpaid. They didn’t own properties and they weren’t allowed to marry. They challenged the racist labor law which forbade them to make contact with white girls: they danced with these girls and won their hearts.

Like primetime telenovelas, these dance halls served as an escape from the manongs’ back-breaking labor. The blonde white girls were the manongs’ favorites in the dance hall, showering them with cash, jewelry, and gifts.

Of course, the white guys were displeased when the lowly manongs stole the spotlight at the dance halls.

In December 1929, police raided manong Perfecto Bandalan’s Watsonville room, and found two young white girls in his company. The local press heavily reported on the incident, along with a series on Filipinos’ mishaps with the law, including bar brawls and sexual assault.

In a report published by the Watsonville Evening Pajaronian, Judge D.W. Rohrback said:

The worst part … is [the Filipinos] mixing with young white girls… He gives them silk underwear and makes them pregnant and crowds whites out of jobs in the bargain.

In January 1930, 10,000 copies of The Torch, written by David P. De Tagle, a Filipino editor, were circulated around Watsonville. As a retort to Rohrback’s remark, he said that Filipinos wooing white girls is “the Law of Nature.”

This added fuel to the flame, and white men took to violent behavior:

…whites formed Filipino “hunting parties” of up to a hundred men and stormed the newly opened Palm Beach taxi dance hall. They dragged Filipinos out of their homes, whipping and beating them and hurling them off the Pajaro River Bridge. Early the next morning, they fired bullets into a bunkhouse — fatally shooting manong Fermin Tobera through the heart.

The violence went out of control and reached San Jose and San Francisco. A Filipino club in Stockton was rocked with an explosion, and a group of masked men warned a farmer to discharge his Filipino laborers.

The news of the riots reached the Philippines and protests erupted against the horrible cases of racism; the country’s resident commissioner at the time spoke to the US Congress to address the situation.

Fearing for their lives, many Filipinos left the US, and those who remained to work in the Californian fields were eventually replaced by Mexican laborers.

The taxi dance halls could be compared today to brothels and girly bars that overflow with sexism and objectify women. But setting these aside, they became venues where the manongs asserted their rights and subverted racist laws that saw them as “little brown brothers” who only belonged in muddy farmlands, toiling under the sun.