Mae Dela Cruz

December 17, 2004



“Living the Navy Life”


     Ever since the beginning of the 1900s, Filipinos have been enlisted in the United States Navy. Over the century there has been a rise of which tens of thousands of Filipinos served in the US Navy.  Having the father away from home affects the family formation where the mother has to act both roles of being a mother and father. Some families may be well off in the Philippines but when they arrive to the United States they sacrifice those conditions for independence and a whole new life style.

     Having a cousin whose father was in the US Navy, she and her brother depended on their mother to act as both parents. Upon arriving in the United States to be with their father they needed to adjust to a whole new life style, where they would depend on each other for support and learn independence. The family had to adjust from having people do most things for them to learning how to clean, cook, drive, etc. on their own. It was a sacrifice they made to be with their father, and to also be with extended family already in the United States. Even before they arrived in the United States the family had to adjust family roles because the father was not able to be around due to being enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Through some extensive research and an interview conducted in October of 2004 with my cousin Emeline, I acquired information about the struggles of living in a family of “Navy life”, when prior I assumed that they lived life like any other working-class family. [The absence of a parent in the family because of work, expands the family’s responsibilities and the roles in the household change, but it also enables them to act independently.]

     In 1898, following the Spanish American War, the United States assumed colonial rule over the Philippines. The U.S. occupation affected all parts of Philippine society where the United States produced an outspread cultural Americanization of the population, encouraging Filipinos to regard the American culture, society, values, political system, and way of life as being civilized. Emeline and her family came to the United States to seek better opportunities and life.  Instilled with great impressions of the United States, Filipinos soon started to migrate to what they had been taught to think as the land of opportunity and success.

     Pre World War II Filipinos became the favored source of labor. Having a grandfather who arrived in the 1920s as a farmer, was the start of migration for Emeline’s family. As nationals, Filipinos could migrate freely to the United States. Which her grandfather did until after Emeline’s father was born, he then settled in the United States. “Along the Pacific Coast, especially in California, most flocked to agriculture, forming the backbone of the migratory labor force that moved with the harvest (Chan 1990, 37).  During the late 1920s and the 1930s the Filipino population along the Pacific Coast grew rapidly. Because white resentment against Filipino laborers intensified they needed to decrease the number of Filipinos arriving in the U.S.  In 1934, the U.S Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Independence Act, granting the Philippines eventual independence, and declaring Filipinos to be aliens, cutting Filipino immigration to trickle down to fifty persons a year (Melendy 1977,27-28). Among the few who were exempted from the immigration restriction were the Filipinos who served in the U.S. armed forces, especially in the U.S. Navy. 

     Being in the Navy anticipated Filipinos to better life in the U.S., or to reunite with family members. Soon after the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain in 1898, its Navy began to recruit Filipinos.  Emeline’s father wanted to join the Navy in hopes that he would finally see his father after many years had passed. Prior and during World War I, the United States Navy allowed Filipino enlistees to serve in different range of occupational ratings.  However, after the war, the naval authorities issued a new ruling restriction Filipino, even those with a college education, to the ratings of officers’ stewards in the military, the U.S. Navy amended its policies to grant Filipino nationals the right to enter any occupational rating (Espiritu, 1995, 16).  Navy-related immigrants are apparent parts of the Filipino American community. San Diego is the site of the largest U.S. naval base station, where Emeline’s relatives first resided and are still living to this day. The Navy presence in families continues to be prominent today.

     Migration processes affect and reconfigured family relations for enlistees in the Navy. While living in the Philippines, Emeline and her family were pretty well off.  They had maids, drivers, and many relatives to support and help them while their father was not around. But soon after they arrived in the U.S. the family had to adjust to living conditions and having to deal with self-reliance. They had a couple of relatives already in California, but they lived on their own, in a Navy housing area.  She said she “especially saw it in my mom because she had to learn how to cook, clean, and do other things around the house”, and learn how to drive as soon as they arrived. Yet, some burdens were eased because the few relatives they had were there to help them get settled in. Her mother being a teacher in the Philippines had to settle for an accountant job which she continued to do until her retirement of this year. Her mother had to play the role of being both parents to her children.

     However, the living arrangements of living in a Navy family, let the women become more independent and have authority over the household and family situation. Emeline elaborates that when you arrive to the United States its ironic how the roles are reversed. In the Philippines, traditionally you find women staying at home taking care of the children and household chores.  While here in the United States women are free to work rather than be a housewife.  “Their husbands’ absence also compelled the women to master and expanded number of tasks such as driving, fixing cars, hiring repair men, and balancing checkbooks” (Espiritu 142). Emeline’s father handed the financial situations and household work. Other than her mother, both Emeline and her brother learned how to be independent. They started to help around the house and run errands for their mother. They started to become less dependent on other people.

     Joining Philippine affairs and forming organizations and groups was one of the things that the family did to get through the first couple of years they were in the United States. The country of origin is their center or home where the people would desire to remain rooted. So by being a part of such associations had an effect on the family and also relatives because they continued to remember where they came from and keeping the traditions alive. Emeline’s family is a part of an organization named Villasinians, in which many of her relatives are a part of. A couple of years ago her father was President of the association, and recently her mother was re-elected President.  She find that having such organizations are a good way of remembering where they came from, and letting the younger generations know about their ancestry. It also is a time of getting together with other Filipinos and relieving themselves of being “homesick”.

     Over the last few years, there has been a development of Filipino American youth and student clubs across the United States.  These organizations have not only been a convention for students and the younger generations, but to get together, socialize, and celebrate their culture. This is something that Emeline did not have while she was going to school here in San Francisco.  She realized that if they had such things then she would of better held onto the Philippine traditions and not forget about how it was like in the Philippines. But know that her children have a chance, she will encourage her children to learn more about their Filipino culture.

Overall, a journey back to the homeland is temporary for Emeline and her family. Having the Navy as a part of your life changes the “traditional” lifestyle most Filipinos are used to. The constant moving around, and reconfiguration of roles in the family, and most of all adjusting to a new environments has its positives as well as its negatives. Upon completion of the interview and essay, I learned that coming to the United States is not always to seek better opportunities but to sacrifice to be with our loved ones. Having a parent away constantly because it is in the job description takes toll on the wife and children. Independence is acquired in the family, while the father gives up the role of being “head of the household”, the mother takes charge and makes the family work.


Works Cited

Espiritu, Yen Le. Filipino American Lives Across Cultures, Communities, and Countries. University of California Press, 2003.


Espiritu, Yen Le. Asian American Panethicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.


Morino, Emeline. Personal interview. 28 Oct. 2004.


San Juan, E. Jr. From Exile to Diaspora. Boulder,

CO:Westview Press, 1999


Farolan, Morgan. The United States Navy
in the lives of Filipinos
. 20 July 2003. Philippines. 10 December 2004.