Philippines – Cultural Guide

Jin Kong is a guest research fellow with The Greater Cincinnati World Affairs Council (GCWAC) for the next six months. This fellowship is sponsored by The Mission Continues. Through this fellowship, Kong is researching to gain a better understanding of the populist sentiment towards immigrants in the Cincinnati region. This is one blog of many on his research of immigration and Cincinnati. To learn more about Jin Kong click here.


The Philippines is a group of volcanic islands in Southeastern Asia between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, east of Vietnam. It is a nation of more than seven-thousand islands with more than two-thousands of them inhabited. Luzon to the north is the largest island with half of the country’s population.

Early settlers in the Philippine archipelago are said to date some 30,000 years ago from Borneo, Sumatra, and Malaya. The Chinese had a trading relationship with the Philippines dating as early as the first century; and the relationship became more established in the tenth century. People of the Philippines archipelago also had regular contacts with Japan, Borneo, and other island cultures leading up to the introduction of Islam in the 14th century. The eventual Spanish conquest began in 1564 with the expedition led by Miguel López de Legaspi, and the Spanish city of Manila was established in 1571.


There were frequent uprisings against the Spanish; but by 17th century, Manila was a major commercial center and had an active trading exchange with China, India, and the East Indies. Writing of José Rizal inspired a revolution against the Spanish injustices, bigotry, and oppression in 1896; and he was executed later that year. His revolution came to a short rest with the Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo able to force Spain negotiate peace. The short-lived armistice lasted until the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898. With the help of Commodore George Dewey, the Spanish was driven out of the Philippines and the United States inherited the sovereign power by the signing of the 1898 Treaty of Paris. Aguinaldo led a new revolt against the United States in 1899 but he was later captured and his revolution crushed. Free trade was established by an U.S. congressional act of 1909 and was expanded in 1913. The United States and Philippines had developed a mutual economic interest and by 1916, the Jones Act was passed to recognize the eventual independence of Philippine on November 15, 1935.

The Japanese attacked Philippine in 1941 and confronted MacArthur’s 80,000 defending force (most of them were Filipinos). Japanese occupation began in 1942 with MacArthur’s withdraw ordered by President Roosevelt. A guerrilla resistance, organized and coordinated by the U.S. and Philippine army officers, continued throughout the Japanese occupation.

The Japanese puppet state, a Philippine Republic, was established in 1943; and in October 1944, the U.S. led liberation force landed at Leyte after months of air strikes. The United States Navy effectively destroyed the Japanese fleet during the course of conflicts and on July 5, 1945, MacArthur announced “all the Philippines are now liberated.” The United States military forces withdrew from Philippine in 1991 as the country failed to extend the lease given to the United States military presence.

Culture and People

The Philippine national identity arguably correlated with the Spanish conquest and introduction of Catholicism. Most (approximately 95%) of Filipinos are of Malay ancestry with Chinese being the other identifiable ancestral group. Filipinos value families and their economy is largely based on agriculture, forestry, and fishing. There are some minor manufacturing, construction, and mining that supports the national economy as well. Philippine also has a significant diaspora labor force, some 800,000 working overseas primarily as merchant mariners, healthcare workers, household laborers, and factor workers. This labor force is spread across Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other parts of the Southeast Asian regions; they send back almost $7 billion back to Philippine each year.

The language of Philippines is diverse with more than seventy distinct language groups and close to 200 different languages. The Tagalog language, or Filipino, is the official language along with English, but other auxiliary languages are recognized within specific regions. Spanish and Arabic are optionally promoted and used on voluntary basis.

Animism is the oldest religion in the Philippines and still practiced by indigenous peoples in the mountains of Luzon. Most modern Filipinos are Roman Catholics. Protestant and Mormon missionaries have been introduced in the early 1900s. There is also a large group of Sunni Muslims who live mainly in Mindanao and the Sulu islands.

Filipino literature traditionally takes shape in oral traditions of folklore. Its modern literary form is influenced by the Spanish and American literature as well as influenced by the church. Similarly, modern Filipino visual arts reflect Spanish and religious themes and they often explore the Filipino social and political life; and their preference for music tends to favor the Americans.


Filipino Americans numbered 3.4 million as of the 2010 US Census. Early Filipino presence in America dates back to 1587 when the Spanish landed here. Immigration from the Philippines began after the Spanish American War when the Philippines became an United States territory. Filipinos were considered American nationals, unique amongst other Asian groups; but they were also denied full citizenship rights until 1946. In the years following WWI, some 16,000 Filipino women entered the United States as wives of servicemembers. Until the 1990s Filipino immigrants were the largest of Asian immigration to the United States and mostly consisted of higher skilled professions such as nursing.

Cincinnati is the home of the Filipino American Association of Southern Ohio. It is also the home of the Philippine Nurses Association of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. US census in 2010 showed closed to 17,000 Filipinos living in Ohio. Once census puts the Filipino population in Cincinnati at over 1,100.

The blog is in part of the Mission Continues blog series, written by Jin Kong and therefore all words and thoughts are his own and not a reflection of GCWAC. GCWAC nor Jin Kong owns any of the photos included. 

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