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American Mestizo: Filipinos and Antimiscegenation Laws in California

42 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2001 Last revised: 10 Aug 2012

Leti Volpp

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: August 9, 2012


This essay interprets the legal history of efforts to prohibit intermarriage between Filipino men and white women in the state of California in the 1920s and 30s. I do this through examining both public discourse and legal discourse, in the form of advisory opinions of the California State Attorney General and the Los Angeles County Counsel, litigation in Los Angles Superior Court and the California Court of Appeals, and state legislation.

Much scholarship examines antimiscegenation laws through the lens of presumptive heterosexuality, and gives enormous explanatory power to race in a way that ignores the role of class and gender. This paper argues that we need to examine the mutually constitutive nature of these forces in shaping antimiscegenation laws. Thus, I examine how the racial identity of Filipinos was shaped by assumptions about racialized sexuality, colonial relations between the United States and the Philippines, the importation of exploitable laborers without political rights, and the intertwining of gender and nationalism.

The question of whether Filipinos should be prohibited from marrying white women reached the California Court of Appeals in 1933 in the guise of the query as to whether Filipinos should be considered "Mongolian." The state in 1880 and 1905 had prohibited the licensing of marriages between "Mongolians" and "white persons" and invalidated all such marriages. Subsequent legal challenges involving the right of Filipinos to marry whites betray enormous confusion as to whether Filipinos should be classified as "Mongolian," or as a separate ethnological group, as "Malay." This racial classification was put at issue in cases where Filipino/white couples sought to marry, and who therefore asserted that Filipinos were not "Mongolians"; in a case where a mother sought to stop her daughter's marriage; in two cases where annulment of marriage was sought, one by a white woman, the other by a Filipino man; and in one case in which a prosecutor sought to void a marriage so a white wife could testify against her Filipino husband.

The positioning of Filipinos as "Mongolian," or in opposition to "Mongolians" as the ethnologically different "Malay," provides a narrative within which the contemporary identity of Filipinos is created. This history demonstrates that there is nothing natural or preordained about racial classification, and provides an example of how race is made.

Suggested Citation

Volpp, Leti, American Mestizo: Filipinos and Antimiscegenation Laws in California (August 9, 2012). U.C. Davis Law Review, Vol. 33, No. 4, Summer 2000. Available at SSRN:

Leti Volpp (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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