Washington State Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Like the state of Oregon to its south, Washington appealed to early pioneers from the East. Unlike Oregon, it lacked racially exclusionary land laws. Consequently, it also attracted Asian immigrants, and Filipinos became one of the state’s largest immigrant groups. By the turn of the twenty-first century, Mexican had become the state’s fastest-growing immigrant group, thanks in part to Washington’s agriculture industry, which poses a draw for undocumented immigrants.

Although similar to Oregon geographically and economically, Washington has drawn many more immigrants not of European stock. During the first several decades of statehood, hundreds of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino immigrants came to Washington for work. The first Filipino immigrants;WashingtonFilipinos in the Seattle, Washington;Filipino immigrantsSeattle area worked in lumber mills, which employed many Filipinos during the early years of statehood. Fishing industry;in Washington[Washington]Fishing and canning were also typical jobs for Filipino workers.Washington StateWashington State[cat]STATES;Washington State

After the United States took the Philippines from Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American War, Congress passed the [a]Pensionado Act of 1903Pensionado Act in 1903 to provide funds for FilipinosEducation;Filipino immigrants to study in the United States. By 1912, 209 Filipino students had graduated from American college or university programs, and the University of Washington had enrolled more Filipinos than studied in any other state.

In 1906, the city of Seattle hired forty Filipino workers to lay a cable in the Pacific; several decided to become permanent residents of Seattle. Federal immigration laws that excluded Asian workers from the United States did not apply to the Philippines, which was regarded as an American colony. Consequently, the number of Filipinos in Washington increased rapidly. They were drawn by the promise of work and economic security and quickly took the places of Chinese and Japanese laborers on railroads, in canneries, and on farms.

During the early decades of the twentieth century, Washington’s Filipino population continued to grow through ongoing immigration and natural increase. However, in 1934, the federal [a]Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934[Tydings MacDuffie Act of 1934]Tydings-McDuffie Act changed the status of Filipinos from “nationals” to “aliens” and limited the number of them who would be permitted to enter the United States to fifty per year. The [a]Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935 sent more than 1,000 Filipino residents of Washington back to the Philippines.

Through World War II and afterward, Washington’s Filipino community again grew larger, particularly after 1965, when a new federal immigration law removed national-origins quotas. During the war, Washington’s ethnic Japanese residents, along with those of other West Coast states, were rounded up and interned. After the war, the state’s ethnic Japanese population increased. By 1950, 6.8 percent of the state’s total population were of Japanese ancestry.

By 2003, Washington was home to 631,500 foreign-born residents, who constituted 10.3 percent of the state’s entire population. An estimated 100,000 of these people were illegal immigrants. By this time, the single-largest immigrant group was Mexican immigrants;WashingtonMexicans. Most Mexican immigrants, both documented and undocumented, worked as migrant farmworkers in the southeast-central part of the state and as laborers in western Washington. A legacy of its immigrant heritage, Washington has the fourth largest Asian American population of any state, and immigration from the Philippines and Vietnam has increased dramatically since 1980. The Filipino American community in Washington is one of the largest in the United States.Washington State

Further Reading
  • Daniels, Roger. Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988.
  • Gruenewald, Mary Matsuda. Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese American Internment Camps. Troutdale, Oreg.: NewSage Press, 2005.
  • Lambert, Dale A. Washington: A State of Contrasts. Edited by Dustin W. Clark and Kathleen A. Lambert. 2d ed. East Wenatchee, Wash.: Directed Media, 2007. Examines the complex past and present history of Washington and its unique geographic regions.
  • Ritter, Harry. Washington’s History: The People, Land, and Events of the Far Northwest. Portland, Oreg.: WestWinds Press, 2003. Explores the events and people who helped in the development of Washington State.


Asakura v. City of Seattle

Bellingham incident

Chinese immigrants

Farm and migrant workers

Filipino immigrants

Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935

Japanese American internment

Japanese immigrants

Mexican immigrants

Categories: History Content