This is the conclusion to our series “How Did We Get Here?” Over the past few days, we’ve talked with people who have researched their family’s migration stories — how their relatives arrived in Chicago, and what led them to move here in the first place. Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.
Laarni Livings’ great aunt came to Chicago in a wave of immigrant doctors and nurses from the Philippines. While visiting on a visa, Livings’ great grandmother learned she was a U.S. citizen. The Philippines was an American colony at the time, and Livings’ great grandfather had served in the U.S. Navy. The entire extended family, including 3-year-old Laarni, followed soon after.
Livings now lives in the South Loop with her husband and son. While economic pressure and citizenship laws played a part in her family’s mass migration, Livings said it was the American dream that drew her father, mother and siblings to Chicago.
Confusing U.S. Citizenship Rules for Filipinos
Laarni Livings: After the Spanish-American war, the Philippines was actually bought by the U.S. for $20 million.
Tony Sarabia: Hard to fathom.
Livings: And so at that point a lot of Filipinos joined the U.S. military, including my great-grandfather, who joined, I think, the U.S. Navy in 1917 during World War I… And so in my research, I saw in the U.S. census that he was actually in Boston for the 1920 U.S. Census. And at that time he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen.
Sarabia: And how did he become naturalized? Was it by way of joining the U.S. Army?
Livings: I think so, I mean that’s what I saw. I haven’t seen the paperwork of his actual naturalization, but he was naturalized when he was on the U.S.S. New Jersey.
Sarabia: I’m wondering… did he face any sort of racism when he was in the Navy?
Livings: My father says that he did tell him stories about being called racial slurs, and about being a brown man.
Sarabia: And he also — your great grandfather — never told you about your citizenship. Why not?
Livings: He came back to the Philippines not wanting to come back to the U.S. He married my great grandmother in 1922 and never told her that he was actually a U.S. citizen.
Sarabia: Why didn’t he want to come back to the U.S.?
Livings: He didn’t think we belonged here. The family — he didn’t think we were going to assimilate and belong in the U.S…
Sarabia: So Laarni, your dad moved to the U.S. a few years after your great grandmother. What prompted your dad to move here? Why did he want to move here?
Livings: Well, the story of my dad realizing he was going to come here came before that when my great-grandmother moved to the U.S. to visit my great-aunt. And so she wanted to stay and extend her visa, because she was here on a visitor’s visa… So they were at the immigration office and that’s when they… found out that she was actually a U.S. citizen, because of the Cable Act. The Cable Act states that an alien married to an American citizen before September 22, 1922 was automatically a U.S. citizen. So she was a U.S. citizen since she got married in April of 1922. And so that prompted our mass migration — our whole family.
Assimilating, But Also Connecting to Other Cultures
Livings: I am one of those people that, I think, assimilated very easily, because I was five. So I came right into school in Albany Park, and it was a very diverse school. There were a lot of immigrants just like me, so I never felt like I was out of place, so that was a really positive experience for me.
Sarabia: Were there any moments, though, as a young kid growing up, where you wanted to seek out other Filipinos your age — I mean, did that come pretty easily here in the Chicago area?
Livings: Well, my family — all my dad’s siblings and all my cousins — we all lived within a block of each other, so we had that support.
Sarabia: How about outside of family though?
Livings: You know, for me, I wasn’t really seeking other Filipinos, because all my friends were from all around the world. Like I grew up with Pakistanis, Syrians, you know, everywhere. Yugoslavians — I mean, there was still Yugoslavia back then. I never sought that because, you know, I saw the U.S. as this melting pot… I really really wanted to assimilate.
Researching Her Family History
Livings: My great aunt [the doctor] is actually alive. So she’s the one who told me the story… so I actually had a long conversation with her again yesterday, and, you know, she claims that she can’t remember everything, but she’s still sparky — she still knows it all.
LEARN MORE: Rizal Community Center of Greater Chicago