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  • Raising Hell in the Heartland:Filipino Chicago and the Anti-Martial Law Movement, 1972-1986
  • James Zarsadiaz (bio)


At the age of twenty-six, Leo Constantino moved from the Philippines to the United States. The year was 1961, a time when Asian immigration was limited mostly to students, businessmen, and diplomats. Five years prior to his move, he was ordained a Methodist minister. He decided to pursue a doctorate at the University of Chicago's Divinity School. Initially, his time in Chicago was planned as a temporary sojourn, but Constantino wound up establishing roots in the city. Over the next four decades, he served as an influential Methodist pastor on the South Side, working closely with Chicago's Filipino Protestants. While he spent his earliest years in the Philippines, Constantino lived most of his life making a home in the Midwest, yet Constantino remained engaged with current events in the Philippines. An immigrant with strong nationalist views, Constantino always held out hope for social and political transformation in a nation ravaged with poverty, limited economic opportunities, and, by the 1970s, years of political instability under President Ferdinand Marcos's martial law order (1972–1986). Constantino participated in the anti–martial law movement by protesting the Marcos regime's violent tactics, militarism, extravagance, and severing of Filipinos' civil liberties. Filipino immigrants throughout the United States were outraged at what many believed were policies and actions undermining the integrity of the Philippines and its people living around the world. [End Page 141]

In Chicago, Filipino Americans across ideological, class, and religious backgrounds rallied together. This article examines the ways in which Chicago was a critical hub in the global anti–martial law movement. Perennially described in Asian American studies and Ethnic studies historiography as a coastal movement, I trace the ways in which Chicago and the greater Midwest played a central role in creating and sustaining a domestic and international anti–martial law movement. Contrary to stereotypes of Asian American "model minority" passivity or notions of midwestern social conformity, numerous radical and leftist organizations in Chicago raised community consciousness and pushed the boundaries of grassroots activism. Chicago-based religious groups and ethnic media also played a key role in the broader movement. Together, these Filipino American activists, even if they did not always agree, worked together and envisioned a world order for their homeland and for the global Philippine diaspora free of imperial ties and respectful of human rights.

Historical scholarship on Asian American—particularly Filipino American—experiences in the Midwest is limited since higher proportions reside in California, Hawaii, New York, and other traditional "immigrant gateway" states. Rather than dismissing the Midwest, scholars in the fields of American studies, Asian American studies, and Ethnic studies are called to recognize, first, the presence of Filipino Americans in the Midwest and, second, the significance of their leftist activism during the 1970s and 1980s. By placing the heart of the anti–martial law movement in America's figurative heartland, we are encouraged to understand the Filipino American experience from a unique position and different orientation.

Filipino Americans in the Midwest have long been on the margins of society and in the historical archive. Even less visible in midwestern Filipino American history are recorded moments or names of liberal, progressive, or radical activists who often clashed with conservative Filipinos championing American assimilation and the cultural politics of respectability. A modest body of literature on the anti–martial law movement produced in the late 1980s and 1990s documented Filipino activism in the Philippines and in the United States.1 However, with the exception of Jose Fuentecilla's 2013 book Fighting from a Distance, few studies on the movement have since emerged.2

Along with scholars, popular media and many anti–martial law activists privileged the coasts as the centers of leftist grassroots organizing; the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle are often noted as the most recognizable hubs of Filipino American activism. Conspicuously invisible from these master narratives is the presence of liberal and radical activism in the Midwest, a region bemoaned for its culturally conservative leanings. This invisibility or even erasure of midwestern anti–martial law activism reflects both...


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pp. 141-162
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