In October 2021, I decided to dive into Filipino American History Month through an illustration series. Here are a few highlights from the mid-late 1900’s (excluding WWII, as that’s a separate post).
Silme Domingo & Gene Viernes, Labor Activists in the 1970’s
A dynamic duo: Gene Viernes & Silme Domingo. Both men were second generation labor rights activists of the 1970’s. Both from Seattle, they went to work in the Alaska salmon canneries alongside the first-generation Manongs.
Gene & Silme helped form the Alaska Cannery Workers’ Association, which put pressure on the canneries to reform brutal, discriminatory labor practices against Filipinos. Their class action lawsuits forged major progress towards reform. They also became leaders in their labor union, the ILWU Local 37, and called out corruption in their ranks.
This progress came too close to home for Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Some anti-Marcos labor organizers in the Philippines invited a team from the ILWU to investigate working conditions under Marcos. A month later, he himself had Gene & Silme assassinated.
Gene & Silme then became the martyrs of their cause and their deaths fueled the labor reform movement. Their friends and family sued Ferdinand & Imelda and won the lawsuit.
In the 70’s, the city of San Francisco formed a redevelopment plan to build up its financial district. However, this included eradicating minority communities like Manilatown and supposedly rebuilding them elsewhere. So began a series of mass evictions.
In 1973, the I-Hotel owner sold the building to Four Seas Investment Corporation, which began a long eviction battle. Many different community groups banded together to protest for low-income housing, helping I-Hotel residents resist 3 eviction notices. In 1977, residents were served their final eviction notice, which came with the threat of force from police.
On August 4, 1977, tenants and fellow protestors found out about plans of a police ambush that night. They gathered in front of the I-Hotel and formed a human barricade to resist. The police arrived on foot and horseback, and ✨collided✨ with the crowds using batons. Pushing through more protestors inside, they forced themselves into the building with firetruck ladders and forcibly removed people from their homes. The residents were officially homeless, and were never given the housing accommodations promised by the city. The I-Hotel was demolished 2 years later and Manilatown no longer exists.
Epilogue: In 2005, 30 years after that incident, activists from Chinatown and the former Manilatown finally accomplished building a new I-Hotel, which serves as affordable housing for Asian senior citizens today.
Drs. Fred & Dorothy Cordova Found FANHS
Drs. Fred and Dorothy Cordova started FANHS, the Filipino American National Historical Society. Founded in 1982, they began documenting Filipino American history and are the reason we even have Filipino American History Month (est. in 1988). The US Congress recognized this history month in 2009.
Larry Itliong (1913-1977), Labor Activist
This post on landed on his birthday, Oct. 25. Larry Itilong was a Filipino farm worker who worked in the Alaska canneries and then the farms of Stockton, CA. He was a fierce organizer who led farm workers to fight for better pay and working conditions. He’s best known for leading the grape strike in Delano, CA in 1965.
The movement gained more momentum when Larry and the Filipino grape workers joined forces with (an initially hesitant) Cesar Chavez and the Mexican farm workers. Together, they formed United Farm Workers (UFW). The grape strike lasted 5 years.
Chavez became the face of the movement, but it was Itiliong who led it. Only in recent years has he finally begun to get his due. California recognized Larry Itliong Day for the first time in 2015.
Young Filipino People’s Far West Conventions, 1970’s
The 2021 FANHS theme for Filipino American History Month: Filipino People’s Far West Conventions, which began in 1971.
Quoting from the FANHS website: “The Filipino Farwest Conventions were an organizing space for community and youth activists that helped bring issues like Filipino Farmworkers rights and anti-martial law to the forefront of the Filipino American Movement. The FWC also served as the impetus for annual student-led conferences now held across the country.”
Basically, these events were organized to connect young Filipino Americans to their history, heritage, and cultural identity, drawing attention to social issues that affect them. 2021 marks 50 years since the first convention.