A Filipino history lacks visibility in the eyes of society and more importantly for today’s Filipino and Filipino Americans. Why is this such a common issue with our youth and communities? We can begin to form a few assumptions that fall back on our Filipino identity and narrative, more precisely the narrative of Philip Vera Cruz’s reflection and criticism on the farmworkers movement that explores the Filipino political activism involved in the Grape Strike or the 1965 Delano Strike.
Traditionally, we recognize Cesar Chavez’s Day in remembrance of the farmworkers movement; however, America has long since forgotten to include the Filipino immigrant or the manong generation who since the beginning of the movement has struggled to gain visibility and recognition for their passionate fight and tireless efforts in advocating for workers rights and immigrant policies.
Establishing a focus on minority representation in politics, many Filipinos have often been accused of our lack of interest with political awareness as far as how we actively participate in political activism. Politics has always been a touchy subject in Filipino and Filipino American communities as our history shows a great deal of Spanish and American colonialism in which our political freedoms have yet to be expressed and explored. Focusing on the dominant influences of America, especially with President McKinley’s Manifest Destiny, which reinforced its ideals of helping “the little brown brother” the Filipino. The beginnings of the American dominant colonized rule of the Philippines negatively shaped the Filipino identity and narrative as Americanization programs paved way for the mass Filipino immigration, known as the manong generation. Therefore, we must seek out the unknown histories of Filipino narratives from historical figures like Philip Vera Cruz that encourages us that freedom of expression is a valuable tool for political activism of spreading awareness for those without a voice.
Establishing visibility through preserving an authentic lens of the Filipino narrative will access a progressive avenue of understanding our history and culture, as well as, bridging the gap between the old and new generations of Filipinos. In Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement, I certainly agree with Cruz’s reference on the Filipino identity, as “the minority within a minority” in which our identity becomes more and more challenging to navigating active roles of advocacy. Due to further implications of invisibility, it is evident that we often see narratives of Asian and Asian American literature confronting the ghostly imagery and its symbolism connecting to invisibility as a reflection of the decay and trauma of the migrant experience from constant occurrence of colonialism or assimilation. The “Foreward” calls attention to the forgotten tragedy behind the makings of the International Film Festival in the Philippines. With the First Lady Imelda Marcos’ orders, a rushed construction took place leaving the remains of the labor workers who lost their lives. Is the symbolic meaning of covering up issues a forefront to literature, narratives, and more importantly history being covered up as signs of misrepresentation and oppression? We can begin to view that the Filipino narrative holds risk to sustaining authenticity and visibility to the Filipino culture and identity, as history unveils the many years of colonialism, Americanization, and even corrupt political leadership in the Philippines and later in America.
As a Filipino pioneer, Cruz addresses the hardships of survival, explaining the challenges of the poor living conditions in labor camps throughout the coast of California, Washington, Alaska, Chicago, and Hawaii. Connecting with my Filipino background, my grandmother shared with me her experiences growing up in labor camps and working in the strawberry and green bean fields of Stockton, California. She remembers that her mother would often cook for the Filipino men as there were very few Filipina women. Philip Vera Cruz stresses the sacrifices made from the manong generation who were mostly single Filipino men that faced discrimination, isolation, and alienation while assimilating in America, due to anti-miscegenation laws and the inequalities of work labor. Anti-miscegenation laws made interracial marriages illegal, thus reinforcing racial segregation among whites and people of color.
Dealing with the hardships and obligations from the Philippines, Cruz addresses why it was often single male Filipinos that migrated to America as a temporary solution to help support their families back in the Philippines. The Philippines were dealing with colonial dominance from America reinforcing U.S. public education, thus, Americanizing Filipino culture and identity. However, in 1963 the Tydings-Mcduffie Independence Act revoked their title of “U.S. national” to “alien,” jeopardizing Filipinos who “came to the U.S. before 1936 could not become citizens,” emphasizing the issues of isolation and alienation through lack of job opportunities and starting families in America. The farmworkers union movement provided Filipinos the chance to express their political views outside of abstract ideas, where they questioned their own realities by critically transforming original philosophical ideas to political ones. Cruz and the manong laborers contributed to the farmworkers union movement originally as a small organization called Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) and later merging with AFL-CIO and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) to form United Farm Workers (UFW).
Cruz’s critique shifts towards the problems of dealing with conflicting views between the two minority groups as well as the controversial issues of the racialized cross-labor. Originally, Filipinos had a large presence during the movement and most importantly were labor conscious by listening to agriculture reports and understanding growers’ prices and profits. However, Cruz addresses the lack of voice and visibility, calling attention to Filipinos as the “minority within the minority.” He informs us that Filipinos were aware of the challenges and issues being dealt with the new minority group, suggesting that they “were understanding how this process of bringing in a new group of immigrants to replace an older, more established group worked. They had come 40, 50 years ago and now they could see it happening again but this time they were the old establish group being replaced.” This created further issues within the union and their lack of inclusivity or “unity.
Later, the memoir reflects on Philip Vera Cruz’s active role as one of the leaders supporting the farmworkers movement in which he takes the time to analyze the actions made in and outside of the AWOC and UFW, confronting issues of authoritative power to pursue positive change. Reviewing Cruz’s reflection on the farmworkers movement, resurfaces some of the questions I encountered about establishing a visible presence and voice for many Filipinos, as our political activism is often criticized for the lack of inclusivity, which resists further progression towards change. Cruz contemplates on the ideas of leadership, interestingly taking an account for the idealization with Cesar Chavez, as he was glorified by the mass majority, making it difficult to include opportunities to hear other member’s voices, such as Larry Itliong, that would have greatly changed the outcomes of the farmworkers movement and bring more visibility to Filipinos.
I think Cruz makes a strong point that change is only achieved through involving and engaging with the youth rather than staying stagnant with longstanding traditions and old leaders that are only there to gain power and benefits.
If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.
Rachel Egoian - Pleasant Hill, CA
Originally from the Bay Area and a graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz in Literature and Education, Rachel has a profound interest in Asian American literature and communities. In addition, she is a recent graduate student at San Francisco State University for the English Literature Master’s program. Coming from a mixed ethnic background as an Armenian, Irish and Filipina, she values the importance of culture and self-identity. Through the foundations of literary criticism, she encourages and stresses the need for diversity in literature.