Mabuhay, and happy Filipino American History Month!
From the 16th century “Luzones Indios” who arrived on the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Esparanza at present Morro Bay, California, to the labor organizers who led worker’s strikes alongside Cesar Chavez in the 1960s, Filipinos have been an integral part of American history. Every October– in recognition of that first landing on October 18, 1587– we commemorate the important role that they play in the history of the United States.
Since the early 1900s, Filipino-Americans, particularly in Hawaii, California and throughout the rest of the west coast, have been leaders in labor movements that sought to mobilize and unite Filipinos, Asians, and Pacific Islander laborers. Overcoming the divides of language, religion, and regionalism, they emerged with a strong Filipino– and Filipino-American– identity in their new nation. Prof. Gary Okihiro details Filipino-led labor movements in Hawaii in American History Unbound:
Following the 1909 strike, the HSPA [Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association] recruited increasing numbers of Filipinos to remove the “belligerent” Japanese and to keep them in their “proper place.” But as their numbers grew and they were confronted with the same conditions of oppression and exploitation, Filipino workers rose up against the planter class. They initiated the 1920 strike that was subsequently supported by Pablo Manlapit and his Filipino Labor Union and then the Federation of Japanese Labor…
They launched the strikes of 1924–25, which cost many lives and led to the banishment of Manlapit from the territory. As before, their main goal was higher wages, but they also demanded other progressive reforms, such as an eight-hour day (as opposed to the prevailing ten hours), equal pay for men and women engaged in the same work, overtime pay and double pay for working on Sundays and holidays, and recognition of the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively.
Once again, the planters ignored the workers and began a campaign of intimidation, targeting the leaders. The Philippine colonial governor appointed a conservative resident labor commissioner to Hawaiʻi and pointedly warned Manlapit to refrain from striking. Thus Filipino workers’ strikes for equality challenged two U.S. colonial regimes, that in the Philippines and the oligarchy of the territory.
Despite the Philippine labor commissioner’s intervention, Manlapit issued a manifesto on January 2, 1924 warning of an impending strike, and on March 14 he declared “a silent strike, staying on the job, but doing only enough work to earn the wages.” He appealed “to all races and nationalities on the sugar plantations to join the strike. It is a strike for American standards and American ideals.” The High Wages Movement claimed ten thousand members, which represented about half of the Filipino plantation workforce and a quarter of the total.
Okihiro also shares the story of Riz Raymundo, an eleven-year-old girl born in Modesto, CA, who grew up in the 1930s. Her diary captures her childhood recollections of the Filipino strikes of 1924-25, including life in a “strike camp” following her family’s displacement from their Waipahu plantation home:
Strike Camp, Middle Street, Honolulu, May 10, 1924.
We just arrive here today, here, at the “Strike Camp.” There are so many Filipinos here, married-couples and unmarried men. They’re from all parts of Oahu. There are five other young girls here too. I became friends with two of them already. Their first names are Esperanza and Victoria. They are, both, very nice girls. They showed me the place around here, as soon as we settled, I mean, found our sleeping quarters. You see, we all live in one big house, and so all we did was put curtains around our bed, and that will have to serve as our room for how long, we don’t know. I guess we have to stay here until this strike is over. And Manlapit is going to feed the whole crowd. We’re suppose to go down to his office, every other day to get our ration of food. Gosh I hope this strike won’t last long. You see, Diary, Mr. Manlapit wanted the Plantation to give the laborers $2.00 a day and eight hours work. I certainly hope Manlapit wins, ‘cause then it will be for our own good.¹
Though ultimately unsuccessful, culminating in the tragic Battle of Hanapepe, these early labor strikes reflected an early willingness to protest and fight for worker’s rights in the face of prejudice and oppression– predating the Delano grape strike by more than 60 years.
Visit the Filipino-American Historical Society for more information on Filipino-American history throughout the month, and learn more about the contributions Filipinos, Pacific Islanders, and other Asian-Americans have made to American history in Okihiro’s American History Unbound.
¹ Angeles Monrayo Raymundo, diary excerpts, Lost Generation: Filipino Journal 1, no. 1 (1991): 31-40.