Filipinx American History: A Celebration of Community, Activism, and Persistence

The Manang and Manong Generation: Labor Organizers and Community Pillars

The manang/manong laborers who immigrated during the 1900s-1970s to the United States and Hawai’i during the 1910s worked in a variety of industries, primarily in the coastal canneries and agrarian labor sectors. Filipinas/os/x laborers settled across the Pacific Northwest to work in the cannery industry, the most notable hubs were in Anchorage, Nushagak, Seattle, Los Angeles, Monterey, and San Francisco. The cannery industries exploited Filipina/o/x workers and paid them less than their white counterparts. For example, the average salary of a white American male cannery worker was $125/month in comparison to Filipino men who made an average of $65/month.

Additionally the tumultuous nature of the industry was dependent on seasons, making these jobs financially unstable for Filipina/o/x workers. These injustices continued to plague the Filipina/o/x labor force into the 1980s.  Many during the 1910s-1940s organized labor unions in hopes of achieving better wages and working conditions for all cannery workers regardless of ethnicity. Thus from the 1910s-1930s, Filipina/o/x labor organizing movements spread across the Pacific Northwest and everywhere Filipina/o/x immigrant labor was present. It was during this time that a young Larry Itliong began organizing Filipina/o/x cannery workers in Seattle – sparking his lifelong career dedicated towards advocating for workers’ rights.

Many Filipinas also labored in the fields, canneries, and packing sheds alongside the manongs.  The manangs were crucial in the formation of the ethnic hubs across California and the Pacific Northwest, which are also commonly known as Little Manilas or Pinoy Towns.  Although they were paid less than the manongs due to gender discrimination, they used their resources and organizing skills for community activities such as fundraising for Fil-Am scholarships for local youth, they helped to build Filipino community centers, and served as pillars and cultural matriarchs for their community hubs.  The manangs also argued and organized for farm labor rights alongside their husbands and were the middle(wo)men who helped to negotiate town and labor politics between the manongs and white landowners and civic officers.  

During the same time that Filipina/o/x cannery workers rallied for their labor rights, Filipina/o/x farm laborers in rural communities throughout California voiced their grievances including unsafe working conditions and unlivable wages. Racial tensions between Filipina/o/x farm workers and white growers continued to grow during the Great Depression which resulted in many cases as white vigilante violence. The Watsonville Riot in 1930 is one such example where white vigilantes (laborers and town members) attacked Filipinx publicly resulting in the death of a Filipino migrant worker by the name of Fermin Tobera.  500 other Filipina/o/x farm workers were harassed and beaten in this incident.  Despite the violence that Filipina/o/x farm workers faced, they continued to organize for labor rights well into the beginning of World War II.

Filipina/o/x workers during the 1930s organized major strikes across California, particularly in areas such as Salinas, the Central Valley, and San Diego. Their labor organizing struggle continued and culminated into what became the Delano Grape Strike of 1965, one of the most successful labor strikes in American history. Prominent Filipino figures from the Delano Grape Strike included Larry Itliong, also known as the heart of the movement, as well as Philip Vera Cruz, “the philosopher” -- both of whom dedicated their lives advocating for Filipina/o/x workers both in the canneries and the fields.

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