Legacy of Filipino-American Activism Alive and Well in So-Cal

Legacy of Filipino-American Activism Alive and Well in So-Cal

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LONG BEACH – In the Central Valley town of Delano, they organized as farm workers with Cesar Chavez. Now, more than 40 years later in Long Beach, they continue to organize as hotel workers and domestic caregivers. They are the largest Asian group in California, and yet, they remain a largely invisible community – California’s working class Filipinos.

Last year, Filipinos in Long Beach played a huge role in the victory of Measure N, a citywide living wage ordinance. This year, they have set their sites on protecting domestic workers and getting historical Filipino contributions included classroom curriculums.

Standing at the center of it all is the Filipino Migrant Center (FMC), a Southern California-based organization, dedicated to mobilizing low-income and working class Filipinos around local and global justice issues. Members and supporters of FMC came together in Long Beach earlier this month to acknowledge the year’s political victories and look to the future, at the organization’s third annual General Assembly.

“We won the living wage campaign because a lot of folks really mobilized for it,” said Joshua Jimenez, a youth organizer with FMC. “We want to celebrate our victories in organizing workers [and] organizing youth,” he added.

Measure N, passed last November, now guarantees a living wage for local hotel workers in Long Beach. The bill caters to the 80 to 90 percent of hotel workers who are Filipino, said Joy de Guzman, FMC executive director.

“We speak Tagalog so we were able to communicate with” the hotel workers, de Guzman said, which was critical in the success of the campaign.

Measure N wasn’t the only victory the organization was celebrating. FMC this year also helped migrants with work visas and victims of wage theft gain victories in court. The FMC filed lawsuits and won cases against employers through the Department of Labor.

“A caregiver received back wages from three years,” said Joy Prim, and activist with FMC. “It was a huge victory -- the [employment] agency admitted they were cheating the workers out of their money.”

Anakbayan Youth Radio

Anakbayan is a Filipino social justice organization that aims to educate Filipino youth and students about the national struggle for genuine democracy and liberation. The group was formed in the Philippines in 1998 to advance the cause of true democracy in the country. Today, Anakbayan has 140 chapters in the Philippines, and has spread to the U.S. where there are 7 chapters: Los Angeles, San Diego, East Bay/Nor-Cal, Silicon Valley, Seattle, Chicago, New York, and New Jersey.

Anakbayan-L.A. is made up of youth from across Southern California, and many are based in Long Beach.

Anakbayan-USA Radio is a monthly radio show featuring progressive news, interviews, and live DJ sets. The program can be heard live online every first Friday of the month, from 8pm-10pm (PST) and past episodes are archived. Listen to their latest radio show, Imperyalism Ibagsak!, broadcast from the Filipino Migrant Center in Long Beach, by clicking here.

Currently on FMC’s political agenda is focused on AB 241, a state bill that would guarantee domestic workers lunch breaks, overtime pay, and put other basic labor standards in place.

The bill sometimes referred to as a “domestic worker’s bill of rights” was vetoed last year by California Governor Jerry Brown, but de Guzman is optimistic for the future. She said the FMC and its allies have renewed their commitment to ensure that this time, the bill gets passed. For many in the Long Beach Filipino community, the issue hits close to home.

“My own mother is a caregiver. She gets exploited…She doesn’t get paid well,” Jimenez said. “Just being raised by a migrant mother, it really is important for me to be involved in the community.”

More Battles Ahead

Filipino organizers here say there is no shortage of work to be done, and that work involves not only external political organizing but education within the community itself.

“Histories must be rediscovered… like the history of the contributions of Filipino farmworkers,” Mark Pulido, Mayor pro-tem of Cerritos, said during his keynote speech. Pulido also lauded the youth organizers in the room for continuing the work of exposing injustices.

Another proposed bill making its way through the California legislature is AB 123, which if passed would include the role of Filipinos during the farmworker movement in public school history texts and curriculum.

“It was the Filipino farmworkers who worked together with the Mexican farmworkers… yet they’re not taught they worked together with Cesar Chavez,” Prim said. “It’s a chance to recognize the contributions.”

Advocates contend that wage theft continues to be the most common violation perpetuated against home care workers, who are particularly vulnerable due to their undocumented status. The exact number of undocumented Filipinos living in the U.S. is not known, but there is little doubt that it is a sizeable population. Of the roughly 1.2 million undocumented Asian immigrants currently living in the U.S., at least half are estimated to be Filipinos, according to Asian Journal. A large concentration of Filipino immigrants is in Southern California.

“We would like to work with the City of Long Beach to implement an ordinance against wage theft,” said Tony Dorono, FMC chairperson. Dorono, who organized farmworkers in the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship, admits it won’t be easy. “It would be difficult to implement, but with an ordinance it would be easier to go after perpetrators,” he said.

Given their history, don’t expect Dorono or the FMC to give up the fight.