By Cindy Domingo
My family has been involved with Alaska cannery workers since my father immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. We are a family of three generations of workers, which is not unusual in Seattle’s Filipino community. By the 1970s, about one out of five Filipino families on the West Coast sent a family member to labor in an Alaskan cannery, making the cannery workers’ union central to the development of the West Coast Filipino community.
My brothers Silme and Nemesio formed the Alaska Cannery Workers Association (ACWA) to help make the union accountable to its workers. I collaborated with them and others through ACWA to educate the Filipino community about the discrimination and the inhumane working and living conditions that Filipinos and other people of color and women encountered in the canneries. The industry conflated race with skill in order to justify unequal treatment of whites and nonwhites. White employees typically worked as managers or machinists (“beach gang” workers unloading fish from ships), while nonwhites were restricted to the most grueling and lowest-paid positions— sorting, cleaning, cutting, and canning the salmon. ACWA helped file three class action lawsuits against such inequalities and won two of them.
The 1970s were a very important time when Asian Americans became more politicized through the Vietnam War and various identity movements. The Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), a radical organization based in the U.S. Filipino community, originated as a result of these campaigns. Silme was a founding member of the Seattle KDP chapter in 1974 because…
click here to read more.