1. Chasing the American Dream
The majority of Filipinos who immigrated to the United States during the 1920s and 1930s were young, single men. They worked in various industries, including the sugar plantations in Hawaii, fish canneries in Alaska and Washington, and on the migrant farmworker circuits in California. Influenced by advertising agencies, recruiting companies, and dreams of personal wealth, Filipino workers traveled in droves to the United States, hoping to achieve the American Dream. Instead, they were met with racism, anti-miscegenation laws, and low wages.
“I was 18 years old when I went to Hawaii,” said Willie Barrientos. “You know how much they gave me in Hawaii? 1 dollar a day. Unbelievable.”
Anti-miscegenation laws prevented Filipino immigrants from marrying White Americans, forcing them to find companionship at dance halls. The meager wages caused Filipino immigrants to band together, forming tight knit communities in cities such as Pugent Sound, Chicago, Stockton and Delano.
Their only solace was sending money back to the Philippines, knowing they were improving the lives of their families back home.
The Migrant Farmworker Circuit and the Manongs
In California, Filipinos followed the migrant farmworker circuit in Southern and Central California. As the agricultural economy in California was organized by seasons, farm workers moved from different cities throughout the year, picking the crops that were at season at the time. Filipino migrant workers typically lived together in large groups at farm labor camps, which were cramped bunk houses that closely resembled chicken coops. They worked long hours, from sun up to sun down for six days a week.
Many of those following the migrant circuit arrived in California in the 1930s, with no family of their own. To the younger generation, these elderly Filipino workers were addressed as "Manong," an Ilocano word for older brother.
Overworked and underpaid, Filipinos regularly went on strike throughout California. On 1948, Filipino members of the National Farm Labor Union instigated a strike in Byron, California. The strike eventually spread throughout the Stockton area.
In early 1965, members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee went on strike against Coachella’s table grape growers. The Coachella growers eventually conceded, and agreed to pay the workers a wage of $1.40. However, similar concessions were not made by Delano’s table grape growers, setting off a set of motions that forever changed the landscape of labor history. Little did the Manongs realize that they just started the Delano Grape Strikes, which lasted from 1965 to 1970.