Galviso (Mary Jane) Oral History Interview
Filipino American migrant agricultural laborers [lcsh]
Delano, Calif. [lcna]
Orosi, Calif. [lcna]
Grape Strike, Calif., 1965-1970 [lcsh]
Labor union welfare funds [lcsh]
United Farm Workers [lcna]
United Farm Workers Organizing Committee [lcna]
[Session 1, June 2nd, 2015]
[Logistics Discussion regarding the interview ensues]
Leslie Aniciete: Shall we begin? So I’m going to start asking you some questions about yourself, just basic questions, the first question is where and when were you born?
Mary Jane Galviso: I was born in 1950 in Imperial County and basically, known as the poorest county in the state, basically [for] agriculture and after the war, it attracted a very large number of Filipinos. It became one of the largest Filipino farming communities in this country. [It was] mostly tomatoes farmers, [we became pretty prosperous until of course, UC Davis [laughs]. And in cooperation with the big growers came out with the biogenetic tomato that completely ruined Filipino tomato farmers by early 60s. So today my town is one of very very deep poverty, you don’t see the farming, there’s no longer family farms per se, it’s all corporate farming now. Those are the last Filipino farmers that mainly were able to make agriculture commercially viable.
Miguel Bagsit: Okay, the next question going back a little bit as well, we asked you about when and where you were born, where were your parents born?
Mary Jane Galviso: My father is from Ilocos Norte Province from the village of Danao.
Mary Jane Galviso: He immigrated in the 20’s to this country. My family had come earlier, the uncle, this is actually kind of odd, I shouldn’t say odd, I was raised mostly by my father’s brothers, our uncles. After he [father] passed away and my mother moved back to where she was originally from, and that’s in New Mexico. So after she had left, we basically stayed on the farm and [were] basically raised by our uncle. We grew up in the farmers’ town and so on both sides I can say that my family has been farmers for hundreds of years. My mother is from the small village of Corrales, along the Rio Grande, and it’s interesting because Filipinos migrated throughout the southwest. My father and many many Filipinos worked for the Japanese in Arizona and New Mexico and began to intermarry even before the anti-miscegenation laws were passed. And it would be good to do it then, but Mexico was one of the common places where Filipinos would want to marry because they were not allowed to marry in California and Arizona.
Miguel Bagsit: Can you recall your first experiences with labor activism, [pause] so you’ve been able to talk about the background and we are now kind of moving into how you first got involved or when did you first realize that [labor activism] was something you were going to get involved in?
Mary Jane Galviso: I think that growing up with a very strong working class, we always worked on the farms, when all the harvest was over in the summer, when my father was still alive we would often pick onions for the Japanese growers, and after his death we remained with them and we basically spent the summer picking grapes. We would start off with a few days in the Coachella valley, that’s when we would start working Mecca, Thermal, Coachella, and Indio. I think that’s the greatest, best thing that I think the parents, those that raised[kids] , they can do is to share their life experiences with you, it’s not a matter of just telling you about what their life is like but that you become a part of that experience. Because it’s working alongside our uncles and working alongside other Filipinos, because there would be Filipinos from all over the state, particularly from Delano, because we have a chance to meet Filipinos from all over. We worked hard in the same work force.
And you know it’s still true today, the agricultural labor force is a highly racially stratified one. And the agribusiness does that purposely to keep workers divided, so today just as in, you know back in the late 50’s and 60’s when we began picking grapes as kids, there were Filipino crews and Mexican crews and rarely did they mix, and that’s the way the big growers made it. That’s what their hiring practices were and it remains true today. If you could go out to the vineyards, orchards, and talking to my cousin’s boyfriend yesterday and he’s picking blueberries, Filipino crews, Mexican crews...
Mary Jane Galviso: ...crews from Central America, all have different labor contractors, so nothing has changed in that regard at all. My uncles didn’t have to tell us what is was like to work in the field and how to work with the growers. We knew that from our experiences, and that’s important because too few children and youth maybe know what their parents do for a living, they haven’t experienced it. That’s the good thing about agriculture, we were able to work alongside our parents and other family members. We worked not only as a Filipino crew but we worked as a family, as a family unit, and I think that it’s a very life defining experience for me, to be able to work collectively and cooperatively within a family and among your own people.
Miguel Bagsit: I know that you mentioned going into that part of your life, were you a part of any Unions, or were you involved in Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee [AWOC] or the United Farm Workers [UFW]?
Leslie Aniciete: Or if your family was involved?
Miguel Bagsit: Any of those unions or organizations that you would like to mention?
Mary Jane Galviso: That was difficult, when we started picking grapes, there was no collective bargaining unit, there was no union, there were none. So, I think you probably know the background there, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee sent out the organizers to the Coachella Valley to begin organizing in response to a number of complaints and the abuses of growers. So everyone speaks about the 1965 Delano Grape strike of course, it was preceded by the strike in Coachella, the only reason why the strike in Delano gets much more attention is because that was the end of the season. That’s where the growers made the big money and that’s why that strike became so important. If we were going to get any changes in the way we got paid and the ways we were treated, it had to be done. The Coachella strike was just the beginning to let them know that we weren’t going to be treated in the way that they were treating us at that time. It came to a head in ‘65 and this is another interesting facet that people, that history completely ignores and [it’s] that’s those of us who work for farmers who are being wiped out by agribusiness at that time. We were losing our farms in the late 50’s and early 60’s and it forced us back into the same workforce as migrant workers. So, the Filipino crews were not all made up of those who were permanently migrant workers, it was also composed of poor farmers such as those of us who lived in imperial county,
Mary Jane Galviso: ...and there was a lot of anger over those conditions, we began, that we were facing during that time and that’s what was happening to workers. The big thing, this is a very little understood and documented [occurrence] at the same time, agribusiness is consolidating itself on becoming more international in its features and that’s why I spoke to you about that bio engineered tomato. This is agribusiness beginning to jump the borders, it ruined us right? And it began to cut, it began to grow huge plantations huge farms as far away as Florida and began its production in Mexico and that’s what we see now, today more and more agricultural goods coming from Mexico. That’s the US agricultural corporate interest. They began to do business outside of the US and I think that Filipino labor leadership realized that, they understood that, the local growers were getting rich off of us. These guys began to be international growers, they were in the world market already.
They could have paid us a lot more than the penny that they were paying. When I started working we got paid 89 cents an hour, an hour, and that work wasn’t just per hour. Those growers really worked you. They would have us work overtime and not pay us at all. And that was the grievances that the Filipino crews had. They forced us to pack and go down to the depot where the boxes were being shipped to the market and they wouldn’t pay us a penny once we left the fields to do that work. There were a lot of abuses that these big growers, nowadays [laughs] I’m pretty sure they’re doing the same practices to workers in Mexico.
Miguel Bagsit: As far as that goes, when you’re talking about the different kind of mistreatments that were happening, was that during the strike you mentioned in the very beginning or is this kind of encompassing the Delano Grape Strike, what was that like?
Mary Jane Galviso: I think what needs to be understood, is that Filipinos you know men, are married men, Filipino men came to this country through the Hawaii plantation like my family did, they came as colonial labor. In other words, they came unlike immigrants today. Their statuses that the US owned the Philippines, when I mean owned, they owned not only the land, minerals, and resources, they owned the people and they could dictate, and that’s exactly what agricultural resources did, they went to the poor villages in the Philippines they recruited with the help of the Catholic Church. They recruited very young men. My oldest uncle was barely 14, of course he lied about his age so he would be able to join other members of our family on the plantation in Maui.
Mary Jane Galviso: A lot of the Filipino men that came were actually teenagers, they were very young. They came as colonial labors, they came as wards of the state, basically that was their immigration status when they entered the United States and that territory. I point that out because classes and exploitation of workers and the class oppression that Filipinos faced was a reflection of our status in the world of the colonial nation and that carried through, certainly the Japanese were not treated the way we were, they did not come here for labor, the Filipinos did, the Puerto Ricans did, and that’s why you see the Puerto Ricans were also on the Hawaii plantations.
There was no question in our minds when we started working that the big growers, the employers, they had the upper hand. There was no government protection, they could pay us what they want, they can work us how many hours as we wanted, they had all the rights and we had no right. Based on this situation, this was the condition that Filipinos lived under from the very first moment they entered this country. So organizing was hard and in part of the Filipino labor working class in this country. Filipinos had been organizing, unionizing, striking [laughs], from the very time they entered. This is happening in Hawaii in the plantations, this is happening in Alaska in the canneries, this is happening in the west coasts on the fields.
The Filipinos, because we were such a huge part of the agricultural labor force in this country, we were in the vanguard, we were in the leadership of many of the struggles and many of the strides because our conditions were so much [a part of] the immigrant and the colonial labor [movements]. The conditions were the most depressive and the labor practices were the most exploitative against us. Nothing, absolutely nothing, no government education or government department, the department of labor would not even recognize us and any complaint that we had, why? Because we were not covered for the collective bargaining and so if I could interpret the 1965 Grape strike, the strike about wages and about working condition, no. The real issues, the fundamental issues were that we were excluded from collective bargaining, and because of that it was upon us and if anything was going to change, there was nothing we could do, there was no reliance on the government, it had to be by our own initiative and that’s why Filipinos, when you talk about the Filipino leadership, they were some of the most skilled, veteran, and tenacious organizers. They had to be, we could only depend on ourselves.
Miguel Bagsit: So do you actually recall working with any of those Filipino Leaders that you mentioned? Maybe some of the Manongs, including Philip Vera Cruz, Pete Velasco, Larry Itliong?
Mary Jane Galviso: No, because when I first started working with my family, it was not near there. It wasn’t until my teenage years that we began to hear of the organizing efforts.
Mary Jane Galviso: Later I did, I was able and I did go up to Delano. Specifically, in those days whenever Filipino crews worked there were two places that you knew to go, you would go to the Filipino Community Hall, the Filipino labor crew bosses, labor contractors[were there] . You’d meet them to find out where there is work or you could go to the labor camps. There were Filipino labor camps throughout the west coast, and that was our network and it was part of our heritage, it’s what I grew up with. And so going to Delano and the community hall was a very natural thing, it was there that I was able to meet some of the members of the Filipino labor leadership including Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz. Itliong was a very outgoing person, Philip was very friendly, but I think that if you went into a room, Itliong probably had his fingers through the coals, he’d notice everything going in and out he was very observant. And I think just the moment I walked into the hall he took note of me and in those days it was a custom [that] if you were new in town, you basically introduced yourself to the kitchen, that’s what you did, that’s where I went and that’s where he approached me and talked to me and figured out where I was from.
Of course in those days 99.9 % work on the field that continues and remains to be, our Ilocanos, and you try to figure out your family line or village, trying to trace who’s who and what we are to each other. I realized just in time that I was there that were changes already happening that would eventually cause him to leave. The organizing efforts that he had, so much to build and to create, but he kind of, but I was so young at that time, he had me taken care of by Manong George. George was the one that made sure that I had something to eat, that I was kept busy while Itliong, it seemed like to me Itliong was at meetings all the time, going from one place to another in a meeting, [laughs]. I recalled a lot of it and it was a good experience and I think that the experience that I had, especially with Itliong and Manong George were very telling about how close or the closeness [that existed] among the Filipinos there. You don’t get that from others, you don’t get that experience from others. In those days, Filipinos took care of Filipinos. If you walk into a labor camp or if you walk into community hall there was somebody there that would be concerned for you and cared about you especially if you’re young, especially if you were female, there was no question.
Leslie Aniciete: You mentioned earlier a Manong George, who does that refer to? Is that a family member?
Mary Jane Galviso: No, no, He was one of the leaders like Philip Vera Cruz. He was there from the very beginning, he was the individual Itliong pretty much appointed to take care of me, watch over me while he [Itliong] was in meetings. And once [one time] I accompanied them and this was when the campaign to ban the short hall was going on, I went with him [Itliong] up to Sacramento, a meeting was arranged with the Governor of California. He explained the situation and issues, how things were and what we were doing there in Sacramento, it was the first time I was ever involved in a political action like that. I think that was very important, even young people were very involved and cared about what was happening on an issue.
Leslie Aniciete: How were you able to support yourself during your time in Delano, and during your time working in the Coachella area working also?
Mary Jane Galviso: Well in Coachella, we supported ourselves, we worked as a family picking grapes so but that was that was two different. But by the time I was already over 18 when I went to Delano. When we talk about a strike, let’s be very clear, a strike is actually a class warfare. It is the working class telling the capitalists and growers “you are not going to make money off our backs today, were not working for you, were not nothing, nothing gets done today, you’re not making money, not until you’re willing to sit down and meet some of our demands and that’s our situation. When a strike is called, the big growers were accustomed to having all the power, they still do [laughs] nothing much has changed, they had the cars, they had the cops, they had the sheriffs, they had everybody, and they were violent. It’s always been distorted that the workers, that there’s violence on the picket line. It’s violence that’s caused by the capitalists because they are not getting the profits or making the money that they want. They get ugly and they get violent, they call out the cops to cross picket lines, so that's the violence, that's the class warfare that erupted on picket lines.
Miguel Bagsit: Do you remember any significant occurrences during that time, did you witnessed anything that is with you to this today from those specific instances that you mentioned all the class warfare and everything?
Mary Jane Galviso: The most experiences that I had, one thing about the uncles, they knew it was gonna get violent, it was gonna get ugly, and they kept us from that. That was one thing that Filipinos would do, they are very protective and so we did not join the picket farmers…
Mary Jane Galviso: ...and that’s why I went to Delano because I wanted to see, I think that what’s more important was living and experiencing the true exploitation that other Filipinos [were facing] and just imagine if they treated us this way in the 70’s, how my father and those who were treated [further back]. So they talk about being dishonest and cruel, if they could squeeze another penny out of you they would do it in any which way they could think of and in the early 60’s the situation was terrible and very very difficult for us. Agribusiness was making it hard for us small farmers and made it miserable for us. We were historically forced into a situation in which there was going to be confrontation in which there had to be a strike, there was no other way, and that’s what took place. I think what was so important because these same conditions exist today, what is important is that Filipinos had really great leadership, over the decades in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s we were able to at a point to kind of checkmate the big rollers. And that's the unfortunate thing today and that's what’s lacking in the agricultural sector there really is no leadership like we did have in the 60’s and I’m talking about a mature leadership, they knew and understood collective bargaining they understood organizing strategy, union tactics, they knew the ABCs of unionism, and working class organizing, and it’s unfortunate that we don’t have that anymore. But I think that in the year as to come, the situation has not changed, in the agricultural sector, and today there is a majority of agricultural workers that are not unionized and don’t have the protection of a union. So we know that what happened in the 60’s is due to come around pretty soon. You’re beginning to see it as workers spontaneously rise up as they did in Washington and they did in the central valley and they did as they took the time as new leadership is developing. I think that that's why it’s important and to understand what was the Filipino labor leadership and what was their particular contribution into making this country a better society and a better place.
Miguel Bagsit: Talking about being able to integrate everything that you want to bring as far as history goes, where do you see yourself in this entire story, because it’s a very interweaved and connected story. We are interviewing you today for that purpose of understanding where you come from since your story is very special as well to this movement, where do you see yourself in that?
Mary Jane Galviso: Most of those born in the 40’s and 50’s like myself and its interesting we are the first generation to grow up alongside our parents working in the fields, vineyards, and orchards, although of course the anticipations and expectation they had was that we would go to college, a university and get a degree and live in the urban areas and that didn’t happen, the interesting thing is that there is quite a number of us who would go back to live in the rural community and to farm. So I thought that I was going to retire in the early 2000’s I got a farm close to family members [Toronto county] today now Orosi. We are the last remaining community of traditional Filipino farmers. And my particular situation is that the battle for my farm has raged on for nearly 15 years now and I’ve been under attack by the local municipal water district who would like to see my farm turned into an 88 housing subdivision. So I went to the local courts and went up to the state courts and I lost. Not surprising, Central Valley courts are still part [laughs] directly influenced by agribusiness. Small farmers, an issue like that, they are always going to defer to big ag [agriculture] Everyone that sits on the board of supervisors in county are corporate farmers who have their interest at heart. So I haven’t found any justice in the courts. Next June 18th is the fourth or fifth foreclosure, I’ll be paying this year, are saying that I owe $18,686 dollars to keep my farm this year. Every year I pay thousands of dollars to this very corrupt water district. A part of me thinks we haven’t changed, we are still a lot of method abuse against us and what is happening with my farm is another example. And agribusiness as we know is more and more going outside the borders of the US. It’s truly in the hands of multinational ambiguous corporations. So you know in the small Sacramento, surrounding every big city there are hundreds and thousands of agricultural land being lost to development, it’s happening in small rural towns. And the difficulty of course, is that it makes it harder. There are a lot of Filipinos who would love to do what I did, to be able to have a farm, but the cost of land if you had real estate development it’s harder and harder to buy land.
Mary Jane Galviso: Another really important factor that I’ve come to realize, that there has been a real breakdown within the Filipino community. Disintegrate [ion] within the Filipinos in the rural areas, that’s the most startling difference that I’ve come to see in my own lifetime. I’ve realized that the first wave of Filipinos, how closely they lived and how close they were among themselves, because remember till 1964 and the Civil Rights Act there was no bank that would grant or lend to Filipinos or poor farmers, you’d have to be your own bank. It was in pulling their money together that Filipinos were able to buy their own land, and you don’t see this anymore today and it’s really heartbreaking because it leaves individual Filipino farmers basically on their own, that's not the case in the town I grew up in, Filipinos we banded together, it was our family farm, my father and his two brothers, village mates that came and worked together collectively and cooperatively. There would be, like Filipino farms existed together with 4 or 5 families farming together and living together and this is no longer apart of the Filipino experience. That’s what makes it very difficult now to survive farming. You really are on your own farming these days. That’s my particular battle and it’s just a reflection of the continuing corruption and huge hassle of economic insurance that agribusiness has. There’s another very important aspect and that is the United States coming back into agriculture as the USDA and their collusion into everything that happens in rural communities is funded by USDA but the schools, the clinics, the libraries, the community centers and more importantly in my case the utility district, they get direct funding from the district.
Leslie Aniciete: Do you recall when the 1970 contracts were signed? Were you able to witness it?
Mary Jane Galviso: No, I was not there during the signing, when I got there it had already occurred, but I was there at the important time, the merger has already occurred between AWOC and New Farmers of America [NFA] that was led by Chavez, what I began to see and realize, I was politically inexperienced. When you experience something during the time I was there, you don’t truly understand those locations and the underlying tensions and changes that are occurring. I got a sense of it, and it wasn’t until I stepped away and left Delano and looked back and I realized what the Chavez faction was doing to the Filipino labor leadership. And that’s why I strongly disagree with Arroy’s [Marissa Arroy] interpretation and depiction of the Filipino labor leadership, that film that she produced really supports and propagates Chavez’s factions and views of that time period. It’s a distortion. Itliong left under pressure, Philip Vera Cruz left under pressure, it was a calculated purge of Filipino Labor Leadership, and not because we are Filipinos because we were the [only ones] left. Many of the top organizers and labor leaders that were in the communist party in this country. Let’s be honest and lets be frank, you don’t have those types of skills and that advanced thinking without being part of an organization that was at the forefront of organizing the working class of this country, they are not born with this understanding, they were not born with these skills, you learn it, and you live it, just remember a lot of who we know during the labor leadership were very young boys, when they came here, they were teenagers. They came in the 20’s and 30’s, when the union drives the beginning to work at their height and they just became actively involved especially the immigrants became actively involved.
Anyway, from what I saw, from what I experienced, the time that I was there, is how the Chavez faction began to purge. It’s interesting again, many people, they write about (laughs) this time in the Grape strike and they do it in a very classless way. There’s no class perspective on it, what did all of this represent. It represented the riots and the right faction and we were the left and we were the most class conscious and we were ready under Chavez. We never endorsed the strike, it was all about class collaboration to go on strike, Filipinos knew better than that. They knew that when it came time, we were not just gonna shrink away, we have demands and have to go up to it. So if we needed a strike, we are ready.
Leslie Aniciete: Could you recall what year this was occurring?
Mary Jane Galviso: It was in the early 70s.
Leslie Aniciete: So was it in the 1973 strike or about that time?
Mary Jane Galviso: No, because when I was there, there wasn’t a strike going on. This was the time when everything was being negotiated.
Leslie Aniciete: So early 1970s, okay, thank you. So we have one more closing question, from your experience you shared with us, how would you rephrase in your exe. Describe your experience and what you’ve learned, gotten to witness in one word or phrase.
Mary Jane Galviso: Because, the Filipino leadership represented the best that the working class can produce. Right now, especially in the agricultural sector in this country, there is a huge void with their passing and without the training and the other generations of leadership. Agricultural workers don’t have the leaderships that they had back then in the early 50s and 60s. Because of that void, that’s [what] truly impacts me, I lived at a time where there was clear strong leadership, and I lived in a time where there was none. It’s a very difficult and sad thing to see. The opportunity is there that exists, all the conditions that existed prior to the 1965 strike exist today. [It] makes me think of course, that Filipinos were not a large part of that workforce as we are in the agricultural workforce, but we are very small now. During the height of course, in 1935, we were very large, the agricultural workforce in this country. And I know everyone talks about the West coast, but if you look into agricultural [sector], we’ve lasted, of course, but our numbers have been replaced.
We were a significant part of the workforce that made the cannery, fishing industry what it is today, and that cannot be overlooked, unfortunately. I hope that one day there is a study that truly documents how Filipinos were in the labor in the US, to build and define agribusiness that is today especially in terms of the relationship between workers and the capitalists and the employers. We played a formidable role in that period development.
Miguel Bagsit: Thank you so much for your time and the interview.
Leslie Aniciete: So this concludes our interview. So again from me and Miguel, we want to thank you so much taking the time to have this interview with us and sharing your story with because we really value and how much this experience has influenced you.
- Date Added
- August 11, 2015
- Filipino American Experiences Oral History Project
- Item Type
- Oral History
- “Galviso (Mary Jane) Oral History Interview,” Welga Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, accessed November 22, 2019, https://welgadigitalarchive.omeka.net/items/show/179.