Padilla (Gilbert) Oral History Interview
Grape Strike, Calif., 1965-1970 [lcsh]
Labor union welfare funds [lcsh]
National Farm Workers Association [lcna]
United Farm Workers [lcna]
United Farm Workers Organizing Committee [lcna]
Interview with Gilbert Padilla
PADILLA: In Arizona, that’s the last time… Did you girls meet Larry, Philip, or Peter?
MABALON: I met Philip.
RODRIGUEZ: Never, not me.
PADILLA: He used to go to San Francisco. He like those lefties in San Francisco.
MABALON: Well I met him because he came to UCLA when his book came out. He signed my book, and I took a picture with him, and I brought the book home to my dad. I didn’t know anything about any of this history. Its sad coming from Stockton and from a farmer worker’s family, and my dad said, “OH! Philip Vera Cruz’s book! He is a member to Delenarios del Trabajo (sp?), which is also the fraternity Larry and Peter were in. He took Philip’s book down to Fresno. They were having a big convention and he said Ben Gines borrowed the book from him. All the Manongs in Delano passed it around to see what shit Philip talked about them. I never got my book back.
PADILLA: [Inaudible] had it Philip signed and loaned it to somebody [inaudible] Do you speak Spanish?
RODRIGUEZ: No but we could kind of understand.
PADILLA: But you lend your book.
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, is there a saying in Spanish?
MABALON: What is the saying?
PADILLA: [inaudible] The one that lent the book is not dumb. The one that doesn’t return it is dumb. The go-to- Filipinos… He was nice at the book.
MABALON: Philip? [Vera Cruz]
PADILLA: I mean, he mean, that he didn’t…
MABALON: But you thought he was,
PADILLA: Yea, he was nice. He wasn’t, [laughs]
MABALON: What do you think he could have said?
PADILLA: He could’ve said how they treated him!
MABALON: How did you feel they treated him?
PADILLA: Bad! They treated him like dirt.
MABALON: Why do you think they treated him that way?
PADILLA: Well he that’s another story and is he’s dead but,
MABALON: No, you can tell us.
PADILLA: Want to hear that one?
RODRIGUEZ: We want to hear them all.
MABALON: Let’s hear it all.
PADILLA: He married Debi Vollmer (sp?). I recruited Debi Vollmer from D.C. Debi Vollmer then came out to Philip. Debi Vollmer was a lefty. She was trying to be very democratic, but we’re [union] not democratic. Cesar [Chavez] got paranoid, that’s an old [inaudible]. Cesar always thought that Philip was going to write a book against the union because Philip took notes in every meeting. He didn’t talk a lot. Philip was never like that. But he always took notes with his book, always taking notes. Cesar thought that he was trying to write a book against him. And then he said, “Debi was giving them the information. Debi was giving them the information. That Debi was a spy.”
PADILLA: What happened in that meeting was awful arguing meeting. Its in a book.
MABALON: Mac Garcia’s book and Philip Vera Cruz’s book. When he is accused that he was going to write a book.
PADILLA: So what? I mean, we all were gunning on Philip. We treated him like shit.
MABALON: You feel you did too?
PADILLA: Because I didn’t stop it, I stood there in silence. I was ready to leave too. I was ready to go. There must have been a hundred people, maybe fifty. The room was full and everybody was picking on him. And Philip just [inaudible].
Cesar wanted him to prove that Philip was a traitor. Well he got [inaudible] to write a little [inaudible]. A statement: Whatever is said here in this meeting should not be repeated. Everybody signed the sheet. He knew Philip was never going to sign it.
MABALON: So he trapped him?
PADILLA: He knew because Philip was already mad at him for the Filipino trip or the Philippine trip. And he treated him pretty bad. I feel bad. Although we became very good friends. He came visiting me, and I visited him till he died.
MABALON: After you both left the union?
PADILLA: I cussed everybody off. I was bad [inaudible]. But we kept a good friendship.
MABALON: Can you talk about why both Larry [Itliong] and Philip left. But we’ll get to Larry in a little bit. But since we are talking about Philip, can you talk about the visit that Cesar made to the Philippines, how the board felt about it, how you felt about it, how you felt Philip, Larry, and Pete felt about that?
PADILLA: It’s terrible! I was angry again because he was going crazy. He was going saying crazy things. I was trying to leave [inaudible]. I don’t want to follow. This is not what I joined for. Then he said, don’t [inaudible] I’m going to resign. And he called me in. We’ve known each other since the 50’s. We’ve worked together [inaudible] He says, “Lets go to the Philippines.” “[inaudible]” He says, “Well, from Mexico, we can go the Philippines.” I asked, “But why the Philippines?” “Because Andy Limutan (sp?) was close to Marcos.” Andy Mutan (sp?) means ranging [inaudible] in the Philippines. He said, [inaudible] He said, “Yeah.” You think you can talk to a Huk? Hukbalahap? “Yeah” “Ah okay.” During that time, my wife got really sick and I already had gotten my passport, I was really broke. So the [inaudible]. He came back from a meeting. He [Chavez] endorsed Marcos’s Marshal Law. And Philip, I mean Peter, “How can you endorse Marshall law?” And I say, “How can you endorse Marshall law? That’s oppression! You’ve been fighting this and…” and he tells me, “You don’t know,” I said, “Of course I don’t know!” Nobody there in the board agreed with that. [Pause] Nobody.
PADILLA: So they do to convince people, he had a meeting in the Delano at the high school and was full of people. [inaudible] Philip sat in the front. [laughs] [inaudible] He sat in the front. Philip went up to him and said, “I told you not to go to the Philippines, didn’t I?” And he said, “Yes, you told me.” But he brought, what’s his name, secretary of labor force from the Philippines. I don’t remember the name.
MABALON: He brought government officials to speak in the high school about Marshal law?
PADILLA: And then he brought him in the convention when we were at the convention. This was when they kicked out Debi Vollmer from the convention. I wasn’t there, I had already left.
MABALON: You had already quit by then?
PADILLA: It’s crazy!
MABALON: How do you think some of the old Manongs felt? How did they feel about Marcos that the rank and file (sp?) membership. So, Philip was anti-Marcos; Pete was anti-Marcos, and Pete Velasco was also anti-Marcos. How about the rank and file (sp?)
PADILLA: We were all anti-Marcos except for Renley (sp?). Renley was a hulk.
RODRIGUEZ: What was Larry’s reaction?
PADILLA: Larry was gone by then.
MABALON: How did you feel about Marcos from what you remember?
PADILLA: I was against him!
MABALON: So all the executive board. Why do you think Cesar was so insistent that Marshal law was good? What was that all about?
PADILLA: It’s like talking to, What do you mean, Marshal law is good? How can you say that? [Chavez says,] “You guys don’t know. Marcos have done something for land reform or some crap.” But don’t you know who Marcos is…? What are we fighting here? Oppression! Right? The underserved population of people who do not have rights. [inaudible] And you endorse that??
MABALON: And even Dolores Huerta?
PADILLA: Oh Dolores Huerta would agree with Cesar on everything. [laughs]
MABALON: Why do you think that is?
PADILLA: I am not going to say it.
MABALON: So you think, for Philip, that was the last drop?
MABALON: What are your memories? Who left first? You or Philip?
MABALON: What were the board’s reaction after his departure?
PADILLA: Well they already cussed him out! [laughs] All of us!
MABALON: So you figured it was going to happen that he was going to leave anyway?
MABALON: How did the Filipinos react to him leaving? Rank and file.
PADILLA: He left quietly. He left quietly like I did.
MABALON: And Pete maintained relationship with him after?
PADILLA: Yes. [inaudible]
MABALON: Did Larry and Philip get along?
PADILLA: Larry and Philip, no.
MABALON: Why is that?
PADILLA: I don’t know. I never asked them, but they didn’t get along.
MABALON: What were their personality difference? Was it their personality, strategy, ideology?
PADILLA: Philip had talked to him Larry “You know, Larry,” Larry said, “Philip, please! No, I don’t want to hear that.” He was in the board. [laughs] He was always mad at him. I don’t know. He didn’t tell me he did this without [inaudible]. I just knew they didn’t get along.
MABALON: But they were close then?
RODRIGUEZ: Maybe remember like a meeting or some kind of event where they had some kind of debate, do you remember anything like that?
MABALON: There was no specific issue or anything that happened, you think that you saw. Even from the beginning of the strike they weren’t getting along? Or was this something that developed later?
PADILLA: I think this was something that developed later because I never knew until years later when they used to hang around with Philip. He told me that they don’t get along with Larry. “Larry doesn’t do this, Larry doesn’t do that.”
MABALON: What was it that he doesn’t do?
PADILLA: I don’t know. Work with the Filipinos or does not do more.
MABALON: He [Philip] felt that he [Larry] wasn’t worthy of leadership, do you think?
PADILLA: Yes I think so.
MABALON: Interesting. In the Farm worker documentation project, that website, we were [inaudible] in someone that does it. [inaudible] He saw a gun in Philip Vera’s glove box. He asked him why he needed it. Philip said, “In case Larry pulls something on me at a meeting.” [laughs]
PADILLA: I understood that, alright, family don’t get along. Why should big groups get along? Difficult. So I understand now. I [inaudible] in the 50’s with a lot of people. If you get 5 people in a room, everyone wants a corner. [laughs]
MABALON: Let’s go back to that moment again that we were talking about. You were seating on the front row and hearing all this translations. Cesar has called you from Porterville to come to Delano. You said you were close with Larry so you had a relationship with him that goes back to Stockton [inaudible]. So tell us what happens next?
PADILLA: Going back to the office of [inaudible], I told him that the Filipino home was packed! [inaudible] was there…But I knew most of them. What are we going to do, we have to join. He was nervous. We were very nervous. We’re going to have to call our members. [Padilla asks,] “What do you want me to tell Larry?” “Tell him we’re going to help.” [inaudible] paper. And we have our little cranky machines at that time. So we went back to Larry, we wanted to help. But no one can help you [inaudible], we can help with picketing. We can have our meeting with our members, and we call a strike. Filipinos, they have their caps and their rural [inaudible]. Mexicanos have their gauge (sp?). Pilipinos and Mexicanos, they didn’t work together. Very few work [inaudible] that their goal, Philip, then Larry, and Peter, [inaudible] recruit the people they work with. We went on strike with the Mexicanos. We were picketing over here. We were not together right, but we were. There comes a blue cursor (sp?) [inaudible] organization at Washington D.C. who was in charge of AWOC. [inaudible] The one that ran the organization was blue cursor (sp?) They hired el Green (sp?) Smith first [Inaudible] They also hired the Chicanos.
MABALON: Hector (sp?), [inaudible]
PADILLA: Hector,…,…, Aguilar, … [inaudible]. They hired Anglo people to work with Anglos and blacks and stuff like that
MABALON: Arabs too, right?
PADILLA: Very few. Mostly of the Arabs were girls. So that’s how they were structured. It was structured differently. We had an association. We didn’t call ourselves a union. But we had a convention in 1962, and we adapted [inaudible]. We adapted the new structure. We adapted the main (sp?) and all that. But 9 out of us were officers. Philip was elected as [inaudible] general. I had thought and waited a bunch of my guys to be on the board. Maybe board of five people. They had to be farm workers. We [inaudible] were not officers. So Cesar was the director. In this organization, we built credit union, [inaudible] service center, that sort of thing. That’s where we were. And when the strike started, we were still an association. We had ideas of how we can organize, but to mention the beginning. But we organize a member; we organize a whole family. When we have a meeting, the whole family comes. Unlike the regular union where the [inaudible]. And we had other ways of doing things other than the tradition of the unions. Even though the AWOC had opened the doors for us, [inaudible] Filipino hall, sharing food. Cursor (sp?) was the one who made the decisions. Al Green was taking orders from Cursor.
MABALON: You didn’t like Al Green?
MABALON: Does Cesar like Al Green?
MABALON: Nobody in NFWA (sp?) trusted Al Green?
PADILLA: Well, Larry like El Green.
RODRIGUEZ: You were talking about how you went at the Filipino hall, you saw all the Filipinos there, then you went back to report to see Cesar, and you said, “We got to help them, I told Larry we were going to help them.” Its interesting that in the Cesar Chavez film, they don’t portray you like that.
PADILLA: That film is fiction.
RODRIGUEZ: How did you feel about that when you saw that part of the film?
PADILLA: Its fiction. [inaudible] body’s family. The film was not about what happened. It was offensive to me because to Larry, they just showed his face. How many Filipinos did you see in the film?
RODRIGUEZ: Two. Maybe you could tell us a little bit more about how people were brought together.
PADILLA: [inaudible] We were two groups right. We were together.
Memory card is running out.
RODRIGUEZ: We will take a little break.
- Date Added
- August 11, 2015
- Filipino American Experiences Oral History Project
- Item Type
- Oral History
- “Padilla (Gilbert) Oral History Interview,” Welga Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, accessed November 22, 2019, https://welgadigitalarchive.omeka.net/items/show/180.