Become a Patreon!
Excerpted From: Marc-Tizoc González, Critical Ethnic Legal Histories: Unearthing the Interracial Justice of Filipino American Agricultural Labor Organizing, 3 UC Irvine Law Review 991 (December 2013) (268 Footnotes) (Full Document)
On September 8, 1965, over one thousand predominantly Filipino farm workers affiliated with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) struck against grape growers in Delano, California. Iterating strike demands that *993 AWOC-organized workers had won in the Coachella Valley earlier that year, they refused to work for less than the $1.40 hourly wage that the United States Department of Labor required California growers to pay Mexican bracero laborers that year--walking off the fields and/or staying home in their labor camp housing for the next several days. In retaliation, growers called in scab strikebreakers, including Mexican braceros, shut off some bunkhouses' electricity and gas, summarily ejected strikers from the labor camps, and even barricaded some of the Filipino strikers inside their bunkhouses. In turn, the AWOC manongs shifted their strike from the bunkhouses to outreach in the fields and to picket the growers' packing sheds, with fistfights occasionally breaking out when strikebreakers tried to cross the picket lines.
In this tense situation, two of the AWOC's Filipino organizers leading the strike, Larry Itliong and Andy Imutan, met with César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla, and other leadership of the Delano-based National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), an independent agricultural labor association comprised, organized, and led by Mexican Americans. The NFWA leaders knew their organization should demonstrate solidarity with the AWOC's strike, but in order to join it they sought authorization from a general meeting of the NFWA's members.
A few days later on Thursday, September 16 (Mexican Independence Day), over 1200 people overflowed the Delano parish hall of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. Recalling el Grito de Dolores, the September 16, 1810, start of the Mexican war for independence from Spain, as well as slogans attributed to Emiliano Zapata (Aug. 8, 1879-Apr. 10, 1919), a beloved hero of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), numerous speakers exhorted the attendees to vote for solidarity with the AWOC's strike against California grape growers:
Speaker after speaker roused the crowd, reminding them of their Mexican revolutionary heritage. “Viva la Huelga! Viva la Causa! Viva Cesar Chavez!” came the reply. When Chavez finally asked for a strike vote, the hall broke out in a unanimous “Huelga! Huelga! Huelga!” [Strike! Strike! Strike!] The [N]FWA would join the AWOC.
So began the Great Delano Grape Strike, sparked from the quick interracial solidarity demonstrated by Mexican American farm workers whom César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla, and others had organized into the NFWA, in response to a strike predominantly comprised of Filipino farm workers whom Larry Itliong, Andy Imutan, Ben Gines, Pete Velasco, Pete Manuel, Philip Vera Cruz, and others had organized into the AWOC.
In this Article, I urge socio-legal scholars who identify with the multiply diverse, yet racialized ethnic groups of the contemporary United States to collaborate in the cultivation of critical ethnic legal histories--stories about our communities' centurial, complexly interwoven, and transnational pasts--from which we may distill socio-legal insights for today's social justice struggles. In particular, this project accords with and furthers what Eric K. Yamamoto and others have theorized as “interracial justice” (i.e., a hard acknowledgement of the past and present ways that racialized ethnic groups harm one another, coupled with new efforts to redress intergroup grievances by rearticulating and restructuring their relationships today).
Part II articulates the Article's theoretical interventions into socio-legal scholarship and presents a vision of critical ethnic legal histories that connects the particular focus on Filipina/o American agricultural labor organizing with the creation of legal advocacy organizations by attorneys from racialized ethnic communities in the late 1960s, and early 1970s, by discussing my experience of designing and teaching, “Interracial Justice at Law,” a new course on the histories of San Francisco Bay Area legal advocacy organizations for the University of California, Berkeley Department of Ethnic Studies.
Part III unearths the interracial justice of twentieth-century Filipina/o American agricultural labor organizing, contextualizing the 1965 strikes organized by Filipina/o Americans affiliated with the AWOC in earlier Filipina/o American labor struggles in and beyond California. I then discuss the interracial justice promised by the 1966 merger of the AWOC and the NFWA, which together formed the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC).
At times conflated with the organization's later (1972) evolution into the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), an independently chartered union of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Unions (AFL-CIO), from 1966-1972, the UFWOC featured an interracial leadership comprised not only of César Chávez and Dolores Huerta but also of Larry Itliong, Andy Imutan, Peter Velasco, and Philip Vera Cruz. Significantly, the UFWOC was supported but not controlled by the Anglo-dominated AFL-CIO and the United Auto Workers (UAW). Advancing the creative and multi-racial work started under the auspices of the AWOC and the NFWA, the interracially led UFWOC innovated the national boycott of table grapes that ultimately secured historic union contracts with California growers in 1970. Part III ends by analyzing various commentators' representations of the disintegration of interracial solidarity between Filipina/o Americans and Mexican Americans in the UFWOC, focusing on the resignations from the UFWOC executive board by Larry Itliong and Andy Imutan in 1971, and Philip Vera Cruz in 1977, while highlighting the continued presence of Peter Velasco, who retired from the UFW in 1988 as secretary-treasurer.
Part IV concludes that critical ethnic legal histories can offer deep insights for people who are interested in cultivating interracial justice today. Subjected to the differential racialization that fabricated them into “American nationals,” manong generation Filipina/o Americans often experienced labor competition throughout the middle of the twentieth century with other racialized ethnic groups, including Mexican Americans, who had their own particular histories of conquest, memories of revolution, and experiences of immigration. Through the original interracial solidarity of the 1965 strike, and the 1966 merger of the AWOC and the NFWA, Filipina/o Americans and Mexican Americans innovated farm worker organizing into the UFWOC's broad based social movement, La Causa (the cause), by calling for and building interracial justice across multiple socio-legal differences. While they did so with the cooperation of many people, each subject to their own particular racialization, the foundation of the UFWOC's success appears to have been the effective organization of Filipina/o Americans and Mexican Americans as groups aware of their own racialization, their willingness to ask for and demonstrate interracial solidarity, and their leap of faith efforts to deepen trust and understanding by merging their separate organizations. Today, a time when global neoliberalism has subjected all citizens, residents, and other people present in the United States to historic and racially disproportionate income and wealth inequality, and with repeals of fifty-year-old state statutory rights to organize public employees' labor for collective bargaining (as in Wisconsin), unearthing the interracial justice of Filipina/o American and Mexican American agricultural labor organizing seems particularly pressing for socio-legal scholars and others interested in cultivating insights into the difficulties and possibilities of creating and sustaining interracial justice around the production, distribution, and consumption of food today, a subject that has recently gained renewed salience.
[. . .]
LatCrit theory's multidimensional analysis and antisubordination principle have an empowering role to play in furthering concrete struggles for socio-legal justice. From the process of researching and writing the partial histories of Filipina/o American agricultural labor organizing described in this Article, I advocate that people interested in reigniting community and strengthening Asian Pacific American identities should become critically conscious of their own communities' diversities, as well as their differential racialization in relation to other groups. Moreover, to realize our potential for socio-legal justice, we must change our material relations to production and consumption, perhaps especially regarding food. While against the grain, we can cooperate in order to obtain resources that are adequate, yet not superfluous, to sustain our families, each other, and ourselves.
Material insecurity for people in the United States has recently become all too clear, as the recent subprime mortgage crisis, and the Great Recession that it spurred, have demonstrated how easy it can be to lose one's job and/or home. While previously people may have generally believed that they owned their own home, unemployment, the subprime mortgage crisis, the Great Recession, and the jobless recovery have shown that the banking institutions, which loaned the mortgage-secured money that most people needed to purchase title to real property, were the true owners of our homes and (illusory) wealth. Despite broad material insecurity, it is critical for people interested in advancing justice to act together across our different class relations and other socio-legal differences in order to change our relationships to the means of production and consumption, resisting, at the quotidian level of daily life, complicity in today's neoliberal political economy.
In particular, at a time when Asian American lawyers constitute the largest percentage of racialized ethnic minority lawyers in California and three of the California Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, unearthing the interracial justice of Filipina/o American agricultural laborers can do much to strengthen an Asian Pacific American identity that is responsive to present socio-legal (in)justices. Indeed, recognizing and confronting our present situation of global neoliberalism can inspire us to honor the manong generation's struggles: following the military conquest and colonization of las islas Filipinas by the United States, substantial numbers of newly dispossessed, newly constituted Filipina/o Americans migrated to the territory of Hawai?i and to Pacific Coast states like California, under the shadow of the imperial transformation of their archipelago homelands through a coloniality of power cloaked by the color of law. Over a hundred years later, none of us may be “American nationals,” but we are all subjects of global neoliberalism (i.e., we are subject to a socio-legal system that has enshrined “state policy decisions favor[ing] profitability over social sustainability--the interests of corporations and investors over those of workers, indigenous peoples, the world's poor, and the environment”). Moreover, we can learn and understand that this system is premised on, “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.” Far from texts of neoclassical law and economics, many of us have very likely incorporated the tenets of this global neoliberalism into our own subjectivities. Though we may inhabit different social positions in today's still racially stratified society and believe in various political ideals, there is no exit from history, for we are living four decades after, “the neoliberal counterrevolution was launched . . . in response to economic and political gains secured by working classes, the colonized, [and] other subordinated groups, falling rates of profit, and decline in the share of wealth of capital-owning classes.” As a result of, “the shock doctrine” of “disaster capitalism,” by, “2007, the top 1 percent held a larger share of income than any time since 1928.”
In the face of such terrible inequality, those of us who become educated in the law, and then swear oaths to uphold United States federal and state constitutions, are particularly well positioned to realize the “ethical ambition” to use our legal knowledge to promote justice throughout society, including in our political economy and state politics. How might lawyers, perhaps particularly those who identify as Asian Pacific American, help abolish the socio-legal inequality that reproduces poverty? How might we substantially reduce today's racialized inequality of wealth and income? How might we, and allied differentially racialized individuals, recognize the human rights of gente sin papeles (people without papers, meaning immigrants out of regular immigration status), or reform California's election, education, and criminal law in order to promote an active and engaged polis? Researching and writing critical ethnic legal histories is one salutary practice to cultivating and renewing an insurgent critical race praxis of interracial justice. Yet, these should not be heroic, nationally bound, or teleological stories. Rather, critical ethnic legal histories braid together the partial histories of counter-memory as a form of race praxis aspiring to interracial justice by interrogating conventional or regnant views of the past and reformulating them from an array of standpoints that are informed by contemporary, cutting-edge scholarship of comparative ethnic studies and critical outsider jurisprudence. I believe it will be particularly fruitful to follow recent scholarship exploring Filipina/o American masculinity in the past and present, as well as “peminist” scholarship. Indeed, despite my aspiration not to elide or to marginalize Filipina/o American women, this Article does not adequately integrate Filipinas into its partial histories.
Despite examining the texts upon which I have relied, looking for elisions and silences pregnant with the oft-missing stories of Filipinas, I have not identified or utilized sources sufficiently to foreground Filipinas in the partial history of Filipina/o American agricultural labor organizing. Certainly, this is not because there are no sources, although existing texts focusing on Filipina/o American women in this period are relatively few in comparison with those pertaining directly to the AWOC manong organizers. Indeed, based on my familial knowledge and cultural intuition, I believe that numerous stories regarding the roles of Filipina/o American women exist in the memories and storytelling traditions of our elders, most of which never are written, but some of which might yet be available to record through oral history and testimonio methodologies.
Moreover, while many texts note the gender imbalance between Filipina/o Americans, especially before 1945, I believe that a small, yet significant proportion of the Spanish-surnamed women involved in Pacific Coast labor struggles from the 1940s through the 1970s may have identified as Filipina/o American women, or as racially mixed (e.g., through interracial relationships between manongs and immigrant Mexican or Mexican American women). This possibility seems to grow more likely with each passing decade and the emergence of succeeding generations of Filipina/o Americans. Thus, in future companion pieces to this Article, I would like to braid my familial knowledge into the apparent elisions of Filipina Americans in published texts, including judicial opinions, as I believe that critical ethnic legal histories can and should involve careful, collaborative work in order to unearth the gendered stories of the women who have often been omitted from history.
Critical ethnic legal histories may also benefit from conciencia queer (queer consciousness), or sensitivity to the diversity of human sexualities, which need not be understood as bi-modally heterosexual or homosexual, nor even arrayed in a spectrum from homosexuality to bisexuality to heterosexuality, but instead may be regarded as basically queer until disciplined by differential racialization and engendered (hetero-normative, patriarchal) socialization.
While the assertion of conciencia queer may be objectionable to some, I am reminded of the extraordinary documentary film, Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, which depicts the openly gay Black man who organized the 1963 March on Washington, and who several years earlier advised Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to embrace Mahatma Gandhi's techniques of nonviolent protest in the Montgomery bus boycott. How many Filipina/o American labor activists of diverse sexualities may have lived openly (or closeted) in the past (and present), and what might we learn from their (our) multiply diverse, yet racialized lives by not shying away from these dimensions of human experience? Cultivating conciencia queer about critical ethnic legal histories also seems warranted by the leadership that California-based Asian Pacific American legal advocacy organizations have demonstrated in the ongoing socio-legal struggles over marriage equality and being “out” in the United States military, especially when viewed in light of the distinctively gendered migration of the manongs (who were targeted by antimiscegenation laws) and the impact of these laws on subsequent generations of Filipina/o Americans.
Ultimately, I conclude that “reigniting community” and “strengthening the Asian Pacific American identity” would be well served by remembering deeply and inclusively, rather than sublimating or eliding, our multiply diverse, yet racialized (and gendered, and sexualized) pasts, present, and futures.
Associate Professor of Law, St. Thomas University School of Law.
Become a Patreon!