First, a couple paragraphs on the Filipino American labor leader from my book We the People:
“The concentration of many of these early-twentieth-century Filipino arrivals in western U.S. communities of migrant labor led to new forms of inspiring communal organization and activism, ones that also produced corresponding new forms of exclusionary prejudice. The story of Pablo Manlapit and the first Filipino Labor Union (FLU) is particularly striking on both those levels. Manlapit was eighteen when he immigrated from the Philippines to Hawaii in 1909, one of the nearly 120,000 Filipinos to arrive in Hawaii between 1900 and 1931; he worked for a few years on the Hamakua Mill Company’s sugarcane plantations, experiencing first-hand some of the discriminations and brutalities of that labor world. In 1912, he married a Hawaiian woman, Annie Kasby, and as they began a family he left the plantation world and began studying the law. By 1919, Manlapit had become a practicing labor lawyer, and he used his knowledge and connections to found the Filipino Labor Union on August 31, 1919; he was also elected the organization’s first president. The FLU would organize major strikes on Hawaiian plantations in both 1920 and 1924, as well as complementary campaigns such as the 1922 Filipino Higher Wage Movement; these efforts did lead to wage increases and other positive effects, but the 1924 strike also culminated in the infamous September 9 Hanapepe Massacre, when police attacked strikers, killing nine and wounding many more.
Manlapit was one of sixty Filipino activists arrested after the massacre; as a condition of his parole he was deported to California in an effort to cripple Hawaiian labor organizing, but Manlapit continued his efforts in California, and in 1932 returned to Hawaii and renewed his activism there, hoping to involve Japanese, indigenous, and other local labor communities alongside Filipino laborers. In 1935, Manlapit was permanently deported from Hawaii to the Philippines, ending his labor movement career and tragically separating him from his family, but his influence and legacy lived on, both in Hawaii and in California. In Hawaii, the Filipino American activist Antonio Fagel organized a new, similarly cross-ethnic union, the Vibora Luviminda; the group struck successfully for higher wages in 1937, and would become the inspiration for an even more sizeable and enduring 1940s Hawaiian labor union begun by Chinese American longshoreman Harry Kamoku and others. In California, a group of Filipino American labor leaders would, in 1933 in the Salinas Valley, create a second Filipino Labor Union (also known as the FLU), immediately organizing a lettuce pickers’ strike that received national media attention and significantly expanded the Depression-era conversation over Filipino and migrant laborers. In 1940, the American Federation of Labor chartered the Filipino-led Federal Agricultural Laborers Union, cementing these decades of activism into a formal and enduring labor organization.”
Just a quick addendum: there are many, many reasons to better remember Asian American figures and histories like Manlapit and the FLU. But high on the list is the way in which those stories and histories complicate, challenge, and change our broader narratives of topics like work, organized labor, and protest and social movements in America. Every one of those themes has been as diverse and multi-cultural as America itself, throughout our history just as much as in the present moment; and every one has included Asian Americans in all sorts of compelling and crucial ways.
Next leader tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other Asian American lives or stories you’d highlight?