Filipino-American History Month is a time to remember immigrant struggles

This story is published in partnership with SoJannelleTV, a magazine show about Filipinos in North America

For Alex Fabros, Filipino-American History Month takes on a special meaning. For him, it's about more than just statements from politicians’ offices and bobblehead giveaways at sporting events. 

Rather, it's about the labor struggles of Filipino immigrants, and remembering the race riots of the 1930s, when Filipino immigrants were driven from neighborhoods in California by white residents. It's also a time to look back and celebrate the Filipino people's efforts on behalf of America during war time.

Fabros, who grew up in Salinas, California, is a former professor of Asian American studies at the San Francisco State University. He favors a month to celebrate Filipino-American history over heritage because, according to him, heritage can be celebrated simply by practicing traditional folk dances or visiting a Filipino restaurant, but the importance of remembering the past only gets recognized for a month a year in the United States.

"We chose Filipino-American history month because we wanted to share with the newcomers the history of the people who came to America and fought against the very system that tried to keep us out. Because of what those individuals did, we're able to be Filipinos in America," Fabros said in an interview with Filipino-American media pioneer Jannelle So Perkins for the latter's SoJannelleTV show.

Fabros said that the legacy of Filipino labor struggles is deeply personal to him. He was a college dropout working in the fields when the Delano grape strike happened in 1965. The strike, which lasted until 1970, was organized by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, a predominantly Filipino labor organization. The effort was joined shortly after by Mexican laborers, and led to the formation of the United Farm Workers under labor heroes Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez.

Fabros however lamented the mistakes made by Filipino labor organizers, who were relegated to vice president positions in the union instead of top leadership spots.

"If they had studied history and gone back to the 1930s, when Filipinos were very active in the labor movement here in California, they would have seen that when Filipinos joined with any other ethnic group, the Filipinos always maintained a position of power, they always operated as coequals," said Fabros.

The lesson from these struggles, Fabros emphasized, is that Filipinos should always feel they are the equal of anyone they deal with. And this is the primary takeaway that Fabros wants Filipinos to be reminded of. That, he said, is why Filipino-Americans must keep their history alive.

"From the very beginning, we've been treated like slaves. So we always have to fight back. We have to fight back for better wages. We have to fight back for better job positions," said Fabros. 

"That's why we have to have our history told. When people look at you, know your history, be proud of what you have accomplished, be proud of what your ancestors accomplished. Because everything we are today, we owe to a generation before us, and that's history." – Jannelle So Productions | Rappler.com

Rappler is partnering with Jannelle So Productions Inc (JSP), founded by Filipino-American pioneer and Los Angeles-based journalist Jannelle So, to publish video and written stories from SoJannelleTV about the journeys, successes, and challenges of Filipinos living in America.

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