In Delano, they struggled as farmworkers with Cesar Chavez. In Long Beach, they organize as today’s hotel workers and domestic caregivers. They’re the largest Asian group in California, and yet, they remain an unknown population.
This is the working class Filipino community.
Last year, Filipinos contributed a huge effort into the Living Wage victory with Measure N, and this year, they are working to protect domestic workers and put historical Filipino contributions in school textbooks.
“We won the living wage campaign because a lot of folks really mobilized for it,” said Joshua Jimenez on Saturday at the Filipino Migrant Center (FMC)’s third annual General Assembly, which centered on the three topics. Jimenez is a youth organizer with FMC.
“We want to celebrate our victories in organizing workers [and] organizing youth,” Jimenez said.
Measure N, passed last November, now provides living wages for local hotel workers. The bill caters to the 80 to 90 percent of hotel workers who are Filipino, said Joy de Guzman, FMC executive director.
“We speak Tagalog so we were able to communicate with” the hotel workers, de Guzman added, which was important for organizing efforts.
However, Measure N wasn’t the only victory the organization was celebrating. FMC this year also helped migrants with work visas and victims of wage theft gain victories in court. The FMC filed and won labor complaints through the Department of Labor. Joy Prim, an active missionary with FMC, cited examples.
“A caregiver received back wages from three years,” she said. And the caregiver received more than half of the money owed. “It was a huge victory-the agency admitted they were cheating the workers out of their money.”
But what is currently on everybody’s political agenda is California’s AB 241, which would guarantee domestic workers lunch breaks, overtime pay, and other basic labor standards.
“The FMC joined with other organizations to pass a basic bill of rights for those who take care of our families,” said Prim. The bill was vetoed last year by Gov. Brown, but de Guzman said they have renewed their commitment to ensure passage this time. For many in this community, the issue hits close to home.
“My own mother’s a caregiver. She gets exploited…She doesn’t get paid well.” Jimenez said. “Just being raised by a migrant mother, it really is important for me to be involved in the community.”
More Battles Ahead
Despite political gains, there is clearly more work to be done.
“Histories must be rediscovered…like the history of the contributions of Filipino farmworkers,” Mark Pulido, Mayor Pro Term of Cerritos, said during his keynote speech. Pulido also lauded the youth organizers in the room, who he said today continue to expose injustices.
California Assembly Bill 123 will place the Filipino role during the farm workers movement in school textbooks and curriculum-once passed, that is.
“It was the Filipino farmworkers who worked together with the Mexican farmworkers…yet they’re not taught they worked together with Cesar Chavez,” Prim said. “It’s a chance to recognize the contributions.”
Also, advocates contend that wage theft continues to be the most common violation perpetuated against home care workers, who are particularly vulnerable due to their undocumented status. There may be between 270,000 to one million undocumented Filipinos in the U.S., with a concentration of them in Southern California, according to the Asian Journal.
“We would like to work with the city of Long Beach to implement an ordinance against wage theft,” said Tony Dorono, FMC chairperson. Dorono, who organized farm workers in the Philippines under the Marcos dictatorship, admits it won’t be easy. But given his background, he and his organization are in enduring hands. “It’d be difficult to implement but with an ordinance it would be easier to go after perpetrators,” he said.
For more on the Filipino Migrant Center and the work that they do, go here.