Saturday, May 1, 2021
APFA Celebrates Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month
Throughout the year, APFA and Unions across the country celebrate and commemorate the diversity of our membership. During May, we recognize the contributions of Asians and Pacific Islanders, specifically those from the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island).
The recognition of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month originated in Congress in 1977, with the introduction of two resolutions in the House to declare the first ten days of May as Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week, neither of which passed. In 1978, the House and the Senate passed a resolution declaring the seven days beginning May 4th, 1979, as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week and President Jimmy Carter signed the resolution. The observance was extended to a month in 1990, and in 1992, Congress passed Public Law 102-450, which annually designated the month of May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.
The month of May was chosen to commemorate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month for two reasons: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States on May 7th, 1843, and the completion of the first transcontinental railroad on May 10th, 1869.
A Profile in Courage: Philip Vera Cruz and His Contributions to the Labor Movement
Born in the Philippines in 1904, Philip Vera Cruz moved to the United States in 1926, where he eventually became a farmworker. Between 1920 and 1929, over 31,000 Filipinos arrived in California in search of agricultural work. Many farmworkers at that time were Filipino immigrants, and the working conditions were grueling. Workers lived in labor camps in difficult conditions with little rights, no benefits, and meager pay. Vera Cruz participated in his first strike in 1948, organized by Filipino farmworkers who worked in the asparagus fields. This strike sparked the organization of Filipino farmworkers across California and was one of the first strikes that ignited the farm labor movement that followed.
Philip Vera Cruz
Philip Vera Cruz worked alongside fellow Labor Leaders Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez. While many associate the Delano Grape Strike of 1965 with Mexican Americans, Filipino-American farmworkers started the movement, of which Vera Cruz was an early organizer. The Filipino and Mexican farmworkers merged their labor Unions to increase their power, forming the United Farm Workers (UFW) Union in 1966.
In 1975, Philip Vera Cruz became the UFW officer in charge of Agbayani Village, a retirement community constructed for farmworkers who worked all their lives with little to no savings.
“My life within the union, my life now outside the union, are all one: my continual struggle to improve my life and the lives of my fellow workers. But our struggle never stops.”
~Philip Vera Cruz
Today, over 24 million people identify as Asian or Pacific Islander in the United States. These citizens have helped shape history and society and have had their lives dramatically influenced throughout our country’s history.
We pause to reflect on the contributions and achievements of generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have and continue to enrich the fabric of the United States.
Paul Hartshorn, Jr.