December 15, 2005
True Historical Figure
conditions and hardships faced by minority workers unseeingly calls attention
to the remembrance of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) in
the 1960s and 1970s, but the UFW was not the first successful farm worker union
in U.S. history. Filipino farm workers built a movement for justice in the
fields when the treatment of agricultural workers was at its worst, long before
the UFW. California's
agricultural production made farming a lucrative industry for the state's
agribusiness elite in the 1920s. Farmers realized early on that by using cheap,
unorganized migratory, they could keep the cost of production low. Largely as a result of grower recruiting in
the Philippines and Hawaii, where thousands of young Filipinos worked in the
sugar fields, the California Filipino population grew from only five in 1900 to
over 30,000 by 1930, when Filipino workers made up nearly 15 percent of all California agricultural
workers. As the newest recruits into
the labor force, Filipino workers were paid the lowest wages in the industry.
Three thousand workers then stood up for their rights, demanding higher wages,
eight-hour workdays, insurance fund for retired employees and paid maternity
leave. Despite attempts by the white owners to break the strike by importing
laborers from other countries, the workers won most of their demands. Though
most of the early attempts at unionization, such as the Filipino Labor
Association of Stockton and the Filipino United Labor Economic Endeavor, were
small in membership and politically ineffective, they exploded the myth of a
docile Asian labor force and set the stage for a larger movement. With the seeds planted, unionization moved
forward. In 1933 Rufo Canete and other Filipino labor leaders met in Salinas and formed the
Filipino Labor Union (FLU). In less than a year, the FLU launched a drive to
organize farm workers of all nationalities around the goals of an increased
minimum wage (to 35 cents per hour), an eight-hour day, employment without
racial discrimination, recognition of the union as a bargaining agent and the
abolition of labor contractors. Those
beginning movements of minority rights paved ways for many more. Minorities have continually fought for their
rights in the business scene alongside with the social scene. The idealism of white America makes
it hard for anyone of color to move up in society. This was the case for many Americans of a
minority descent. Even though they were
born Americans, they still fail to fit that American idealism. Fred Basconcillo was born and raised in San Francisco. Growing up as a Filipino American in the
1940’s and 50’s in San Francisco was especially hard due to all of the racism
and segregation that he had to endure.
During the course of Fred’s life, he’s been shut down, in and out of
doors that he thought would be open for him as an American, but soon realized
that being American of Filipino descent took that all away. Even when it was against the grains, Fred
always took chances, rebelled, and stood up for his rights as a Filipino
American, as a minority, and in the end accomplished everything he sought out
to accomplish just like those leaders of the farm workers union.
Fred Basconcillo is a man that never took a no
without getting down to the root of why it was applied even as a young
child. His curiosity sometime got him in
trouble, but it was a price that he was always willing to pay. As a minority, Fred was not allowed in
certain areas because he wasn’t white.
Being the rebel that he was, he tested his boundaries and always ended
up in situations he wasn’t supposed to be in.
As a result to that, he got into many brawls with the white neighborhood
kids. It was especially hard for Fred
enduring all of the racism that he did at that time because he didn’t
understand why he was discriminated against.
When Fred was about eight, he got a job as a paper boy and being clever
as he was, he requested an apartment building and needed an okay from the
building manager to deliver paper there.
At that young age, he got a taste of his first racial inequity. The
manager of the building told Fred’s supervisor that he wouldn’t allow Fred to
deliver paper there; he wanted an American boy.
Fred couldn’t understand and he stated, “I didn’t know what he meant at
the time. I was only eight or nine years old. I was born and raised here right?
So I figured I’m an American boy.” Fred
had to go through many ordeals such as these when growing up. He never
experienced any hardships silently though.
He had to find the answer as to why that came about.
Many of the things that Fred had to face were just
repeats of all the things that his forefathers faced. One time when he was at the movies with his
sister on Market Street
in San Francisco’s
downtown area, his attention was turned over to a loud commotion over near a
historical statue. There he witnessed a lynching of a Filipino male. Apparently people disapproved of this
Filipino male walking around with a Caucasian girl and they took matters into
their own hands. This goes back to the
1920’s-30’s where there was the anti miscegenation law. “In the twenties,
Filipinos almost escaped the anti miscegenation law when in 1931 the court
judged that we were not Mongolians; we belonged to the Malay group (some
equated the Malay with the Mongolian—don’t they look alike?). Because of this California legislature
prohibited white- Filipino marriages, a law not repealed until 1948 (Brainard
143)”. These types of laws and segregation went on for years and Fred faced
many things that Filipinos and other minorities had to face.
When Fred headed into his professional life, he
started at the bottom as an ironworker.
He didn’t want to settle for that position forever so he tried out for
the apprenticeship program, but the problem with that was that he needed to be
recommended for entry into the program by a journeyman, and at the time, there
weren’t any minority journeymen. His
name was put on a waiting list. This really angered Fred because it reminded
him of his childhood rejections such as his paper boy experience and also an
ordeal he had to go through to get into a certain high school he wanted to
attend after junior high. This didn’t
sit well with Fred so he got himself in union politics. He had the backing of most of minoritie8s and
eventually was elected president of the Iron Workers Union. At the time, it was
unheard of in the 50’s for there to be a minority union leader. As a union leader he went to many board
meetings where he once again had to deal with racial discrimination. He knew that he had to deal with all of the
discrimination to prove that he was worthy of his role as an ironworker union
official. In one of the biggest meetings
he remembered, “I was unwelcome there, I felt the same way as I felt here in San Francisco. I’m here
to benefit the people that I represent yet I’m being turned the cold shoulder.
I was being told I didn’t belong here. It reminded me of things I went through
all my life.” He wanted to pass a
petition for minorities to be eligible to be entered into the apprenticeship
program and he was going to do whatever it took. He had a lot of trouble lobbying the request,
but he got advice to add women to his petition along with rights for
minorities. At the time, the petition
didn’t pass, but they send out memos to all of the affiliated local unions
throughout United States and
to change the eligibility standards to enter into the apprenticeship program
and made it open to all minorities and women. Fred discussed about how he felt
after his petition was recognized, “They didn’t acknowledge me but I didn’t
care, I mean I wasn’t interested in that. I figured that I accomplished what I
set out to do, as result to that I made a lot of enemies in Washington D.C.
To them, here is this monkey from the Philippines coming in here and
upset the good ol boys group.” Fred
always fought for his rights and also the rights for his peers. This was very
commendable. He made a name for himself
along with his fellow Filipinos, his fellow minorities not only in San Francisco but all around the United States.
Examples of the racism that Fred had to go through
in life didn’t weaken him, but furthered his curiosity of how life was like for
his father, and the generations before him.
top of all that he’s accomplished he wanted to learn more about his he
heritage. He got involved with Fahns
(Filipino American National Historical Society). He researched the roots of
Filipino and their arrival in the United States. He mainly got
involved with this after first hand experiencing the discrimination that he had
due to the color of his skin.
Fred Basconcillo truly owns up to the
role of a “Super” Filipino American. His
desire to stand up for his people and the success and accomplishments he gained
from it prove that he more than served a great part in the Filipino American
history. He embodies many traits that
great historical figures have had before him. A quote from Journey of 100
years edited by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard and Edmundo F. Litton
characterizes everything that Fred stood for:
“Let me return to my original problematization
of the two naively juxtaposed terms: “Filipino” and “American.” “The project of
“Filipino Americans” cannot be launched unless we problematize that conjunction
of the two fields of subjectivity, two trajectories. It is easy to say that we
are all citizens of the United
States polity and also Filipino by
ethnicity. But mere juxtaposition does
not clarify anything; in fact it begs all the fundamental questions about
autonomy, social justice, and equality in a society characterized by alienation
and commodity-fetishism (145).
Fred grew up in a society where being Filipino and
being American were two different ideas.
He wasn’t categorized as a Filipino American, which was what he was. And
in getting involved with all of the movements that he got involved in, he
brought the two together. Minorities,
even if they weren’t born in the same nation, should have equal rights a white America
did. An equal society and social justice
was what Fred seeked out and stood up for and that’s what he accomplished. He
is a true Filipino historical figure.
Basconcillio, Fred. Personal interview. 18 November 2005.
Brainard, Cecilia Manguerra, Litton Edmundo F. Journey of 100
on the Centennial of Philippine Independence. Santa Monica:
American Women Writers and Artists, 1999.
Minato, Ryan. Filipino
Americans. Pub: CAAPA. Nov 2005.
Salomon, Larry. Filipinos Build a
Movement for Justice in the
Fields. Pub: Third Force. Oct. 1994.