With salmon leaping eagerly into a giant can (“From the sea to you!”), this week’s “Then” portrait depicts a festive float. Surrounding it are local Filipinos, 59 men and 8 women, heartily gathering downtown to take part in Seattle’s Labor Day procession of Sept. 5, 1938.
No less hearty, the present-day repeat of our “Now” photo speaks to a national organization documenting a community’s legacy and guided by a local Filipina dynamo, Dorothy Laigo Cordova.
In the 1938 shot, many don formal dress, and some hoist cans of salmon, celebratory symbols of the 1933 formation of the Cannery Workers and Farm Laborers Union, Local 7.
The first Filipino-led union in the United States, it spoke for thousands of often unrecognized immigrants who traveled summertimes to the then-Alaska Territory for arduous fish-cannery work. They called themselves “Alaskeros” (ala-SKERR-ohs).
The float also reflected political tensions. Although many CWFLU members were categorized as “nationals,” not U.S. citizens, and could not vote, they joined other unions in urging defeat of “strike control” Initiative 130, on the statewide ballot that fall.
The initiative was led by business interests who sought to “stamp out racketeering and violence in Washington” and promised “peace, pay checks [and] prosperity.” But union sympathizers held sway. The measure failed, 295,431 to 268,848.
Revealing just one swath of local Filipino history, the float image holds prominence among countless photos, posters, oral histories and documents stored and displayed at the headquarters of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS, pronounced “fonz”). The combination library and organizing center spans several rooms on the first floor of Immaculate Conception Church in the Central District.
Dorothy Cordova launched it in 1982 with her husband, the journalist, college spokesman and renowned civil-rights leader Fred Cordova, as an outgrowth of their late-1950s Filipino Youth Activities organization and early-1970s Demonstration Project for Asian Americans. Today, FANHS boasts chapters in 41 cities.
Fred died in 2014. Remarkably, Dorothy, 90, a Seattle native and longtime sociologist, teacher, researcher and activist (not to mention mother of eight), still runs FANHS. Unpaid, she commutes from Montlake to the office five days a week.
Dorothy’s decades of accomplishments and awards are formidable. This year alone, she received a legacy award in May from the Association of King County Historical Organizations, and at a banquet Thursday, Sept. 28, Historic Seattle will honor her as a “preservation champion.”
Why keep at it? “Curiosity!” she spouts. “Actually, it’s a mission: ‘Did you know anything about us? We were nobody.’ We try to set the record straight.”
And there’s always more: “You just have to keep plugging away.”
Thanks to Ben Laigo and especially Dorothy Cordova for their invaluable help with this installment!
To see Clay Eals‘ 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photos, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.