Seattle Now & Then: Filipino parade float, 1938

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THEN1: On Sept. 5, 1938, at the northeast corner of Second Avenue and Lenora Street, 67 Filipinos surround a Labor Day float promoting the first Filipino-led union in the United States and urging defeat of a statewide “strike control” initiative. The photo was given to the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) by 1930s “Alaskero” cannery worker and union leader Antonio Rodrigo, whose oral history the organization recorded in 1983 and whose signature crosses the bottom of the image. (Courtesy Filipino American National Historical Society)
NOW1: At the behest of Dorothy Cordova, FANHS director, 15 former Alaskan cannery workers and friends assemble at the site of the 1938 parade float: (from left) Efren Edwards, Devin Israel Cabanilla, David Della (former Seattle City Council member), Reynaldo Pascua, John Ragudos, Benjamin Presas, Gino Navarro, Richard Gurtiza, Dan Sarusal Jr., Timothy Corpus, Jose Floresca, Adrian Laigo, Gerald René Laigo, Robert Flor and Ric Farińas. Said one, “When Dorothy asks …” (Clay Eals)

Published in The Seattle Times online on Sept. 21, 2023
and in PacificNW Magazine of the printed Times on Sept. 24, 2023

Dedication drives longtime Filipino champion Dorothy Cordova
By Clay Eals

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.

A canned salmon label. (Courtesy Filipino American National Historical Society)

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.

THEN2: “Alaskeros” process fish in a Ketchikan cannery. (Courtesy Filipino American National Historical Society)

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).

CWFLU label. (Courtesy Filipino American National Historical Society)

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.

NOW2: To locate a 1983 oral-history transcript of 1930s Alaskan cannery worker and union leader Antonio Rodrigo, Dorothy Cordova digs into a file cabinet. (Clay Eals)

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.

NOW3: Dorothy Cordova (red shirt), director of the Filipino American National Historical Society, leads a pizza-fueled memory session among former Alaskan cannery workers in the FANHS office. Of the repetitive cannery work, Robert Flor (second from right, front) recalled, “It looks easy, until you do it!” (Clay Eals)

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.

NOW4: Dorothy Cordova receives a legacy award May 10, 2023, from the Association of King County Historical Organizations. (Clay Eals)

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.

Below, besides an additional video of Dorothy receiving a legacy award from the Association of King County Historical Organizations, are 4 additional photos, and, in chronological order, 70 historical clips from The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and Washington Digital Newspapers, that were helpful in the preparation of this column.

October is Filipino American History Month. Activities and events can be found here. Info on the FANHS online auction Oct. 14-15, 2023, can be found here.

NOW5: Former cannery workers Gino Navarro (front) and Benjamin Presas examine a wall display at FANHS, on the first floor of Immaculate Conception Church. (Clay Eals)
Filipino political campaign signs on display at the Filipino American National Historical Society at Immaculate Conception Church. (Clay Eals)
Filipino political campaign signs on display at the Filipino American National Historical Society at Immaculate Conception Church. (Clay Eals)
The cover of a 2016 book, “Alaskaero Memories,” by Robert Francis Flor. The 40-page book is largely autobiographical poetry and photos of his Alaskero experience in the 1960s. The publisher is Carayan Press. (Courtesy Robert Flor)
Sept. 5, 1938, Seattle Times, p1.
Sept. 17, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p7.
Oct. 26, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p2.
Nov. 3, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p10.
Nov. 4, 1938, Seattle Times, p16.
Nov. 5, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p3.
Nov. 6, 1938, Seattle Times, p11.
Nov. 7, 1938, Seattle Times, p4.
Nov. 9, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p2.
Dec. 4, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p8.
Dec. 9, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p4.
Dec. 16, 1938, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p7.
Nov. 30, 1947, Seattle Times, p57.
Dec. 3, 1947, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p13.
June 22, 1948, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p28.
July 3, 1948, Seattle Times. p3.
July 4, 1948, Seattle Times, p2.
July 13, 1949, Seattle Times, p18.
Feb. 3, 1952, Seattle Times, p52.
May 29, 1953, Seattle Times, p3.
Jan. 9, 1955, Seattle Times, p28.
Sept. 12, 1956, Seattle Times, p8.
May 10, 1959, Seattle Times p2.
Feb. 25, 1963, Seattle Times, p36.
Nov. 14, 1963, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p15.
July 25, 1966, Seattle Times, p45.
Aug. 15, 1971, Seattle Times, p10.
March 6, 1973, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p18.
April 2, 1973, Seattle Times, p4.
Sept. 17, 1973, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p11.
March 13, 1974, Seattle Times, p32.
April 7, 1975, Seattle Times, p18.
June 17, 1975, Seattle Times, p38.
Sept. 9, 1975, Seattle Times, p6.
Oct. 6, 1975, Seattle Times, p52.
July 6, 1977, Seattle Times, p84.
July 1, 1978, Seattle Times, p10.
Sept. 14, 1978, Seattle Times, p30.
March 5, 1979, Seattle Times, p10.
Sept. 29, 1979, Seattle Times, p7.
March 8, 1980, Seattle Times, p14.
May 10, 1981, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p75.
May 24, 1981, Seattle Times, p28.
May 2, 1982, Seattle Times, p99.
Jan. 28, 1983, Seattle Times, p34.
March 8, 1983, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p42.
March 27, 1983, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p54.
April 17, 1983, Seattle Times, p126.
Sept. 21, 1983, Seattle Times, p25.
Dec. 21, 1983, Seattle Times, p85.
June 26, 1984, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p12.
Aug. 18, 1984, Seattle Times, p11.
Sept. 7, 1984, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p58.
Sept. 23, 1984, Seattle Times, p163.
Oct. 6, 1984, Seattle Times, p11.
April 17, 1986, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p45.
June 1, 1986, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p25.
June 1, 1986, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p30.
Jan. 12, 1987, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p2.
Feb. 22, 1987, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p1.
March 3, 1988, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p5.
March 11, 1988, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p27.
Feb. 21, 1989, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p4.
July 8, 1990, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p124.
May 26, 1991, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p111.
Aug. 25, 1994, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p36.
July 28, 1996, Seattle Times, pL1.
Feb. 10, 2003, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, p6.
Dec. 14, 2003, Seattle Times, p132.
Dec. 14, 2003, Seattle Times, p135.
Nov. 3, 2019, Seattle Times, p25.
Nov. 3, 2019, Seattle Times, p31.
Oct. 31, 2022, Seattle Times, p8.
Oct. 31, 2022, Seattle Times, p9.

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: Filipino parade float, 1938”

  1. Article, “FILIPINO PARADE FLOAT, 1938.” What a great article! It really was more than the parade float, but rather a trip down memory lane in the Seattle/PNW Filipino community and other people of color. I’ve lived in the Seattle area for 70 years and I recognized many of the folks in the article. Thank-you so much. Regards, Victoria

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