Building a Movement: Filipino American Union and Community Organizing in Seattle in the 1970s
Ligaya Rene Domingo
Doctor of Philosophy in Education
University of California, Berkeley
Professor Catherine Ceniza Choy, Co-Chair
Professor Ingrid Seyer-Ochi, Co-Chair
The Asian American Movement emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Antiwar Movement, Black Liberation Movement, and struggles for liberation in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. Activists, including college students and community members throughout the United States, used "mass line" tactics to raise political awareness, build organizations, address community concerns, and ultimately to serve their communities. While the history of the Asian American Movement has been chronicled, the scholarship has been analytically and theoretically insufficient -and in some cases nonexistent- in terms of local struggles, how the movement unfolded, and the role of Filipino Americans. This dissertation focuses on one, untold story of the Asian American Movement: the role of activists in Seattle, Washington who were concerned with regional injustices affecting Filipino Americans. I argue that this local struggle in the Pacific Northwest not only demonstrates the diversity of action and strategy within the Asian American Movement but also deepens our understanding of the broader movement as both local and transnational - unique in its local strategies yet closely aligned with the goals of the era's social movements.
Based on both historical and qualitative data, this dissertation uses a Gramscian framework to explore the possibilities and limitations of using civil society as instruments for social change. Specifically, I examine the efforts by a group of local activists in the 1970s to seek redress for the exclusion, discrimination and social dislocation experienced by Filipino Americans. I explore two local Asian American Movement case studies in which activists worked within two preexisting organizational formations of civil society, the Alaska Cannery Worker's Union and the Filipino Community of Seattle, to achieve their goals. This dissertation sheds light on the evolution of their organizing strategies and tactics with regard to broader processes of community and identity formation, as well as to their aims of bringing about revolutionary change. My research explored the following questions about attempts to serve and support the Filipino American community in Seattle in the 1970s: First, how do processes of community, identity, and ideological formation shape social movement organizing strategies? And second, how have changing patterns of immigration, institutional community formation, and international movement ideology shaped the strategies used by activists organizing on behalf of the Filipino American community in Seattle, Washington?
I argue that the efforts to organize in support of the Seattle Filipino American community in the 1970s unfolded in two phases. In the first phase, the activists were influenced and guided by the Civil Rights Movement and the ideas of the larger Asian American Movement. These movements provided activists with a framework from which to understand their grievances and activists started organizing using a Civil Rights and equity-based framework to address grievances and achieve social reforms. However, the declaration of martial law in the Philippines in 1972 coincided with a fracture within the Filipino American community in Seattle because one group of activists experienced an ideological shift to a more radical viewpoint. This schism amongst the activists and within the larger Filipino American community was complicated by differences based on time of immigration, class, and generation and was manifested in political questions regarding the mission, goals, and use of both the Filipino Community of Seattle and the Cannery Worker's Union.
In the second phase of organizing, the radical activists were no longer intent on just reforming these local organizations; they also had a broader political agenda, and their organizing strategies changed to reflect this ideological shift. I argue that the strategy of the activists in this second phase was what Gramsci calls a "War of Position," meaning that the activists tried to use civil society institutions - a non-profit and community organization and a union - as a means to build a social movement and as a way to wage an attack on the state. Ultimately, the findings of this study challenge previous claims that the Asian American Movement was either reformist or radical. In this case study of Filipino American activists in Seattle, the data demonstrates that they were agents for social reform and also revolutionaries, not one or the other. The findings of this study point to the need for more nuanced and complex frameworks for understanding social change processes and organizing strategies.