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Saturday, February 04, 2006
Among the first to become part of the great Filipino Diaspora were teh "Alaskeros", the thousands of Filipino men who labored to remote salmon canneries between 1900 and 1959, when Alaska became the 50th state of the Union. Canning salmon was a labor-intesive business, and the work was very hard. Cheap Asian labor turned Alaska/s annual slamon spawning migration into a major food production industry.

The first to labor in the canneries were the Chinese, followed by the Japanese, who would sail each year from San Franciso and Seattle to the remote coastal canneries that dotted Alaska's coastline on the mouth's of Alaska's salmon-spawning rivers and streams. However, Chinese and Japanese labor dired up when America passed the notorious exclusionary laws banning their futrher immigration into the U.S.

Shortly after these exclusionary laws were passed, the Alaskeros replaced the Chinese and Japanese cannery workers, when Filipinos became American nationals free to immigrate to the Unitd States. Many Alaskeros were initally employed as migrant farm workers in California's Central Valley. They soon heard word of the cannery jobs in Alaska. Labor contractors recruited them in mush the same way farm labor contractors did. Some cannery labor contractors began hiring Alaskeros directly from the Philippines.

The Alaskeros worked hard 12-hour days from spring to fall, and even longer hours when the salmon runs were thick. The wages were low, $25.00 a month in 1910, rising to $65.00 by 1936 just before cannery labor became unionized. But compared with wages at home in the Philippines, the pay seemed high to the Alaskeros, who were unfamiliar with prevailing wage rate in the U.S. The labor contractors made their profit from the difference btween the low wages they paid the Alaskeros and the prevailing wage rates they charged the canneries. On the average, a cannery worker signed a six month contract with the labor contactor and the Cannery store and leave just a few hundred dollars in their wallets.

Alaskeros often left the canneries in the fall to return to California, Oregon and Washington towork the orchards and the fields, and then returned to Alaska in the spring. But inevitably, some Alaskeros stayed to beomce resident Alaskans. Many worked in the gold mines of Juneau and Douglas in Southeast Alaska. Others married Indian, Eskimo or Aleut women and raised their children as Filipinos and as members of their wives' clan and tribes.

Until the 1960s, Alaskeros and their families formed the core of Filipino communities in Ketchikan, Juneau and Bristol Bay.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Filipino community grew as Filipinos began migrating to Alaska as family sponsored immigrants or as military members,and they soon outnumbered the Alaskeros descendants. New Filipino immigrants and their families formed communities in Juneau, Barrow, Ketchikan, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Sitka and Kodiak, may representing various regions of the Philipines.

America's Civil Rights Act, which outlaws the racial segregation, now prohibits the exploitative conditions under which the Alaskeros worked. Today, Filipinos working in the fish processing plants that produce both canned and frozen salmon for the world market, ae often the cannery supervisors and foreman. They are the modern heirs tot he old and rich Alaskero tradition that the foundation for Alaska's Filipino community.

(Source: FILIPINASMAG by: Thelma Buchholdt, an attorney in Alaska. She is the author of the book, Filipinos in Alaska: 1788-1958, and is the current national president of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS). For more information about FANHS, visit www.fanhs-national.org for more information about FANHS Alaska Chapter, visit www.fanhs17.com)
posted by infraternam meam @ 2:55 AM  
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Name: infraternam meam
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About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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