Early generations of immigrants faced a host of challenges and problems on arriving in America. Successive waves of immigrants had to overcome discrimination, prejudice, and in most cases, outright hostility as they struggle to establish themselves in the land of milk and honey; this oft-used phrase is certainly deceptive because prospective immigrants were soon subjected to the harsh realities of life in America. Many of the immigrants were deluded into thinking they can have a good life upon arrival and in due time attain the American Dream of a middle-class suburban lifestyle with a good-paying, pleasant, and secure job. However, this was not the case for most of them because the people already in America saw them as aliens, a threat to the American way of life, and as competition for already scarce resources. People who attain success in America have to do it on their own as no one is going to help them or in other words, hand it to them on a silver platter, so to speak colloquially. Put differently, it is a struggle and anybody has to stand up and fight for his rights; otherwise, he is defeated. This paper is a review of a book on one such person, Philip Vera Cruz, who fought for his rights.
The book authored by Craig and Villanueva is a good read as it detailed the travails and struggles of farm workers in America, in particular, those working in California’s vast farms. It is also a good chronicle of the union movement which soon developed among the workers who thought, correctly, that they were exploited for their labor with low wages and in so many cases, unfair and unsafe working conditions. The life of the main character of the book, Philip Vera Cruz, is a mirror of the Filipino immigrant waves during the early years of the twentieth century. Philip came from one of the Philippines’ poorest regions, the Ilocos.
To understand the book and grasp the significance of the life of Philip V. Cruz, it is necessary to put this information in context. Many Filipinos are poor as the Philippines is an agricultural country; his complaints about the hard life in California meant it was really hard for anyone there, as most Filipinos are already used to a hard life in their mother country. His experiences in America showed life here is much worse. A Filipino could be poor in his native country but not suffer as much as in America when one considers the difficulties of a person who is uprooted and forced to start a new life in adverse conditions. Life in America was certainly not a breeze and so “unionism is a triumph of the spirit . . . “. Philip constantly asked, “what is the moral and correct thing to do to be a good person” (Scharlin & Villanueva 12).
To read the book is to study the history of two crucial moments in American history: the first is the larger immigrant experience of Asian-Americans (Chinese immigrants preceded the Filipino immigrants a century earlier to work in railroad projects and in the mining industry) and the second is the rise of unionism in one of the worse industries ever in the American business which is farm working, in particular, in vineyards using humans for grape picking at a time when farm machinery was not yet suitable for this type of back-breaking work. The book is an excellent reference source of the Filipino immigrants’ experience as it is mostly a first-hand account of someone who was actually in the thick of the union movement.
Farmworkers feed the world and as Philip wrote in a poem, “farmworkers poor and lowly, rise earlier than the sun . . . but now they’re captive workers who are no longer free, they sweat for Big Growers, so ruthless as can be . . .” (Valledor xiii) and yet they are one of the lowliest-paid workers in America. The life of Philip Vera Cruz and the book that reflects it shows how workers can attain a measure of respect if they organize themselves and fight for their rights as dignified human beings. Every labor migrant faces the same struggles and tribulations with regard to the time, space, and geography of his journey in search of work.
Scharlin, Craig, and Lilia V. Villanueva. Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement. 3rd ed. Seattle, WA, USA: University of Washington Press, 2000. Print.
Valledor, Sid Amores. Americans with a Philippine Heritage: The Original Writings of Philip Vera Cruz. Indianapolis, IN, USA: Dog Ear Publishing, 2006. Print.