Today's history lesson is about the Seattle-based labor activists of the 1970s--Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo.
Gene Viernes was born in Washington to a family that had immigrated to the U.S. from the Phillipines. After joining the Local 37, ILWU, Gene became close with Silme Domingo, another son of Filipino immigrants. He had grown up in Texas and gone to the University of Washington. With socially active parents, Domingo grew up involved in efforts to advocate for social and civil rights. Both of them became officers in the Cannery Workers Local 37.
On June 1, 1981, both of these men were brutally murdered. These two ambitious young activists had been very vocal in their position against the Alaskan canneries, whom they accused of discrimination and prejudice. Furthermore, they protested the unfair labor conditions and wages the workers faced, as the union president, Tony Baruso, was greedy and ignorant to the unfair conditions the seafood cannery workers faced. Because their union had a corrupt leader, Viernes and Domingo worked hard to advocate for better working conditions and labor rights. They also investigated discrimination and segregation towards Filipino-American workers at the cannery. At first, it was thought that the attacks were retributions towards the reform efforts the two activists were trying to make. Unfortunately, Viernes died at the crime scene, but Domingo survived long enough to identify the attackers as members of the Tulisan gang, a gang who ran a large gambling scheme in the Cannery Workers Union, and who Tony Baruso was accused to be affiliated with.
However, after they passed away, it became obvious that the plan was orchestrated by someone much more powerful. Someone who was pulling the strings. Officials found that it was the Marcos dictatorship who had something to benefit from the murders, and a few years later, the Committee of Justice for Domingo and Viernes sued Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in federal court.
For those of you who don't know, Marcos was the President of the Philippines at the time--ruling as a dictator under martial law from 1972 to 1981. During this time, he kept a strong hold on media and political socialization, as well as clamping down on any opposition. He used all means necessary, including violence and oppression. It was said that Viernes and Domingo both opposed him, thus the matter became a political one.
The stands that Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo took were not only important for labor reform but were also important to expose discrimination towards Filipino-Americans in the workplace. It's important to remember the courageous actions of these young activists, and to take a stand for what you believe in.
Author: Carina Sun
In Honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
We are bringing you the stories of inspirational Asian Americans from history.
5/30/20 - The Exceptional Example Ronald Takaki Set
5/27/20 - The Incredible Legacy of Kalpana Chawla
5/26/20 - When Marrying a Non-American Meant Losing Your Citizenship
5/25/20 - Honoring the 442nd Infantry Regiment
5/24/20- A Glimpse at Asian-Americans in Hollywood -- Miyoshi Umeki
5/22/20 - The Oriental Schools of San Fransisco
5/21/20 - Equality For All Colors - Yick Wo v. Hopkins
5/20/20 - An End To Police Brutality: Peter Yew's Stand
5/19/20 - Finding His Form: Linsanity in 2012
5/18/20 - Internment and Injustice: Fred T. Korematsu
5/17/20 - The Courageous Stand of Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo
5/16/20 - The Unbreakable Spirit of Wong Kim Ark
5/15/20- The Admirable Perseverance of Patsy Takemoto Mink
5/13/20 - The Lasting Legacy of Grace Lee Boggs
5/12/20-Remembering "The Forgotten" -- The Chinese migrants who built America's first Transcontinental railroad
5/11/20 - The Singing Neurosurgeon: Dr. Ayub Ommaya