Inspired by our Past, Fighting for a Better Future
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. It’s a time when we celebrate the culture, traditions and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States and recognize their many contributions to our communities and our nation.
For Joel Chan, Vice President and Chief Steward of DLC 744 and a leader of our Local 1000 Asian-Pacific Islander
Committee, this month represents an opportunity to acknowledge the historical contributions Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders (API’s) have made and continue to make in the fight for social and economic justice.
“There are way too many examples, too numerous to list, of the many API leaders in the labor movement since the 1800’s,” said Chan, who is also a member of the first-ever Leadership Apprentice Program for Stewards (LAPS) graduating class. “API’s have a very long and celebrated history of activism, of struggle, of leadership, of inspiration and of organizing for a better life.”
In 1763, Filipino sailors escaped oppressive conditions on Spanish Galleons and founded the first Filipino outpost in St. Mora, Louisiana.
Immigrant Chinese, overcame widespread racism and organized successful strikes to improve wages and working conditions while making significant contributions to mining, agriculture and the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Here in California, Filipino labor leaders Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz founded the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee before joining Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers in the famous Delano Grape Strike.
“They showed the courage to stand together in an era where being an activist could cost you your life” Chan said.
In his work as a union leader, Chan draws inspiration from API leaders as he works to engage his fellow members to become more active and build a stronger union.
He also knows that in today’s different political reality, new threats have emerged that jeopardize everything these leaders fought for in the past.
“Our forefathers knew the importance of strength in numbers,” Chan said. “United employees can have a real voice in improving their wages, working conditions and benefits. They knew that the only way to make positive change at your workplace is through a strong union. When we are stronger, we can make a better California for everyone.”