Deep Dive in 5: Celebrating Filipino and Chicanx/a/o Movements

by | Oct 9, 2023 | Campus Life, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Photo: David Schmitz.

October is Filipino American History Month, and in celebration of the legacy of the Filipino farm workers labor movement in California in the 1960s, the Center for Asian Pacific Islander Student Empowerment (CAPISE) and MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center are hosting a conversation called COALITION at San José State. 

The October 10 event will be facilitated by Joanne Rondilla, assistant professor for sociology and interdisciplinary social sciences, and assistant professor of Chicana and Chicano studies Jonathan D. Gomez. Ahead of the event, in this Deep Dive in 5, Rondilla and Gomez shared why the event is important in highlighting the often overlooked contributions of the Filipino farm workers in this pivotal moment in state history. Christopher Yang, director of the MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center, also weighed in to discuss an additional opportunity for students to celebrate the legacy of Filipino farm workers.

Tell us about the event to recognize Asian American and Chicanx/a/o civil rights activists. What inspired this event?

Joanne Rondilla (JR): Each October, we celebrate Filipino American History Month and every year it’s important for people to acknowledge the central role that Filipinos played in the Delano Grape Strike and in the formation of the United Farm Workers (UFW). It’s a history that is still forgotten. The SJSU community is reminded of the absence of leaders such as Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz every single day when we pass by The Arch of Dignity, Equality and Justice. 

Jonathan D. Gomez (JG): The inspiration for this event is multifaceted. First, it emerged from the urgency to recognize the various important contributions that Filipino American and Filipino immigrants make to American life. Unfortunately, these contributions are overlooked, if not disregarded by dominant institutions. The other part of the inspiration arose from our desire to highlight diverse collaborative and coalitional politics, epistemologies of justice, and ontologies of hope that have been developed and deployed by Filipino and Chicanx movements for justice across time and geography.

Why is it important to recognize the legacy of these civil rights activists?

JR: The stories of Filipinos and civil rights have yet to be recognized. The simple telling of these stories becomes a necessary and revolutionary act — especially given the current bans on ethnic studies curriculum, LGBTQ+ legacies and critical race theory.

JG: Stories of Chicanx and Filipino civil rights activists form part of a map of the geography of freedom in the United States. The more we learn about the stories belonging to these activists and activists from other communities, the greater our understanding of the U.S. becomes, as well as our role and responsibility in these struggles for rights and respect. 

What don’t most people know about Asian American and Chicanx/a/o civil rights activism?

JR: Most people don’t know that civil rights activism at its core is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-generational, diverse endeavor. People across all communities have fought for some of the rights and privileges we have today. 

JG: Oftentimes, we study Asian American and Chicanx civil rights activism from a perspective that centers the past. While knowing the past is important, an engagement with ethnic studies scholarship teaches us that there are Asian American and Chicanx civil rights movements taking place today that build on the past but address issues relevant to the present moment and the needs of communities today.

Tell us about the art contest to recognize the Filipino Farmworkers movement. How can students get involved?

Christopher Yang: For SJSU’s community, we have so many fantastic art pieces that showcase the different social justice movements that members of the campus and community recognize and celebrate. From the Arch of Dignity to the statues commemorating John Carlos and Tommie Smith, SJSU is proud to have beautiful representations that have affected the course of history. 

We would like to continue that by inviting our students to help us recognize the Filipino Farmworkers movement and their legacy. We are holding an art contest for our SJSU community to enter. Submit works of art that showcase what the Filipino Farmworkers movement means to you. We’ll be collecting submissions for the rest of the semester and into next semester. We’ll showcase all submitted artwork for everybody to see in a digital gallery and we’ll post winning submissions on campus in places that are yet to be determined. Also, we’ll be featuring prizes as well. We’ll have more information at our October 10 event and online afterward.

What main message would you like to share with members of the SJSU community?

JR: I think the SJSU community has to wonder why Filipino bodies are displayed on The Arch of Dignity, Equality, and Justice (the images of the farmers come from photos by Dorothea Lange), but they are not named or formally recognized. I hope these questions lead the community at large to consider the numerous ways in which institutions have historically silenced the Filipino community, and other underrepresented groups. I hope that recognizing these silences will lead to the necessary actions for change.

JG: I would like the SJSU community to listen to and learn from the academic interests and social needs of Filipino and Chicanx students, to inform ourselves and others about the inter-racial and inter-ethnic freedom-seeking traditions that emerge from our communities. I believe when we do this, we are better informed and better positioned to collectively figure out and do the work that still needs to be done for justice.