Philip Vera Cruz (1904-1994)
Philip Vera Cruz was born in Saoag, Ilocos Sur, Philippines. He worked on farms in the Philippines before traveling to the United States in 1926. Vera Cruz worked several odd jobs around the Midwest, ranging from a box factory to a restaurant, but was not active in any union before moving to California in 1943 and becoming a farm worker. He joined the Agricultural Worker Organizing Committee (AWOC) and soon became a leader in farm workers rights. In 1965 he was an active force in the AWOC decision to strike against grape growers in Delano, CA. The strike and boycott soon won the support of Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers of America, and led to the eventual merging of the two groups to form the United Farm Workers. Vera Cruz was elected a vice president of the union, a position he held until he left the union after disagreements with Chavez in 1977, though he continued to be active in his retirement. Vera Cruz also helped form the Farm Workers Credit Union and created Agbayani Village, a retirement community for older farm workers. Throughout his career Vera Cruz worked for migrant and farm worker rights, and was very active in the Asian American, especially Filipino, rights movement and community. In 1987 he received the Ninoy M Aquino Award in the Philippines for his service to Filipino Americans. In 1992, he was honored by the AFL-CIO’s Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance.
Philip Vera Cruz embodied the experiences of the manong generation, an enormous wave of Filipino immigrants who came to the United States between 1910 and 1930. Instead of better opportunities, they found racial discrimination, deplorable living conditions, and oppressive labor practices.
In his spare time, Vera Cruz wrote poetry. His poem, “Profits Enslave the World” can be found in the introduction of his biography, Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement, by Craig Scharlin and Lilia Villanueva.
(Source: adapted from the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University)