This week, I painted Silme Domingo(left) and Gene Viernes(right), two Filipino American labor activists who fiercely lobbied against racial discrimination in Alaskan canneries in the 60s and 70s.
They were specifically part of a union called Local 37, and sought to improve working conditions and prevent racial discrimination for Filipino and Native Alaskan workers in Alaskan fish canneries. It was shown that the employers treated the Filipino workers awfully, being kept segregated in decrepit bunkhouses and served fish-head soup for a meal during their 12-hour shifts, while white workers were getting the best jobs as well as company-provided food and housing. Domingo and a partner posed as students from the University of Washington’s School of Fisheries and requested to document the canneries for a project. Instead, they gathered evidence of discrimination. In 1973, the Alaska Cannery Workers’ Association (which Domingo and Viernes helped found) filed a class action lawsuit against several Alaskan fish companies, winning millions of dollars for migrant workers. Unfortunately, Domingo and Viernes were assassinated in 1981, an order put out by the-then Philippines dictator, Ferdinand Marcos.
Despite their tragic deaths, I wanted to celebrate these little-known activists who fought their entire lives against injustice, and dedicated decades to helping marginalized communities across America.