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TEMPLE-BEAUDRY : Memorial Fund Honors Labor Leader

November 06, 1994|LESLIE BERESTEIN

A memorial service last weekend for Philip Vera Cruz, the veteran Filipino labor leader who died June 10 at the age of 89, was both a final farewell to the pioneer activist and the beginning of an effort to help young activists continue in his footsteps.

The ceremony, at Local 11 of the Hotel and Restaurant Worker's Union at 321 S. Bixel St., marked the launching of the Philip Vera Cruz Memorial Fund, established by friends of Vera Cruz from labor and education groups and the Filipino American and other Asian American communities.

Administered under the auspices of UCLA's Asian American Studies Center, the fund will support research and projects involving Filipino American history and Asian American labor studies, and will provide scholarship funds for Asian American college students involved in labor and community activism.

"One of the major challenges for us who have been touched and inspired by Philip is the challenge of continuing his life's work," said Enrique de la Cruz, assistant director of the center.

Vera Cruz, a pioneer in the struggle for farm workers' rights, was a migrant worker who came to the United States in 1926 at the age of 22 in hopes of a better life but found himself exploited as cheap labor.

As one of the manong --single male Filipino immigrants who were prevented from bringing dependent relatives--Vera Cruz toiled in the grape fields of Central California, living in work camps with other migrant workers.

But in September, 1965, he heard news of Filipino farm workers striking for better wages a few miles from where he worked.

The event marked the beginning of the farm workers' movement, and Vera Cruz dedicated himself to the struggle.

In 1966, the mostly Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee merged with the largely Mexican National Farm Workers' Assn. to become the United Farm Workers, and Vera Cruz eventually became the union's vice president and highest-ranking Filipino official.

Although he dropped out of the union in 1977 in protest of Cesar Chavez's visit to the Philippines under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, Vera Cruz continued his activism, often lecturing on college campuses.

Bong Vergara, a 21-year-old Filipino American UCLA student, first met Vera Cruz during a summer leadership conference for Asian American students.

As a student activist, Vergara considers Vera Cruz a role model.

" Manong Philip was someone who stuck to his principles, and student activists need this reassurance," he said. "I don't think he would want us to think of him as a loss. He's a source of inspiration. He represents possibilities."

Proceeds from Vera Cruz's 1992 memoir, "Philip Vera Cruz; A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farm Workers' Movement," will go toward the memorial fund.

Compiled from interviews with the activist by Berkeley-based writers Craig Scharlin and Lilia Villanueva and published through UCLA, the book--now in its second printing--is part of the university's Asian American Studies curriculum.

According to De La Cruz, other fund-raising activities are planned for the future, and private donations are welcome.

Information: Enrique De La Cruz (310) 825-2974, Kent Wong (310) 794-0385 and Meg Malpaya Thornton (310) 825-1006.

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