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Title: Frank Miyamoto Interview IV
Narrator: Frank Miyamoto
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Tatsuya Fukunaga (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 7, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-mfrank-04-0020

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FM: Now, in the 1930s, what we have in the cannery is the rise of the Filipino workers over the prior higher status of the Japanese. I don't know that I made it clear, but through the 1920s in the canneries, at least those I saw, it was clear that the Japanese workers had a higher status than the Filipino workers. It was simply that the contractors were Japanese to begin with and the Japanese workers had gotten in earlier and they therefore had preferred status. And then, in a sense, the attitudes within the, the canneries were like those of the society at large, the Filipino workers at that time being largely single, male immigrants, were looked upon with a little less respect than those who were a part of the established society, in a sense. And this kind of condition was reflected then within, was reflected in the cannery situation. But the Japanese, the Issei, Nisei, and even the Nisei, were more of a middle-class-oriented population because of the kind of background that I've described. The Filipinos are what you might call a proletarian-oriented kind of population. Most of the immigrants to the United States, in fact, were what you might call proletarian-oriented in the sense that they did not have a sense of trying to make, gain their status within the established system so much as... that is, the proletarian-oriented don't see themselves, the working-class see themselves as separated from those who are above them, whereas the middle-class-oriented people see themselves as part of the same system as those who are above them and therefore are trying to work up into the larger -- into the superior system -- status. And if you have this kind of difference of mentality, then you respond differently to something like the unionization movement. Middle-class-oriented people looked upon unions as something questionable or dangerous, whereas the proletarian-oriented people, those who don't see themselves as having access to the system, or the better status within the system, but are a layer of people below who are struggling to get up there somehow, they are the ones who are going to protest against the established system. And this is what happens, or did happen in the CIO transformation of the labor movement and what happened within the canneries. The Filipinos increasingly seek power within this employment structure and you could see that the -- especially given the changing climate of the economy, economic system in the United States -- the decline in power of the contracting system.

AI: Excuse me. May I ask just --

FM: Yes.

AI: -- for a little more clarification? So it sounds as though what you're describing here is that as the Filipino workers increased in numbers in the canneries, and also as they were increasingly drawn into the union activities, which were, in their case, under the CIO, at the same time, were you also suggesting that the Issei, Nisei, the Japanese and Japanese American workers were not as interested in or involved in the unionization work and possibly even suspicious of it?

FM: As I said, the Issei were already a declining population within the cannery worker system. The Nisei were there primarily as students and so they didn't have the stake in the labor system of the cannery that, let us say, the Filipinos had. For Filipinos it was a matter more of, you know, life earnings. Whereas, for the Nisei, the cannery work is simply a step toward something else and the something else is being a doctor, being a professor, being whatever else, but within the system, the given system, they're gonna try to rise and achieve a status within the established system. So the orientation is a little different, you see. You're not going to protest against the system, you want to make, using this, this position in the cannery work as a stepping stone to something else within the system. Whereas, the proletarian-oriented, this attitude I'm talking about, is a group of people who don't see themselves as being accepted in the larger system, in fact, this is characteristic of the CIO workers, whether white or black or whatever. They saw themselves as outside the system, you see, and they said, "We're gonna move these people up on top out if we can, and, or at least control them in a degree that had not been true before." A revolution is, of course, a total turnover, a removal of the people at the top and then the lower level moves up and takes over. Well, this is not a revolution in the 1930s, but it's a reformation in which those who are outsiders, those who are out, say, "We want more power, we want more control than is provided by those at the top," and that's the kind of change that was occurring in the 1930s under the New Deal.

And what I'm saying is that the Nisei, Japanese Amer-, Japanese, by the nature of their position within the, within the society, their youngsters moving up within the system, they don't have this kind of orientation of protesting the system and they're, they, in a sense, were accepting the system. This was simply a kind of stepping stone to something else within the system. Filipino workers, for them, many of them, this was a different kind of a situation. They needed to have better control of the management condition, or management status than was being provided. And therefore, they seek it through union as a means of protesting more effectively against the system. And so for a proletarian-oriented population, protest and active participation in this effort to displace those who are controlling becomes a very meaningful kind of thing. For the Nisei, I don't think it was so. We realized that something was happening here, but on the whole there was not an intense interest in being a part of the movement to displace.

I should tell, point out that when I talk about these differences, it's not as if people are one type or the other. You get a whole range of attitudes. And so within the Japanese population there were many who were -- not many, some who were union-oriented or proletarian-oriented intellectually if nothing more. For example, I used to play around, so to speak, with the commies on campus in the 1930s. I never became a Communist party member. I never, in fact, was a "pinkie" as they used to call them. But, I got exposed to that kind of attitude in the 1930s and my attitude was a little different than that of many other Nisei. And some Nisei, of course, were extremely conservative at the other end. They were just like, so to speak, the contractor population in their orientation towards the economy. True of the Filipinos as well. Some Filipinos are extremely conservative, some are radical, but the, what is different is that the distribution within the Japanese population, let's say, is somewhat more towards the conservative end and the distribution for the Filipinos, somewhat more to the radical end, or revolutionary end if you'd like. So, when you take the average of the two populations, why, one is a little more conservative than the other and this is what is, what was characteristic of the Filipino population. Therefore, when the changeover came in the mid-, that is to say, unionization movement in the canneries became increasingly powerful, it was mainly the Filipino workers who were involved in that movement and I would say they came to take over or displace the contractors. In the meantime, however, of course, as this transformation is taking place, contractors are not ready to give up. They have a nice situation, they've been earning their money through the system as it has existed. They want to preserve it. But as the 1930s progress onward, the whole economy is changing from, let's say, the AF of L type of mentality to CIO. The whole society is changing from the Hoover type of mentality to the FDR kind of mentality. When you get this kind of changing scene, even conservatives realize that something is happening, we've got to change.

What happened for the cannery contractors, therefore, was that they hoped to stall the transformation enough by favoring the establishment of the AF of L type of unions rather than of a CIO type. CIO union leadership is much more radical, much more demanding. AF of L type always worked more within the system. Middle-class kind of, AF of L was a little more middle-class-oriented than the CIO. This is kind of different. So the contractors, in trying to stem this tide of unionization, then took the, so to speak, last available possibility of seeking, seeking an AF of L type of organization rather than a CIO. I think you mentioned Clarence Arai as a person who figured prominently in the Japanese community as a union organizer. And what he did was to work towards, or what he did, as I recall, was try to establish an AF of L type of a union as this changeover was occurring rather than to move over towards the CIO type of union.

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