Last updated: May 23, 2023
Philip Vera Cruz was a Filipino American labor organizer, farmworker, and leader in the Asian American and civil rights movement. He played a central role in founding the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. Vera Cruz is best known for his role in the Delano Farmworkers strike and boycott, and his leadership in UFW, where he served as the second vice-president. While he emerged as a prominent leader within the farmworkers movement, his story and experience reflect the greater challenges of the “manong generation” – one of the first waves of Filipino migrant workers who came to the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. Manong (pronounced “Mah-noh-ng” in northern Philippine language, Ilokano), is a term of affection and respect, best translated as older male relative or older brother. Vera Cruz’s life and legacy offers a look into Filipino American labor history, transnational politics, and community activism.
Early Life and Migration
Philip Villamin Vera Cruz was born December 25, 1905 in the Philippine province of Ilocos Sur, then a United States territory. He was the eldest child to his parents, Andriano Sanchez Vera Cruz and Maria Villamin, of Saoang, San Juan. He had two siblings, Martin and Leonor. He spent his childhood tending to water buffalo on his family’s farm. As a teenager, Vera Cruz traveled to Lingayen for school where he learned from American teachers.
Then, at the age of 20, he embarked on the steamship, Empress of Asia, out of Manila to the United States. Vera Cruz entered the continental United States through Seattle, Washington in 1926.
The Situation of the Early Filipino Immigrant
Vera Cruz reminisces in his oral history: “I kept reminding myself of my goal for going to America: to study, get a job, save money, and return to help my family.” 
From the beginning of the US colonial period in 1898 to 1934, Filipinos were technically non-citizen US nationals who were permitted to enter and move around the country. Early Filipino immigrants, mostly single men, left their homeland to seek out better opportunities in the job market and the educational system. Their relocation was not meant to be permanent. Rather, many Filipino immigrants wanted to return to the Philippines after making some money for their families and gaining educational and work experience.
Vera Cruz, along with other Filipinos, arrived right before the economic shock of the Great Depression. Instead of better opportunities, they faced racial discrimination, oppressive labor practices, anti-miscegenation laws, and deplorable living conditions. Anti-miscegenation laws in California prevented Filipinos from marrying white women. Other legislative restrictions prevented many Filipino men from forming families in the United States. In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act, also known as the Philippine Independence Act, restricted immigration from the Philippines and set the foundation for a ten-year transition to Philippine national independence from the United States. Consequently, Filipinos were then reclassified as “aliens.” This act then cut off over one hundred thousand migrant Filipino workers from Filipina women of their generation. Thus, many manongs spent their years as laborers and without families into their old age.
Finding work was also a challenge. Like many other Filipinos, Vera Cruz “followed the seasons.” Vera Cruz worked a variety of low-wage jobs, from working in an Alaskan cannery, a box factory in Cosmopolis, Washington, a North Dakota farm, a country club in Spokane, Washington, and restaurants across Washington to Chicago, Illinois. He worked as “houseboy” for a few families, where he cleaned homes and property. Yet, the pay was meager and required constant relocation. Like many Filipinos, Vera Cruz sent a majority of his earnings back to his family in the Philippines as remittance.
In 1931, Vera Cruz studied briefly at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, but was unable to sustain his studies while working full time. His formal education ended here, and Vera Cruz focused his efforts earning money as a laborer.
During August 1942 amidst World War II, Vera Cruz was drafted to the U.S. Army and was sent to San Luis Obispo, California for basic training. He was assigned to the 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment at Camp Cooke, a segregated U.S. Army infantry regiment consisting of Filipino Americans living in the continental United States. He was discharged due to age, as he was over 38 years old. He then joined the migration of Filipinos discharged from service and was assigned to work at farms, steel factories, and other defense industries for the war effort. 
Vera Cruz settled in Delano, Central Valley, California, where he eventually bought his own property in Richgrove, Delano, and emerged as a labor organizer.
Joining the Delano Farmworkers Grape Strike and the Farmworkers Movement
In 1948, Vera Cruz along with Larry Itliong and other labor leaders, participated in the 1948 asparagus strike in Stockton. The asparagus strike was the first major United States agricultural strike after World War II. In the late 1950s, Vera Cruz joined the National Farm Labor Union (NFLU), AFL-CIO. Here, he helped organize farmworkers in Delano. Vera Cruz worked mainly with Filipino workers, as well as Mexican and Black American farm workers.
Although Vera Cruz was the president of the NFLU for a time, he stepped away from labor organizing. In the mid-1960s, he was approached by a neighbor to join the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), which primarily consisted of Filipino farmworkers, for $2 union membership dues.
Vera Cruz recounts in his oral history, “The $2 I paid for membership was probably the most important and expensive $2 I ever spent in my life.” 
He paid his union dues right before the momentous September 8, 1965, AWOC mass meeting at the Filipino Community Hall in Delano. On this day, the Filipino farmworkers of AWOC voted to strike against the grape growers in and around Delano, California. The Delano manongs striked for better salaries, decent medical care, retirement funds, and safe working conditions. This decision set the stage for a national farmworkers’ movement lasting five years and Vera Cruz’s career as a national labor leader.
But grape growers could easily replace the striking workers. A successful strike required the support of Mexican farmworkers, many of whom were part of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) organized by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta. Larry Itliong, a Filipino farmworker organizer with the AWOC, convinced Chavez and NFWA to join forces with AWOC. Together, the AWOC and the NFWA coordinated the national Delano Farmworkers 1965-1966 grape strike and boycott.
AWOC later merged with the NFWA to become the United Farm Workers (UFW) in 1967. The UFW began a decade of strikes and other actions that shed light on the plight of farmworkers.
Vera Cruz served as the UFW’s vice president for 12 years. During this time, he worked closely with the Filipino laborers in Delano, ensuring that the Filipinos were informed about union actions, demonstrations, and meetings. Within the UFW, Vera Cruz emerged as a strong public speaker and had a gift for rallying the masses through his speeches.
The United Farm Workers meets Philippine Politics
Filipinos in the United States have long engaged with the struggles of their homeland. Many Filipino farmworkers had families left in the Philippines, who they supported financially. Thus, issues of the Philippines affected those working abroad, like Vera Cruz.
As time progressed, the Filipino farmworkers became the minority within the UFW. Vera Cruz vocally expressed that Filipinos were not properly recognized for their role in the farmworkers movement. In addition, Filipinos’ concerns were not being taken into account by the UFW leadership. One such issue regarded UFW’s stance on Philippine martial law.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. enacted martial law on September 23, 1972. Martial law means that the military has control over the government. Under martial law, activities such as mass mobilizations and organizing were prohibited, a curfew was put into place, and civil and political rights were suspended. Many Filipino community organizers, journalists, students, and outspoken critics were arrested, jailed, and killed without due process under the law. This period lasted almost fourteen years until President Marcos Sr. was ousted from office during the 1986 People Power revolt.
Public opinion regarding martial law was polarized, in the Philippines and overseas. Both pro-Marcos and anti-Marcos opinions, as well as apathy, were prevalent in Delano, California, among the Filipino community. However, Vera Cruz vocally spoke out against President Marcos Sr. and Philippine martial law.
In 1977, César Chávez was invited by President Marcos, Sr., to the Philippines, to receive an award for improving the conditions of Filipino migrant workers in California through the UFW. Vera Cruz, as a board member/officer, shared his dissenting opinion regarding the visit. He cited the oppression and arrests of Philippine labor leaders and the prohibition of all strikes under President Marcos Sr.’s administration.
However, Chávez still chose to travel to the Philippines as a guest of President Marcos, Sr., losing the trust of many Filipino farmworkers in UFW. As a result, Philip Vera Cruz chose to resign from the UFW, describing Chávez’s decision as “the final blow.”
While still in the UFW, Vera Cruz helped construct the UFW’s retirement village for aging Filipino farmworkers, Paulo Agbayani Retirement Village in Delano, California. Its name honors a Filipino farmworker who died while on a union picket line in 1967. Agbayani Village opened its doors in 1974.
After the UFW, Vera Cruz continued to share his experiences and insights among youth, students, labor organizations, and community groups. He spent his later years fostering Filipino American youth's interests and political consciousness. In his oral history, Vera Cruz emphasizes the importance of getting involved in community activism.
“If somebody is moved by this story to do something to help others, to make a sacrifice, to use [their] intellect for the good of the people, not only people in this country will be affected, but also those in the Philippines. If more young people could just get involved in the important issues of social justice, they would form a golden foundation for the struggle of all people to improve their lives.” 
In 1987, Vera Cruz received the Ninoy M. Aquino award in the Philippines. He traveled to his homeland for the first time since immigrating in 1926 and reunited with his family after 60 years abroad.
On June 11, 1994, Philip Vera Cruz died at the age of 89. He was laid to rest in Hillcrest Memorial Park in Bakersfield, California.
After his passing in 1994, many students and youth found ways to honor Vera Cruz and his impact on their lives. One student shared: “He taught us that one leader doesn’t make up the movement. His type of leadership did not emphasize the high status and prestige of a professional. He was simple and humble. He was with the people.” 
In 1995, the first mural honoring Vera Cruz and other Filipino American farmworkers was completed in Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown. In 2013, New Haven United School District in the San Francisco, Bay Area, renamed a school after Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong, making it the first school in the United States to be named after Filipino Americans.
Vera Cruz's activism brought attention to the plight of migrant farm workers, their needs for better working conditions, and civil rights. Furthermore, Philip Vera Cruz is remembered as a principled labor organizer and fierce advocate for the Filipino people, both in the United States and the Philippines.
- How can you advocate for “minorities within the minority”?
How does a movement go beyond its leaders?
The content for this article was researched and written by Marjorie Justine Antonio, a NCPE Intern with the Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education.
 Craig Scharlin and Lilia V. Villanueva, Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement, 3rd ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011, p.56.
 Vera Cruz’s WWII years isn't too well-recorded; however, he turned 38 on Dec 25, 1943. His specific battalion, 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiment, didn't leave California until 1944, where they went to Papua New Guinea and eventually the Philippines.
 Scharlin and Villanueva, Philip Vera Cruz, 2011, p.35.
 Scharlin and Villanueva, Philip Vera Cruz, 2011, p.160.
 Quote by Lauren Seng, then a UCLA senior and leader of the Concerned Asian Pacific Student for Action, from W. John Delloro, “Labor activist Philip Vera Cruz left a legacy of inspiration,” International Examiner, July 15, 1994. https://iexaminer.org/labor-activist-philip-vera-cruz-left-a-legacy-of-inspiration/
A New Era of Farmworker Organizing
Gravesites of Larry Itliong and Richard Chavez
Filipino Community Hall: Cultural Center of Delano
Places of César Chávez
Labor History Subject Site
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Subject Site
Aroy, Marissa, dir. Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers. Media Factory, 2014. 26 min 50 s. https://www.delanomanongs.com/.
Delloro, W. John. “Labor activist Philip Vera Cruz left a legacy of inspiration.” International Examiner. July 15, 1994. https://iexaminer.org/labor-activist-philip-vera-cruz-left-a-legacy-of-inspiration/
Duty to Country. The Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project. Last modified April 24, 2023. https://dutytocountry.org
“Ferdinand Marcos Human Rights Litigation,” in the Jon Van Dyke Collection. University of Hawai’i - Manoa. https://hdl.handle.net/10125/49838
Mabalon, Dawn Bohulano, and Rico Reyes. Filipinos of Stockton. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.
“Philip Vera Cruz; Helped Chavez Found the UFW” June 18, 1994. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-06-18-mn-5441-story.html
Philip Vera Cruz, interview by Craig Scharlin, 1976, Oral History Center, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA. https://californiarevealed.org/islandora/object/cavpp%3A13363
“Philip Vera Cruz’s Obituary”, in the Lorraine Agtang Collection. Welga Archive - Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, accessed February 2, 2023. https://welgadigitalarchive.omeka.net/collections/show/6
Scharlin, Craig and Lilia V. Villanueva, Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement, 3rd ed. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011.
Wideman, Bernard. “Cesar Chavez Hails Philippine’s Rule.” The Washington Post. July 29, 1977. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1977/07/29/cesar-chavez-hails-philippines-rule/6d6cf8cc-308e-4231-a355-9659e8be9043/
Wong, Kent. “United Farm Workers (UFW) Movement: Philip Vera Cruz, Unsung Hero.” Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles and the Asian American Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles. https://archive.advancingjustice-la.org/what-we-do/leadership-development/untold-civil-rights-stories/united-farm-workers-ufw-movement
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- philip vera cruz
- philippine martial law
- ferdinand marcos sr.
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- filipino heritage
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- filipino american
- farm workers
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- cesar chavez
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