Silme Domingo (left) and Gene Viernes (right). • Courtesy Photos

Silme Domingo (left) and Gene Viernes (right). • Courtesy Photos

When I started to think back to those times when I socialized and worked with Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes, other memories began to filter through my mind. I started to reminisce about my connections with the Local 37 (ILWU), the cannery workers union, my time as a member, and meeting the Filipino union leadership through the years.

Here is this travel log.

Gene Navarro was the Union Dispatcher when I was hired in 1951. He and his wife Marie, a blonde white lady, owned a house on Jefferson Street near 16th Avenue. The couple were raising their own family at the time but were also raising foster children that included Mark, Marlene, and Geraldine Sison. Our little gang of Pinoy kids would visit the Navarro home to check out Marlene and Geraldine. Marie was always very welcoming but Gene was a pretty savvy guy so he knew our intentions.

When my father, Sammy Santos the former boxing hero in the community, approached Navarro about dispatching me to Alaska I was sent to the cannery in Ugashik on Bristal Bay in 1951 and ’52, where I also met Carlos Bulosan.

When the young American-born workers (i.e. John Mina, Buster Narranjo, Ben Simon, Roy Hashimoto, and me) voiced our concerns about how the meals being served in the Filipino bunk house were not on par with the meals being served in the white bunk house, we were told to report our complaint to our shop steward. Of couse our complaint never got beyond the shop stewart—our complaint died and we didn’t pursue the issue. Looking back then as high school students we weren’t ready nor did we have the courage to rock the boat.

In early 1973, I was invited to a meeting by Tyree Scott of the United Construction Workers Association (UCWA). At the meeting at the UCWA offices on 15th Avenue on Capital Hill were Tyree Scott and Michael Woo from UCWA; Nemesio Domingo Jr., activist and cannery worker; Rami Arditi, an attorney; Michael Fox, an attorney representing UCWA; and me. Tyree and Michael led the discussion of the possibility of forming an association similar to the UCWA to fight for reforms in the seafood industry.

After a few more meetings led by Tyree and Nemesio and the Alaska Cannery Workers Association was formed. Silme Domingo and Michael Woo were sent by ACWA to Alaska to document the deplorable conditions the mostly Filipino cannery workers were forced to live and work under. Silme and Michael were accepted as college students doing research for term papers.

While in Alaska they were able to meet and collaborate their findings with Gene Viernes, a young outspoken critic of working conditions he worked under for six straight years.

Because of the development of the ID Community Health Center, the Denise Louie Early Childhood Center, and Milwaukee Hotel preservation I was unable to continue working with ACWA but continued my support of the new association.

While building the Danny Woo Garden in 1975, Inter*Im staff put out a request for volunteers from our local nonprofits to help get the garden ready for the planting season. Staff members and volunteers showed up from Asian Counseling & Referral Service, the ID Community Health Center, the ID Emergency Center, El Centro, the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, and Local 37. When Gene Viernes arrived, he grabbed a wheelbarrow and filled it to the brim with gravel for the drainage system. He must have made 20 trips that day hauling gravel from the staging area at 7th and Main up the hill to the garden. Keep in mind he grew up on a farm in Wapato, Washington.

Silme, on the other hand, would drive his maroon Monte Carlo down the narrow road to the top terrace and proceed to direct traffic of trucks up and down the narrow road. He never broke a sweat nor got his hands dirty.

These guys and the rest of the new officers of Local 37 were involved in the fire watch detail at the Milwaukee Hotel, Silme was a board member of the International Drop In Center, while Gene wrote articles for the International Examiner and was actually in the process of writing a book about the canneries in Alaska. They both held court across the street from their office on 8th Ave in the lounge of the Four Seas Resturant. I spent many hours socializing with my good friends.  

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