Thu, April 11, 2013

Filipino Cannery Workers in 1915

By: Anjuli Grantham

Last summer, the Baranov Museum in Kodiak taught a history and film workshop for middle school and high school students. These students created mini-films about topics related to the history of Filipinos in Kodiak. Kodiak has a large Filipino population; Filipinos comprise around 30% of the population of the city. Most of them were born in the Philippines and came to Kodiak through their service with the US Coast Guard or to work at a local cannery.

Yet there are local Filipinos who are second or third generation American citizens. Their relatives came to Alaska in the early 1900s to work in salmon canneries. Some of these early Filipino cannery workers were pensionados, or students from the Philippines who attended university in the US. Others were taking advantage of their new status as American nationals to find work in the US. Recall that after 1898, the Philippines became a US territory at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. Although Filipinos were not citizens, as US nationals they could immigrate to and work in the US. To discover a bit more about this early history, see this blog post.

During the film intensive, high school senior Olivia Bennett focused on the story of one such national, Denis Rodill. Denis worked at the Alaska Packers Association’s Larsen Bay cannery during the 1915 season. His image is captured within the Nichols Family Collection of photographs at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rasmuson Library. In these photographs, Filipino cannery workers are in the midst of a Fourth of July celebration that included a parade and a pageant. Yet none of the workers are identified in the photographs.  It took Denis’s daughter, Diane, to identify her father as one of the merrymakers. The short film highlights a portion of Denis’s incredible story, which Diane is in the process of documenting. Although it seems at this point that Denis only spent one summer in an Alaskan cannery, Diane’s research has highlighted what Alaskan historians long have attempted to articulate: our ports are international crossroads. By extension, canneries have often served as economic border crossings- the first place through which many new immigrants have passed.