The largest of these ethnic groups, the Filipinos, have a history in Alaska that dates back to the late 1700s. The early arrivals were knows as "Manilla men," Filipinos who served as crew aboard exploratory and fur trading vessels. In the mid 1800s, Filipinos were crew members on whaling ships. Later, Filipinos were aboard the cableship Burnside helping to lay the underwater communications cables that linked Juneau, Alaska and other Alaskan areas with Seattle, Washington.
While Filipinos worked in the gold mines, mostly as ore sorters in the mines that operated in Juneau, it was the canneries that drew the largest numbers of Filipinos to the territory. During the 1920's and 1930's, Filipino laborers from the West Coast spent their summers working in the canneries. They were known as "schoolboys" as many of them earned the money that enabled them to pursue their educations. Japanese, Mexicans and Chinese, who were often recruited in San Francisco and Seattle, joined the Filipinos in canneries located throughout the state.
The Filipino cannery workers, known as Alaskeros, dominated the work force. During the depression, between 1929-1933, wages for unskilled jobs dropped by 40% and Filipinos started to form unions. In 1938 they were successful in abolishing the repressive contractor system that prevailed in the canneries. At the height of the salmon canning industry, there were about 9,000 Filipino workers in the territory. Today, the Filipino population numbers around 13,000.
NUMBER OF ASIAN AMERICANS IN ALASKA BY ETHNICITY
|ASIAN GROUPS||NUMBER OF INDIVIDUALS|
Data from the United States Census 2000 as reported in "Guide to Alaska's Cultures," by the Alaska Conservation Foundation, 2004, p. 50.