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‘Alaskeros’ contributions to Alaska Growth Cited

By Lito Katigbak

JUNEAU, Alaska – Alaskeros, the original Filipino overseas workers (OFWs), are long gone but their contribution to the development of Alaska has not been forgotten.

A busy downtown location in the Alaskan capital of Juneau has been named Manila Square and a bust of Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal placed atop a stone pedestal to honor contributions of Filipinos past and present.

“It was a long time coming but a well deserved honor,” said Dante Reyes, a board member of Filipino Community Inc. (FCI), a social, non-profit body formed more than 50 years ago to foster better understanding and brotherhood among Filipinos and other ethnic groups and keep alive their culture, customs and traditions.

Today the Filipinos, estimated at between 2,000 and 2,500, continue to make their mark in Juneau, the third largest city in Alaska after Anchorage and Fairbanks, with a population of about 30,000.

Many of them are immigrants from the early 1970s when immigration to the US was still relatively simple and uncomplicated.

Unlike their nomadic Alaskero forefathers, who worked in the salmon canneries of Alaska in the summer and the farms of California, Washington and Oregon in other seasons, the Filipinos of today are mostly professionals who work for the state or own their businesses.

FCI prides itself as the oldest organized Filipino community in Alaska.

It has its own two-story center with a spacious hall for meetings, bingo nights and socials.

“During the 1920s and 1930s, Filipinos worked in Southeast fish canneries where they were referred to as ‘Alaskeros’ and labored in the Alaska-Juneau gold mine.

“The first Filipino community in Juneau was organized in 1929. It was later incorporated under territorial law on Feb. 1, 1956,” reads a plaque in Manila Square.

Reyes said the parcel of land on which the community center stands was donated by the Juneau assembly, which also gives the community an annual grant of between $50,000 and $75,000 from state funds to enable it to remain active in civic and social work and provide scholarships to talented Filipino students.

The center, a stone’s throw from Manila Square, is a favorite stop off point for the hundreds of Filipinos who work the cruise ships that ply the Vancouver-Anchorage sea route packed with tourists wishing to see Alaska’s famous glaciers.

There they can play billiards or bingo, talk with their Juneau compatriots or have nice home-cooked food at one of the nearby Filipino restaurants.

Erlinda Ferrer, who owns a gift shop in South Franklin on the same street as the Filipino center, said she came to Juneau 30 years ago from Iloilo as an immigrant and hasn’t regretted it since.

At the center itself Juneau residents Ruben Canon and Nestor Lim, both from Cebu, were playing billiards during their lunch hour.

“The vision and legacy of the early Filipinos continue to exist and thrive today as we honor and respect our forefathers, remember our heritage and prepare to celebrate the Independence Day anniversary of the Philippines,” Reyes said.

 

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