Stephanie Velasco, a senior at Wapato High, has been awarded the $5,500 Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes Scholarship in Labor Studies to fund her first year at the University of Washington. The valedictorian of her graduating class, she is a first-generation college student who plans to pursue a degree in medicine. The award is sponsored by the Inlandboatmen’s Union, Region 37’s Alaskero Foundation and the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington.
On Sunday, June 4, Velasco accepted the scholarship at a dinner in Seattle commemorating the 30th anniversary of the assassinations of Viernes and Domingo. The dinner was attended by numerous politicians and union leaders, including International Transport Worker’s Federation President Padraig Crumlin and International Longshore and Warehouse Union Vice-President Ray Familiathe. They stressed the commitment of Viernes and Domingo to education, social justice and international solidarity.
Gene Viernes grew up in the Yakima Valley and attended Central Washington University before moving to Seattle and helping found the Alaska Cannery Workers’ Association with Silme Domingo. The organization fought against the brutal working conditions and racist management of the cannery industry in Alaska, an important source of source of seasonal work for Filipino immigrants in Washington State. Velasco’s father, who immigrated to Washington from the Philippines in 1979, was among these workers, known as “Alaskeros.”
Meanwhile, Domingo and Viernes were leaders in the Union of Democratic Filipinos, or KDP, which supported the opposition movement against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. The Alaska Cannery Workers’ Association successfully improved conditions in the cannery industry, and ousted the corrupt leadership of the union that represented Alaskeros, while the KDP became a lightning rod of international solidarity with the people of the Philippines. In 1981, the two were killed in Seattle for their efforts, an act later linked to the former union leadership and Marcos.
This is the first year the scholarship has been awarded, and its sponsors are proud that Velasco, a promising student committed to serving her community through education and medicine, is the first recipient.