Burden of Proof: Wards Cove v. Atonio, a Bittersweet Landmark Court Case


Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowships




The Model Minority Myth proposes that Asian Americans have overcome racism and have not played significant roles in the struggle for civil rights and social justice. This project exposes this fallacy by uncovering the history of the Supreme Court case Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio (1989). Through interviews with participants in this campaign for justice, we learn how Filipino cannery workers built upon multiracial solidarity with African American workers who had successfully waged litigation to desegregate the Building Trades. Desegregation of the plantation-like conditions of Alaskan canneries required a full mobilization of cannery workers and support from their communities to stand against this exploitation. The interviews with the legal team and cannery workers will be posted online as primary sources, along with a research essay to contextualize their campaign during the Reagan Cold War era and a curriculum essay for teaching about the centrality of Filipino cannery workers in advancing civil rights in the workplace and social justice. This landmark Supreme Court case decenters the Model Minority myth by revealing the long history of otherizing Asian workers and Asian workers’ resilience in speaking out and organizing for their rights and dignity.