Friday, April 24, 2015

Larry Itliong Day passed by California Assembly

Larry Itliong, an unsung hero of the labor movement, described himself: "I'm a mean son of a bitch."
ONE OF THE UNSUNG heroes of the American labor movement is finally getting some recognition for his union organizing in California's farm fields. Oct. 25, the hero's birthday, is the day chosen when Calfiornia's school children may one day learn about Larry Itliong and the struggle of Filipino migrant workers.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced a bill last winter to recognize the labor leader and have his story incorporated into the state's history textbooks and lesson plans. Assembly Bill 7 was passed by the Assembly on April 10 this year with no opposition. For the full text of AB7, click here.

“Larry Itliong was one of the greatest labor organizers and leaders in California history,” explained Bonta, who is the son of Filipino American farmworkers. “He was a hero not only to the Filipino American community, but to all Californians and Americans who fought and continue to fight for socioeconomic and racial justice in our state and nation. AB 7 properly honors his life’s work and legacy of fighting for justice, opportunity, and equity.”

Growing up in a trailer just a few hundred yards from César Chávez’s home, Bonta watched closely as his parents organized Filipino and Mexican American farm workers, infusing his formative years with first-hand experience of one of the greatest peaceful social, racial, and economic justice movements of all time.

Itliong led the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee which consisted of a majority of Filipino American farm workers. Itliong and many other Filipino American farm workers like Andy Imutan, Philip Vera Cruz, and several others spearheaded the Delano Grape Strike of 1965 in Delano, California, and organized protests against unfair conditions and wages.

As a result of the 1965 grape strike, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the National Farm Workers Association led by Cesar Chavez merged and became known as the United Farm Workers.

After working alongside Chavez with the UFW movement, Itliong shifted his focus to fight for Filipino American retired farm workers' rights and was instrumental in finding funding for Delano's Agbayani (Heroes') Village, a retirement home for farmworkers. He died

In 2010, the City of Carson, Calfiornia became the first city in the U.S. to officially establish Larry Itliong Day. Other municipalities that have recognized Larry Itliong Day include Elk Grove and Los Angeles County.

Honoring Itliong highlights the collaborative efforts between the Latino and Filipino American communities that continues to this day in the fight for immigration reform.


The growing numbers of Mexican farm workers shifted the attention to Chavez, but there would be no UFW if not for Itliong and the Filipinos.

As veteran California labor writer Dick Meister wrote:

Chavez felt that his group, then called the National Farm Workers Association, wasn't ready to strike itself, but would honor the picket lines of the striking Filipinos. Yet if they were to honor the picket lines of Itliong's group, Chavez' members asked, Why not strike themselves? Why not? And so they did. That became the grape strike of 1965 that drew worldwide attention and support and ultimately led to the unionization, at long last, of California's farm workers. It was Larry Itliong and his Filipino members who started it all, and who played an indispensable role throughout the struggle.
Without them there could not have been a strike. Without them, there could not have been the victory of unionization, without them no right for the incredibly oppressed farm workers to bargain with their employers.
The two labor leaders complemented each other. Chavez was charming and charismatic, but Itliong was from the streets. Often seen chomping on his signature cigar, he lost three fingers in a cannery accident and gained the nickname "7 fingers."

"I have the ability to make that white man know I am just as mean as anybody in this world," he says on the tape to students in 1976, a year before he died at age 63. "I could make him think, and I could make them recognize that I'm a mean son of a bitch in terms of my direction fighting for the rights of Filipinos in this country. Because I feel we are just as good as any of them. I feel we have the same rights as any of them. Because in that Constitution, it said that everybody has equal rights and justice. You've got to make that come about. They are not going to give it to you."

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