Filipino labor leader honored

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Thursday, October 22, 2015
Filipino labor leader honored
Sunday, October 25th marks the first time "Larry Itliong day" will be celebrated in California.

DELANO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Sunday, October 25th marks the first time "Larry Itliong day" will be celebrated in California.

The Filipino labor leader helped form the United Farmworkers of America.

Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez will forever be linked but Itliong's role in urging Chavez to join forces and form the UFW 50 years ago has long been overlooked.

Cesar Chavez was the face of the farm labor movement but Larry Itliong was the spark.

68-year old Roger Gadiano of Delano recalled, "He sparked the 1965 farmworker strike."

40 Acres in Delano is a historic site. It served as the first headquarters of the UFW. Gadiano explained, "The pictures tell the story of the movement."

Roger was a teenaged farmworker who remembered the gruff, cigar-chomping Itliong. "The thing about Larry is he had a cause and he worked to improve people's lives, improve wages." Itliong was the push behind the Delano grape strike.

At the Filipino Hall downtown Filipino laborers voted to strike on September 7, 1965. The next day 1500 workers walked out of vineyards.

Itliong headed the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee while Chavez led the National Farmworkers Association. Itliong urged Chavez to merge the groups. Gadiano recalled, "Cesar didn't want to join the strike. He kept saying we're not ready." Chavez later agreed to join forces with Itliong's group to form the United Farmworkers.

San Francisco State history professor Dawn Mabalon said Itliong unified farmworkers during a time they were often pitted against each other. Mabalon said, "I think his larger goal was better working conditions for all workers regardless of background and that's the real impact of the Delano grape strike - it was Filipinos and Mexicans coming together."

Itliong marched and stood alongside Chavez and Dolores Huerta. The strikers demand for a decent wage, water and bathrooms was eventually met by growers. Gadiano said of Itliong, "He needs to be noted for standing out and saying hey, this is an injustice."

Larry Itliong died in 1977 but his impact won't be forgotten. Assemblyman Rob Bonta(D-Oakland) authored a bill to make October 25th "Larry Itliong Day."

Mimi Ignacio of Delano said, "Oh it's definitely going to be a defining moment. It's nice to be such a part of such a big history. It's not just here in California."

Grapes still grow across the road from Agbayani Village at 40 Acres.

Itliong and Phillip Vera Cruz - shown in a Delano mural with Chavez - helped get it built to house Filipino elders who had worked the fields.

Gadiano said, "He knew what he was doing. He had a plan."

"Larry Itliong day" will be celebrated with events in the bay area and southern California.