Larry Itliong (1913-1977)
Farm labor organizer Larry Itliong and a group of Filipino farmworkers instigated one of the American farm labor movement’s finest hours – The Delano Grape Strike of 1965 and national boycott that brought about the creation of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW). While the movement is known for Cesar Chavez’s leadership and considered a Chicano movement, Filipinos played a pivotal role that began it all.
Itliong was born in 1913 in the Philippines. Not having finished grammar school, the self-educated Itliong came to the western United States in 1929. He worked in California and Alaska, becoming involved in union causes
in both locations. In 1956 he founded the Filipino Farm Labor Union in California. Itliong organized a group of 1500 Filipinos to strike against the grape growers of Delano, California. For eight days they struck alone, getting thrown out of their labor camp homes, and facing violence from growers’ hired thugs and the sheriff’s department. Larry went to Cesar Chavez and his group of Mexican farmworkers, the National Farmworkers Association (NFWA), and asked them to join the Filipinos in their strike. What happened after that made civil rights history: the two groups merged together to created the United Farm Workers Union, with Cesar Chavez as director and Larry Itliong as assistant director.
Itliong continued to organize in the labor movement with the UFW and the Filipino American Political Alliance until his passing in 1977. The story of Larry and the Delano Filipinos and how they faced unfair and inhumane working conditions is as relevant now as it was then. And sadly, the agricultural environment has reverted back to what it was 40 years ago with low wages, inhumane conditions and little political or social power for the farmworkers.
A documentary film about Itliong, The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers, began screening in 2014 at film festivals and is slated for a national PBS broadcast. In 2010, the city of Carson, in southern California, created Larry Itliong Day, celebrated each year on his birthday, October 25.
(Source: adapted from delanomanongs.com)