Larry Itliong, the 'forgotten US labor fight hero'
MANILA, Philippines - Buried in the long history of labor in the US is the forgotten tale of a Filipino who was responsible for setting the groundwork for the now famous Latino American civil rights activist Cesar Chavez and his infamous agricultural labor union, the United Farm Workers of America (UFWA).
A New York Times article tells the story of Larry Itliong, a Filipino labor leader in the US "whose pivotal role in the farm labor movement continues to reside in history’s shadows."
Though UFWA is highly associated with Chavez, it was actually the Filipinos called the "Delano Manongs" who, according to the article, helped create the pioneering agricultural labor union in the US.
This story began in September 8, 1965, when the group, composed of Filipinos working for Coachella Valley grape growers in California and led by Itliong, went on a strike to improve their working conditions. To gain support, Itliong approached Chavez, who was then with the National Farm Workers Association.
The alliance became a success, and later on led to the merging of Chavez' National Farm Workers Association and Itliong's Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in 1966 to create UFWA. Itliong served as assistant director under Chavez' leadership.
He would then leave the union 6 years after because he was "unhappy with the direction the union was taking."
Itliong, a native of Pangasinan, came to the US in 1929 when he was 15. It was around this time that farmers on the West Coast were employing Filipinos, who were exempted from the provision in the Immigration Act of 1924 that banned Asians in entering the US. The Philippines was annexed to the US then, noted the New York Times.
Still, it didn't help Filipinos who migrated there for work. The article said the Filipinos lived "a largely segregated existence, confined to dilapidated labor camps or squalid rentals in various “Little Manilas.” Anti-miscegenation laws in California and some other states prohibited Filipinos and whites from marrying, and most spent decades deprived of a normal social and family life."
To most historians, the fight for labor rights in the US have been "predominantly Latino narrative," as the struggle for labor rights has been centered to the experiences of immigrants from Mexico. “In popular culture, it’s seen as a Chicano movement, not as the multiethnic alliance that it actually was,” said Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, an associate professor of history at San Francisco State University.
Unlike Chavez, whose March 31 birthday is being celebrated in California and Texas as a state holiday, the only official recognition for the "forgotten labor hero" is the Larry Itliong Day in Los Angeles County every October 25.
In an interview, Itliong's son, Johnny, said that he's planning to appeal to the federal government "to have the entire state recognize [Larry Itliong Day] and eventually make it a national day of remembrance" - Rappler.com