OVER the weekend, the Los Angeles Filipino American community gathered at Unidad Park in Historic Filipinotown to celebrate the life and legacy of Filipino leader of the West Coast labor movement Larry Itliong.
On a sunny afternoon on Saturday, October 26, the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) hosted its Larry Itliong Day celebration that featured a special jam-packed lineup of musicians, spoken word performers, dancers and community leaders who honored Itliong and the entire Manong Generation for paving the way to opportunity and equity for future generations of Filipino Americans.
“Manong Larry, Philip Vera Cruz, Pete Velasco and all the Filipino manongs who organized taught us so much through their story,” PWC Executive Director Aquilina Soriano Versoza said in her opening remarks on Saturday. “The Filipino farmworkers were the ones who had the organizing power and knew how to make concrete changes by putting themselves on the line.”
Itliong, who at the age of 16 came to the United States from the Philippines in 1929, organized cannery and agricultural unions along the American West Coast throughout the mid-20th century. Itliong founded the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) which merged in 1965 with Latino American labor leader Cesar Chavez and his National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) to form the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).
In the late 1940s, Itliong settled in Stockton in California’s Central Valley where he and other Filipino farmworkers fervently organized strikes for fairer wages, including the famous 1965 Delano grape strike, which lasted more than five years and secured a victory for the UFW.
Known as “one of the fathers of the West Coast labor movement,” Itliong and his legacy have been largely eclipsed by Chavez and the Latino American labor contingent, but in recent years, the Filipino American community has been working to keep the legacy of Itliong and the Manong Generation alive.
“It’s been an exciting time and I’m glad that finally he’s being recognized for his contributions for farmworkers and his part in making history for all the Filipinos here to learn and, hopefully, [for] our young people, this gives them the spark to keep them going and learn more about their culture,” said Patty Itliong Serda, daughter of the celebrated labor leader.
Saturday’s celebration also featured a special theatrical presentation of the new book, “Journey For Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong” by the late Dawn Mabalon and Gayle Romasanta.
“Thank you to all the organizers and to all of you for coming to celebrate Larry Itliong and his contributions to American history, not just Filipino American history,” Romasanta told the audience. “We tried to finish this book before anyone else could tell our story and tell it differently and to water it down.”
Romasanta said that the book is the first-ever published book about Itliong and that Malabon spent 20 years researching for it. She added that the book was “vetted by historians and librarians and UFW journalists” and she hopes it’ll serve as a jumping-off point for Filipinos to, not only keep Itliong’s legacy alive but to tell their own stories and to refuse to be erased from history.
“This was a community-based book that was written and vetted by our community, and we are controlling our narrative for the very first time in honor of Larry Itliong,” Romasanta said.