FILIPINO American organizations and officials are celebrating the approval to name a Delano park after Fil-Am labor organizer Larry Itliong, a pivotal, yet often forgotten figure of the American labor movement.
The Delano City Council on Monday, June 21 unanimously approved the naming of “The Larry Itliong Unity Park” located next to the Eleventh Avenue Community Center.
The effort was initiated by Max Bacerra, a civic planner, who worked with city developers and the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) – Delano Chapter and contacted councilmembers to set the naming in motion.
“It’s about time,” Alex Edillor, president of the Delano chapter of FAHNS, said in an interview with the Asian Journal.
In September 1965, Itliong organized over 2,000 Filipino farmworkers to go on strike to demand better wages, working conditions and the right to form a union — a movement that became known as the Delano Grape Strike, which lasted for five years.
He later reached out to Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta of the National Farm Workers Association to rally Mexican farmworkers to join the effort. Together, the manongs — the Ilocano term for “older brother” used to describe the Filipino farmworkers — and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee merged with the NFWA to become the United Farm Workers.
For Filipino Americans, the naming of the park signifies an acknowledgment of the organizer who has been absent from American history and the education system.
“It’s a little concerning that it’s not part of the historical narratives, especially in Delano where these movements were born,” Delano Mayor Pro Tem Joe Alindajao said in an interview with the Asian Journal.
The Delano city council’s decision took two months, faster than community organizers expected. Bacerra and Edillor had discussed the possibility of lobbying for the cause, but there was no need since the city council approved it on the first go. When asked about the unanimous decision, city leaders like Alindajao said there was no debate on the idea.
“It makes sense,” Alindajao said. “Especially given the contributions that Larry Itliiong made to the community, especially the working-class Filipinos, in the 60s and 70s.”
According to community organizations like FANHS, the park’s naming is to not only pay respects to Itliong’s work but also to educate young Filipino Americans of what he had done for the community.
“My whole purpose is to make sure that later generations recognize and understand [Filipino American history],” Edillor said.
Edillor, whose parents were part of the labor strike, said his then 10-year-old self could see the significance of the action Filipino American laborers were taking. Upon growing up, his realization of the lack of education of the Filipino American laborers called him into forming the historical society. With the park, he hopes young Filipino Americans will be aware of how their ancestors’ journey was.
“You cannot forget the sacrifices that everybody made in front of us,” Edillor said.
To pay tribute to them, the park’s amphitheater will be named “The Generation of Manongs” and will include the names of individuals from the period,” Edllior said.
The park will also have a mural that Itliong’s daughter contributed to, set to unveil on October 25, which is Larry Itliong Day in California.
Delano has more plans for including Asian Americans in their city, said Alindajao, among which are a potential school or community center.
Earlier this year, the City of San Jose voted to name a park after the Delano Manongs, which is set to be unveiled this summer.