Farm worker movement honors Larry Itliong Day in California
Statement from United Farm Workers on Larry Itliong Day:
Larry Itliong Day in California, October 25, is being honored by the Cesar Chavez Foundation and United Farm Workers under a state law authored by Assemblymember Rob Bonta and approved by Governor Jerry Brown in 2015.
At age 15 and with only a sixth-grade education, Larry Itliong immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1929. During the Depression, he worked on the railroads and as a migrant farm worker traveling across Montana, South Dakota, Washington state, and finally California.
Larry Itliong helped create a largely Filipino union, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) in 1959. Along with Peter Velasco, Philip Vera Cruz and Andy Imutan, Larry led a harvest-time strike in Delano by AWOC in September 1965, to protest poor pay and pressure grape growers to recognize their union. Many Filipino strikers were cruelly evicted from the farm labor camps where they had lived for decades. Tough and fearless, Larry soon asked Cesar Chavez and his mostly Latino union, the National Farm Workers Association, to join the picket lines. Thus began the longest farm labor strike in U.S. history. The two unions merged in 1966 to form the UFW.
The unity shown by farm workers of different ethnicities was unprecedented as growers historically broke strikes by pitting one race against another. That solidarity between the races was a key factor behind the success of the grape strike and boycott that ended in victory when table grape growers signed union contracts in 1970, firmly establishing the UFW as America’s first enduring farm workers’ union. The farm worker movement Larry Itliong helped found also inspired millions of Americans to social and political activism.