Today is Larry Itliong Day in California, honoring the Filipino American labor leader whose union members began the Delano Grape Strike on Sept. 8, 1965. The largely Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, which Larry helped lead, walked out on strike against Delano, Calif.-area table and wine grape growers and quickly asked Cesar Chavez’s mostly Latino National Farm Workers Association to join their picket lines. Thus began a five-year grape strike and later a three-year international boycott of California table grapes.
Both Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez knew growers had defeated unions for 100 years by using one race to break the strike of another. So from the outset of the walkouts, they insisted both Filipino and Latino strikers share the same picket lines and union hall, and eat in the same strike kitchen. The two unions merged in 1966, to form what today is the United Farm Workers of America. Solidarity between the races helped produce the first union contracts with table grape growers in 1970, and was a key factor in establishing the first enduring farm workers union in American history.
Tough and courageous, Larry Itliong joined other Filipino American leaders such as Peter Velasco and Philip Vera Cruz who built the UFW alongside Cesar Chavez and his Latino colleagues such as Dolores Huerta and Gilbert Padilla.
Governor Jerry Brown signed the law creating Larry Itliong Day in 2015. Larry was born 106 years ago, on Oct. 25, 1913, in the Philippines. Larry Itliong Day and another state law, also by Assemblymember Rob Bonta, requiring the teaching of the Filipinos’ contribution to the California farm labor movement celebrate the Filipino farm workers’ role that is too little understood today.