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In California, a push to highlight the Filipino story

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Bonta with UFW leader Dolores Huerta. Photo courtesy of Assembly member Rob Bonta’s office.

SAN FRANCISCO – It didn’t take long for it to become evident that finally having a Filipino in the California State Assembly would be a big deal for Filipinos in California and beyond.

Just five weeks after being sworn in, Rob Bonta, California’s first Filipino-American assembly member, began working on a bill that would finally honor Filipino immigrants who, nearly a century ago, moved to the US to work as field hands in California, but went on to make history.

Bonta’s bill would require California school districts to teach students about the contributions of such historic, but mostly forgotten, figures, as Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, Pete Velasco and Carlos Bulosan.

“As the first Filipino-American state legislator in the history of California, I have the opportunity to provide a voice for the Filipino-American community — a community whose contributions have been historically underemphasized in the story of our state,” he said.

Now to be sure, the idea of highlighting the Filipinos’ incredible journey in California didn’t have to come from the state’s first Filipino-American legislator. In fact, Bonta had the work of other legislators, who were not Filipinos, to build on.

Ten years ago, Assemblymember Pat Wiggins pushed a resolution that would recognize the contributions of Filipinos in the farm labor movement.  Five years later, in 2008, Assemblymember Warren Furutani moved for a formal state recognition of the contributions of Filipinos to California’s cultural heritage.

What makes the Bonta Bill significant is partly because of who he is and how he fits into these stories. That’s because his parents were activists of the historic United Farm Workers, the historic union that made the plight of US agricultural workers more widely-known, and the broader Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s.

“I grew up at the United Farm Workers headquarters in La Paz, California,” Bonta said. “My parents organized farm workers alongside strong leaders such as Dolores Huerta and César Chávez.”

His parents also worked with the legends of the Filipino legends of that movement. In fact, Bonta argues that, “The stories of great Filipino-Americans such as Larry Itliong, Pete Velasco and Philip Vera Cruz, and their leadership roles in the Delano Grape Strike and other critical turning points in the farm labor movement, should be learned by every child in our state.”

These were stories of remarkable courage and dedication that, unfortunately, have been largely downplayed in the teaching of California history.

When people hear of the UFW, or the great farm worker strikes of the 1960s, they typically remember people like Chavez and Huerta and the Mexican members of the movement.

The roles of the Filipino farm workers have been ignored. Which means an important component of the story is usually missing in the retelling of that chapter in California history.

After all, it was the courageous decision of the Filipinos to wage a strike in Delano in September 1965 that started it all.

That’s one point that’s usually forgotten or ignored.  The Filipinos began that fight, and the Mexicans, led by Chavez followed, and the two groups eventually formed a powerful alliance that shook California and the rest of the US.

The rest was history.

Suddenly California farm workers were at the forefront of another major battlefield in the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s.  And Filipinos played a critical role, although that is barely given any attention in the public discussions of that history.

This personally became evident to me when I began my career as a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. I had just started when Chavez died in 1993.

He was honored as a hero of the farm workers and civil rights movement. To be sure, he deserved the honor, and his story surely should be known by all Americans.

But when Vera Cruz died the following year, there was little public recognition of his role in the movement. He was essentially ignored. I wrote a story about his death – but it got cut and published as a short obituary.

A lot has changed in the last two decades. Plays and documentaries have explored the lives of the manongs, as the Filipino farm workers of Vera Cruz and Itliong’s generation are known.  In Stockton, California, once a center of the Filipino American community in the 1930s and 1940s, young Filipino Americans have successfully pushed to reclaim the historic site known as Little Manila.

But more needs to be done, as Bonta appears to acknowledge in pushing his bill.

“Spreading awareness on this issue is a good start,” he said. “But adding the stories to our children’s curriculum makes it certain that these important stories are not forgotten.”

“These important leaders deserve to have their stories shared to future generations,” he also said. “We cannot let them be lost.”

And they probably won’t be if the bill becomes law.

By next year, the struggles of Phillip Vera Cruz, Pete Velasco and Larry Itliong could finally become more deeply embedded in the telling of the California story.


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  • GMGUERRERO

    A parallel story, perhaps, is the story of the parents of the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. You might consider that story for your next article. Her parents were Filipino migrant workers.  How she was even able to get to accepted in law school is amazing. 

  • yew_tan

    Deport them all eye sores.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VDMUJ6NKKCLWRMVMJRLJFI633I Rene V

      you mean yourself?

    • GMGUERRERO

      YOU ARE THE EYE  SORE

    • alfredinsik

      supot

    • alfredinsik

      yew tan, kayong mga insik ang salot sa mundo mga hayup kayo. 

    • mucho_cheapo

      How can you see? You barely can see with that SLANT EYE of yours. Chinks!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001359013553 August Boy Fernando

       YEW TAN… baka magaling ka lang sa IYUTAN? HAHAHAHA!!

    • Guest

      Iyutin mo ang mukha mo…you mother…father….

  • http://twitter.com/Lakan_Kildap Lakan Kildap

    California was once a Spanish possession. Filipinos have been there even before white Americans.

  • joerizal

    Mexicans have remained as farm hands in California while Filipinos have moved on. While it is a great step to  recognize these long-forgotten Filipino personalities, it would be better to underscore the fact that Filipinos no longer pick strawberries or cherries. Therein lies the problem where there are no extant representatives of today’s Filipinos in the US. As usual, Filipinos are still living  in a scattered way and pretending to be pinoys in the US when in fact, they have transmogrified into Americans with no clear identity.

    • yew_tan

      You are a fcuking liar. Flips will never be elevated  above and beyond being cotton pickers. You people are only good for a doormat.

      • joerizal

        Chinese troll.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001359013553 August Boy Fernando

        You mean like the Chinese RAG we use to clean our septic tank? We named it LI NI SIN. How very Chinese, eh? Hehehe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=705442272 Olsson Grin

    There is nothing wrong with “highlighting” the history of American’s immigrants and the changes they brought to a state of nation. I think it’s a great teaching tool, which in the case of California should also include the Mexican, Chinese, as well as the first American settler’s into the region. Good luck! 

  • http://joboni96.myopenid.com/ joboni96

    pwede na
    from the ‘dogs and pilipinos not allowed’
    in restaurants

    still
    pilipinos are not batting
    commensurate to their numbers
    in the u.s.

    wala kasing astig pro pilipino mindset
    pro bisaya, pro ilocano, pro ako
    pa rin

    as expected from a colonized nation

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001359013553 August Boy Fernando

    Take note, please….my Uncle Frank Fernando (R.I.P.), my father’s elder brother, arrived in California in 1921, married a Swedish-American named Anna Swanson, settled in Delano, CA; begot two sons — Bob and Bill Fernando. Bob and Bill (RIP) in turn have 3 and 4 offsprings, respectively, some of whom for their part have also a family of their own now. At present, Uncle Frank’s brood numbers more than a hundred — sons, in-laws, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. Needless to say, our FERNANDO FAMILY TREE will FOREVER be a part of the American forest/environment from hereon.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001359013553 August Boy Fernando

       ADDENDUM: I’ve been just informed that Uncle Frank worked for a large grape/orange grower and headed their farm labor camp called Sierra Vista….. [corrections will be appreciated/welcomed}.

  • riza888

    As long as it doesn’t cost a thing for the taxpayers…….



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