Fil-Ams to mark golden jubilee of grape strike begun by Filipinos | Global News

Fil-Ams to mark golden jubilee of grape strike begun by Filipinos

/ 01:31 AM September 02, 2015


DELANO, California — The 50th anniversary of the historic Delano Grape Strike initiated by Filipino farm workers will be celebrated with a series of events over Labor Day Weekend, September 5 and 6, in Delano.

Dubbed “Bold Step,” the weekend hosted by the newly formed Delano chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) and its parent organization will commemorate the Filipino workers’ momentous decision to strike, which left a legacy of activism in the Filipino American community in Delano and across the nation.


The weekend’s events will kick off on Saturday, September 5 at the Filipino Community Hall, the historic building where the strike vote was taken and the headquarters of the first years of the Grape Strike.


The program will include a keynote by Rob Bonta, the first Filipino American elected to the California State Assembly, and presentations by strike veterans, scholars, community activists and local community leaders.


A highlight of the weekend will be a screening of the Emmy-award winning documentary, Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers. New York-based filmmaker Marissa Aroy, whose family roots are in Delano, will be present. The weekend will also include cultural performances and bus tours of local historic sites.

The Delano Grape Strike began on September 8, 1965, when thousands of mostly Filipino American grape workers, led by Larry Itliong, walked off of the vineyards in Delano.

The strike sparked the farm labor movement of the 20th century, one of the most significant social justice movements in American history. From the strike came the multiethnic farm laborer’s union, the United Farm Workers.

Moreover, the strike raised global consciousness about the plight of farm workers. It was a pivotal moment in which Filipino Americans made their largest and most significant imprint on the American narrative.


Bold step

That bold step taken by these Filipino workers — most of whom were senior citizens in the twilight of their lives — inspired labor movements and movements for civil rights and social justice amongst Filipino Americans and Americans of all backgrounds.

In the late summer of 1965, the small agricultural town of Delano was energized as thousands of Filipino itinerant farm workers arrived for the grape harvest, as they had done every year through most of the 20th century.

The workers, most of whom were members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee union (AWOC, AFL-CIO), were fresh from the Coachella Valley, where they had struck and won $1.40 per hour for the grape harvest.

The migrant workforce shared the grocery aisles and streets with the 13,000 or so permanent residents eager to fatten their paychecks from harvesting boxes of Thompsons, Calmerias, and Ribiers – popular varieties of the finest table grapes in the world. With a prosperous season, they could make enough to get by the lean winter months.

Strike vote

When Delano grape growers refused a wage of $1.40 per hour, anticipation and excitement turned to conflict and tension. Led by a veteran union organizer, AWOC’s Larry D. Itliong, the doubtful and frightened grape workers — more than a few with families and mortgages – gathered at the Filipino Community Hall on the evening of September 7 to consider an action that would throw their lives and their community into chaos. They voted to strike.

The next day September 8, 1965, several thousand laborers in about 20 individual farms left the precious crop on the ground and walked off in a unified declaration for a fair wage and decent working conditions for the farm worker.

Growers evicted Filipinos from their homes in the labor camps and hired Mexican scab workers. Violent clashes erupted between law enforcement and strikers, but Filipino workers remained militant.

Itliong made the fateful decision to approach Cesar Chavez and his mostly Mexican worker’s association, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), and asked them to join the strike.

On September 16, 1965, the NFWA voted to join the AWOC. In 1966, the AWOC and the NFWA merged to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. Cesar Chavez was named director, and Itliong served as the UFW’s assistant director from 1966-1971.

Lasting legacy

Fifty years later, the courage to make that stand at such a high risk resonates in the prosperity, diversity and growth of Delano and the Filipino American community nationwide.

Filipino Americans are now the largest Asian American group in California, the state;s third largest minority group, and the second largest Asian American group in the United States.

Latinos and Filipinos are the two of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the nation. Despite the growth of the community, the history of Filipino involvement in the farm workers movement has been largely obscured.

On July 2, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill establishing October 25 as Larry Itliong Day. In 2014, the California State Legislature passed AB123, which calls for students to learn about Filipino American farm labor organizing history. Both bills were sponsored by Rob Bonta.

Recently Union City, California, renamed a middle school the Itliong/Vera Cruz Middle School to honor the UFW vice-presidents. Also, a bridge in San Diego, California, was recently named Larry Itliong/Philip Vera Cruz.

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For more information, visit the FANHS/Delano Chapter Facebook page. For ticket information, a link to Eventbrite event.

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TAGS: Assembly Member Rob Bonta, AWOC, Cesar Chavez, Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers, Filipino American National Historical Society FANHS, Larry Itliong, United Farm Workers

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