California honors Fil-Am labor leader
LOS ANGELES—Hundreds of Filipino-Americans yesterday (Sunday in Manila) gathered in the town of Carson here to honor the legacy of the late Fil-Am labor leader Larry Itliong.
“We are proud to have been instrumental in the movement to have Oct. 25 recognized as Larry Itliong Day throughout California,” said Carson Mayor Pro Tem Elito Santarina, who led the celebration.
Last July, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill proclaiming Oct. 25, Itliong’s birthday, as a commemorative day.
The bill was authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), the first Fil-Am elected to the California state legislature and whose parents had organized farm workers in Kern County.
“I look forward to celebrating tomorrow’s birthday of my personal hero, California hero and Fil-Am farm labor leader Larry Itliong,” Bonta posted on Facebook.
“If you had grapes in your fruit cup this morning, you have to thank Larry Itliong,” said Eric Boyd, deputy district director in the office of Rep. Janice Hahn.
In 1965, Itliong led the “Great Delano Grape Strike” to seek better conditions for farm workers.
He also led the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and merged with the National Farm Workers Association led by labor leader Cesar Chavez to form the famous United Farm Workers of America.
But Itliong’s contributions to the farm labor movement had been overlooked, according to those who fought for recognition for Itliong and other Fil-Am leaders like Andy Imutan and Philip Vera Cruz.
Itliong’s son, Johnny, described the celebration as “overwhelming.” He told the Inquirer: ‘’I’m so grateful. We fought 30 years to get this.”
Consul General Leo Herrera Lim, in his remarks, urged Fil-Ams to learn more about Itliong’s role in California history and the US labor movement.
Itliong, who came from San Nicolas, Pangasinan, also helped establish the Alaska Cannery Workers Union in the 1930s and won a contract calling for eight-hour days with overtime pay.
In 1970, he founded the Filipino American Political Association, the first national political Fil-Am organization.
Yesterday, the first Larry Itliong Day was held at Unidad Park, home to the largest mural depicting Filipino heritage in the United States. The event also celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Filipino mural designed by Eliseo Art Silva.
The Carson event included an awards presentation recognizing, among others, labor and community leadership.
Among the awardees were 92-year-old World War II veteran Franco Arcebal, basketball player Kobe Paras, figure skating champion Michael Christian Martinez, former Sony Pictures senior vice president Fritz Friedman and Hollywood producer and director Dean Devlin.
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