Multi-ethnic coalition to inaugurate Itliong resource center
Recent California Hall of Fame inductee and Filipino American labor hero Larry Itliong Jr. lived and died believing solidarity overcomes adversity and empowers communities. Now, Itliong’s allies and their descendants are collaborating to preserve his vision, at a first-ever all-day commemoration of his birthday and the inauguration of the Larry Itliong Resource Center Oct. 24 in Poplar, California.
The Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Delano, UC Davis’ Bulosan Center of Filipino Studies and the newly formed Central Valley Empowerment Alliance (CVEA ) will gather at “We are a Living Legacy” to honor the organizers, participants and supporters of the farm worker movement.
“This year, it is with intentionality that we uplift stories of the Farm Worker Movement not often told, like the Yemeni and Yokut Indigenous and Poplar farm workers’ contributions to the struggle,” said CVEA Executive Director Mari Perez-Ruiz.
“Our intention is to uplift stories that have not been often told, without being selective ,because they are still part of Our Story,” CVEA board member Cynthia Bonta echoed the objective to Inquirer.net.
CVEA identifies as a community development nonprofit to “empower through transformative change.”
Perez-Ruiz describes the CVEA membership as “multi-ethnic…grassroots…stretching five counties (Madera, Fresno, Tulare, King, and Kern) within the Central Valley most rural communities and the urban centers of Fresno, Madera, Visalia and Bakersfield.”
Through community education and voter registration campaigns, the CVEA aims to “hold decision-makers accountable to effectively respond to the needs of our most vulnerable community members, including low-income residents, senior citizens, and people with disabilities,” says Perez-Ruiz.
Itliong’s fellow labor leader and National Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta will keynote the 11-hour celebration spanning nearly 30 miles, as if to replicate the famous Solidarity March of 1966. That demonstration resulted in the unionization of farm labor.
Following are the highlights of the collaborative celebration:
⁃ Open House Reception and tour of the Center
⁃ Campesino de Poplar, a photo exhibit by photojournalist David Bacon
⁃ Portrait of a Legacy, an exhibit by filmmaker/documentarian/ photojournalist Adam Perez
⁃Born to a Movement, artwork by Carlos Perez David, creator of the Apple logo
⁃Dedication of the Larry Itliong Resource Center
⁃Journey through Poplar’s Farm Workers History, Caravan through Road 192 from Poplar to Delano, Historical Tour of Delano, Solidarity March and rally from Agbayani Village to Reuther Hall in 40 Acres.
“We expect 500 people to attend including the families of movement leaders Cesar Chavez, Larry Itliong and Al Rojas,” shared Bonta, who was a student at Pacific School of Religion and member of its Social Concerns Committee in 1965 when she volunteered at the strike in Delano on weekends.
Perez-Ruiz lauded the offices of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, US Rep. Barbara Lee, Attorney General Rob Bonta, State Treasurer Fiona Ma and Assembly District 18 Rep. Mia Bonta for supporting the event.
“The rally will be a fitting close to a day of commitment to a legacy of hard work, perseverance, belief in humanity, passion for justice, solidarity and unity of spirit,” says Perez-Ruiz, who first heard of and was inspired by itliong while attending Larry Itliong Day sponsored by Office of Assembly District 18 Member Rob Bonta.
Then-Assembly Member Rob Bonta, one of Cynthia Bonta’s three children, introduced AB7 creating Larry Itliong Day in California enacted June 30, 2015.
“History was changed, but those stories weren’t being told in the history books, weren’t being captured, and it was important to me for that to change especially in the most diverse state in the country,” said now-Attorney General Bonta.
Since Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill designating Itliong’s birthday Oct. 25 to recognize Itliong’s work, advocates for farm workers pause to celebrate the late FilAm leader. Some 1,500 Filipinos joined the walkout clamoring for fair pay and humane working conditions.
The honoree was born Larry Dulay Itliong in San Nicolas, Pangasinan, on Oct. 25, 1913. He was 15 when he came to the United States as a US National by virtue of the annexation of the Philippines, thereby exempted from the exclusion of Asians by the Immigration Act of 1924.
Itliong defied the “docile Filipino” stereotype. As a migrant worker, Itliong roamed the country where jobs were available. His experience spurred his activism. In Washington state, he joined the lettuce strike in the 1930s. In Alaska, he co-founded the Alaska Cannery Workers Union.
After World War II, Itliong settled down in Stockton,California, where he eventually led the asparagus strike of 1948. There he formed the Filipino Farm Labor Union in 1956. Shortly afterwards he and other pioneer Filipino workers organized the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.
As AWOC head, Itliong reached out to United Farm Workers assistant director Cesar Chavez to join forces in protest. Together, the coalition of Filipino and Latino workers and their allies compelled the growers to abide their demands.
Cynthia Bonta reminded Itliong’s achievement was “not only by bringing together Filipino, Mexican and Yemeni farmworkers to strike, leaving the growers with no one to pick the grapes but also brought millions of people to stop buying them.”
“The solidarity among the farmworkers and the coming together of the community that depended on them for their food was the vital ingredient that brought about success. The October 24 Larry Itliong Day celebration is a call for organizers and the community to come together in solidarity to meet the new problems of the day and do the work that still remains to be done,” she told Inquirer.net.
“We are a Living Legacy” is open to the public. To attend, contact CVEA (559) 854-7251 or visit https://www.cvempowermentalliance.org/.