By Ailene Q. Ignacio
Growing up in Los Angeles, you are ingrained at an early age with the monumental value of the warrior, Cesar Chavez. You know him not only as the Mexican-American father of the United Farm Workers (UFW), but as the fearless leader and activist who birthed the Delano Grape Strike of 1965-1970.
However, while Chavez did indeed pivot the past and current movement for farm worker rights in California and all over the country, many of us are still unaware of the fact that Chavez did not actually conceptualize and activate the strike initially.
Rather, the Delano Grape Strike was initiated by a humble, yet militant man by the name of Larry Dulay Itliong. A native of the Republika ng Pilipinas (more commonly known as the Philippines), Itliong led numerous unionization and labor justice movements as early as 1940s.
Originally the leader of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), Itliong started one of the longest and most noteworthy farm worker strikes, the Delano Grape Strike, on September 8, 1965. Chavez, who was then the leader of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), did not join the strike until 8 days later on September 16, 1965. Eventually, both groups combined to created the UFW, which carried on this movement until 1970, and is still active today.
I kindly share my acquired knowledge and understanding not to dismiss Chavez’s importance. Rather, I would like to bring to the foreground Itliong’s courage and bravery, and highlight a key contribution made by Pilipinos and Pilipino-Americans in this movement. Furthermore, I hope to further emphasize the fact that we, the underserved and overlooked people of this country, have always been most successful when we fight together to achieve our commonly-sought goals of justice and equity for all.
Today, as we Angelenos, Californians, and Americans celebrate the face that sparked a change in the way we mobilize and organize, let us also equitably recognize and acknowledge the heart of the movement that continues to shape our activism in the present day, especially in the food, health, and labor justice movements.