The Filipino Heroes behind the Delano Grape Strike


September 8, 1965, the protest that made Americans stop eating grapes to support farm workers. That pretty much sums up what we need to remember during the Delano Grape Strike. This historic Filipino American event is something that we should always put into our hearts. Over 2,000 Filipino American workers refused to work in the valley north of Bakersfield, California and walked out as a sign of protest to fight for higher wages and workers' rights which lasted for a long 5-year battle. Two of the Filipino labor leaders who spearheaded this strike are Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong.

Philip Vera Cruz


Photo taken from Institute of Public Relations

Born in Ilocos Sur, Philippines, Philip Vera Cruz was a labor leader who helped organize massive influential strikes and protests to ensure worker’s civil rights. In the year 1926, he immigrated to America with the hopes of providing for the family and pursuing his education. He then worked various jobs as he could get from being a factory worker, restaurant staff, and ultimately a farmworker.

Being a farmworker in California has made him realize how cruel the system is. Workers are drenched in the excruciating heat, exposed to harmful insecticides and chemicals, and poor working conditions in general. This is the driving force that led Vera Cruz to become an ally and join the Agricultural Worker Organizing Committee (AWOC). Eventually, he joined the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), now known as the United Farm Workers (UFW) where he was the longstanding Vice president before he passed away in the year 1994.

Larry Itliong


Image Sources: The bakersfield Californian, AsAmNews, and blogspot

Born in Pangasinan Province, Philippines, Larry Itliong was one of the pioneering organizers and activists that ultimately started the Delano Grape Strike and formed the United Farm Workers (UFW). Itliong has had a strong sense of justice ever since he was a young boy. As a matter of fact, he was 14 when he migrated to America with the aspirations of being a lawyer. But just like most of the Filipino immigrants at that time, he wasn’t given the opportunity to do so and instead worked at canaries, railroads and eventually the agricultural fields of California.

The Badass Hero. Some call Itliong this nickname because he always shows up with his trusty Tobacco and strong demeanor but deep inside this character is a tender heart that cares for every worker that he knows of. He organized for the Agricultural Worker Organizing Committee (AWOC) and later on called upon to organize Filipino grape workers at Delano. He also became the assistant director of the United Farm Workers (UFW). In the year 1977, he died at the age of 63 but he has become one of the foundations of Paulo Agbayani Retirement village which has helped a lot of retired Filipino farm workers since 1974.


The efforts and perseverance of our Filipino Labor leaders paved the way for changes to occur. The strike resulted in a 4 cent per hour increase in wages and those who are wronged were given compensation. It may not have been drastic changes, but it was indeed a victory for the workers.

These brave ‘manongs’ are just two of the hundreds and thousands of Filipinos who moved to America with the hopes of improving their quality of life. But in return, they just became immigrants who are discriminated against, trampled, and exploited for their hard work. Sadly, working conditions like what happened in Delano are still happening today all around the world and not just in agricultural fields, but also in various workplaces.

May we never forget the struggles as part of our history and make sure to follow the path that has been laid before us by our brave-hearted heroes. Continue to fight for what is right and do not be afraid to speak your mind because someone, like Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong, will be there to amplify our voices.


Written by: Monina Antonio

References:
Remembering Our Manongs and the Delano Grape Strike — Positively Filipino | Online Magazine for Filipinos in the Diaspora
https://www.bayaniart.com/philip-vera-cruz-biography/
Larry Itliong - Biography, Achievements & Legacy - HISTORY
Larry Itliong - California Museum


Monina Antonio is a digital marketing intern of PS Media Enterprise. She is currently a 3rd-year Broadcasting student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines- Sta. Mesa.

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