“On the 108th anniversary of his birth, we honor the great contributions of Larry Itliong and the Manongs whose hard-fought battles helped advance farmworkers’ rights and social justice,” Newsom said.
By Jo Erlinda Maufit
SACRAMENTO – As part of California’s celebration of Filipino American Heritage Month, Governor Gavin Newsom has issued a proclamation declaring October 25 as “Larry Itliong Day” in the state in honor of the Filipino American labor leader.
“Today, on this 107th anniversary of his birth, we recognize the great contributions of Larry Itliong and the Manongs, whose hard-fought battles helped advance farmworkers’ rights and social justice,” Newsom said in the proclamation.
“During Filipino-American Heritage Month, we celebrate the birthday of trailblazing Filipino-American labor leader, organizer and California Hall of Fame Inductee Larry Itliong,” Newsom added. “This month, I had the honor of inducting Mr. Itliong into the California Hall of Fame.”
October 25 happens to be the birthday of Itliong, who is best known as one of the labor leaders who started with some 1,500 Filipino workers the Delano Grape Strike on September 8, 1965 calling for higher wages and better working conditions. Mexican labor leader Cesar Chavez and his United Farmworkers later joined the strike.
The Delano Grape Strike, which lasted for five years, resulted in a victory for the farm workers.
Earlier this month, Itliong, a native of San Nicolas, Pangasinan who migrated to the United States at age 15, was honored by posthumously inducting him to the California Hall of Fame for “his incredible impact on our state and unapologetic advocacy for those without a voice.”
“Sometimes the Hall of Fame gives us the opportunity to bring outstanding Californians out of the shadows when their contributions to society have been largely overlooked in history books,” California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom said during the Hall of Fame ceremony. “And there is no better example of that than Larry Itliong.”
Itliong was recognized posthumously with others, including artist Ruth Asawa, singer Jerry Garcia, rock music icon Ritchie Valens and gay rights activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin.
According to the California Museum, Itliong became “one of the most important civil rights leaders of the 20th century and a father of the West Coast labor movement.”
Itliong immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines at the age of 15 and became a migrant worker. Due to his experience of working in the Alaskan fish canneries and along the West Coast, he became an activist for farm laborers.
After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II and becoming a U.S. citizen in 1954, Itliong moved to Stockton, where he organized for the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC).
“He was so good at recruiting new members that union leaders asked him to move to Delano to organize Filipino grape workers. It was there that he helped change the history of farm labor,” the California Museum stated.
Itliong led the AWOC and joined forces with the National Farm Workers Association to start the Delano Grape Strike and Boycott, which, according to the California Museum, “lasted five years and was one of the most important social justice and labor movements in American history, ending with victory for the farmworkers.”
Itliong continued to serve the Filipino American community until his death in 1977. Another one of his successes includes securing funding that provided housing and support for retired Filipino farmworkers, the museum stated.
In the proclamation, Newsom said Itliong also organized the asparagus strike of 1948, the first major agricultural strike after the war.
Itliong later partnered with other farmworker organizers like Cesar Chávez and Dolores Huerta, in leading the Delano Grape Strike.