Bill Seeks Commemorative Holiday for Filipino American Leader

A mural in Historic Filipinotown highlighting the legacy of prominent Filipino American leaders. Larry Itliong is featured at center bottom.
A mural in Historic Filipinotown highlighting the legacy of prominent Filipino American leaders. Larry Itliong is featured at center bottom. | Photo: Kenny Chang/Flickr/Creative Commons License

As California schools begin to add curriculum about the contributions of Filipino Americans to the farm labor movement, a new proposal could enhance those lesson plans even more. Earlier this month, a state bill submitted to the legislature looks to proclaim a special day in honor of one of the movement's leaders.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) -- the first Filipino American elected to the Assembly -- introduced AB 7, which would require the state of California to observe Larry Itliong Day annually on Oct. 25, the day of his birth. October is also Filipino American History Month.

"While Filipino Americans comprise an ever-growing population in California, their contributions to the farm labor movement have been largely overlooked," Bonta told KCET in an email. "I am excited to have the opportunity to provide a voice for the Filipino American community -- a community whose contributions have been historically under-emphasized in the story of our state."

Itliong was a prominent Filipino American farm labor organizer and leader who improved the lives of farm workers by fighting for equal rights, better conditions, and wages in California, during the '60s and early '70s. He worked alongside prominent Mexican American civil rights leaders like Cesar Chavez to find common ground and create a union between a majority of Filipino and Mexican American farm workers. After merging, the groups later became known as one united entity: the United Farm Workers.

But the contributions of Itliong have been largely brushed aside and overlooked, and advocates like the Pilipino Workers Center in Los Angeles' Historic Filipinotown are working to bring back his legacy and that of other Filipino Americans.

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Itliong led the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee which consisted of a majority of Filipino American farm workers. Itliong and many other Filipino American farm workers like Andy Imutan, Philip Vera Cruz, and several others spearheaded the Delano Grape Strike of 1965 in Delano, California, and organized protests against unfair conditions and wages.

As a result of the strike, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and the National Farm Workers Association merged and became known as the United Farm Workers. After working alongside Chavez with the UFW movement, Itliong shifted his focus to fight for Filipino American retired farm workers' rights.

In 2010, Carson City became the first city in the U.S. to officially establish Larry Itliong Day. Other municipalities that have recognized Larry Itliong Day include Elk Grove and Los Angeles County.

Itliong not only represents the role of Filipino Americans in the movement, but also represents his work with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and other important labor leaders. It also reflects the collaborative efforts between both the Latino and Filipino communities, Bonta said.

In the past, Bonta has introduced similar legislation such as AB 123, which would require social science curriculum to incorporate instruction highlighting the contributions of Filipino Americans in the farm labor movement. Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law in 2013.

Bonta was raised at the United Farm Workers headquarters in La Paz in Kern County where his parents organized farm workers. He was inspired to introduce the bill after his personal involvement with the farm labor movement. "My parents raised me to value public service and encouraged me to give back to the community," he said.

Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, executive director of the Pilipino Workers Center, supports the proposed legislation, which she says will go one step further toward incorporating the history and achievements of Itliong in the education system.

Numbering more than 1.1 million in California, Filipino Americans are the largest Asian American group in California.

"Filipinos are the largest (Asian and Pacific Islander) population in California, and that legacy really should be in our history books," Soriano-Versoza told KCET. "Major historical facts have been missing from our history books for many decades, and it's encouraging that the more complete story may now be told in our classrooms."

AAPI Civil Rights Heroes - Larry Itliong from Advancing Justice - ALC on Vimeo.

Soriano-Versoza says that in the last decade, farm workers in California were finally able to win overtime pay. Currently, overtime pay for agricultural workers is required in California, Hawaii, and Maryland.

"I always ask people:'Have you heard of Larry Itliong,' and almost no one has heard of him," said Soriano-Versoza. "Everyone should know Larry Itliong just as much as Cesar Chavez, and for the same reasons."

- Departures: Historic Filipinotown, in the Present Tense
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