Finally a recognition from UFW: ‘Manongs’ initiated the Great Delano Grape Strike of 1965

Cerritos Mayor Mark Pulido (right) facilitates discussion with sons and daughters of Delano, including Johnny Itliong and filmmaker Marisa Aroy.  Photos by Tet Valdez & Evangeline Rodriguez of TheFilAmLA

Cerritos Mayor Mark Pulido (right) facilitates discussion with sons and daughters of Delano, including Johnny Itliong and filmmaker Marisa Aroy. Photos by Tet Valdez & Evangeline Rodriguez of TheFilAmLA

By Cecile Caguingin Ochoa

DELANO, California – At the 40th anniversary of Agbayani village in this city June 21 officials of the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) joined Filipino leaders in recognizing that the “Great Delano Grape strike of 1965” was initiated by the Filipino farmers or the “manongs of Delano.”

The retirement complex was named after the Delano Grape striker “Manong Paulo,” who died from heat exhaustion in 1967 while picketing the Perelli-Minetti Winery in Delano.

“At first it wasn’t in the plans of Cesar and Dolores Huerta,” both icons of the labor movement, to initiate a strike in 1965, but after studying the Filipinos’ proposal to launch a strike in the fields, Chavez yielded. Cesar gave full credit to the Filipinos for starting the Great Delano Grape Strike,” said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez in his speech.

In response to this recognition, the son of farm leader Larry Itliong, Johnny, said UFW may have to change its website to clarify that Chavez and his group did not solely form the powerful union.

This inspired the planning of a second Filipino conference in the afternoon, convened by Filipino American leaders to focus on the continued lack of mainstream knowledge of the important role of the ‘manongs’ in the improvement of conditions of all farmers.

The morning celebration at the Forty Acres, where Agbayani Village has been preserved as a national treasure gathered more than 500 attendees composed of UFW officials and members with community activists seeking recognition for the Filipino farmers’ leadership in the grape strike.

Attendees came from Connecticut, Nevada, San Diego, San Francisco, Delano and Los Angeles. Many were relatives of the Delano ‘manongs,’ known as a formidable backbone of the farms of central California.
Others were former students in the ‘70s who came to help build the village alongside the farmers and longtime Filipino advocacy groups.

A few others tilled the soil of Delano themselves during their childhood, side by side with their parents (before child labor laws were put in place), including Johnny, Lorraine Agtang, first manager of the Agbayani Village and MaryJane Galviso, owner of Ilokano farms, among others. Rose Ibanez, who accepted the UFW “anchor award” on behalf of her husband California Library Commissioner Florante Ibanez, remembers: “Students from varies cities came to help in building the village in the 70s. From San Diego – Henry/Herb Tuyay, Rick Ranches, Mike Gomez, Mario Yco, Amelia Isa; in LA – Florante, Cas and Jennifer Tolentino, Henry Empeno, Paul Fernandez, Lee/Lillian Tamoria, Allan/Glen Constantino, the late Ester Soriano, Prosy and Enrique DelaCruz, Jaime Geaga, Edgar DeGuzman; in San Francisco/Bay Area – Emil DeGuzman, Cathy Tactaquin, Bill Tamayo, Marline Pedregosa. Chris Briaga organized many of the brigades up/down California cities & campuses,” she told TheFILAMLA.

Paul Chavez, son of Cesar and head of the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation, recognized the “anchor crew,” volunteers in the building of the village through an award ceremony.

Dolores Huerta, a close ally of Cesar Chavez was among the speakers, explained the importance of the building efforts.

“Agbayani Village symbolized the movement’s highest regard and recognition of the Filipino farmers; it provided a place for the Filipino immigrant workers who had no relatives, no pensions to rely on,” she said.

The second equally important afternoon event was held at the nearby Delano Filipino Community Center on Glenwood Street, not only to celebrate the Agbayani Village’s historical importance, but also explore actions towards achieving visibility and political clout.

Many of the attendees in the afternoon event had seen the film “Cesar Chavez” and were concerned about the film’s marginal treatment of Larry Itliong’s leadership in the Great Delano strike. Facilitator Steve Arevalo told a gathering of advocates and history buffs that he sent out 250 letters to protest the historical inaccuracies in the Chavez movie, including some addressed to UFW officials.

A political strategist based in San Jose, Arevalo cited that “it is in this very hall where the signing of the contract between the Itliong-Chavez’ group and the growers for better conditions, took place.” How can the movie eliminate Itliong from that historical scene when his signature (in the contract improving wages and conditions) appeared with that of Chavez!”

Marker welcomes visitors to Agbayani Village

Marker welcomes visitors to Agbayani Village

Photos and memorabilia of the Delano ‘manongs’ as union leaders

Photos and memorabilia of the Delano ‘manongs’ as union leaders

It was also an afternoon of reminiscences.

“I was 12 and sitting on the fourth row of chairs at this Hall when my father Mariano Laya “Bob” Armington, who was the foreman of the George Lucas ranch, presented a motion to strike on that September day,” said law professor and administrative Judge John Armington, son of a Filipino mestizo.

“After the votes came in, my father blew the horn signifying strike at noon on September 8 and in three hours this hall was filled with people who had left their grape harvest in crates at 108 degrees laying on the ground. In the following days, donated food came from all over to support the strikers – I have never eaten so much corned beef in all my life!” he recalled.

The Delano Grape strike began on September 8, 1965 when 1,800 members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), who were mostly Filipino farm workers, walked off the farms of 33 local table-grape growers because they wanted better working conditions and their current wages to be raised to equal the federal minimum wage.

The AWOC was led by Philip Vera Cruz, Larry Itliong, Benjamin Gines, and Pete Velasco, among others. One week after the strike began, the AWOC was joined by the predominantly Mexican-American Mexican-American National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), led by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Richard Chavez.

Future direction
“Where do we go from here?” Mark Pulido, the first Fil-Am mayor of Cerritos asked a speakers panel composed of sons and daughters of Delano who had witnessed the events of the Delano strike and the beginnings of UFW.
Regional Attorney of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Bill Tamayo, lawyer Armington, political activist and writer Rodel Rodis were among those who formed a second panel.

Pulido was a student in UCLA when he co-founded with his sister Marissa Pulido Rebaya the Agbayani Village Pilgrimage Organizing Committee on the Centennial of Philip Vera Cruz’s birth in December 2004.

“I was only 5 years old when it was dedicated on June 21, 1974. My connection to the ‘manongs’ and Agbayani Village was when I first met Manong Philip Vera Cruz as a freshman at UCLA in 1987 and developed a very close relationship until his passing in 1994. I continued visiting Delano annually to this day,” Pulido said.

Civil rights attorney Tamayo was already a law student when he participated in “two building brigades in Agbayani” in the early ‘70s. A leading litigator for the federal agency, Tamayo said work in the village “opened our eyes to the important contributions of these early immigrants to the U.S. labor history.”

He and other panelists urged attendees to “find out what’s going on in the community; don’t just stay home.”
Marisa Aroy, producer of the highly acclaimed “The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers, “ who earlier in the day presented the film to UFW and guests, joined the second event. Aroy grew up in nearby Bakersfield, which is also a huge farming community. Her film will be shown on PBS. Many attendees praised the documentary in bringing out the real story behind the Great Grape strike that changed the conditions of labor laws out in the fields.

“It’s amazing to me that Marisa’s film was presented at Forty Acres before UFW leaders,” Armington told TheFilamLA.

Rodel Rodis was teaching when he learned about the ‘manongs,’ their strike and the building of Agbayani village in the ‘70s. The movement inspired him to lead his students on weekend trips to the camps in Delano where some of the farmers were housed.

“The students got to meet Philip Vera Cruz and brought us to the camps of the still living manongs and we would have conversations about their experiences,” Rodis remembered.

Congresswoman Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, was among the celebrants to the 40th Anniversary of Agbayani. She was then a UCLA student inspired by the Delano strikers’ struggles to build the village. Among the plans generated by the second event was following up on the status of AB 123, now a law signed in October by Governor Jerry Brown, to re-writing California textbooks for 7th to 12th graders to reflect the important role of Filipino farmers in the U.S. farm and labor movement. The new law states that pupils must be instructed about the influence of Filipino Americans and their culture on the farm labor movement.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Inquirer.net, a content partner of TheFILAMLA.

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