An afternoon with Larry Itliong: His vision to have more Filipinos run for office in America

The legendary Larry Itliong. 1969 photo by Bob Thurber. From the Walter P. Reuther Library

The legendary Larry Itliong. 1969 photo by Bob Thurber. From the Walter P. Reuther Library

By Ludy Astraquillo Ongkeko, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note: At a Filipino American forum during the 40th anniversary of the Agbayani Village last week, Filipino activists discussed that labor leader Larry Itliong spearheaded with others the establishment of the Filipino American Political Association. TheFilamLA writer Dr. Ludy A. Ongkeko visited Delano in the late ‘60s and interviewed Itliong. These are her fond recollections of the visit.

 

In the fall of 1969, Alex Esclamado, editor and publisher of the Philippine News, the Filipino American weekly that had a coast-to-coast paid circulation, led a group of FilAm state community members to Kern County’s Delano to meet with Larry Itliong, the FilAm stalwart of the successful Grape Strike of 1965.

Itliong and the now known group called the “Delano Manongs,” gave their visitors a resounding welcome.

At that time, the Filipino American Political Association (FAPA), the brainchild of Esclamado, was already established with Itliong as its first president, its members recruited nationwide.

History has proven that the victorious Delano Strike was formed formidably against the backdrop of the 1965 boycott that led thousands of farm workers and their families to organize the United Farm Workers, myriad thanks to the pioneering efforts of Itliong.

As a tried and true highly admired farm labor organizer, Itliong became a distinctive voice of the Filipino American in the early quest for political empowerment. Hence, Itliong sided strongly with the organization of FAPA, supported its growth, and continued to be one of its most formidable pillars.

(Today, over time, FAPA has evolved into the National Association of Filipino American organizations all over America: NAFFA; it has stood at the forefront of all that its founder, Alex Esclamado dedicated his lifetime crusade for the cause of the Filipino American.)

Flashback to that 1969 Delano visit: after customary introductions, this piece’s humble author was requested by Alex to sound out Itliong’s reflections on political empowerment.

In all clarity, Itliong was ‘at home’ with Alex’s objectives. He did not hesitate to expound on what could be expected from the Filipino in all walks of life. Initially, we conversed in Ilocano when Larry inquired about my hometown.

Larry informed me he was from Pangasinan, one of the larger Northern Luzon provinces.

With my knowledge of the Itliong leadership in organization and leadership, my queries on political empowerment surfaced.

“I would like to see more Filipino Americans run for public office. They can start at their town/city level. To be in politics in this country is not at all what Filipinos
have to go through in the Philippines.

“Candidates here (referring to California) do not need the ‘big funds’ that politicians in the Philippines require. They just must have rendered unquestionable service whenever their past records are available.”

The above opinions represent gems of wisdom 45 years ago from Larry Dulay Itliong, one of the staunchest FilAms whose leadership was tested ‘in the finest hours,’ when the aforementioned Delano Grape Strike of 1965 took place and resulted in success that overwhelmed the country.

By organizing more than 1,500 Filipinos to strike against those behind the ownership of the grape farms of Delano, Itliong’s achievement close to half-a-century-mark ago, was not just historical. It was inspirational. It was the start of a collaboration between Filipinos and the followers of Cesar Chavez’s Chicano movement, the United Farm Workers (UFW) which successfully came into being.

Today, that spark not only has been lighted between the Filipinos who played a pivotal role with Itliong at the helm, and the supporters of the Chavez group. The leadership roles, as contemporary reports have been prone to indicate, show fellowship collaboration has been observed. It continues to flourish among those from other ethnic origins.

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