Bill, seeking to recognize FilAm contributions to California’s farm labor movement, gets bipartisan vote

Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong in a Historic Filipinotown mural

By Cecile Caguingin-Ochoa

“Kids of immigrant families will have a sense of pride knowing that their own heritage contributed to the farm and labor movements in this Country,” beamed Rose Estepa Ibanez as she learned last week that AB 123 sponsored by Assembly member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) passed the critical support of the Assembly with an overwhelming bipartisan vote.

AB 123 will require public schools to include in its curriculum the contributions of Filipino Americans to the farm labor movement in California.

Ibanez said she recognizes that AB 123 still has to go through more legislative steps before becoming a law. “I am committed to join other community organizations to raise awareness about the bill,” said the Carson resident.

“The goal of AB 123 is to supplement California’s rich farm worker history with the contributions of the Filipino American community. The Filipino American population composes the largest Asian population in California and continues to grow; yet the story of Filipinos and their crucial efforts to the farm labor movement is an untold part of California history,” according to a press release from Assembly Member Bonta.

Ibanez who chairs the Carson Community Engagement Board and was part of the second wave of immigrants to this country in the 50s (military and their families) said it is unfortunate that “growing up in America we didn’t know about our complete history and it was only through sketchy word-by-mouth stories from our relatives that we would hear there were Filipino leaders in the farm worker movement. If the bill materializes into a law our textbooks will officially tell that story,” she continued.

An-chi Tsou, Science & Technology Fellow from Bonta’s Office said AB 123 is being referred to the Senate (“most likely, the Education Committee”) and then to the Fiscal Committee for appropriations around summer. AB 123 will then be a Senate Bill that will go through another process of votes.

Tsou said support for the bill snowballed among Filipino American students and their parents up north and now has a good following in SoCal. To date, several hundred individuals and organizations have sent their support for AB 123 (Bonta) including the cities of San Diego, Berkeley, Carson, California Federation of Teachers, the Consulate General of the Philippines in San Francisco, The Filipino American Press Club of LA (est. 1978), Inc., among others. Letters of support can be faxed by individuals and organizations to Assemblyman Rob Bonta, Attention An-Chi Tsou Fax (916) 319 – 2118.

Bonta initiated the bill because of his personal heritage and history. Bonta was raised as a child in La Paz, the United Farm Workers’ headquarters, where his parents organized Filipino American and Mexican American farm workers. Bonta is also the first Filipino American elected to the California State Assembly and the godson of Jose Gomez, Executive Assistant to Cesar Chavez.

Assembly Member Rob Bonta

“AB 123 would give students a more complete account of California’s farm labor movement and ensure that these important leaders, such as Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong, are remembered by future generations of Californians,” Bonta stated.

Jhony Itliong, son of farmer-leader Larry, continues to promote the legacy of his father and his generation of farm workers by giving testimonies among community groups in California. Early this year, he met with the Filipino American Press Club of Los Angeles, Inc. to show a trailer of a documentary “The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers.”

According to the film, Filipino migrant workers had been union organizing since the 1920’s. The film, produced by Marissa Aroy, depicted the older Itliong as one of the leaders of the Delano Grape Strike of 1965 which led to the establishment of the United Farm Workers.

In a statement after passing AB 123, Bonta stated “the historical significance of vastly influential leaders, such as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, are rightfully synonymous with California’s farm labor movement. What is missing from the story is that the Delano Grape Strike of 1965 was led by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, comprised of first generation Filipinos. A week later, the National Farm Workers Association, led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, joined the strike and by the fall of 1966, the numbers grew to approximately 2,000—almost entirely Filipino and Mexican workers, joined together in a powerful collaborative movement. The combined forces grew the movement to approximately 10,000 by 1970.”

Dolores Huerta, who was recently inducted into the California Hall of Fame as an iconic social justice and labor rights activist, stated that she did not want to miss this historic opportunity to support AB 123. “The students of California need to learn that the sacrifices made by both the Filipino and Latino workers benefitted all Californians. AB 123 will ensure that the history is taught accurately.”

Cecile Caguingin Ochoa is a freelance writer. She obtained a Master of Arts in Public Administration from the University of Southern California (USC) and a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of the Philippines. Cecile has co-published two books of Philippine folk anthology. She works for the L.A. County managing its Mediation Program for employment discrimination. She and her husband Dante – also a journalist — have three sons.

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