The newly formed Delano chapter and its parent organization, the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), will host a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike with a series of events over Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 5 and 6, in Delano, CA. Dubbed “Bold Step,” the weekend will focus on the momentous decision to strike, and celebrate the strike’s legacy in the Filipino American community in Delano and across the nation.
The weekend’s events will kick off on Saturday, September 5 at the Filipino Community Hall, the historic building where the strike vote was taken and the headquarters of the first years of the Grape Strike. The program will include presentations by strike veterans, scholars, community activists, and local community leaders. A highlight of the weekend will be a screening of the Emmy-award winning documentary, Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers. New York-based filmmaker Marissa Aroy, whose family roots are in Delano, will be present. The weekend will also include bus tours of local historic sites.
The Delano Grape Strike began on September 8, 1965, when thousands of mostly Filipino American grape workers walked off of the vineyards in Delano. The Delano Grape Strike sparked the farm labor movement of the 20th century, one of the most significant social justice movements in American history. From the strike came the multiethnic farm laborer’s union, the United Farm Workers.
Moreover, the strike raised global consciousness about the plight of farmworkers. It was a pivotal moment in which Filipino Americans made their largest and most significant imprint on the American narrative. That bold step taken by these Filipino workers -- most of whom were senior citizens in the twilight of their lives -- inspired labor movements and movements for civil rights and social justice amongst Filipino Americans and Americans of all backgrounds.
In the late summer of 1965, the small agricultural town of Delano was energized as thousands of Filipino migratory farmworkers arrived for the grape harvest, as they had done every year through most of the 20th century. The workers, most of whom were members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee union (AWOC, AFL-CIO), were fresh from the Coachella Valley, where they had struck and won $1.40 per hour for the grape harvest. The migrant workforce shared the grocery aisles and streets with the 13,000 or so permanent residents eager to fatten their paychecks from harvesting boxes of Thompsons, Calmerias, and Ribiers – popular varieties of the finest table grapes in the world. With a prosperous season, they could make enough to get by the lean winter months.
When Delano grape growers refused a wage of $1.40 per hour, anticipation and excitement turned to conflict and tension. Led by a veteran union organizer, AWOC’s Larry D. Itliong, the doubtful and frightened grape workers -- more than a few with families and mortgages – gathered at the Filipino Community Hall on the evening of September 7 to consider an action that would throw their lives and their community into chaos. They voted to strike. The next day, several thousand laborers in about 20 individual farms left the precious crop on the ground and walked off on September 8, 1965, in a unified declaration for a fair wage and decent working conditions for the farm worker.
Growers evicted Filipinos from their homes in the labor camps and hired Mexican scab workers. Violent clashes erupted between law enforcement and strikers, but Filipino workers remained militant. Itliong made the fateful decision to approach Cesar Chavez and his mostly Mexican worker’s association, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), and asked them to join the strike. On September 16, 1965, the NFWA voted to join the AWOC. In 1966, the AWOC and the NFWA merged to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. Cesar Chavez was named director, and Itliong served as the UFW’s assistant director from 1966-1971.
Fifty years later, the courage to make that stand at such a high risk resonates in the prosperity, diversity and growth of Delano and the Filipino American community nationwide. Filipino Americans are now the largest Asian American group in California, California’s third largest minority group, and the second largest Asian American group in the United States. Latinos and Filipinos are the two of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the nation. Despite the growth of the community, the history of Filipino involvement in the farmworkers movement has been largely obscured.
On July 2, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill establishing October 25 as Larry Itliong Day. In 2014, the California State Legislature passed AB123, which calls for students to learn about Filipino American farm labor organizing history. Both bills were sponsored by Rob Bonta, the first Filipino American elected to the California State Assembly. Recently Union City, CA renamed a middle school the Itliong/Vera Cruz Middle School to honor the UFW vice-presidents, and a bridge in San Diego, California was recently named Larry Itliong/Philip Vera Cruz.
Speakers and a detailed program will be forthcoming. A link to a schedule of events to date (subject to change). For more information, please visit the FANHS/Delano Chapter Facebook page. For ticket information, please visit the Eventbrite event page.
News story courtesy of FANHS