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How Cesar Chavez Joined Larry Itliong to Demand Farm Workers' Rights

January 22, 2021 in History

By Adam Janos

Itliong may not be as well-known a name as Chavez, but his role among Filipino-American workers was as critical in the 1965-70 Delano grape strike—if not more.

In the late 1960s, grapes grabbed national attention—and not in a good way.

Newly organized farm workers, fronted by Mexican-American civil-rights activist Cesar Chavez, asked Americans to boycott the popular California fruit because of the paltry pay and poor work conditions agricultural laborers were forced to endure. Using nonviolent tactics like marches and hunger strikes, grape pickers made their plight a part of the national civil-rights conversation.

It took time, but their efforts paid off: In 1970, after five years of the so-called Delano grape strike, farm workers won a contract promising better pay and benefits. A few years later, their efforts led to the passage of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which established collective-bargaining power for farmworkers statewide.

Cesar Chavez (TV-PG; 3:59)

But while Chavez has been honored with a national monument, a postage stamp and three state holidays, he wasn’t the only catalyst for change. Or even the leading one. Rather, it was Larry Itliong, a Filipino-American organizer, who led a group of Filipino-American grape workers to first strike in September 1965.

“The Filipinos were far more radical” than the Mexican-American farm workers, says Matt Garcia, a professor of history at Dartmouth College and the author of From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement. “They were focused like a laser, and decided that they were going to force the issue.”

Who Started the Delano Grape Strike?

The farm workers of Central California’s San Joaquin Valley largely hailed from two groups: Mexican-Americans and Filipino-Americans. But while they performed the same jobs in the same fields, they had arrived into California’s agricultural industry via very different routes.

The first big wave of Filipino migration to the U.S. came between the two world wars. According to the book Little Manila is in the Heart by Dawn Mabalon, more than 31,000 Filipinos came to California between 1920 and 1929, many in search of agricultural work. Most came from rural areas of the Philippines, having sold off farm animals, crops and small parcels of land in order fund the 7,000-plus-mile journey across the Pacific.

As a group, they were more than 90 percent male. And because anti-miscegenation laws forbade interracial marriage in California, …read more


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