OCA Celebrates Larry Itliong Day
Monday, October 26, 2015
Posted by: Justin Trinidad
Today, we celebrate Larry Itliong Day, the birthday of the forgotten hero of the labor movement in America. This important movement in Asian Pacific American history has been left out of textbooks because this narrative has primarily been perpetuated as a solely Mexican one. We must remember to attribute the success of the labor movement to the valiant efforts of both Filipino and Mexican laborers, and acknowledge how oppressed people of color in labor helped ignite the fight for civil rights we continue today.
Like many of our parents, grandparents, and the generations before us, Larry Itliong came to the United States in search of opportunity, having once said, “You go to the United States where they pick money on trees.” However, he immediately faced a bleak reality where hardworking Filipinos had little to no rights, because they would earn less than a dime an hour and were not allowed to own property, marry, or start families due to their status.
The most significant of the labor strikes was the Delano Grape Strike of 1965, where for the first time, Filipino and Mexican workers came together to fight for their rights in solidarity. While Filipinos and Mexicans were historically set against one another to suppress wages and workers’ rights, Itliong knew Filipinos could not succeed on their own and approached Cesar Chavez’s Farm Workers Association. The Delano Grape Strike of 1965 marked an important turning point in Filipino American History not only because of the victory for unionization, but also through the multiethnic alliances we formed. This collaboration paved the way for future alliances and continues to serve as a model of working in solidarity to ensuring that all people of color are able to obtain the civil rights they deserve.
Only recently has Filipino American history been celebrated officially after Congress passed a resolution marking October as Filipino American History Month, despite the fact the very first Filipinos traveling in a Spanish galleon arrived on the central coast of California on October 18th, 1587. It is vital to learn about the history of all groups within the Asian Pacific American family so we can understand one another better and celebrate the victories we have all contributed.
Isang Bagsak, the beacon of solidarity between Filipino and Latino allies, was the uniting motto for the labor movement. Literally translated from Tagalog as “one down, one fall”, Isang Bagsak provided a common method of communication to express the shared experiences and obstacles between the laborers. The history of Filipino Americans is reflective of the greater Asian Pacific American narrative, which began as a largely segregated existence of oppression and ultimately resulted in the opportunities through the collaboration of advocates and civil rights heroes in our community.
We must remember that we, as the Asian Pacific American community, are not alone in the obstacles we continue to face. Larry Itliong’s dedication and successes in the labor movement continue to propel the work we do as an organization. Through our fight for immigration reform and advancing educational opportunities through data disaggregation for the APA community, OCA remains dedicated to working with other minority groups and building effective coalitions. Together with our allies, we must continue to fight for civil rights and advocate for the voiceless.
OCA National Civil Rights Fellow