Celebrating Larry Itliong and Filipino Heritage Month

  • BY Maha Sanad
  • October 25, 2021
Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez

Larry Itliong and Cesar Chavez.

Courtesy Calisphere

October is Filipino American History Month and a time to recognize an important labor leader in Larry Itliong.

Itliong, who immigrated from the Philippines in 1929, is a widely recognized figure in facilitating labor organizations along the West Coast in the 1960s. Among Itliong’s greatest contributions to the labor movement was organizing and leading Filipino workers in the Delano Grape Strike. He was also a co-founder of the United Farm Workers. 

The labor rights we have today: having an eight-hour workday, having a right to take breaks and lunch, having a five-day workweek, and the idea of weekends; these rights are here because of unionization and labor organizing,” said Dr. Jocyl Sacramento, a professor of ethnic studies at Cal State East Bay.

Although Itliong was one of the most important Filipino American leaders of the 20th century, he is often overshadowed by more mainstream figures of the labor movement, such as Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

“The contributions of Filipina/x/o Americans have been left out of the narrative despite their significant roles in labor organizing and the labor movement,” Sacramento said. “The United Farm Workers union and movement was a significant part of U.S. history that provides an example of cross-racial solidarity and highlights the power of labor and community organizing.” 

In 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared October 25 as “Larry Itliong Day” to honor the World War II veteran and labor rights activist on his birthday. Earlier this month, Itliong was also honored by the California Hall of Fame.

The East Bay has many connections to the farm labor movement. In acknowledgment of this, Union City’s Alvarado Middle School was renamed Itliong-Vera Cruz Middle School to honor Filipino American labor leaders Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz.

“(A significant percentage) of Itliong-Vera Cruz Middle School’s population is Filipina/x/o American. It’s important for students and young people to see themselves in history and learn about the contributions that Filipina/x/o Americans have made in their communities,” Dr. Sacramento said.