Anniversaries are always a good time for reflection, and as the 21st century moves through its mid-teens, we can look forward to momentous 50th anniversary celebrations for many of the Civil Rights Movement’s most important landmarks. This very weekend, farmworkers in California’s Central Valley will be descending upon the small agricultural city of Delano to celebrate a watershed moment in the 20th century farm labor movement that ultimately led to the formation of the multicultural United Farm Workers (UFW).
But contrary to the popular perception of the farm labor movement, the Delano Grape Strike was not started by Mexican and Chicano migrant workers. The driving force behind the bold and far-reaching labor strike were actually Filipino workers who constituted the second largest ethnic group working under dismal conditions in California’s seasonal harvests. And as Remezcla has thoroughly documented over the years, Filipinos are basically our Asian primos, so it’s logical that their struggle was the same struggle that hardworking Latino communities throughout the West Coast experienced.
Led by Larry D. Itliong, then head of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), the Delano Grape Strike signified an incredibly risky maneuver for Filipino workers demanding a decent living wage that would help tide them over during the difficult low season. Unsympathetic farm owners quickly replaced thousands of workers who walked off their farms with Mexican scabs, and tensions eventually spilled over into violent confrontations.
That’s when Itliong approached César Chávez and Dolores Huerta of the predominantly Mexican National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and proposed a multicultural alliance, and the rest is history. The two ethnically aligned unions merged into the UFW with Chávez as President and Itliong as Vice President, and the destinies of the Mexican- and Filipino-American civil rights movements were forever bound together.
For a more detailed primer on the historic strike, New York-based filmmaker Marissa Aroy – who herself has roots in Delano – has made a short documentary entitled Delano Manongs: The Forgotten Heroes of the UFW. Available on Vimeo’s pay-per-view VOD platform, Delano Manongs digs deep into the visual archives to put faces on the otherwise anonymous farm workers who risked their livelihood to take on big agro. Along the way, it also happened to pick up an Emmy Award.
A public screening of Delano Manongs takes place in Delano, CA on September 6 as part of the “Bold Step” celebration honoring the 50th anniversary of the strike.