Larry Itliong was one of the leaders of the Delano grape strike in the mid- to late-1960s.

442: Larry Itliong’s Fight for Farm Workers’ Rights

How the Delano grape strike was actually started by Filipino American laborers

Larry Itliong was one of the leaders of the Delano grape strike in the mid- to late-1960s.

Welga! Project

Words by Samantha Pak

The 442: A JoySauce column named after the military unit, designed to school you (in all the best ways) on accomplished Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders of the past. Asians have been shaping American history, culture, food, politics, identity, and more for centuries—it’s time we acknowledge what’s been left out of most textbooks.

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While history books largely credit Mexican American activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta as the labor leaders behind the Delano grape strike and boycott, it was actually Filipino American laborers who started the movement in 1965.

One of the leaders of that movement was Larry Itliong (1913-77).

Itliong immigrated to the United States in 1929 when he was 15. He immediately began working as a farm laborer and in salmon canneries in Alaska. He endured poverty and racism that made it practically impossible to pursue an education to realize his dream of becoming an attorney. But through labor organizing, Itliong was still able to seek justice for the poor.

Following World War II, Itliong settled in Stockton, California, becoming heavily involved in the local Filipino community. He founded the Filipino Farm Labor Union in 1956 and by 1965, was leading the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), the majority of which were Filipinos. In 1965, he was asked to organize Filipino grape workers in Delano and convinced more than 2,000 farm workers to go on strike to demand better pay and working conditions.

Itliong was the one who reached out to Chavez and asked the Mexican farm workers to join them. Chavez took Itliong’s request back to the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). After a unanimous vote, the Mexicans joined the Filipinos about a week after the strike began. A year later, AWOC and NFWA merged to form the United Farm Workers (UFW), which still exists today.

The Delano grape strike and boycott lasted five years and ended with better pay, benefits and protections for the workers.

Itliong understood it would take all workers — regardless of race — standing together to win their fight. And yet, it’s Chavez who became the face of the movement.

Even to this day, on the UFW’s web page chronicling the Delano grape strike and boycott, Filipino contributions to the movement are only mentioned in passing and Itliong doesn’t even appear.

But Filipino American contributions to the movement are starting to get recognized. The National Park Service has added The 40 Acres and Filipino Community Hall to the National Park System. The former, which has been designated a national historical landmark, was the former UFW headquarters and site of Paulo Agbayani Retirement Village, a home for former Filipino farm workers (which Itliong also fought for). The latter was the site of many meetings and organizing efforts during the strike.

Published on December 15, 2022

Words by Samantha Pak

Samantha Pak (she/her) is an award-winning Cambodian American journalist from the Seattle area and assistant editor for JoySauce. She spends more time than she’ll admit shopping for books than actually reading them, and has made it her mission to show others how amazing Southeast Asian people are. Follow her on Twitter at @iam_sammi and on Instagram at @sammi.pak.