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Larry Itliong

Larry Itliong was born in San Nicolas, Pangasinan on October 19th, 1913. In attempt to seek a better life, he immigrated to America at the age of fifteen. During this time, America was suffering through The Great Depression, which led to many workers, including Larry Itliong to struggle looking for work. He was able to find work in canneries, railroads, and farming. During this time he lost several fingers during work, which resulted in him receiving the nickname “seven fingers.” As Larry Itliong started to navigate through different parts of the country going through several jobs, he started to take note of the mistreatment he and other migrant workers were experiencing in the workplace. Workers would be working twelve hour days and only receiving a little more than a dollar a day. Many people worked under oppressive bosses and  worked in poor living conditions. Itliong decided to take a stand against the injustices and started organizing labor unions. He had to move around different states in search for jobs when he finally settled in Central California doing farmwork. Itliong worked alongside several Filipino and Mexican farmworkers. Alongside other Filipino leaders, such as Philip Vera Cruz and Pete Velasco, Itliong was able to organize 1,500 Filipino farmworkers to strike against the growers. 

Dolores Huerta, a Chicana activist, started to take note of Larry Itliong through his work in the community. She then recruited him to the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in 1960. Larry Itliong soon took a leadership positions within the union but shortly realized that they needed more workers to truly combat the injustices happening in the workplace. Larry Itliong and Dolores Huerta pushed Cesar Chavez and his union, the National Farm Workers Association to fight alongside AWOC. After several convincings from members of the NFWA, Dolores Huerta, Larry Itliong, and his wife, Helen, Cesar Chavez decided to join forces with AWOC. Soon after the two organizations merged to become the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, also known as UFWOC.

 


 

UFWOC started to organize several actions and protests in response to the mistreatment of the Mexican and Filipino migrant workers. One of their most famous protests being the Delano Grape Strike. Alongside Cesar Chavez, Larry Itliong was able to lead thousands of workers in successful protests, such as the 300 mile strike from Delano to Sacramento. They also led several protests outside local supermarkets that sold grapes provided by the growers they were protesting against. The movement started to get attention from the media and many Americans supported and protested alongside the farmworkers. After several successful protests and rallies, the growers had no choice but to create contracts for the labor unions. The contracts included health care, better pay, and better working conditions.

 

 

 In 2015, a middle school in Union City, California was renamed to Itliong Vera Cruz Middle School to commemorate the forgotten leaders of the Farmworkers Movement. Today Larry Itliong’s legacy still lives on. His dedication to his community inspires many young Filipino Americans to combat injustices today. 

Author, Robin Aquilizan