Larry Itliong Recognized During Filipino Heritage Month

Stephanie Sajor and Eddy M. Gana Jr., who make up the spoken word duo Steady, share their poetry at the Larry Itliong day celebration hosted on campus.

Christopher Lazaro, Staff Reporter

Larry Itliong, whose work in civil rights activism is right up there with Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, was at the center of Cal State LA’s Filipino Heritage Month celebration.

The school’s Cross Cultural Center celebrated Larry Itliong Day on Thursday by bringing a variety of music, poems and food to commemorate the civil rights activist and his work for Filipino farm workers.

Itliong helped fellow activists, Chavez and Huerta, create a farm workers union called the United Farm Workers (UFW) of America. The organization helps to “actively champion legislative and regulatory reforms for farm workers covering issues such as worker protection, pesticides and immigration reform,” according to its site.

Itliong started the Delano grape strike on Sept. 8, 1965 among Californian grape farmers. The strike “had been preceded by a successful summertime walkout of hundreds of Filipino and Mexican grape pickers in the Coachella Valley to the south,” according to a New York Times article.

The strike lasted for five years, winning a victory for the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with protections and benefits for the grape workers.

Even with the efforts of labor unions, farmers are still fighting for their benefits and protections to this day. Stephaine Sajor, one of the guest speakers, said that workers are still being mistreated.

“I think there’s still a lot of backlash today when workers want rights, you know? People at the top want to push them back down,” said Sajor. “I think that it’s really important for unions to continue the work that their doing. To build up and get people workers’ rights.” 

Not only was the event to celebrate Itliong, but also to spotlight Filipino Heritage Month. The month recognizes Filipinos all around the world, celebrating the history and culture of the Philippines. According to the government census by the American Community Survey, 1.6 million Filipinos live in California as of 2018.

Despite a large population, there are Filipinos who are not proud of their heritage according to Sajor. She said, “it stems from the lack of knowledge, really from knowing our history and where we come from.”

Sajor went on to say, “I know for me, myself, it’s not that I wasn’t proud, but I would never talk about my heritage… because it comes from a place of ignorance and not knowing. It wasn’t until I learned about our history, like our revolutionary history, that I became really proud of my heritage and started to speak up about it.”

Itliong passed away over 40 years ago, but as a historic figure in Filipino culture, he continues to influence unions in the U.S. such as the UFW to fight for workers’ rights.