When asked about the United Farm Workers grape strike of 1965, we often think of the name César Chávez. What most people don’t know is that Chávez was not the one who started the strike; it was a man named Larry Itliong.
Clarissa Jovellanos worked along side fellow SU student Marta Gamez to organize the event.
Itliong immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in 1929. He was a farmworker who would eventually lead the United Farm Workers strike. Itliong was one of the heads of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, which eventually joined forces with the Chicano National Farm Workers Association led by Chávez to create the United Farm Workers.
In remembrance of this historical movement, Seattle University’s United Filipino Club and MEChA hosted an event last Tuesday in their first ever joint effort.
The event was called “Isang Bagsak: Reflections on Our Untold Histories,” and it included a screening of the documentary “Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers.” The documentary tells the story of Larry Itliong and the Filipino farm workers whom spurred the Delano Grape Strike and whom are mostly unnoticed by history.
“I think that the reason that most people don’t know about the Filipino role in the movement is because history is told from the perspective of the colonizers, and they want to keep our history from us so that we don’t know where we came from,” said senior social work major Clarissa Jovellanos, who was also a part of the planning committee for the event.
Johnny Itliong, the son of Larry Itliong, was the keynote speaker at the event. Johnny described the major influence his father had on his life, as well as the lives of everyone his father met.
“My father did so much for people and asked for so little back. He really was a great man,” Johnny said. “He spoke for those who couldn’t speak, and fought for those who could not fight.”
An SU student tracing his family’s immigration path.
The goal of the event was to inspire attendees to learn more about their own history and create solidarity with others.
“Explore outside your textbook and your classroom. Critically think about what you are given, because there is so much more outside those materials,” Jovellanos said.
The walls of the room in which the event took place reflected the intertwining histories of the Latino and Filipino cultures. There was a timeline that reflected the precolonial, colonial and neo-colonial histories of the two cultures. There was also traditional clothing on display and a three-dimensional map where attendees could take a string and stretch it between the points where their ancestors came from and where they, the attendees, are now. This was meant to be a visual display of the intersection of the histories of various cultures.
“To build solidarity, we need to find the parallels between different groups and peoples. When we build parallels, we find our commonalities as people,” said Celeste Duran, a community member who attended the event.
In addition to creating solidarity, leaders are an important part of any movement. Individuals like Larry Itliong inspire many people to discover what it means to be a leader.
“Larry is such a good example of a leader. He recognized the importance of collaboration,” Jovellanos said. “He didn’t care about recognition, money, or fame. His motivation was his desire to do the right thing and help others.”
The United Filipino Club and MEChA decided to come together to plan this year’s event because their histories are bound together, and they want to follow the advice of Larry Itliong.
“Actions are greater when more people are involved,” said sophomore communications major Marta Gamez, who is also a member of MEChA.
The event ended with a unity clap, which was originally used by migrant workers to signal the end of a workday. The unity clap overcame language barriers and united the workers.
Attendees of the event left with a greater understanding of history, and in the wishes of Johnny Itliong, were newly invigorated leaders.
Bailee may be reached at