Asian American Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez

When I was a boy, my father took my family and some other family friends to  Half Moon Bay on the California Coast.  We drove through farms to reach the coastal cliffs, where we rappelled down to gather a certain seaweed called Postelsia (Sea palm) that grew on the rocks.  After we climbed back up the cliffs with our harvest, we met what I thought were strange Filipino men.    My father talked to them, and I remember being scared because they were so different from the Filipino servicemen the I knew and grew up with.  Years later did I learn who those men were and why they seemed so different. They were farm workers.  This article, The Forgotten History of Filipino Workers Who Worked With Cesar Chavez from Southern California Public Radio, talks about how Filipino and other Asian American farm laborers worked with Cesar Chavez and were crucial in starting the United Farm Worker labor movement.

A documentary on this subject, The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the UFW, has been created, and I have included a trailer above.  While I had heard about the Filipino farm workers of Delano, I did not know that they started the 1965 Delano grape strike.  I did not know who Larry Itliong was, and I also did not know about the later tension that occurred between Filipinos and Hispanics in the UFW.

It’s ironic that while Asian-American are stereotyped as passive, the history of  the Delano Manongs is not well known.  A quote from the Southern California Public Radio Article:

This past Cesar Chavez Day (March 31) reminds us how forgotten stories can perpetuate stereotypes. Charlotte, an Asian American student leader at Pomona College, asked me how do we ignite people into political action and sweep away the tired public perception of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) as passive and docile.

I asked her if she knew the story of Pilipino or Japanese American farm workers in the fields and she admitted she knew very little. Considering the last of the Pilipino farm workers from an earlier period died in 1997 and very little has been written in any depth, most of the students across all races shared this common amnesia.

I think that many of the current generations of Asian Americans, so involved with the Internet and technology,  forget about the farm workers who came before us.    After understanding their history, those farm workers that I found scary and strange now seem tragic and heroic.  The Delano Manongs is trying to keep their history alive, but needs your help to get enough funding to get it finished and ready for distribution.  You can donate here to help keep the memory of Larry Itliong and the Delano Manongs alive.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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