Larry Itliong: The Manongs’ leader in the farm, pride of Pinoys

by Elpidio R. Estioko

October is Filipino-American History Month. Actually, it’s American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and as we celebrate it, we honor Larry Itliong, a highly influential leader whose pivotal role in the farm labor movement left a long-lasting legacy for all of us.

However, his legacy somehow is not remembered and not celebrated by many, just like how many remember and celebrate labor organizer Cesar Chavez, so the government declared the month of October as Filipino-American month with Larry Itliong at the helm for people to know how he and his group contributed to California’s labor movement and the states of Alaska (cannery) and in sugar plantations across the Hawaiian Islands.

Itliong was born on October 25, 1913 in San Nicolas, Pangasinan, Philippines as Modesto “Larry” Dulay Itliong and immigrated to the US in 1929 at the age of 15.

He made his living working as a farm laborer and in Alaska’s salmon canneries. As a Filipino laborer, Itliong faced poverty and racism but became a charismatic and effective labor organizer and champion for social justice.

Organizations are highlighting his contributions to the farm labor movement, so we can trumpet his achievements, just like any other labor leader/organizer. In fact, his son Johnny is making a personal crusade to let people know about his father’s contributions to the California labor movement.

It’s been said that Cesar Chavez inspired the world, but not known to many, As I See It, Larry Itliong actually inspired Cesar Chavez, as shown in the Delano Grape Strike in 1965 which was started by Itliong and his Delano Manongs and was later joined by Chavez.

In an era known for civil rights movements, Itliong fought for better working conditions in a country thousands of miles from his homeland of the Philippines, by the time he landed on US soil up to his death.

He organized West Coast agricultural workers starting in the 1930s and rose to national prominence in 1965, when he, Philip Vera Cruz, Benjamin Gines and Pete Velasco, walked off the farms of area table-grape growers, demanding wages equal to the federal minimum wage, that became known as the Delano Grape Strike of 1965.

He has been described as “one of the fathers of the West Coast labor movement.” He is regarded as a key figure in the Asian American labor movement.

In 2022, recognizing his heroic efforts, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a proclamation declaring October 25, 2022, as “Larry Itliong Day” in the State of California.

The proclamation states:

“Today we celebrate the trailblazing Filipino American labor leader, civil rights champion and California Hall of Fame Inductee Larry Itliong. Born on this day in 1913 in a province of the Philippines, Larry Itliong immigrated to the United States as a youth in 1929, where he trailblazed farm labor movement… We honor the great contributions of Larry Itliong and the Manongs whose hard-fought battles helped advance farm workers’ rights and social justice. Let us remember their message of “Isang Bagsak!” – we are all connected together in our fight for justice, and we rise and fall together.”

Itliong immigrated to the U.S. in 1929, hoping to become a lawyer, but he ended up working in the Alaskan fish canneries and along the West Coast as a farm laborer.

During that time, he experienced how badly laborers were treated. With this, he saw the power of working together to advance their cause. He became an activist and organizer to achieve their goals.

Following his service in the U.S. Army during World War II, Itliong became a U.S. citizen and in 1954 moved to Stockton’s Little Manila, where he organized the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC).

He was so good at recruiting new members that union leaders asked him to move to Delano to organize Filipino grape workers. It was there that he helped change the history of farm labor.

On Sept. 8, 1965, he led AWOC members in walking off the grape vineyards to demand wages equal to the federal minimum wage and better working conditions. But Itliong knew that for the strike to succeed, they needed members of the National Farm Workers Association to join.

He approached NFWA’s leader, César Chávez, with the proposal. On Sept. 16, the AWOC and NFWA joined forces beginning the Delano Grape Strike and Boycott. It lasted five years and was one of the most important social justice and labor movements in American history, ending with victory for the farm workers.

In the meantime, the AWOC and NFWA merged in 1966 to become the United Farm Workers (UFW), with Chávez as director and Itliong as assistant director.

In 1971, Itliong left the UFW but continued to work for Filipino Americans until his death in 1977 at age 63. One of his major successes was securing funding for the construction of the Paulo Agbayani Retirement Village in Delano, which has provided housing and support for retired Filipino farmworkers since 1974.

Itliong spent his life standing up for his belief that “everyone has equal rights and justice, but you have to make that come about.” He died on Feb. 8, 1977, leaving a legacy of activism that inspires us all.

In October 2013: Assembly Bill 123, authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, CA District 18, sought the inclusion of Filipino American farmworker history into K-12. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Bonta’s Filipino Farm Worker Bill, AB 123 on October 2, 2013.

On April 9, 2015, the California State Assembly unanimously passed a bill designating October 25th as “Larry Itliong Day.”

In 2013, a documentary entitled, The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the UFW, highlighted the role of Filipinos in the farm labor movement led by Larry Itliong.

That same year, the New Haven Unified School District in Union City, California, renamed Alvarado Middle School to Itliong-Vera Cruz Middle School in honor of Itliong and labor partner, Philip Vera Cruz, the first school in the United States to be named after Filipino Americans.

In 2018, a children’s book, Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong, was published. The Larry Itliong Papers are housed at the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Get the latest stories from Hawaii Filipino Chronicle straight to your inbox! Subscribe to our FREE newsletter here.

ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist here in the US. He just published his book Unlocking the Chain of Poverty: In Pursuit of the American Dream which is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Xlibris Publishing. For feedbacks, comments… please email author at

About Author

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.