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California gov signs law honoring Pinoy labor leader Larry Itliong

Los Angeles, CA – On the morning of June 30, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 7 establishing “Larry Itliong Day” every October 25.

The FILAM LA learned this immediately from a jubilant call from the labor leader’s son, Johnny Itliong.

“October 25 is my dad’s birthday and this law is a huge step for both the Itliong family and the Filipino communities in our efforts to change history books to reflect the important contribution of our agricultural workers in this country,” the young Itliong told THE FILAM LA.
Johnny Itliong, son of agricultural leader Larry Itliong honors the memory of his father during a recent trip to the Agbayani Village in Delano. Photo by The FilAm LA
Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) who sponsored the bill had announced on June 22 that his bill to establish “Larry Itliong Day” in California passed the Senate with unanimous and bipartisan support (37-0).

After barely eight days, the Governor signed AB 7 into law proclaiming Itliong’s October 25th birthdate as “Larry Itliong Day” in the state. This encourages public schools to teach about Itliong’s life and contributions to California.

“Larry Itliong was one of the greatest labor organizers and leaders in California history. He was a hero not only to the Filipino American community, but for all Californians and Americans who fought and continue to fight for socioeconomic and racial justice in our state and nation. AB 7 properly honors his life’s work as a great historical leader for our state,” said Bonta.

Larry Itliong led the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), which was the first to strike for improved wages and working conditions in Delano in 1965 – launching the California farm labor movement. AWOC and the National Farm Workers Association, led by Cesar Chávez and Dolores Huerta, joined forces soon thereafter.

In a press statement, Bonta stated that it was the urging of Itliong, that Chavez and Huerta started the now internationally-famous United Farm Workers of America.

“While the farm labor movement is often seen predominantly as a Latino movement, it encompassed much more than just one ethnic group. Filipino American and Latino labor leaders built a beautiful collaborative relationship to create the farm worker movement in California, and Larry Itliong played a critical leadership role in that movement. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to recognize his contributions to California,” Bonta concluded.

Assemblymember Bonta is the first and only Filipino American ever elected to the California State Assembly, and he explained that it’s important to him that the story of the Filipino American experience in California – a story that up to now has been largely untold – be told.

AB 7 is supported by the Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO; Asian Americans Advancing Justice; Asian Pacific Environmental Network; California College and University Police Chiefs Association; California History Center Foundation De Anza College; California Immigrant Policy Center; City of Berkeley; Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles; Filipino American Coalition for Environmental Society; Filipino American National Historical Society, Santa Clara Valley Chapter; Filipino Senior Citizen Association; GK 1 World Foundation; Little Manila Foundation; Philippine National Day Association; Philippine Weekend, Inc.; San Francisco State University; and Yerba Buena High School.

Working as a chef in Northern California, Johnny Itliong said in an interview with THE FILAM LA that “while there are not as many Filipino farm workers in California as in the past, still the same struggles among agricultural workers of all ethnicities, persists. By making everyone know about how my father and other labor organizers improved working conditions, we can honor their memory appropriately and help inspire us to continue to work for changes.”

“Recognition of Larry Itliong, with origins from the Philippines, as a leader in the labor and agricultural arena in America, is long overdue,” said Amy Alley, Communications Director of Bonta’s office.

Bonta received his Bachelor’s degree in History and Law from Yale. His mother, Cynthia Bonta was an anti-Martial Law activist who ensured that her son was updated with Philippine-American issues as he was growing up.

As the first Filipino American elected to the California State Assembly, Bonta is committed to the cause of farm workers, according to his mother, ensuring that the legacy of the farm workers is properly taught to the children of California. He is also the godson of José Gomez, executive assistant to labor leader César Chávez.

In an earlier interview with The FILAMLA in Delano, Cynthia said, “Rob is a child of history, shaped and molded by history around him. His world view was influenced by experiences growing up at La Paz where we immigrated to in 1971.”

Advocates of ‘Larry Itliong Day’ and recognition of Filipino Americans’ leadership in the farm labor movement in the country have been conducting yearly visits to the Delano Community Hall, the Agbayani Village, among other places.

Assembly member Bonta represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro. Bonta Chairs the Assembly Health Committee; the Public Employees, Retirement, and Social Security Committee; and the Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color. He is also a member of the following committees: Appropriations, Budget, and Budget Subcommittee No. 1 on Health and Human Services, Joint Legislative Budget, and Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management. —The FilAm LA