COMMENTARY: It’s time to start remembering the forgotten heroes of the Grape Strike

November 2, 2018 /


Clusters of grapes on vines grow for miles and miles in Delano, and within those vines lie the untold stories of the infamous Grape Strike of 1965. Farm workers from all walks of life decided to unite to fight for better working conditions. The roots of the valuable crop not only boosted labor throughout the Central Valley but also defined my own community of Delano.

But what many don’t know about the strike is some of those farm workers were Filipino. Another Filipino-American National History Month, celebrated in October, has come and gone, and community members are still unaware of the history behind the grapes that grow in our community.

There is much to be said about the unique history that Filipinos have left here in America, but unfortunately, most of these stories have been either erased or neglected in history books or hardly talked about. In a community that is deeply rooted in culture and diversity, I shouldn’t have to fight for the recognition of individuals who initiated a revolutionary movement that is falsely acknowledged, but I do.

These revolutionists are the Delano Manongs. Known as the forgotten heroes of the United Farm Workers, the Delano Manongs consisted of Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, Pete Velasco and Andy Imutan.

Throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s, these heroic figures organized successful strikes and formed unions. As a result, they saw significant improvements in farm workers’ wages and work conditions. However, the better working conditions didn’t last long. That’s when the Delano Grape Strike began in the 1960s.

The Filipino farm workers played a pivotal role in the labor rights movement, and to celebrate these heroes, Delano started the annual Philippine Weekend celebration in 1974. This is the one weekend out of the entire year where people of all ethnicities take time to learn about the Filipino culture. As one who takes pride in her culture, this is not enough.

There are a few national landmarks standing in Delano; however, they are often not recognized. Students don’t learn about them in school, and families don’t talk about them at home.

For the longest time, I was unaware of Agbayani Village and Forty Acres, which is where UFW and Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) meetings took place during the labor movement.

We should be restoring and publicizing these historical landmarks. Young residents of Delano should grow up understanding the roots of their community, because with knowledge, comes pride.

Last October, I toured the Filipino Community Hall, the San Jose Rizal Bridge and the Agbayani Village. Visiting the Agbayani Village got me interested in all the untold stories of my community’s history. I felt a deeper connection with my own culture and heritage.

After the tour, I got to meet the children of the Delano Manongs. They shared their stories of growing up during the Grape Strike, and they were incredible.

So, why are the stories of the Delano Manongs never told when talking about the Grape Strike?

There should be a park that commemorates the members of the Delano Manogs, just as Cesar E. Chavez park does. Or maybe on Oct. 25, the community can celebrate Larry Itliong Day, just as they do on Cesar E. Chavez Day.

If there are no tributes that recognize the work of the Delano Manongs, how can we expect the community to know the true rich history of Delano?

As time passes, culture will shift and history will become less and less clear. But if we start to educate ourselves now about all the hidden roots of Delano’s history, we will be able to preserve it.

Zhakeila Nario Cabico is a 17-year-old Filipino student from Delano.