Q&A: Author of book about Larry Itliong talks about why she writes about Filipino-American history

March 2, 2019 /

The National Book Tour for “Journey For Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong” first kicked off in early February with a three-day event in Delano, the birthplace to one of the most significant American social movements of all time.

The book is written by scholar Dawn Mabalon and Gayle Romasanta and illustrated by Andre Sibayan. It highlights Larry Itliong’s fight against discrimination, unfair wages and poor working conditions for farm workers.

The children’s book is the first Filipino-American history book and the first book ever written about Larry Itliong. With the lack of acknowledgement of Filipino-American heroes and their legacies, the book sheds a light for the education and culture building towards not only the Filipino communities but throughout the nation.

Providing an accurate timeline of events and nonfictional stories, Mabalon and Romasanta were able to reveal a whole new perspective and hidden treasures of the infamous 1965 Grape Strike.

South Kern Sol’s Zhakeila Cabico sat down with Romasanta to talk about the vision behind the book.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What do you hope readers take aware from reading your book?

A: I hope it inspires people to tell their story and to tell their families stories and to investigate who they are and where they came from. I think that it is very important for communities and families to know that. You come to the United States, and you’re supposed to assimilate. Not many people think that way, but this is America, and you need to keep your culture, and you need to share that with others, and you need to find pride in it. It is powerful, and it is valuable.

Q: On a personal note, what inspired you to write about Filipino-American History?

A: I’m from Stockton, and I grew up with the Manongs. When I was thirteen years-old, I went to the Philippines, and so my two worlds — with being American and with being born in the Philippines — collided. I think from there, I had so much empathy, and I had so much love for my community, my family and for everybody who came before me because I definitely understand the struggle behind these stories.

Q: If you were to give advice to Filipino youth, what would it be and why?

A: I would definitely say, one, get your education, regardless. Find something, love it, and be the expert at it. And share the information with others. Also, investigate your family, investigate the elders who don’t say anything and don’t tell you stories. And if you don’t have family members or if you don’t feel close to them, then you need to ask others in your community and for sure someone will tell you something.

Q: What inspired you and Dawn to write a children’s book specifically?

A: I called Dawn, and I said, ‘Hey listen. We need to write a children’s book about Larry Itliong.” She was all for it. She was writing her adult biography of Larry Itliong so it was perfect for her.  I think it was just to get as many people to know about Larry Itliong and to know Filipino-American History, the people and the community. She was going to teach this at the university level and then her words could also reach out to inner research to younger folks. So I think that was definitely the reason for why we did this —  to reach far and wide. And for me, the younger, the better. That was definitely my feeling when I reached out to Dawn to talk about this project.

Q: What did you learn while writing the book that you didn’t know before?

A: I think the raw dates of when everything was happening and how things fit together. And how in the larger context with what was happening, in laws and policy and how that affected our community so much. I think, really though, the larger context would be reminded. I’m not a student activist anymore, I’m a mother to four so I think what does that mean for me now. So these were all very new emotions and learning this story at a different part of my life that I wasn’t as a young person.

Q: Starting with the book, what further actions will you do to expand the education of Filipinos in America?

A: We’re going to unveil the teacher’s guide today. That’s based on this book. We’re also writing books, so we have other books coming that talk about other Filipino-American heroes — women and the men in our community.

Zhakeila Cabico

Zhakeila Cabico is a youth reporter from Delano for South Kern Sol.