THE BLOG
06/05/2014 02:01 pm ET | Updated Sep 16, 2014

Latino-Filipino Solidarity That Won the Delano Grape Strike Is Behind the 40th Anniversary of the Agbayani Village

Hundreds of Filipino Americans and farm worker movement activists will gather outside Delano, Calif. on Saturday, June 21 for a day of observances marking the 40th anniversary of the dedication of the Paulo Agbayani Retirement Village for elderly and displaced Filipino grape strikers. Organized by the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the United Farm Workers of America, this celebration also honors the Delano Manongs, or respected ones. These heroic Filipino workers began the historic 1965 Delano Grape Strike and helped build a movement that gave meaning to all of our lives.

They are a too often overlooked but key part of the UFW's proud history. The racism endured by the Manongs was also a shameful chapter of California history. How they overcame prejudice and oppression is an inspiring story that must be preserved.

Please join us at this historic event in Delano marking an important milestone in a grass roots poor people's movement. You can register online or at http://action.ufw.org/page/s/40AV We are also searching for photos of the Manongs or Agbayani Village. If you have any, please contact us at ufw@ufw.org.

The Manongs were imported from the Philippines as young men during the 1920s and '30s. They labored for decades in canaries and fields up and down the West Coast. Filipino women were not allowed and the Manongs were barred from marrying outside their race by California's shameful anti-miscegenation laws. Filipino farm workers fiercely resisted exploitation for decades through organizing and strikes. They primarily comprised the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), formed in 1959.

Led by Larry Itliong, Peter Velasco and Philip Vera Cruz, AWOC members began the Delano vineyard walkouts on Sept. 8, 1965. Following a longstanding practice of pitting one race against another, grape growers started recruiting Latinos as strikebreakers. So Larry Itliong and AWOC asked Cesar Chavez, who with Dolores Huerta led the mostly Latino National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), to join their picket lines. Cesar thought it would be years before his fledgling union was ready for major field actions, but decided there was no choice. NFWA members voted to join the strike on Sept. 16, 1965, Mexican Independence Day.

Soon cries in Tagalog of Mabhuhay! and Viva La Causa! in Spanish both rang out in the vineyards.

There was initial grumbling about working with the Filipinos from a few Latino NFWA members. "They wanted to take a vote to discriminate," Cesar was quoted in Sal Si Puedes: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution, Peter Matthiessen's 1969 biography. "Those of you who don't like it, I suggest you get out," Chavez told a union meeting. "Or even better, I'll get out and join the Filipinos." The two unions merged in 1966 to form the UFW, with Cesar as director and Larry Itliong as associate director.

"Hi brother," Cesar said to AWOC union leader Pete Velasco when they first met, relates Lorraine Agtang, one of the last surviving AWOC strikers from 1965. "Pete responded in the same way. For the rest of their lives, they never called each other by any other name. That symbolized the genuine solidarity that both races practiced." (Pete Velasco retired years later as UFW secretary-treasurer, the second highest-ranking union officer.)

Filipinos and Latinos together endured great personal sacrifices during a five-year grape strike that rallied millions of North Americans to their cause through an international grape boycott. The solidarity that crossed racial lines helped win the grape strike as growers signed their first union contracts in 1970, firmly establishing the UFW as the first successful farm workers union in U.S. history.

Some Manongs proudly joined other grape strikers by returning to work under the protections of their hard-won union contracts. Fred Abad served on the negotiating committee of Coachella Valley grape workers at David Friedman & Co., helping Cesar negotiate the first UFW agreement with a table grape grower. Platon Agtang refusal to break the strike over its five years. With seven children to support, he rejoined the migrant trail, traveling for months at a time as far away as Stockton. When the strike was won, he and his family, including daughter Lorraine, went back to work under union contract for three years. (The Agtangs all walked out on strike again in 1973, when grape growers refused to renegotiate their UFW pacts, sparking a second massive grape strike.)

Other Manongs--most of them were in their 50s and 60s when the 1965 grape walkouts began--became too old to work in farm labor after the strike ended in 1970. Without families, most of them did not have decent places to live.

So with help from hundreds of volunteer laborers, the farm worker movement built the 58-unit Agbayani Village on its Forty Acres property west of Delano in 1974. Lorraine Agtang, the first manager, joined other Manongs in recruiting village residents from farm labor camps as far away as Salinas and Stockton. There they lived their final years in comfort and dignity within thick adobe-brick walls built in the Mission style. The village offered a recreation room, a Filipino menu prepared in a community kitchen plus health care and social services at an adjacent farm worker movement clinic and service center. Brother Fred Abad was the last Manong to live there before he died. The village still serves as affordable housing.

Most people associate Latino farm workers with the 1965-1970 grape strike. Cesar Chavez always made it a point to fully credit the Manongs who began it--and who stuck it out for five years with Latinos and some other strikers who were African American and Anglo.

The Manongs are all gone now. But hundreds will gather on June 21 near Delano to mark four decades since the Agbayani Village was dedicated and to recognize the volunteers who helped build it. They will also to celebrate the courage and solidarity of the Manongs whose example is a lesson we should keep alive. For more information or to attend, visit: http://action.ufw.org/page/s/40AV