California school renamed after Fil-Am labor leaders Itliong, Vera Cruz
Fifty years after the Delano Grape Strike of 1965, California farm labor leaders get recognition. Photo courtesy of Filipino Advocates for Justice.
UNION CITY, Calif. - Filipino-American schoolchildren will never look at grapes the same way again. And they have learned the meaning of solidarity because of the single biggest community achievement of their elders in 2015.
The New Haven Unified School District here became the first district in the United States to honor Filipino Americans at the Dec. 18 dedication of Itliong-Vera Cruz Middle School.
The milestone is the continuum of empowerment sowed 50 years ago by organizers Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz.
As leaders of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, they reached out to Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the Mexican farm workers called the National Farm Workers Association. That solidarity birthed the United Farm Workers and sparked the Delano Grape Strike of 1965 that forced unionization of farm labor in the Golden State.
The triumphant school dedication rites culminated a two-year effort that caught fire with a petition. Just like the Grape Strike half a century ago, the movement gained support from first-through-third-generation Filipino Americans clamoring for recognition for their pioneers.
In its April 16, 2013 brief, the District said: "The Board instructed District staff to formulate an implementation plan and secure funds to cover costs before the name change takes effect. Community groups have pledged to cover the costs, estimated at approximately $15,000."
The board of education voted to rename the school - where 1 in 3 students reportedly is Filipino, in a town where Filipinos famously make up around 80 percent of the residents - after the two Filipino greats, in September 2015.
On October 25, California celebrated its first Larry Itliong Day, commemorating the birthday of the labor hero. The historic day is another gift to the community via Assembly Bill 7 by Assembly Member Rob Bonta, who learned his first steps at farm camps while his activist parents Cynthia Arnaldo and Warren Bonta supported the Strike.
Bonta, too, penned AB123 legislation requiring public schools to include the contributions of the Filipino farm workers in the state curriculum.
“With the enactment of AB 7 and AB 123, the contributions of Filipino Americans to the farm labor movement will become a more commonly known part of California’s rich and vibrant collective history," Member Bonta said of the bills signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown. "A central piece to that story is the pivotal role Filipinos played in sparking the Delano Grape Strike of 1965. Larry Itliong played a critical role on that transformative evening 50 years ago. And his subsequent collaboration with Latino leaders, including Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, demonstrated his visionary leadership in understanding the importance of uniting behind shared goals and refusing to be divided.”
Filipino Advocates for Justice, one of the community organizations at the forefront of the renaming efforts, trumpeted the dedication rites with a video of the schoolchildren proudly singing the union song on its website.
"It was not an easy route to get here but it reminds us that real solidarity is never easy and that our movements are bigger than the individuals within. This is a significant moment in recognizing the work of the Filipinos in challenging oppressive systems and fighting to empower and strentghen the most vulnerable. May it serve as a reminder to continue fighting for social justice, economic justice, and to realize democratic and human rights for everyone," the revered agency based in Oakland and Union City put the achievement in perspective while praising the sectors behind it," the revered nonprofit put the occasion in perspective while praising the collaborators who pressed for it. -- Philippine News