23ABC Community Connection


How Filipino-American Farm Workers Pioneered the Delano Grape Strike and Boycott of 1965

Posted at 7:53 AM, Oct 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-22 10:53:15-04

You may have heard of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, but a Filipino-Historian
says they weren’t necessarily the pioneers of the labor rights movement in Kern County. To kick off Filipino-American History Month, here’s a story not often told:

Filipino-American, Alex B. Edillor was born in the Philippines and raised Delano. He still recalls in vivid detail at just ten years old, a historic after school surprise from his parents in September of 1965.

“I had the whole house to myself. I would make me a sandwich and watch cartoons in the afternoon, a little piece of heaven,” Alex B. Edillor, Founder, Filipino American Historical Society, Delano Chapter explained. “But I came home to find my afternoon of fun and pleasure was disrupted, because my mom and dad were home. They told me that they went on strike!”

Of course, Edillor adds that he realized the significance of two thousand Filipino-American Farm workers laying grapes on the ground instead of in their packaging before walking out. Edillor had worked in the fields himself as a kid and watched the news with his family religiously.

But now, the Edillors were a part of history--a movement spearheaded by labor organizer, Larry Itliong. He was a Filipino-American who helped raise wages for farm workers in Coachella Valley, before securing a unanimous vote at the Filipino Community Hall in Delano to go on strike.

“My father and other workers who went to Coachella Valley in the summer to work and would come back home to Delano,” Edillor said. “They had experienced the wizardry of Larry, if you will.”

Edillor points out that this predates Cesar Chavez’s civil rights efforts. He
says that Filipino labor leaders like itliong recognized that they could not accomplish change alone. so, Itliong reached out to Chavez who, according to Edillor at first said, “I’d love to join you brother, but we’re not ready!”

As the history books tell us, Chavez did end up joining the movement with itliong days after on Mexican Independence day, and the labor workers movement became what we know it to be today.

Ultimately, Edillor says it was the work of Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, and all the farm workers who marched with them that changed the course of Filipino-American life in Delano forever: Including Delano’s first Filipino city councilman--eventually mayor, the union producing the first health clinic in the area, and regulation on pesticides.

“We loved our town. We just wanted a bigger piece of the pie," Edillor said.
Edillor further emphasizes that filipinos in delano have come so far, with more jobs in the city than when he grew up. Local Filipino-Americans are not just in agriculture, but the medical field, public office, and other industries.

And in 2019, Governor Gavin newsom recognized October 25, as Larry Itliong
day, which also happens to be his birthday!