Delano Grape Strike begins

Delano Grape Strike begins


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September 8, 1965 marks the beginning of one of the most important strikes in American history. As over 2,000 Filipino-American farm workers refused to go to work picking grapes in the valley north of Bakersfield, California, they set into motion a chain of events that would extend over the next five years. We know it as the Delano Grape Strike.

READ MORE: When Millions of Americans Stopped Eating Grapes in Support of Farm Workers

Filipino and Mexican immigrants had worked for decades along the West Coast, moving with the seasons to harvest the region's crops. The Filipino contingent in particular was growing restless, as many of the workers were aging and anxious for decent medical care and retirement funds. When one of their number, labor organizer Larry Itliong, declared a strike on September 8, he asked for the support of the National Farm Workers Association and its Mexican-American founders, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Although Chavez had reservations about his union's capacity to pull off the strike, he put the issue to the workers, who enthusiastically joined.

The strike lasted five years and went through a number of phases. From the outset, the already poor farm workers faced opposition from law enforcement and cruel attempts at sabotage by the growers—some reported that farmers shut off the water supply to their meager dormitories. As frustration grew and workers increasingly spoke of violence three years into the strike, Chavez decided to go on a hunger strike, emulating his hero Mahatma Gandhi. In addition to ending the calls for violence, the hunger strike drew further attention to the movement, earning praise from figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

The union, by then known as the United Farm Workers, also called for a boycott of table grapes. Individual households stopped buying grapes, and union workers in California dockyards let non-union grapes rot in port rather than load them. Eventually, the industry could take no more, and the growers came to the table. In July of 1970, most of the major growers in the Delano area agreed to pay grape pickers $1.80 an hour (plus 20 cents for each box picked), contribute to the union health plan, and ensure that their workers were protected against pesticides used in the fields.

"We said from the beginning that we were not going to abandon the fight, that we would stay with the struggle if lit took a lifetime, and we meant it," Chavez said of the grueling strike. "[Soon] all grapes will be sweet grapes again."

READ MORE: Cesar Chavez: His Life and Legacy


Radical roots of the great grape strike

Fifty years ago, the great grape strike started in Delano, when Filipino pickers walked out of the fields on September 8, 1965. Mexican workers joined them two weeks later. The strike went on for five years, until all California table grape growers were forced to sign contracts in 1970.

The strike was a watershed struggle for civil and labor rights, supported by millions of people across the country. It helped breathe new life into the labor movement, opening doors for immigrants and people of color. Beyond the fields, Chicano and Asian American communities were inspired to demand rights, and many activists in those communities became organizers and leaders themselves.

California’s politics have changed profoundly in 50 years. Delano’s mayor today is a Filipino. That would have been unthinkable in 1965, when growers treated the town as a plantation.

But a mythology has hidden the true history of how and why the strike started, especially its connection to some of the most radical movements in the country’s labor history. Writer Peter Matthiessen, for instance, claimed in his famous two-part 1969 profile of Cesar Chavez in The New Yorker: “Until Chavez appeared, union leaders had considered it impossible to organize seasonal farm labor, which is in large part illiterate and indigent…”

After 50 years that curtain of silence is lifting. Dawn Mabalon, a history professor at San Francisco State University, has documented the radical career of Larry Itliong, who headed the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), one of the two organizations that carried out the 1965 strike. Itliong not only shared leadership with Cesar Chavez, but actually started the strike. In tens of thousands of words Matthiessen only mentions Itliong twice, in passing.

The Delano strike was not spontaneous or unexpected. It was a product of decades of worker organizing and earlier farm worker strikes. Leaders of the grape strike, like Itliong, had helped organize previous unions, including ones expelled from the CIO in the anti-communist purge of 1949.

The timing of the 1965 strike was not accidental. It took place the year after civil rights and labor activists forced Congress to repeal Public Law 78 and end the bracero contract labor program. Farm worker leaders then acted because growers could no longer bring braceros into the U.S. to break strikes.

The 1965 strike did not, in fact, start in Delano. In Coachella, where California’s grape harvest begins, Filipino workers went on strike that summer. They won a 40¢/hour wage increase from grape growers, and forced authorities to drop charges against arrested strikers.

Larry Itliong organized the Coachella strike. He and the Filipino workers of AWOC then started the walkout in Delano. Itliong had a long history as an organizer, going back to the 1930s. He was a protégé of Ernesto Mangaoang, a revered leader of the CIO union for Alaska fish cannery workers, Local 7 of the United Cannery, Agricultural and Packinghouse Workers of America. Itliong himself ran for office in that union.

The Federal government accused Mangaoang of being a Communist during the McCarthyite hysteria, and tried to deport him to the Philippines. After UCAPAWA (renamed the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers) was destroyed in the 1949 purge of the CIO, Local 7 was taken in by Harry Bridges’ union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. It became ILWU Local 37, and today is part of the ILWU’s Inland Boatman’s Union.

In leftwing unions Filipinos and other farm workers mounted huge agricultural strikes in the 1930s. After World War Two, Local 7 struck Stockton’s asparagus fields in 1949. Itliong was active in that strike, as was Chris Mensalvas, who later became Local 37 president. The Federal government also tried to deport Mensalvas as a Communist.

In the early 1950s Filipino farm workers continued to organize with the National Farm Labor Union, headed by Ernesto Galarza (author of Factories in the Fields). They struck the giant DiGiorgio Corporation, then California’s largest grower. In 1959 the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) was set up by the American Federation of Labor, which had merged with the CIO to form the AFL-CIO in 1953. Despite the federation’s conservative politics, AWOC hired Itliong as an organizer because of his long history among Filipino workers. AWOC used “flying squads” of pickets to mount quick strikes, and struck the Imperial Valley lettuce harvest in 1961-2, demanding $1.25 per hour.

Many Filipino workers in Coachella and Delano were members of ILWU Local 37 in 1965, when the grape strike began. Every year they would travel from the San Joaquin Valley (where Delano is located) to the Alaska fish canneries. Through the end of their lives, they were often active members of both Local 37 and the United Farm Workers.

Cold war fears of communism were strong in the 1960s – one reason why the contributions of Itliong and the Filipinos were obscured. The strike in Delano owes much to Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla and other Chicano and Mexican leaders who came out of the CSO. But the left wing leadership of Itliong, Philip Veracruz and other rank-and-file Filipino workers was equally important.

The alliance between Itliong’s AWOC and the Cesar Chavez-led National Farm Workers Association was a popular front alliance of workers who had, in many cases, different politics. AWOC’s members had their roots in the red UCAPAWA. NFWA’s roots were in the Community Service Organization (CSO), which was sometimes hostile to Communists. Yet both organizations were able to find common ground and support each other during the strike. They eventually merged to form the UFW.

Both the Filipinos and Chavez, in the CSO, opposed the bracero program. To organize farm labor they sought immigration policies favoring workers, which would keep growers from using braceros to break strikes. The Delano strike was a movement made up of immigrant workers, who wanted to keep growers and the government from using immigration policy against them. Their opposition to contract labor programs is as important for immigration reform today as it was in 1965.

Chavez willingly acknowledged that the NFWA hadn’t intended to strike for another two or three years. The decision to act was made by Filipinos – left wing workers. It was a product of their history of militant fights against growers.

The political philosophy of the Filipinos saw the strike as their fundamental weapon to win better conditions. The 1965 grape strike was started by workers on the ground, not by leaders or strategists far away. Although some couldn’t read or write, as Matthiessen charged, they were politically sophisticated. They had a good analysis and understanding of their situation as workers, and chose their action carefully.

In Delano Filipinos used popular front ideas they’d used before – that workers and organizations with different politics, or of different nationalities, could work together to win fundamental social change. Growers had pitted Mexicans and Filipinos against each other for decades. When Filipino workers acted first by going on strike, and then asked the Mexican workers, a much larger part of the workforce, to join them, they believed that workers’ common interest could overcome those divisions.

Strikers in Delano developed close friendships and personal connections with each other. Many of the Filipinos died as single men, because anti-miscegenation laws prohibited them from marrying non-Filipinas, and the immigration of women from the Philippines was limited until the late 1960s. Cesar Chavez’ son Paul recalls the way the older Filipino men looked at him and other children of Mexican strikers as their own family. In the wake of the grape strike, the UFW and scores of young activists from California cities built a retirement home for them in Delano, Paolo Agbayani Retirement Village, to honor their contribution.

Philip Veracruz, a Filipino grape picker who became a vice-president of the UFW and later left over disagreements with Chavez, wrote during the strike’s fourth year: “The Filipino decision of the great Delano Grape Strike delivered the initial spark to explode the most brilliant incendiary bomb for social and political changes in U.S. rural life.” The contribution of these Filipino workers should be honored – not just because they helped make history, but because their political and trade union ideas are as relevant to workers today as they were in 1965.

This is an expanded version of an article in the Insight section of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Photo: Cesar Chavez, farm worker labor organizer and leader of the California grape strike, circa 1965. | George Brich/AP


LibertyVoter.Org

September 8, 1965 marks the beginning of one of the most important strikes in American history. As over 2,000 Filipino-American farm workers refused to go to work picking grapes in the valley north of Bakersfield, California, they set into motion a chain of events that would extend over the next five years. We know it as the Delano Grape Strike.

Filipino and Mexican immigrants had worked for decades along the West Coast, moving with the seasons to harvest the region’s crops. The Filipino contingent in particular was growing restless, as many of the workers were aging and anxious for decent medical care and retirement funds. When one of their number, labor organizer Larry Itliong, declared a strike on September 8, he asked for the support of the National Farm Workers Association and its Mexican-American founders, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Although Chavez had reservations about his union’s capacity to pull off the strike, he put the issue to the workers, who enthusiastically joined.

The strike lasted five years and went through a number of phases. From the outset, the already poor farm workers faced opposition from law enforcement and cruel attempts at sabotage by the growers—some reported that farmers shut off the water supply to their meager dormitories. As frustration grew and workers increasingly spoke of violence three years into the strike, Chavez decided to go on a hunger strike, emulating his hero Mahatma Gandhi. In addition to ending the calls for violence, the hunger strike drew further attention to the movement, earning praise from figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

The union, by then known as the United Farm Workers, also called for a boycott of table grapes. Individual households stopped buying grapes, and union workers in California dockyards let non-union grapes rot in port rather than load them. Eventually, the industry could take no more, and the growers came to the table. In July of 1970, most of the major growers in the Delano area agreed to pay grape pickers $1.80 an hour (plus 20 cents for each box picked), contribute to the union health plan, and ensure that their workers were protected against pesticides used in the fields.

“We said from the beginning that we were not going to abandon the fight, that we would stay with the struggle if lit took a lifetime, and we …read more


Do you know much about Filipino American history and heritage? Have you heard about the Filipino farmworkers’ role in the great grape strike of 1965 in Delano, California?

If not, then check out the story below! Filipino immigrants to the United States have a unique history that not many have had the opportunity to learn.

Filipino workers who immigrated to the U.S. had an immense amount of adaptability, resilience, and perseverance. These characteristics became most evident when they formed community organizing groups in the fight for civil and economic rights.

Their efforts have added significant contributions to the farmworker labor movement and their stories offer us inspiration and pride in the history of Filipinos in America.

What was the Delano Grape Strike?

Of the many challenges Filipinos fought against for better working conditions and pay, the Delano grape strike is the most famous.

In Delano, California, 1965, unrest was growing in the area, known for its numerous grape vineyards. Migrant farm workers expressed discontent and frustration over the low wages offered to grape pickers.

Larry Itliong, a Filipino leader from Stockton, had been organizing Filipino workers to get more involved in civil rights and fight for fair working conditions. He began organizing Filipino workers to conduct a grape strike and urged community members to support the farm laborers in their fight for better conditions.

Larry Itliong – Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Itliong

On September 7, 1965, Filipino workers gathered at Filipino Hall and voted to go on strike. The very next day they set down their tools and walked out of the fields.

Itliong then approached Cesar Chavez, a well-known leader in the farmworker movement, to convince him that the Mexican union needed to join the Filipino union in order for the strike to be successful. After some deliberation, Chavez agreed, knowing that it would be better to join forces than ignore the strike.

With both Filipino and Mexican workers collaborating together, they formed what is now known as the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Source: http://ufw.org/1965-1970-delano-grape-strike-boycott/

What Finally Happened?

The strike attracted a lot of attention and support from activists, human rights groups, other unions, and students.

Then the UFW managed to institute a national grape boycott, which meant that growers would be unable to sell their products. After five long years of the grape boycott, growers finally gave into the demands of the UFW and signed the new contracts.

The Important Role of the Filipino Farmworkers

Filipino farm workers played a pivotal role in the labor movement and paved the way for future generations of Filipinos.

Without the courage of Filipinos to fight for their rights and working conditions, the Delano grape strike and the ensuing victory might never have taken place.

It is interesting that the history of Larry Itliong and the Filipino workers of Delano are not well known, even to most young Filipino Americans.

Source: https://libraries.ucsd.edu/farmworkermovement/50th-anniversary-documentation-project-1962-1993/carlos-legerrette/

Larry Itliong Day – October 25

Fortunately, recent efforts have been made to share that history and spread awareness of the story of Filipino immigration. In fact, the governor of California has now signed legislation that requires public schools to teach the history of Filipino workers and their role in the grape strike. Governor Brown also signed a bill that recognizes October 25 as Larry Itliong Day.

How cool is that? Have you heard about the Filipino farmworkers? Are you planning on doing anything to celebrate Larry Itliong Day this October 25th? Share your comments below!

If you liked this article and want others to know how cool your Filipino heritage is, please post this on your favorite social media!


Created By

  1. Lisa Morehouse, “The Forgotten Filipino-Americans Who Led the ’65 Delano Grape Strike,” KQED News.
  2. Cesar Chavez, The Farmworker Movement, 1962-1993, Farmworker Documentation Project, University of California San Diego Library. , Facing Freedom, Chicago History Museum.
  3. David Bacon, “Legacy of the Delano Grape Strike, 50 years Later,” San Francisco Chronicle.

These sets were created and reviewed by the teachers on the DPLA's Education Advisory Committee. Explore resources and ideas for Using DPLA's Primary Source Sets in your classroom.


Portside

Fifty years ago the great grape strike started in Delano, when Filipino pickers walked out of the fields on September 8, 1965. Mexican workers joined them two weeks later. The strike went on for five years, until all California table grape growers were forced to sign contracts in 1970.

The strike was a watershed struggle for civil and labor rights, supported by millions of people across the country. It helped breathe new life into the labor movement, opening doors for immigrants and people of color. Beyond the fields, Chicano and Asian American communities were inspired to demand rights, and many activists in those communities became organizers and leaders themselves.

California's politics have changed profoundly in 50 years. Delano's mayor today is a Filipino. That would have been unthinkable in 1965, when growers treated the town as a plantation.

But a mythology has hidden the true history of how and why the strike started, especially its connection to some of the most radical movements in the country's labor history. Writer Peter Matthiessen, for instance, claimed in his famous two-part 1969 profile of Cesar Chavez in The New Yorker: "Until Chavez appeared, union leaders had considered it impossible to organize seasonal farm labor, which is in large part illiterate and indigent. "

After 50 years that curtain of silence is lifting. Dawn Mabalon, a history professor at San Francisco State University, has documented the radical career of Larry Itliong, who headed the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), one of the two organizations that carried out the 1965 strike. Itliong not only shared leadership with Cesar Chavez, but actually started the strike. In tens of thousands of words Matthiessen only mentions Itliong twice, in passing.

The Delano strike was not spontaneous or unexpected. It was a product of decades of worker organizing and earlier farm worker strikes. Leaders of the grape strike, like Itliong, had helped organize previous unions, including ones expelled from the CIO in the anti-communist purge of 1949.

The timing of the 1965 strike was not accidental. It took place the year after civil rights and labor activists forced Congress to repeal Public Law 78 and end the bracero contract labor program. Farm worker leaders then acted because growers could no longer bring braceros into the U.S. to break strikes.

The 1965 strike did not, in fact, start in Delano. In Coachella, where California's grape harvest begins, Filipino workers went on strike that summer. They won a 40¢/hour wage increase from grape growers, and forced authorities to drop charges against arrested strikers.

Larry Itliong organized the Coachella strike. He and the Filipino workers of AWOC then started the walkout in Delano. Itliong had a long history as an organizer, going back to the 1930s. He was a protégé of Ernesto Mangaoang, a revered leader of the CIO union for Alaska fish cannery workers, Local 7 of the United Cannery, Agricultural and Packinghouse Workers of America. Itliong himself ran for office in that union.

The Federal government accused Mangaoang of being a Communist during the McCarthyite hysteria, and tried to deport him to the Philippines. After UCAPAWA (renamed the Food, Tobacco and Agricultural Workers) was destroyed in the 1949 purge of the CIO, Local 7 was taken in by Harry Bridges' union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. It became ILWU Local 37, and today is part of the ILWU's Inland Boatman's Union.

In leftwing unions Filipinos and other farm workers mounted huge agricultural strikes in the 1930s. After World War Two, Local 7 struck Stockton's asparagus fields in 1949. Itliong was active in that strike, as was Chris Mensalvas, who later became Local 37 president. The Federal government also tried to deport Mensalvas as a Communist.

In the early 1950s Filipino farm workers continued to organize with the National Farm Labor Union, headed by Ernesto Galarza (author of Merchants of Labor - The Mexican Bracero Story). They struck the giant DiGiorgio Corporation, then California's largest grower. In 1959 the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) was set up by the American Federation of Labor, which had merged with the CIO to form the AFL-CIO in 1953. Despite the federation's conservative politics, AWOC hired Itliong as an organizer because of his long history among Filipino workers. AWOC used "flying squads" of pickets to mount quick strikes, and struck the Imperial Valley lettuce harvest in 1961-2, demanding $1.25 per hour.

Many Filipino workers in Coachella and Delano were members of ILWU Local 37 in 1965, when the grape strike began. Every year they would travel from the San Joaquin Valley (where Delano is located) to the Alaska fish canneries. Through the end of their lives, they were often active members of both Local 37 and the United Farm Workers.

Cold war fears of communism were strong in the 1960s - one reason why the contributions of Itliong and the Filipinos were obscured. The strike in Delano owes much to Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla and other Chicano and Mexican leaders who came out of the CSO. But the left wing leadership of Itliong, Philip Veracruz and other rank-and-file Filipino workers was equally important.

The alliance between Itliong's AWOC and the Cesar Chavez-led National Farm Workers Association was a popular front alliance of workers who had, in many cases, different politics. AWOC's members had their roots in the red UCAPAWA. NFWA's roots were in the Community Service Organization (CSO), which was sometimes hostile to Communists. Yet both organizations were able to find common ground and support each other during the strike. They eventually merged to form the UFW.

Both the Filipinos and Chavez, in the CSO, opposed the bracero program. To organize farm labor they sought immigration policies favoring workers, which would keep growers from using braceros to break strikes. The Delano strike was a movement made up of immigrant workers, who wanted to keep growers and the government from using immigration policy against them. Their opposition to contract labor programs is as important for immigration reform today as it was in 1965.

Chavez willingly acknowledged that the NFWA hadn't intended to strike for another two or three years. The decision to act was made by Filipinos - left wing workers. It was a product of their history of militant fights against growers.

The political philosophy of the Filipinos saw the strike as their fundamental weapon to win better conditions. The 1965 grape strike was started by workers on the ground, not by leaders or strategists far away. Although some couldn't read or write, as Matthiessen charged, they were politically sophisticated. They had a good analysis and understanding of their situation as workers, and chose their action carefully.

In Delano Filipinos used popular front ideas they'd used before - that workers and organizations with different politics, or of different nationalities, could work together to win fundamental social change. Growers had pitted Mexicans and Filipinos against each other for decades. When Filipino workers acted first by going on strike, and then asked the Mexican workers, a much larger part of the workforce, to join them, they believed that workers' common interest could overcome those divisions.

Strikers in Delano developed close friendships and personal connections with each other. Many of the Filipinos died as single men, because anti-miscegenation laws prohibited them from marrying non-Filipinas, and the immigration of women from the Philippines was limited until the late 1960s. Cesar Chavez' son Paul recalls the way the older Filipino men looked at him and other children of Mexican strikers as their own family. In the wake of the grape strike, the UFW and scores of young activists from California cities built a retirement home for them in Delano, Paolo Agbayani Retirement Village, to honor their contribution.

Philip Veracruz, a Filipino grape picker who became a vice-president of the UFW and later left over disagreements with Chavez, wrote during the strike's fourth year: "The Filipino decision of the great Delano Grape Strike delivered the initial spark to explode the most brilliant incendiary bomb for social and political changes in U.S. rural life." The contribution of these Filipino workers should be honored - not just because they helped make history, but because their political and trade union ideas are as relevant to workers today as they were in 1965.

RECENT CONTRIBUTIONS REMEMBERED:
The first school in the nation named after Filipino American labor leaders is in Union City, the Itliong/Vera Cruz Middle School. The New Haven Unified School District Board approved the renaming of Alvarado Middle School, effective January 2016.

Filmmaker Marissa Aroy has released a video on Filipino farmworkers, "The Delano Manongs."

David Bacon is a California writer and documentary photographer. A former union organizer, today he documents labor, the global economy, war and migration, and the struggle for human rights. His latest book, The Right to Stay Home (Beacon Press, 2013). discusses alternatives to forced migration and the criminalization of migrants.


In the city of Delano

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church hall

On Mexican Independence Day, September 16, 1965, the mostly Latino membership of the National Farm Workers Association met in the hall next to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in west Delano. There, they voted to join a strike against Delano table and wine grape growers begun on September 8, 1965, by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, composed largely of Filipino American farm workers. NFWA members joined the picketlines four days later, on September 20, 1965.

Filipino Hall

It became a joint strike hall and kitchen for members belonging to both the National Farm Workers Association and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. The hall was a place where Latino and Filipino strikers met and ate together. Car caravans hailing from distant parts of California and across the country regularly brought food and clothing to Filipino Hall to aid the strikers. “Community meetings” were held in the hall on Friday nights throughout most of the five-year strike. During his first visit to Delano in March 1966, Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke to the strikers in the hall after attending a Senate subcommittee hearing in Delano.

Missionary church

This missionary church building at Garces Highway and Belmont Street served as the site for the strikers’ Friday night meetings and performances of the Teatro Campesino before they moved to the Filipino Hall.

102 Albany Street

The union’s first offices, including Cesar Chavez’s office, were housed here. It was also home to other union operations, including the El Malcriado newspaper, the Membership Department and Hiring Hall. Union scouts would radio in reports of strikebreakers showing up inside struck vineyards so pickets could be dispatched from this address. Shortly after the strike began in 1965, shots were fired into cars parked in front of the building. Behind 102 Albany Street, at First Avenue and Asti Street, was the “Pink House,” so-named because it was painted pink. When the Delano strike began, it was home for some strikers left without a place to live. Later it served as headquarters for the grape boycott. Next to the Pink House was another former residence that served as the first offices of the National Farm Workers Service Center Inc.

People’s Store and Cafe

The rambling building covers half a city block along Garces Highway and was the longtime site of a market (still there) with old-fashioned gas pumps in front. Next-door was a bar with pool tables that became a gathering place for union members during the 1965 Delano Grape Strike. The corner store was where Cesar Chavez began courting Helen Fabela, who worked the market cash register, after they started seeing each other in the mid-1940s.

1221 Kensington Street

Cesar and Helen Chavez and their eight children moved into the house just next door (to the north of) 1221 Kensington in early 1962, after they made the decision to begin a farm workers union. Within a short time the family moved to larger quarters next door, where they lived until relocating to La Paz, Keene, Calif. in 1971. The small wood-frame house at 1221 Kensington had two bedrooms?plus a third converted from a lean-to in the rear of the structure?and one bathroom.

321 Austin Street

Dolores Huerta and her family lived here from 1963 until 1970. The home hosted a day care and grocery center and it was where leaflets were run off before the union’s office was established at 102 Albany Street. Dolores also put up many union volunteers in her house.

Delano High School auditorium

Sen. Robert Kennedy’s first trip to Delano was in March 1966, to attend a hearing at the high school auditorium conducted by the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor examining the Delano Grape Strike. After listening to Kern County Sheriff Leroy Gaylen testify how he had arrested a large group of peaceful picketers because the grower threatened to “cut their hearts out,” the New York senator admonished “the sheriff and the district attorney to read the Constitution of the United States.”

Stardust Motel

Room 44 at the Stardust Motel (now the Travel Inn) was where, in July 1970, a small group that included Cesar Chavez, UFW General Counsel Jerry Cohen and John Giumarra Jr. and Sr. met to negotiate the union contracts that ended the five-year Delano Grape Strike.

Memorial Park

On March 10, 1968, after Cesar Chavez and Sen. Robert Kennedy met briefly at the Forty Acres where Cesar had been fasting for 25 days, they drove to Memorial Park in Delano where the fast was broken during a mass held in the middle of the parking lot and attended by thousands of farm workers and union supporters.

Casa Hernandez

With 81 units of one- and two-bedroom garden-style apartments featuring full amenities including washers and dryers, Casa Hernandez provides highly affordable housing for seniors. Rents for one-bedroom units begin at $215 a month two-bedroom apartments start at $255. The National Farm Workers Service Center Inc. facility, which opened in 1999, boasts a central community room where numerous meetings, activities and services are hosted, plus an active seniors program, including flu shots and screenings by health care providers. Named for Julio and Fina Hernandez, founding members of the United Farm Workers and leaders of the 1965 grape strike, Casa Hernandez is located in west Delano, directly across the street from the union’s first offices.


Dolores Huerta, the Labor Activist Behind the Slogan '¡Sí, Se Puede!'

More than 50 years ago, a determined young woman stepped up and created the iconic slogan "¡Sí, se puede!" ("Yes, we can!") that would lift up the voices of the voiceless and change the state of labor in the United States forever. That woman, civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, would go on to co-found the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with Cesar Chavez.

The NFWA later became the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) and, as vice president of that organization until 1999, Huerta helped launch the first farmworkers strike in the country, which kickstarted the fight for union rights and labor organizing in the agricultural sector in the U.S. and changed the lives of farmworkers forever.

"In my opinion, she is one of the most important American civil rights and labor rights leaders in the second half of the 20th century and into the new millennium," says Mario Garcia, author of "A Dolores Huerta Reader," in an email interview.

Early Life and Family History

Huerta was born April 10, 1930, in the town of Dawson, New Mexico. She was one of three children born to activist parents. Her father was a miner, farmworker and union leader who later went into state politics.

"Her parents, Alicia Chavez and Juan Fernandez, were early role models of activism," says Monica Brown, author of "Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez," in an email interview.

After her parents' divorce, Huerta moved with her mother to Stockton, California, where they lived in a diverse community of Mexican, Filipino and Japanese Americans. According to the book "Dolores Huerta: Get to Know the Voice of Migrant Workers," Huerta was a talkative, inquisitive young girl, and her grandfather nicknamed her "Siete Lenguas," Spanish for "Seven Tongues."

"When her family moved from New Mexico to Stockton, California, her brothers had to work in the fields, and [Huerta] as a teenager also wanted to join them. However, her mother forbade this because she did not want her daughter to work in the fields," Garcia says. Huerta's mother did permit her daughter to work in industrial packing sheds, but the working conditions there weren't much better than in the field. But what Huerta saw stuck with her.

"I think this early exposure to the harsh working conditions of farmworkers provided a context for Dolores later working to organize these workers to do away with the more exploitative aspects of farm labor," Garcia adds.

After graduating from Stockton High, Huerta married, had two children and began teaching elementary school children, many of whom were the impoverished sons and daughters of farmworkers. Although the marriage did not last long, the teaching had a profound impact on Huerta's desire to improve the lives of farmworkers.

"As a very young woman, Dolores was a teacher, and saw the children of farmworkers come to school with no shoes and hungry — this motivated her to work for change," Brown says.

Sarah Warren wrote the book "Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers." She adds by email that Huerta “was driven to do more for the children she planned to serve when she found out how their families were being abused.”

Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez and the Delano Grape Strike

At age 25, Huerta became immersed in activism, joining a local activist group run by Fred Ross that advocated on behalf of Mexican Americans. There, Huerta began learning how to become a labor organizer.

"As a young adult she became involved with the Community Service Organization (CSO) which was an organization mobilizing Mexican Americans in civil rights work and voter registration in the 1950s," Garcia says.

At the CSO, Huerta met Cesar Chavez, who would go on to become one of the most widely recognized Mexican American labor leaders in U.S. history. Huerta and Chavez began to work together for improved working conditions and wages for farmworkers, who earned as little as 70 cents an hour at the time.

"Cesar recognized Dolores' talents as an organizer plus her own personal strength and so when he began to organize in the fields by 1962, he recruited Dolores to work with him," Garcia says.

Together, Chavez and Huerta founded the National Farmworkers' Association in 1962, which later became the United Farm Workers union. Huerta remained vice president of United Farm Workers until 1999. The two had a complex relationship, according to scholars. From one point of view, they were comrades in the fields, working for better conditions for the most marginalized workers in society.

"As Dolores once told me, they were comrades. They spoke to farmworkers on the backs of flatbed trucks and co-founded the United Farmworkers Union," Brown says.

"Dolores saw herself as equal to Cesar and he accepted this. Cesar didn't always agree with Dolores, but he learned from her," says Garcia. "She was one of the few persons in the union who was not afraid to criticize Cesar, which he appreciated."

Huerta and Chavez became most well-known for organizing the 1965 Delano grape strike and boycott, in which striking Filipino grape farmworkers — led by activists like Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz — sought the help of the emerging National Farm Workers Association, which largely represented Latino workers.

Huerta marched along with Chavez for workers' rights, brought together the Filipino and Latino workers on the picket line, and led a nationwide boycott of nonunion table grapes. In 1970, Huerta and Chavez's steadfast organizing paid off, resulting in union contracts, as well as better wages and working conditions for the grape workers.

"Dolores Huerta played a big role in getting farmworkers to participate in union activities, to boycott grapes and other produce, to picket farms, and become members of the union," says Stacey Sowards, author of "Sí, Ella Puede! The Rhetorical Legacy of Dolores Huerta and the United Farm Workers."

"Sí, Se Puede!"

In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Huerta the Presidential Medal of Freedom recognizing her, not Chavez, as the original source of the phrase "¡Sí, se puede!" Obama famously appropriated the slogan for his own presidential campaign, but Huerta's rallying cry had been used for years to organize farmworkers and inspire advocacy for other civil rights issues.

"Dolores Huerta first spoke the famous words, "¡Sí, se puede!" while speaking to a group of workers who kept saying "We can't organize the workers here. We can't. No se puede!" Dolores responded, "¡Sí, se puede! Yes, you can!" Brown says.

Huerta became an iconic activist and a source of pride for Mexican Americans and others within the Latinx community. Her organizing helped bring about the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which granted amnesty to 1.3 million undocumented workers.

Legacy and Present-day Activism

Huerta celebrated her 91st birthday in 2021, and remains active on the front lines as a civil rights advocate and labor organizer. She holds media events and hosts TED Talks on how to speak out and become empowered through activism.

"Her legacy today is that she has become a social movement icon," Sowards says. "She has demonstrated how one moves from individual action and concern for community to working with other people on those issues to creating an entire social movement."

Huerta also founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation in 2003. The nonprofit focuses on empowering and training grassroots organizers in lower-income and disenfranchised communities in California, including work on LGBTQIA issues.

Although farmworkers have more collective bargaining opportunities as a result of Huerta's work, they still experience widespread exploitation, harsh working conditions and wage theft. In recent years, Huerta has been vocal in pushing for immigration reform to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, who constitute a large share of farmworkers in the U.S.

Moreover, Huerta continues to boost the civic power of Latinos, specifically through efforts to turn out the vote. Latino voters played an important role in the 2020 election, turning out in record numbers.

"She has been very active in registering people to vote and getting people to the polls," Sowards says. "Her foundation works to get people more involved beyond voting, such as organizing voters to vote, but also to participate more fully on social justice issues in their communities."

Ultimately, Huerta's legacy endures through the important issues she raised as an activist and community organizer, which continue to resonate today.

"Her legacy of taking on issues of social justice, not only in the fields but in the fight for women's rights, civil rights, voting rights and for world peace, are all part of her legacy," Garcia says.


Delano Grape Boycott 1965 - 1970

This movement started as a strike organised by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee over demands for wages equal to the federal minimum wage for farm workers. The strike was joined by the Mexican-American National Farm Workers Association a week later and the strike spread to encompass 2000 protesters. The movement gained national attention and spread to include marches and a boycott of non-union grapes that spread to the general population. This act of non-violent resistance led to collective bargaining agreements that resulted in fair contracts for 10,000 farm workers.

Following years of low pay and poor working conditions on grape farms, Filipino grape pickers took strike action in Coachella Valley California to demand equal pay with Mexican pickers in line with the government’s Bracero program. Grape growing companies had a history of inciting racial tensions between pickers to quash walkouts or strike action and keep wage costs low. Despite the success of the strike in Coachella Filipino pickers that moved to Delano faced the same lower wages, until Filipino leaders of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, contacted Cesar Chavez of the Mexican-American National Farm Workers Association to unify agricultural workers in Delano to take action.


The Forgotten Filipino-Americans Who Led the ’65 Delano Grape Strike

Today, grapes in the grocery store don’t seem that controversial. But 50 years ago, a historic strike in California’s Central Valley vineyards set in motion the most significant campaign in modern labor history: the farmworker movement.

More on this story

While the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez are widely known for running the Delano Grape Strike and prompting an international boycott of table grapes, the origins of that movement are rarely discussed. Some people in the town of Delano and across the state are determined to change that.

It would be easy to drive through Delano and have no idea that history was made here. It’s a dry, hot Central Valley town, and places of historical importance — such as a retirement home, a church, and acres and acres of farmland — look ordinary on the outside.

Alex Edillor was an elementary school student when the 1965 grape strike started. The Filipino Hall became the center of activity as the Filipinos joined forces with the Mexican grape workers.

For many people, though, these places are sacred ground: the vineyards, picketed for years by farmworkers and their supporters the high school auditorium where Sen. Bobby Kennedy spoke a white stucco building on the edge of town where Cesar Chavez carried out a hunger strike and became a national symbol of farmworker rights and a utilitarian community center known as Filipino Hall.

To resident Roger Gadiano, Filipino Hall is a shrine. “This is our Mecca,” he says. “I guess it’s our Selma. This is it!” Because in this building, on the night of Sept. 7, 1965, farmworkers voted to go on strike the next day. They were almost all Filipino.

“People don’t know who in the heck walked in here … but I do.” Gadiano says. “It tickles me. We’re a part of a big history. We took a step that was bold and that no one else would take.”

Most of those voting — and striking — were elders called Manongs, the mostly migrant, bachelor Filipino farmworkers whose names and stories few people know, even in Delano.

During Philippine Weekend, a cultural celebration and kind of family reunion, a group of young women say they never learned about the farmworker movement in school. Angelica Perez says her Latina grandmother and other relatives actually participated in the strike and ensuing boycott, “So it was active family history, but it was not taught — or talked about — at all.”

Even though she’s in her late 20s, Melanie Retuda says she learned about the Filipino origins of the strike only last year. “I’d known of Cesar Chavez and Hispanics being involved,” she says. “Being Filipino, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ Filipinos actually made an impact in the process. It makes me proud that they were involved.”

A recently-completed mural in downtown Delano featuring Philip Vera Cruz, Cesar Chavez and Larry Itliong.

Perez is outraged that this history is not known because the actions those Filipinos took improved her family’s lives. “I mean, I’m extremely proud that Cesar Chavez was the right face at the right time, but a lot of the dirty work was already done.”

In many ways, Filipino farmworkers and labor organizers had prepared for the Delano Grape Strike for decades. Dawn Mabalon, professor of history at San Francisco State University, says they’d been fighting for better working conditions since the 1920s, and had a key win in 1939 in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“Five to seven thousand Filipinos in asparagus fields all walk out at the height of the season, on Good Friday,” threatening the availability of asparagus on Easter dinner tables, Mabalon says. “Growers capitulated in a day. So Filipinos know that if they all walk out, in absolute unity, with absolute militancy, they’re probably going to win.”

By the ’60s, though, conditions for farmworkers across the state were still dismal. Mabalon describes conducting oral histories in which she heard stories of field crews sharing just one tin cup of water. “You still had no bathrooms in the fields, poor wages, no workers’ comp, no unemployment, no Social Security,” she says.

At the Agbayani Village west of Delano, Roger Gadiano stands next to a plaque honoring the Manong Filipino workers who started the 1965 Delano grape strike.

So, in the summer of 1965, when growers cut the pay of Filipinos picking grapes in the Coachella Valley, they were prepared to act. These workers, members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, were “led by this really charismatic, seasoned, militant labor leader, Larry Itliong,” Mabalon says, “and they make a stand against the farmers in Coachella and they win: $1.40 an hour.”

When they migrated north to Delano, organizers like Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz and Pete Velasco urged local families to join them in asking for improved conditions (the same raise to $1.40 an hour). Growers balked.

Retired journalist Alex Edillor was only 11 years old, but he remembers his farmworker parents coming back from heated meetings, and talking about a potential strike over the kitchen table. “There were people with mortgages, with families to feed, considering a strike action,” he says.

On the evening of Sept. 7, workers gathered at Filipino Hall and voted to strike. The next morning they went out to the vineyards, as they always did, but made a dramatic stand. Edillor remembers: “It was the first day of school, I was all prepared to come home, watch a little TV,” but when he came home, his parents were there. Like the Manongs, and other locals, they’d worked a full day, then left the harvested crop on the ground and walked off the vineyard.

Under a shade from the hot August sun, Josefina Zarate field packs grapes in a vineyard southeast of Delano.

Gadiano, who had family members join the strike, adds, “Just imagine over 1,500 old Filipino men at different labor camps, different vineyards, all walking out at same time. How awesome is that!”

It was Gadiano’s first day of his senior year of high school. He remembers walking into his Spanish II class, and being approached by a grower’s son. “‘Hey Rog, your Uncle Max just went on strike.’ I went, ‘He did? They just want a raise.’ ”

Workers got kicked out of labor camps. Gadiano says, “The farmers were going to use the Mexicans to break the strike.”

Cesar Chavez and others, like Dolores Huerta and Gil Padilla, had been organizing Mexican workers around Delano for a few years through the National Farm Workers Association, but a strike wasn’t in their immediate plans. So Larry Itliong appealed to Chavez, and two weeks later, the much more sizable group of Mexican workers joined the strike. Soon, the two unions came together to form what would become United Farm Workers, with Larry Itliong assistant director under Chavez. It was a historic interracial union.

“These two groups that had been kept apart for so long, coming together, that is the power in the Delano Grape Strike,” says historian Mabalon.

Mexicans and Filipinos gathered at Filipino Hall, eating fishhead soup and preparing strikers’ meals, organizing, even sleeping there. Gadiano passed by every day on his way to high school and saw the steps filled with picket signs.

“They’d eat breakfast and pick up their signs and go to a field location and picket,” he remembers. It took five years of striking, plus an international boycott of table grapes, before growers signed contracts with the United Farm Workers.

Larry Dulay Itliong grave maker is simple like many many others at the Delano Cemetery. In1965 he convinced the Filipino workers who harvested much of the vast and profitable grape vineyards to go on strike even though for most, it was their only source of income.

Those years weren’t easy on strikers, families or Delano.

Gadiano shows me around the grocery store his dad once owned. As the only supplier of Filipino goods in the region, it was popular with townspeople and labor camps, where the family delivered fish, meat and other goods.

“A common order was a 100-pound sack of Calrose rice, sticky rice,” Gadiano remembers.

His dad also helped out families of striking workers.

“We were giving them credit to pay us back when work started. We carried hundreds of families. We were stuck in the middle because we had the store.”

Many families were like Alex Edillor’s: his parents walked off the fields initially, but after a few weeks they felt they had to return to work. He remembers the tension, even in places like church.

“It was kind of split down the middle of the church: This is where the strikers went, this is where the people who went back to work went,” he says. “There was a strange division among us.”

Now, though, people who sat on either side of the aisle join in wanting to share this history. “We came back together because, looking back on it, we were very proud of that moment,” Edillor says.

Mabalon says, growing up not knowing this history, she and her peers feel the hurt of a generation. “It’s our story, and it demands our love and attention and respect, and we need to tell this story.”

That’s happening more and more. Mabalon is writing a biography of Larry Itliong Edillor and Gadiano have organized a celebration in Delano over Labor Day weekend and a documentary on the Manongs came out last year.

Recently, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed two pieces of legislation, one recognizing Larry Itliong Day, the other requiring public schools to teach this history. Rob Bonta, the state’s only Filipino-American Assembly member, introduced those bills. Although his parents were farm labor organizers and he grew up in UFW headquarters, he says, “When I cracked the history books in high school and college, I didn’t see those stories being told.”

Grape fields near Delano, California.

In Delano, Gadiano ends a tour of the town at one last, ordinary place: Larry Itliong’s simple gravesite. The headstone says only, “Beloved husband and father.”


Watch the video: Delano Grape Strike