When it comes to labor organizers that come to mind, most people usually think of names like Jimmy Hoffa. Ashe is one of the more well-known names, but on the West Coast, most people would refer to Cesar Chavez, who co-founded the NFWA (National Farm Workers Association). These names I would primarily get to know through their portrayals onscreen.
Jack Nicholson would portray Jimmy Hoffa in Hoffa, which showcased the veteran diverse talents for playing unique characters while adding his own flavor. Then there was mas Michael Pena’s reserved yet penetrating portrayal of Chavez in Cesar Chavez. I enjoyed the movie, I even smiled a bit when I realized the movie included the Filipino farm workers who had fought for equal rights, but I was quickly disappointed when I realized they were mere background characters and not much else was seen from them the rest of the movie. These men and women to this day don’t get the credit, they deserve for their part in the labor movement.
In the latest offering from Bridge Delta Publishing, they tell the life story of a man they call “one of the fathers of the West Coast labor movement”, in Journey For Justice: The Life Of Larry Itliong.
We meet Larry, or his given name, Modesto Dulay Itliong, who
was born in the Philippines on the island of San Nicholas, where he grew up and
went to school until sixth grade, because the area was so poor that it did not
even have a high school. His neighbor would write the young Larry, where he
told him of the promise America would give, of better education and equal
opportunity, ideas that were also reinforced at school, during which time he
Philippines was still an American territory. As he dreamed of being an
“abogado”, a lawyer who would help people and American education would open
that door for him. When he arrived in America, he came to Seattle, Washington,
here he met other Filipinos and swiftly found out that if you have brown skin,
no matter your experience or schooling, the only jobs you can get would be
service jobs like farm workers. He would go on to work several different jobs,
but the job where he kept on coming back to, was as a farm worker. This is
where he learned of the disparity of pay between white workers and migrant
workers. Which gave him an education on labor law, including the right to form
a union and just how much money migrant workers were making for these farms.
Unfortunately, this was also when the Great Depression rendered many people
without jobs and money, which caused many Americans to blame Filipinos and
other immigrants for dire states which lead to two laws aimed at Filipinos, one
which barred Filipinos from entering America and the other sending Filipinos
back to P.I. without ever being able to come back to America ever again. Larry
would stay and organize labor strikes up and down the West Coast with AWOC
(Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee), and eventually brought Cesar Chavez
and the rest of the NFWA into their first labor strike in California, realizing
their strength in solidarity between Filipino and Mexican farm workers, a major
detail that was missing from the movie. In a year’s time, the two unions became
one, now being called UFW (United Farm Workers) and would go on to carry out a
five-year long strike against grape farmers. Their efforts worked, bringing the
30 different farms to the table to negotiate a deal with UFW, to pay fair wages
and improved working conditions. He would eventually fall out with the
leadership at the UFW, who he felt did not do enough for Filipino workers and
would resign. This did not stop him from fighting for Filipino Americans, as he
would travel all over the country and speaking wherever he was asked to, until
he was diagnosed and died from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Overall, it’s a harrowing life story that shows the fragility of the promise that America gives dreamers around the world and the stark realities they face once they come here. The story by Dr. Dawn Bohulano-Mabulon and Gayle Romasanta is well researched, relevant, and heartfelt. The art by Andre Sibayan is lush and vibrant. Altogether, a story that is definitively American and one that stays with you long after reading it.
Story: Dr. Dawn Bohulano-Mabulon and Gayle Romasanta
Art: Andre Sibayan
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy