By Steve Angeles, ABS-CBN North America Bureau
DELANO, Calif – While records claim Filipinos first arrived in the U.S. as early as the 1500s, the grape fields in Delano are where Filipino workers planted their roots and became a force in America’s history and the labor movement.
As early as the 1920s, Filipino workers began migrating to Hawaiian plantations. By the 1930s they made it to the mainland where they moved up and down California, working the farms for as little as a dollar an hour.
However it was in Delano in the 1950s where Filipino farm workers began organizing and fighting for better working conditions and wages.
As part of Filipino-American History month, Jaki Joanino helped organize the first ever Destination Delano tour.
“We’re all coming together for a movement,” Joanino explained. “This is a movement to recognize our history and let the rest of this nation see how important the contribution of our manongs are.”
Destination Delano passes through where Filipino farmworkers worked and socialized.
Johnny Itliong’s father Larry would eventually become one of the leaders of the farm labor movement, leading the fight for better working and living conditions in an era marked with racial tension.
“I’ve seen a church being burned down, the violence of the police, foremen beating up the people I call uncles and aunties,” Johnny recalled.
Filipino farm workers would eventually lead the 1965 grape strikes that improved working and living conditions for workers throughout the state.
Though it seems their contributions have been forgotten through time.
About a third of the 50,000 residents in Delano are Filipino. But there are no monuments, street signs, or federal designations attributed to Filipinos.
The Filipino Community Center and Agbayani Village, where Filipinos lived and organized the movement, quietly stand among the farmlands.
“It seems like it’s forgotten,” Joey Pertubal, the son of a Filipino farmworker who was born and raised in Delano, said. “The tensions kind of like went away since all the Delano manongs are gone. They passed away.”
“It’s great that Delano’s history is being recognized,” Pertubal added.
Celebrating Filipino-American history month in October allows many modern day Filipino workers to trace the steps of those who came before them.
“For me this is a blessing to come to know we have a history because we were never told about the hardships of these farmers,” Priscilla Cacho, a nurse who made the trip from San Francisco, said.
This is part 1 of a 2-part series in celebration of Filipino-American History Month.
You can contact Steve Angeles at email@example.com for more information.