By Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Mar. 20, 2013

UNION CITY, Calif. – Hundreds of students, teachers, community leaders and their supporters marched along with the streets of Union City, California yesterday, to call on city leaders to rename the Alvarado Middle School in honor of Filipino-American leaders of the labor movement — Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong.

If this happens, this will the first time that public school in the U.S. will be named after Filipino Americans.

Vera Cruz and Itliong led the battle for farm workers rights in California in the 1960s. Vera Cruz was one of the founders of the Agriculture Worker Organizing Committee while Itliong founded the Filipino Farm Labor Union.

Both Filipinos convinced Latino leader, Cesar Chavez, to join the Grape Strike and Boycott of 1965, which led to the end of unfair labor practices and unsafe working conditions.

The student said renaming the middle school to honor Vera Cruz and Itliong will not only give them a sense of pride, but will keep the names of these Filipino-American heroes alive for future generations.

Trystan Vingno, an eighth grader of Alvarado Middle School said, “I thought about how stories about them have disappeared through time. If more kids know about them, their history will live on.”

The call to finally approve the school’s renaming has been stronger than ever. Erica Viray Santos, organizer for Kaisahan said, “It’s amazing how many of our students, our elders are coming together. This movement has been inter-generational and for many of us working in the community, we always hoped and envisioned that it would be like this.”

Opponents of the school’s renaming to Vera Cruz-Itliong Middle School said this move could get costly, estimated at about $10,000 for the sign change and other expenses. Jim Navarro, Union City council member said, “The community can get involved in raising funds. I volunteered to head the fundraising events and we can make sure no money will be used from the general fund of the school board.”

Some critics also said honoring the Filipino union leaders could be potentially divisive in a diverse community. But supporters said this is not about nationalistic pride. Ivan Viray Santos, teacher at James Logan High School said, “This is about solidarity. It’s about bringing the community together. Filipinos and Mexican farm workers were involved in a struggle but they came together for a common cause…the greater good.”

Three out of five school board members are of Filipino descent. All three have expressed support for the renaming campaign. The board is expected to vote on it by April 16.

You may contact Henni Espinosa at for more information.

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