By Abner Galino
THE celebration of the 1st Larry Itliong Day in California was a huge success. Thousands of Filipino-Americans came out and participated in a three-day marathon of community activities held in many cities around the state that started in October 23.
Art Garcia, a prominent community leader in Los Angeles said the commemoration of union leader Larry Itliong greatly enhanced the significance of the Filipino-American history month as Filipino-Americans were able to relate to an actual Fil-Am hero whose struggles as an agricultural worker epitomize the journeys of most immigrants here in the United States of America.
Garcia claimed that the celebration of the Filipino-American history month was primarily based on a “myth.” The Larry Itliong Day, he added, provided Filipino-Americans the faces and stories that can actually be retold and celebrated for their value and consequences to the history and evolution of their community.
On Saturday, October 24, simultaneous celebrations were held in downtown Los Angeles and Carson City. The activities included dedicated masses in churches, parades, film showings, awarding of recognitions to exemplary individuals and cultural shows – portraying Philippine indigenous dances and attires. There were also presentations of contemporary Filipino-American progressive arts, poems and music.
The son of the Fil-Am hero, Johnny, who was present during the celebration in Carson City, said he was so happy and honored that the Larry Itliong Day has become an official celebration for the Filipino-American community.
“We work for many years, about 30 years, for this. And it is the 50th anniversary of the Delano grape strike, it is just so fitting to celebrate it today,” Johnny said.
The son of the great union leader also thanked California legislators, particularly Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta of Oakland who authored the bill calling for a statewide commemoration of Larry Itliong. The bill passed the California legislature without any opposition.
In July last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law which made October 25 as Larry Itliong commemorative day.
Notably, the celebration of the Larry Itliong Day in Los Angeles showcased of Filipino-Americans reaching out efforts with the members of other minority groups, particularly with Hispanics and African-Americans.
In Carson City, political animosity was temporarily set aside as feuding city officials join each other on stage to express their respective support for the ongoing event.
Carson City Mayor Alex Robles, City Council Mayor pro tempore Elito Santarina, Council members Jawane Hilton, Donesia Gause, Lula Davis-Holmes and City Clerk Jim Dear all gamely went up the stage to join the presentation of awards and subsequent pictorials.
Atty. Jose Lauchengco Jr., one of the speakers in the Carson event, told the crowd that the ongoing political strife has nothing to do with race but only with the “corruption” of certain individuals who wanted to take advantage of the city government.
Among those honored in Carson City were 92-year-old World War II veteran Franco Arcebal, basketball player Kobe Paras, figure skating champion Michael Christian Martinez, former Sony Pictures vice president Fritz Friedman and Hollywood film producer and director Dean Devlin.
In downtown Los Angeles, the festivities were spearheaded by Jump Sunday, Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, People’s Core, Kabataang Makabayan (KmB) and the Pilipino Workers Center.
In 1965, Itliong led the Delano Grape Strike to seek better conditions for agricultural workers. Prior to that, he also helped establish the Alaska Cannery Workers Union in the 1930s which led to a contract that included eight-hour a day work with overtime pays. He also founded the Filipino American Political Association in 1970 which was the first Fil-Am political organization.