BY SAMMY JULIAN
JUST recently, after much heated discussions and rallies, the New Haven Board of Education approved a motion to rename Alvarado Middle School after Filipino-American leaders during the Asian-American civil rights movement in the 1960s and ‘70s.
The decision to rename Alvarado Middle School, named for former Mexican governor of California Juan Bautista Alvarado, was reached since two schools, a street and a park in the neighborhood, already carry his name.
School board members, Filipino-American students and community leaders already spoke in support of renaming the school in honor of Filipino-American labor leaders Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz.
Itliong was responsible in organizing West Coast agricultural workers starting in the 1930s and recognized as “one of the fathers of the West Coast labor movement.”
He rose to prominence in the US in 1965 when he, Vera Cruz, fellow labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, and Cesar Chavez, the best known Latino-American civil rights activist, led the Delano grape strike.
A native of Pangasinan, Itliong immigrated to the US in 1929 and joined his first strike in 1930.
By 1965, Itliong was living in the Central Valley of California and was the leader of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWAOC) which voted to strike against Coachella Valley grape growers on May 3, 1965. The strikers managed to win higher wages but were not able to negotiate a contract with the growers.
Itliong served as assistant director of the United Farm Workers under Chavez. He resigned in 1971 because of disagreements about the governance of the union. He died in 1977 at the age of 63.
He was posthumously honored in 2010 by inclusion in a mural at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
Today, the Larry Itliong Papers are housed at the Walter Reuther Library at Wayne State University in Detroit.
Vera Cruz, on the other hand, was born in Laoag, Ilocos Sur, the Philippines on Christmas day 1904. In 1926, he moved to the US where he performed a wide variety of jobs, including working in an Alaskan cannery, a restaurant, and a box factory. He eventually settled in California where he became a farm worker.
Vera Cruz co-founded AWOC which later merged with the National Farm Workers Association to become the United Farm Workers (UFW). AWOC was composed primarily of Filipino-American farm worker organizers.
As the union’s long-time vice president, he worked to improve the working conditions for migrant workers.
Vera Cruz resigned from the UFW in 1977 but continued to live in the San Joaquin Valley of California He, however, remained active in union and social justice issues for the rest of his life.
Vera Cruz received the Ninoy Aquino Award in 1987, traveling to the Philippines for the first time in 50 years to accept it. He died at the age of 89 in 1994, in Bakersfield, California./PN