Monday, March 31, 2014

Filipino-Americans Feel Role in Farmworker Movement Diminished in Chavez Biopic

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 9:30 AM

Last week's premiere of the Cesar Chavez biopic was celebrated by Chicanos and non-Chicanos alike, but another Filipino-American activists felt that the film falls short of accurately depicting their peoples' fight in the struggle and creation of the farmworker movement.

The National Board of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) issued a statement that it "celebrates the appearance of United Farm Workers (UFW) co-founder Larry Itliong in the Hollywood biopic Cesar Chavez. However, FANHS argues that the film misses an opportunity to offer a nuanced and accurate history of the farmworkers movement that was born of the Filipinos’ 1965 Grape Strike because it does not emphasize the importance of the historic multi-ethnic alliance between Mexicans and Filipinos in the UFW."

FANHS hopes that moviegoers inspired by the film continue to learn about the movement and are spurred towards dialogue and action towards today’s movements for worker justice and such issues as immigration reform.

“We respect Diego Luna’s vision of a film about the heroic rise of Cesar Chavez, but as a history of the farmworkers struggle, the film falls short by downplaying, erasing and silencing the significant role that Filipinos and others played in the heroic struggle for farmworkers justice in California,” says Dr. Dawn B. Mabalon, National Scholar and board member of FANHS, and associate professor of history at San Francisco State University. “We understand that this is Hollywood and not a documentary, but the filmmakers still have a responsibility to ensure that the history they present is accurate.”

From Michael Fitzgerald recent column in Stockton, California's The Record, it sounds like diminishing
Larry Itliong's role in the movement and the activist's own personal fight against has been a repeated mistake of ignoring history and its players. Happens often, but still stings:

Two key Stockton labor figures were Dolores Huerta and Larry Itliong. Huerta, a Latina, is justly celebrated. She has a school named after her here.

Itliong (1913-1977), a Filipino, is labor's forgotten leader. The city of Stockton has not honored him; he's little more than a walk-on in the movie.

But he was a remarkable guy. He did union work up and down the West Coast. He taught himself nine Philippine dialects and three foreign languages - Chinese, Japanese and Spanish - to better organize.

He founded the Filipino Farm Labor Union in Stockton. When the AFL-CIO came to town, he led its Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee with Huerta until she moved to Southern California.

The AWOC called the famous 1965 Delano grape strike.

At that time, Chavez's union, the National Farm Workers Association, was a startup. Chavez and his lieutenants were still struggling to define its mission, Mabalon said.

"Where they're sitting around navel gazing, Filipinos are paying dues, they're taking strike votes, they're walking off the fields," Mabalon said.

Itliong was instrumental in securing Chavez's agreement that the workers in Chavez's fledgling union would not cross the Delano picket line, Mabalon said.

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