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Remembering forgotten farmworkers, the Filipino American journey on the Central Coast

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KION-TV)- May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We take a look at the history of the Filipino American journey on the Central Coast.

Specifically, farmworkers–whose stories sometimes get lost or forgotten when it comes to the fight for farmworker rights. 

When we think about farmworker activism, we often think of names like Caesar Chavez or Dolores Huerta. But forgotten in the history are the Filipino farmworkers who helped start some of the biggest movements, labor leaders like Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz.

“I feel like the forgotteness of like Filipino farmworkers kind of comes from like the work space,” said Jason Agpaoa a board member with Asian Cultural Experience. “Also like the mentality of what that generation was coming in. They wanted like a better life for like the next generation.”

Born in Salinas, Alex Fabros said his grandfather sent him to work in fields after dropping out of college. Before getting his draft notice, one of the fields Fabros worked was Radanovich Ranch which was south of Delano.

“It was hard work,” said Fabros. “We get up around maybe four or five o’clock in the morning, try to get out there early enough to get maybe eight to ten hours work done before the sun got really hot.”

Temperatures at that time reaching into the triple digits. Fabros recalls spending hours in the sun, cutting grapes.

On September 8, 1965 the Delano Grape Strike begun.

“We Filipinos went on strike first,” said Fabros.

Fabros said workers were striking for higher wages. He also remembers strikes happening in Gonzales to the Coachella Valley. Farbos recalls when Larry Itliong reached out to Caesar Chavez.

“That's when everyone went and talked to Chavez at the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. They voted to support us,” said Fabros. “Again, both groups, the Filipino group Agriculture Workers Organizing Committee or AWOC and the Mexican group, they wanted to strike for higher wages. But this time they were really serious about creating a union.”

Both Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz were Filipino American labor organizers and leaders and were involved in the Delano Farm Workers Grape Strike. They were central and key to the founding of the United Farm Workers Union. 

Fabros said it was the fight to give the Delano manongs better medical care. The movement also spread from Delano to Salinas around the 1970s.

Agpaoa explains one of the reasons this part of history gets forgotten is because it can carry hard and traumatic memories for the Delano Manongs. 

 “I think learning from our traumas is the kind of best way to kind of move forward,” said Agpaoa. “Knowing what happened in the past in order to kind of like make positive change.”

On May 9, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors recognized contributions of not only Asian Americans, but also Filipino Americans on the Central Coast. Supervisors also apologized to the Filipino community for past actions taken against them. 

It’s a part of history that needs to be talked about said Fabros.

“That's an important history for America to understand that the Salinas Valley is sometimes known as the Salad Bowl of the nation,” said Fabros. “For the longest time, from the 1930s up until the 1960s, it was Filipinos who were working in the fields.”

“We can actually start rocking the boat,” said Agpaoa.“I mean, I feel we’re coming into a time where we can understand what happened the past in order to kind of make those changes as well, too.”

Fabros encourages future generations to write about their history of the history of their parents to make sure their stories don’t get lost or forgotten.

In part two of this special report, KION takes a look at how The Tobera Project and UC Santa Cruz are documenting and preserving stories of Filipino families in the Pajaro Valley. But also how expanding ethnic studies into public schools will help keep the history alive.

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Ana Torrea

Weekend Anchor/Reporter for KION News Channel 5/46


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