LEGISLATURE | Anyone who heard Rob Bonta during his successful run last year for the Assembly know the names of the California farm labor leaders rattled from his lips almost every time he spoke. The celebration of Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong showed his progressive credentials to voters. The last two names, however, is rarely mentioned in the popular history of the farm workers’ struggle a generation ago. Bonta hopes the stories of Filipino American labor heroes like Vera Cruz and Itliong will receive the recognition they deserve following the signing into law earlier this month of his bill requiring state school curriculum to include the role of Filipino Americans in the farm labor movement.
“We can tell for the first time a story that has not been told and give voice to a silence never heard before,” Bonta said Friday during a town hall on the subject. Last year, Bonta made history by becoming the first Filipino American member of the State Assembly.
For much of the 20th Century, Filipino and Mexican immigrants toiled in the fields of the Central Valley with little pay and little respect. While Cesar Chavez and others are recognized as leading the farm workers’ strikes of the 1960s and 70s, Filipino American groups led by Vera Cruz and Itliong organized labor and eventually joined the United Farm Workers. The 1965 labor strike in Delano, Calif. over demands workers picking table grapes be paid the federal minimum wage was one of the movement’s defining moments and was fueled, in large part, by Filipino American labor groups, Bonta and others noted Friday.
East Bay labor leader Lillian Galedo is the daughter of a farm worker. During Friday’s town hall she fought back tears recalling her father and the overall struggle of the Filipino community. With over 1.1 million Filipino Americans in California, she called the law “long overdue.” Galedo also serves as executive director of Filipino Advocates for Justice in Oakland and Union City. “History goes on today,” she said, as farm workers in the state are still predominantly immigrants toiling on the fringes of society.
Bonta credited those before him for doing the heavy work leading to Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of AB 123 two weeks ago. “The reason why now is all the tremendous work done before us,” he said. “It was time.”
Despite the new requirements, the program still needs funding from next year’s fiscal budget. Bonta says a funding range between $16,000 and $90,000 has been identified, but carving a relatively small chunk of the state budget will still take work, possibly more work than getting the bill passed in the first place. “While there is achievement here collectively,” Bonta said, “there is so much more to be done.”