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March 19, 2013 > School Board considers honoring Filipino civil rights workers

School Board considers honoring Filipino civil rights workers

Submitted By Michelle Motoyoshi

Union City residents may soon be honoring two notable figures in U.S. History. At the March 19 meeting of the New Haven Unified School District Board, members will vote on a plan to rename Alvarado Middle School Middle School after two important, but often forgotten, leaders in the farm labor movement of the 1960s: Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz.

Several community groups, including the Pilipino-American Society for Education, Kaisahan, Filipino Advocates for Justice, Pilipino Youth Coalition and students of the Tagalog and Filipino Heritage Studies classes from James Logan High School have spearheaded the renaming campaign. Their efforts have included petition-signing activities and sponsoring history workshops on the contributions of Filipinos to American culture and history.

A public hearing on the matter was held on March 5. Numerous organizations, such as the State Asian Assembly Caucus, the Filipino Advocates for Justice, the Korematsu Institute at the Asian Law Caucus, and The League of Filipino American Veterans came out in support of the name change, as did representatives for politicians Assemblyman Ron Bonta, Assemblyman Quirk, and Union City Council Members Jim Navarro and Pat Gacoscos. Anthony Chavez, grandson of Cesar Chavez, sent a letter of support.

Although a vast number of Union City's residents are in favor of the name change, there has been some opposition. The primary objection, raised at the March 5 hearing, was the financial cost of changing the name. Athletic uniforms and other school products, for example, would have to be reordered to reflect the change.

Despite the opposition, most residents feel the social benefits of the change would outweigh the economic costs, believing it would acknowledge the area's diversity and raise awareness about Filipino Americans (who make up one-third of Union City's residents) and their contributions to the city and the country.

Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong, who would be honored by the renaming, have long been respected figures in the Filipino community locally and nationally. Both worked tirelessly in the farm labor movement. Itliong organized numerous protests and boycotts in California and Alaska, including a highly successful strike against grape growers in the Coachella Valley. He also founded the Filipino Farm Labor Union (FFLU) and served as the president of the Agricultural Workers' Organizing Committee (AWOC). Similarly, Vera Cruz participated in many boycotts, such as the Stockton Asparagus Strike of 1948, was president of the short-lived National Farm Labor Union, and was active in AWOC.

It was through Itliong's and Vera Cruz's leadership that AWOC launched the famous Delano Grape Strike in 1965. Together the two Filipino leaders convinced Cesar Chavez and his union, the National Farm Workers' Association (NFWA), to join the grape strike. The Delano Grape Strike was the most successful farm labor strike in U.S. history and was a key step in ending unfair labor practices and improving working conditions for farm laborers. Yet, if not for the efforts of Itliong and Vera Cruz, the strike may have never happened.

Not long after the strike, AWOC and the NFWA merged to form the United Farm Workers Union (UFW). Both Vera Cruz and Itliong served as vice president of the organization and continued to fight for the rights and betterment not only of Filipinos, but also of all agricultural workers.

To sign a petition in support of the school name change, go to http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/support_the_renaming/signatures

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