Screening Celebrates Filipino Labor Struggles

UC Irvine welcomed Filipina American director and producer Marissa Aroy and Cerritos City Mayor Mark E. Pulido for a screening of her latest documentary, “The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers.” The screening took place in the Dr. White room of the Cross-Cultural Center last Tuesday night at 7 p.m. and  was followed by a Q&A panel as a part of celebrating Filipino American History Month.

Co-sponsored by Kababayan at UCI, Student Life & Leadership and Student Affairs and held as a part of the contemporary social issues series, “The Delano Manongs” is a thirty minute film highlighting the Filipino farm workers who started one the farm movement’s most well-known strikes –– the Delano Grape Strike of 1965.

On Sept. 8, 1965, 1,500 Filipino workers walked off the farms and demanded better wages from their grape growers. One week later, the Mexican American workers under Cesar Chavez and the National Farmworkers Association joined the cause. The strike lasted for five years and saw the creation of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) before the workers reached an agreement with the grape growers.

“I grew up in Bakersfield, near Delano, and I knew these Manongs, but I didn’t know anything about them,” said Aroyo on the inspiration behind the project, using “Manong” to refer to the community of mostly single male Filipinos who worked on the farms and participated in the strike. “I was exploring this partly for myself and my identity as a Filipina American.”

Aroyo, who won an Emmy for her 2008 TV documentary “Sikhs in America” in the category of Best Historic/Cultural Program and has also directed “Little Manila: Filipinos in California’s Heartland,” spent time in Delano, California interviewing family members of the Manongs –– most of whom are deceased now –– as well as combing through archives in search of photographs and footage from the movement.

“Going through the archives was a challenge, but it was a good challenge,” said Aroyo, who was even more driven to create the film when she was given recordings of interviews with Larry Itliong, the Filipino labor organizer who played a pivotal role in organizing the strike.

After the screening, Aroyo and Pulido initiated a discussion about the importance of documentation in the Asian American community and received questions from the audience of students, faculty and outside guests.

“[This film] affirms that we exist,” said Pulido, acknowledging the fact that the Filipino workers were left unrecognized and excluded from the farm worker movement’s history since the rising fame of Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association.

“There’s something about seeing images of people who look like you onscreen that is particularly touching,” Aroyo said.

“The Delano Manongs” will be shown on PBS, but Aroyo hopes it can be screened at more universities like UCI and maybe one day, teachers everywhere will use it in the classroom to teach students about Filipino history and the power of grassroots organizing.

“Because the Manongs had so few sons and daughters due to anti-miscegenation laws, we’re it –– we have to be the ones to carry on their memories,” Aroyo said.