By Hannah De Castro-Abinuman,, (213) 613-8983

From left to right – With emcees Gerald Gubatan and Aquilina Versoza (PWC executive director), 
Sen. Maria Elena Durazo honors PWC with a certificate of appreciation at the Larry Itliong Day Festival

LOS ANGELES – Last October 21, 2023, the Filipino-American community gathered in Historic Filipinotown, Los Angeles,
to honor the life and memory of Larry Itliong, the iconic Filipino civic rights leader and one of the “fathers” of the
California labor movement. The well-attended annual event was organized and hosted by the Pilipino Workers Center
(PWC), a non-profit organization that has carried on the life mission of Itliong: championing the dignity and rights of
every worker in America.

Larry Itliong (1913-1970) was just 16 years old when he immigrated from the Philippines to the US in 1929. Working in
farms and canneries in different states, Larry determined to do something about the unfair plight and inadequate pay of
workers like himself and other Filipino Americans. Seeking to get fair wages and workers’ rights for all farm workers,
Manong Larry (as he was fondly called) organized cannery and agricultural unions along the American West Coast from
the 1930s to the 1970s. He founded the Alaska Cannery Workers Union, the Filipino Farm Labor Union in Stockton, and
the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) which later merged with Cesar Chavez’ National Farm Workers
Association to become the United Farm Workers (UFW). The UFW secured a victory in the famous five-year Delano Grape
Strike (1965-1970) which resulted in the farm workers receiving higher pay, better benefits, medical insurance and limits
on pesticide use.

Filipino Farmers Market at the Larry Itliong Day Festival

Since the years following Itliong’s death in 1970, the Filipino American community has sought to honor his legacy of
fighting for justice and equality for generations to come. Finally in 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law
Bill AB 7, requiring California to annually proclaim Larry Itliong’s October 25th birth date as “Larry Itliong Day.”
Held at the PWC headquarters, fittingly dubbed as the Larry Itliong Village, the 2023 Festival attracted hundreds of
people of various cultures who were treated to a day-long taste of Filipino culture, arts and food. They enjoyed a variety
of activities including a Farmers Market from the Filipino Farmers Cooperative, musical performances by various artists,
an educational bilao art exhibit, a food fair, live Baybayin Art (Filipino script), arts and crafts for kids, Know Your Rights
workshops, artisanal products and art prints from local creatives, artists, vendors, and many more. The huge crowd was
regaled by a lineup of remarkable Filipino talents such as Felson Palad, Ramon Acoymo, Imogen Atangan, Mica Javier, the
Filipino-American Symphony Orchestra (FASO), Pamana Kali, Ancestral Vision Movement, Pakaraguian Kulintang
Ensemble (PKE), PWC members, and with appearances by Fil-Am celebrities Donita Rose, JayR and more.
The festival emcees were Aquilina Soriano Versoza (Executive Director, Pilipino Workers Center) and Gerald Gubatan (LA
City, Fil-Am Community leader). The impressive speakers who graced the event were California State Senator Maria Elena
Durazo, Hugo Soto-Martinez (Councilmember, CD 13), Esther Lim (Senior Justice Deputy, Office of Supervisor Hilda Solis,
LA County District 1), Johnny Itliong (son of Larry Itliong), Florante Ibanez (Asian American Studies scholar, educator), and
Mary Jane Galviso (Filipino Farmers Cooperative). Other local dignitaries such as Arleen Bocatija Rojas (Council Member,
Carson City, District 4), David C. Nguyen (office of Los Angeles City Mayor Bass) and Filipino-American community leaders
also joined the celebration.

Live performances and activities during the Larry Itliong Day Festival. 

One of the key speakers, Councilmember (CD13) Hugo Soto-Martinez, gave Itliong the honor he deserves, which has
been somewhat overlooked by many historians. “One thing that I learned about the labor movement which was a little
bit of a was a shock to me was that it was not Cesar Chavez who started the workers’ strike in Delano but it was actually
the Filipinos led by Cesar Itliong,” said Martinez. “This forgotten history and the contribution of the Filipinos has been
very much lost to society. I think today is about recognizing the contribution of the Filipinos during the Grape workers
strike.” Martinez also cited the big role of the Filipino community during the COVID pandemic. “They kept us safe and
secure because most of the people in the healthcare industry are Filipinos. This has oftentimes also been forgotten. So

when we think about the inspiration and the contribution of the Filipinos to our community, we should think about a lot
of compassion, a lot of solidarity.”
“We also recognize Larry Itliong as important not just as a Filipino leader and icon but also an American leader and icon
in terms of what he brought to the labor movement, and that is something to be commemorated, to be remembered,
and talked about,” said Senior Justice Deputy Esther Lim from the Office of Supervisor Hilda Solis, LA County District 1.
“This is history that we constantly should remind ourselves of – how we got here and how we move forward.”
The work of PWC is centered on advocating for the rights of Filipino migrant workers, most of them are in the healthcare
or homecare industry, education and agriculture. Through the Larry Itliong Day Festival, PWC hopes not only to entertain
but to also educate people and inspire them to take part in the labor movement, which benefits workers of all industries.
An important component of the Festival was the exhibition of the rich tapestry of Filipino art and culture. Attendees
were impressed by the bilao art which depicted Larry Itliong’s very interesting life. Bilao refers to traditional Filipino
woven trays which were used as the canvas for the artists to paint on. Attendees were also given customized free
Baybayin Art (an ancestral writing system in the Philippines) painted by internationally-acclaimed Filipino artist Eliseo
Silva, best known for the Gintong Kasaysayan Historic Filipinotown mural, heralded as the largest, “most famous Filipino
American artwork.”

Senator Maria Elena Durazo stressed the “need to stand up for the dignity that we deserve, for the respect that we
deserve, for the hard work that we give to this nation.” She affirmed that Larry Itliong and his legacy should be
celebrated. “He was not only important to the Filipino community. He was born to all of us. He struggled alongside and
helped to lead a very powerful movement. If it had not been for the power of the Filipino farm workers, we would not
have won. It took the power of the Filipino farm workers.”
His father’s remarkable legacy has left an indelible mark on his son, Johnny Itliong, who speaks of “Manong Larry” as a
hero not only to Filipino Americans and Filipinos in the diaspora, but to all Americans who fight for socioeconomic and
racial justice.

Plaques and certificates of appreciation were given by Senator Maria Elena Durazo, Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez
and Senior Justice Deputy Esther Lim to the Itliong Family and to the Pilipino Workers Center.
The festival offered the attendees a better familiarity and appreciation for Filipino food and culture, music and art.
Vendors sold delicious and much-missed “Pinoy” delicacies such as the Ilocos empanada, Filipino BBQ and street food
skewers, tupig, kakanin and so much more! Many had fun taking “selfies” and group pictures, posing beside PWC’s 1940
Sarao jeepney, tricycle and “bahay kubo” (nipa hut) on display.
At the close of the festival, PWC Executive Director Aquilina Soriano Versoza expressed her appreciation for the members
of Pilipino Workers Center who work tirelessly to advocate for equality and respect in the workplace. “They are really the
heart and the power of PWC – the domestic workers, homecare workers, who have been going up to Sacramento, who
have been educating legislators, who have been building coalitions, who have been educating each other to build a really
strong domestic worker movement.” Versoza also reported the recent achievements of PWC for domestic workers. “This
year, we were able to win and collect over $2 million dollars in back wages for domestic workers! We were also able to
win and make permanent, the domestic worker education and outreach program, sponsored by the state (of California),
and won $35 million dollars to do this outreach and education to support both domestic employers and domestic
workers to make our homes a dignified workplace.”