Pete Velasco

FAHM: The Delano Manong, Pete Velasco, and the Farm Workers’ Movement

Note from the Editor: In addition to being a staff writer, Kathryn Jan Estavillo, is also one of UniPro’s interns for the fall. As part of Fil-Am History Month, interns explored California’s new law to include history on Fil-Am farm workers and their efforts in the state’s education curriculum. Read on to see Kathryn's thoughts on labor leader, Pete Velasco.

Peter Velasco

Little to almost nothing can be found about his past. The names of his parents or any siblings he may have had remain unaddressed, unexcavated by both print and online sources. However, the amount of information that can be gleaned about his childhood, scant and insignificant, is a deceitful indicator of the great impact he left on the Fil-Am community. Peter G. Velasco, more commonly known as Pete Velasco, was born in 1910 in Asingan, Philippines. Having migrated to Los Angeles in 1931, Pete Velasco was a manong. Awarded to older male family members, manong is a term of endearment and respect familiar to many Pilipinos. Possibly an older brother, probably an older cousin, Velasco may have very well been given this title from birth. However, in between the 1930s and 1940s, the word adapted a new meaning, referring to the thousands of Pilipino immigrants, Velasco among them, driven by hopes of education and advancement to the United States.

While in the United States, Velasco worked in area restaurants for ten years, a challenging feat considering the American backlash directed towards immigrants, specifically Pilipinos. Despite America’s anti-immigrant mentality, Velasco stood as a representation of patriotism, fighting for the United States on European fronts during World War II and becoming an American citizen shortly after. Although his wartime service and citizenship are notable strides for Pilipino immigrants, it was his time as a farm worker that solidified his footprint in both Pilipino and American history. During the twenty years after the war, Pete Velasco worked on small farms in the Coachella Valley and Delano, California. There he, alongside thousands of Pilipino and Mexican migrant workers, faced horrendous treatment. They endured long hours of hard labor, unsuitable living conditions and meager earnings; these subhuman conditions continued even after their service expired. No longer needed and thus unemployed, former workers received no insurance. Their former employers for whom these immigrant workers toiled, exploited and maltreated, gave no help and showed no mercy. Velasco, along with fellow Pilipino farm workers Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, noticed this injustice and, together, they founded the Agricultural Farm Workers Association Committee (AFWOC) in order to address it.

The three leaders unified the Pilipino migrant workers under a common sense of rage and disempowerment and, on September 8, 1965 they initiated the Delano Grape Strike. This was a series of peaceful protests against California grape growers that lasted five years. Not long after the strike began, in 1966, the objectives of the Pilipino farm workers gained notoriety in the eyes of Hispanic civil rights leader Cesar Chavez as goals both the Pilipinos and Mexicans had in common. This led to the collaboration of Pilipino and Chicano farmworkers in the United Farm Workers of America. Aside from organizing the strike with Vera Cruz and Itliong, Velasco raised the money needed to launch the strike effort. By passing out pamphlets in front of supermarkets and other areas of congregation, he introduced the plight of migrant farm workers into public conversation. He was also more directly involved, arranging food caravans and establishing food banks for the strikers. He would later become a member of the union’s executive board and was elected as secretary-treasurer in 1980. Not only a supporter, Pete Velasco was familiar with the grit and grim, the suffering and sacrifice of the labor movement. As a member of this generation of Pilipino immigrant farm workers campaigning for justice, won his title as a Delano Manong.

There are many reasons why learning about Pete Velasco is important for Americans. Velasco was a piece of a larger puzzle, a representation of the effort to rectify the unforgivable conditions immigrant workers faced. By learning about Velasco, we acknowledge not only his role in the movement but we realize there may have been others whose efforts may have gone unnoticed. Additionally, Velasco is a canvas depicting American error. Velasco was one of many who traveled to the United States in pursuit of the American dream: education, opportunity, a better standard of living for himself, his family and the family he had yet to start. Velasco saw all these possibilities promised to him in the vibrant hues of the American flag. But what did he meet with? What did he and immigrants like him face when they set foot onto the shores of America? Unfortunately, this wave of immigrants, like many others, had  racial slurs and undesirable jobs to look forward to. America boasts itself to be the land of opportunity, a country who begs for “your tired, your hungry and your poor,” a nation whose diversity is its most valuable asset. Still, this gross injustice in our history shows us what mentalities to avoid in order to maintain the true meaning of the United States, a lesson that needs, desperately, to be relearned today.

Undoubtedly, Velasco is an important figure in American history but, more so, in Fil-Am history. The Agricultural Workers’ Movement, the momentous step towards improving American labor, is recognized primarily as a Mexican or Chicano movement. However, Pilipinos played an enormous role. They began the movement but because Cesar Chavez was appointed director and Larry Itliong assistant director. However, Pilipino migrant workers received less attention than those of Mexican descent. The Pilipino leader of this major civil rights labor movement accepted a secondary role and the union organizing efforts of the Pilipinos in the US have been virtually forgotten. When researching the United Farm Workers of America or the Delano Grape Strike, the majority of articles one finds highlights the Mexican-American struggle with only a slight mention, a small blurb about the Pilipino role. Pilipinos have left footprints on the sands of American history and they are often unacknowledged. As Fil-Ams, it is our responsibility to ourselves if not to the general public to point out these footprints.

Photo Credit: Walter P. Reuther Library Website

FAHM: Larry Itliong’s Impact on the Farm Labor Movement

Note from the Editor: Jedric Martin is one of UniPro’s interns for the fall. As part of Fil-Am History Month, interns explored California’s new law to include history on Fil-Am farm workers and their efforts in the state’s education curriculum. Read on to see Jedric's thoughts on labor leader, Larry Itliong. By Jedric Martin, guest contributor


Larry Itliong was a Fil-Am labor organizer. He is best known for leading the Delano Grape Strike, which started on September 8, 1965 and lasted for more than half a decade. Because of his efforts in this strike, he is often regarded as “one of the fathers of the West Coast labor movement.”

Itliong was born to Artemio and Francesca Itliong on October 25, 1913 in the Pangasinan Province of the Philippines. He was one of six children and only had a sixth grade education. Nonetheless, Itliong excelled as an activist, and by 1929, he had immigrated to the United States. One year later, at the age of seventeen, he was involved in his first activist movement: the lettuce strike at Monroe, Washington. Furthermore, Itliong was a very good card player and a regular cigar smoker. He was multilingual, being able to speak fluently in various Pilipino dialects, Spanish, Cantonese, and Japanese. He also taught himself about law, which aided him as both an activist and a leader.

As a farmworker, Itliong was well traveled on the West Coast, having worked in Alaska, Washington, and all around California. Additionally, he worked in Montana and South Dakota. While in Alaska, he helped found the Alaska Cannery Workers Union. Commonly referred to as "Seven Fingers," he received his nickname after losing three fingers in an accident while working in Alaska.

Picture of Larry Itliong

Itliong’s credentials demonstrate his value not only to the Pilipino community, but the American community as well. In the 1930s and ‘40s, Californian Pilipinos led the way in unionization efforts among farmworkers. After serving as a mess man on a U.S. Army transport ship during World War II, Itliong moved to Stockton, California where he participated in the first major agriculture strike to take place after the war. He also served as a first shop steward of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 37 in Seattle, being elected as its vice-president in 1953.

In 1965, Itliong became a leader of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), a union that consisted mostly of Filipinos who immigrated to the U.S. during the 1930s. It was around this time that Itliong, along with Philip Vera Cruz, Benjamin Gines, and Pete Velasco, led a strike against growers of table grapes in California in an attempt to increase their revenue stream to minimum wage. This boycott, which would later be referred to as the Delano Grape Strike, was a very significant victory for Itliong and his fellow leaders, who eventually won higher wages. AWOC would soon merge with the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) led by Cesar Chavez, to create the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Itliong was initially skeptical about the merge, fearing that Mexicans would dominate the union. Nonetheless, Itliong did not share these thoughts, and instead, worked harder to move up in the union. He was a member of the founding board for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), which was a plan enacted through President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty policy. This plan was initiated in 1966 as a nonprofit legal services program. The CRLA seeks to provide California residents—especially those greatly affected by poverty—with free legal assistance, as well as access to many different education and outreach programs.

Itliong served as the Assistant Director of the UFW under Chavez until 1970; at this time, he was appointed to National Boycott Coordinator. In 1971, however, Itliong resigned from the UFW due to disagreements about how the union should be run. Moreover, Itliong also believed the union did not support aging Pilipinos. Despite his resignation, Itliong still supported the UFW’s cause. He helped organize a strike against the Safeway supermarkets in 1974 and worked towards building a retirement facility for UFW workers, which would later be known as “Agbayani Village.” On February 8, 1977, Itliong died of Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 63. Los Angeles County decided in 2011 to give public recognition to Itliong, making his birthday, October 25, an official holiday.

As Fil-Ams, it is our responsibility to acknowledge Itliong’s impact on the Farm Labor movement. The contributions he made may not have affected us directly, but they surely stand as a significant example of how anyone could fight for an important cause, despite having to deal with difficult circumstances. His commitment to UFW’s mission, despite a lack of agreement between him and the governing body of the union, demonstrates not only his strong leadership qualities, but also his good will. The decision of California Governor Jerry Brown to include the contributions of Fil-Ams, such as Itliong, in the academic curriculum of the state is monumental, and it will ensure that these courageous Pilipinos are remembered for their integral role in the Farm Labor movement.

Photo Credit: Reuther Library