“They did their mission, we should do ours…for our lolos.”


“I want to be buried with that.” That’s what a Filipino-American World War II veteran shared with General Taguba in hopes that the sacrifices that he and thousands of his colleagues made during the conflict will finally receive the same recognition that Native American codetalkers and Japanese-American veterans have received: the Congressional Gold Medal.

It’s almost seven decades since the end of WWII. For the past few years, we’ve seen 70th anniversary commemorations for events such as the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Stalingrad, and the D-Day landings. In less than a couple years, we’ll see another one of those 70th anniversaries, this time not for a battle but for a law: the Rescission Act of 1946. The words that opened the legislation was itself damning:

Service before July 1, 1946, in the organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, while such forces were in the service of the Armed Forces of the United States pursuant to the military order of the President dated July 26, 1941, including among such military forces organized guerrilla forces under commanders appointed, designated, or subsequently recognized by the Commander in Chief, Southwest Pacific Area, or other competent authority in the Army of the United States, shall not be deemed to have been active military, naval, or air service for the purposes of any law of the United States conferring rights, privileges, or benefits upon any person by reason of the service of such person or the service of any other person in the Armed Forces.

The oath that a quarter million Pilipino recruits made years earlier by joining the United States Armed Forces Far East (USAFFE)—that pledge of "faith and allegiance...to the United States of America" and to "obey the orders...of the president of the United States"—seemed to have meant nothing in the eyes of the Rescission Act.

Thus began the decades-long fight for recognition, a battle that continued long after the war’s end. We’ve heard of the Fil-Am veterans who chained themselves in a park named after Douglas MacArthur, the USAFFE commander who led the initial defense and eventually the liberation of the Philippines. We’ve seen bills submitted to Congress over the years to bring such recognition only to end up not gaining traction.

Eventually some progress was made. The Naturalization Act of 1990 allowed veterans to become US citizens and one-time payments were delivered to them in the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund, which was embedded into American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

But even then such compensation ($9,000 to non-US citizens and $15,000 for US citizens) seems miniscule compared to what American veterans have received since the end of the war, with benefits ranging from medical to the GI Bill. And by then, thousands of Fil-Am vets have already passed away, thus reducing the number that needed to be compensated while 42% that are still alive and have applied have since been rejected.

As their numbers dwindle by the day, the imperative to act is immediate. Recently Hawaii representative Colleen Hayabusa introduced the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act. The latest attempt has spawned a grassroots movement called the Filipino American World War II Soldiers Recognition Project and is led none other than General Antonio Taguba, the closing speaker at this year’s UniPro Summit. Within that speech was a quote that struck a chord deep within, emotions that reminded me of my own grandfather who passed away shortly after the war…

“They did their mission, we should do ours… for our lolos.”

I recall ten years ago, when I’d envision General Taguba’s face every time I heard something about the Abu Gharib scandal. I was inspired to see a Fil-Am in the upper echelons of the Armed Forces. Now he’s leading the fight for another injustice, one that after seven decades is finally seeing progress -- but only after thousands of veterans have already passed away. Writing to members of our congress seems painless compared to the literal and symbolic battles that these individuals faced, but it’s powerful enough as a final gesture of gratitude before they pass on.

Fellow minority veteran groups received their recognition after years of constant lobbying. Now it’s time for our Filipino-American World War II veterans, our lolos, to receive theirs.

For updates on this important initiative, check out and like the Filipino American World War II Soldiers Recognition Project Facebook page.

Photo credit: Filipino American World War II Soldiers Recognition Project

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

My Family's War-Time Story

Note from the editor: As we begin this week by reflecting on the sacrifices made by Americans during times of war, we wanted to share this personal story, shared with us by contributor, Jennifer Delos Santos. May we not forget the sacrifices made around the world during fearful times, and may we all work towards a more accepting and peaceful tomorrow. Passing down war-time stories across generations.

Each person has his or her own family history. Whether it includes a divorce, a milestone, or even death, each is unique, yet relatable to someone else’s. Part of my family history involves my grandparents during World War II. Honestly, if it were not for my eighth grade history project, I would have never known the details of what my grandparents encountered. While I was learning about WWII back in eighth grade, my social studies teacher enforced the memorization of the beginning of President Roosevelt’s speech. "Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy. The United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan."My grandparents experienced more than one infamous day, especially my grandfather, or as my family call him, “Tata.” If he were still alive, I would have thanked him for what he did.  I can admit that he is a source of inspiration. I’m not sure if I can do what he did if faced with a similar situation. My grandmother, “Ima,” was there the whole time too and the war justifies how brave they both were. As I learned from my mother, the Japanese were killing all of the men, but not the women.  Why? I am not sure. On top of being poor, my grandparents had to confront the Japanese. But before they reached the nipa hut of my grandparents, Tata planned ahead. He dressed up as one of the women and wore a dress along with a bandana on his head while holding a baby in his arms. I am not sure if the baby was one of my older aunts or uncles or someone else’s baby, but what matters is that he was not killed. The disguise saved his life and the Japanese only pierced the ceiling of the nipa hut with bayonets to ensure that no one was hiding. This incident was long before my mother was born and I always think about how crucial this event was. Without their sacrifice, my mother wouldn’t be here nor would I. After the war subsided, one of my older aunts traveled to the U.S. and settled in New York. She then petitioned my grandparents and other members of my family, eventually leading to the petitioning of my mother as well. Therefore, more importantly, because my grandfather survived, he was able to live in the U.S. and become a U.S. citizen.Everyone has an interesting story to be told. This is one of mine. I’m sure that I will be passing this story down to my family and beyond. It is something that my family can be proud of and proves how an act of bravery can be significant. Tata made a difference in my family by surviving the Japanese. If he hadn’t survived, I wouldn’t be here writing about it.