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AS I SEE IT: New park for unsung heroes Delano Manongs

We forgot them! History forgot them, but the city of Milpitas didn’t!

By way of recognizing their efforts and contributions to the California farm labor movement, the Milpitas city council signed a proclamation naming a new park in honor of our unsung heroes, the 1,500 Delano Manongs, who staged the famous Delano Grape Strike of 1965 which lasted for five years (1965 – 1970) led by Larry Itliong which resulted in the formation of the United Farmworkers of America (UFWA).

Delano Manongs tells the story of organizer Larry Itliong and a group of Filipino farm workers who instigated one of the American farm labor movement’s finest hours – The Delano Grape Strike of 1965 that led to the creation of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW). Although the movement was known for Cesar Chavez’s leadership and considered a Chicano movement, Filipinos played a pivotal role in it. Filipino labor organizer Larry Itliong, a cigar-chomping union veteran, organized a group of 1,500 Filipinos to strike against the grape growers of Delano, California, beginning a collaboration between Filipinos, Chicanos, and other ethnic workers that would go on for years.

The new park was named by the city’s Naming Subcommittee as Delano Manongs Park located at 1576 McCandless Drive, next to the Mabel Mattos Elementary School. The celebration included an opening ceremony, reading of the city’s park dedication proclamation, food, resource tables, music, and dancing performances.

Local community leaders were invited by Parks and Recreation Director Renee Lorentzen to read the city’s park dedication proclamation. Among those who read were Vice Mayor Evelyn Chua; councilmember Atty. Garry Barbadillo; former city commissioner Ray Maglalang; city commissioner Hellie Mateo; community leader Anne Orozco Ramirez; former chair of the Library Education & Advisory Commission Elpidio R. Estioko; city commissioner Voltaire Montemayor; District Governor, Lions International Benjie Fernandez; business leader Nell Capistrano-Messersmith; and Mayor Carmen Montano who read the closing statement of the proclamation.

Mayor Montano, in her reflection speech said: “Our Delano Manongs Park is a beautiful 4-acres of new city park with playgrounds for all ages, a sports field with lights, community garden, butterfly garden, picnic areas, dog play areas, wide walking pathways, and fitness stations. And because of a grant from the County of Santa Clara’s All -Inclusive Playground Grant Program, the city was awarded $779,520.00 to make this great park accessible to all people of all abilities!

I want to thank our partner in this grant, the Milpitas Unified School district, and of course the County of Santa Clara for their funding and support with this project. I am also happy to say that this park was completed on budget, and although the pandemic did delay the project, I think the result was worth the wait!”

Montano added: “This is an unbelievably historic event in Milpitas. It is only fitting that we designate this space to memorialize a great example of what it means to stand up for what is right and coming together to enable change…”

In closing, Montano said: “…our Pilgrimage is the Match that will light our cause for all farm workers to see as what is happening here, so that they might do as we have done. I hope other cities see what Milpitas is doing here today. Honoring the legacy of our local heroes in these great community spaces like this park; with names that reflect the diversity of our great city, so that all feel represented and respected.”

Other dignitaries who attended the inauguration were former city Mayor Jose Esteves; former city Mayor Rich Tran; Senator Aisha Wahab; CA State Assembly member Alex Lee; MUSD School Board president Chris Norwood; and MUSD Superintendent Cheryl Jordan;

Filipino Americans nationwide recognize the Delano Manongs for their struggles and determination. “Manong” (Mah-nohng) comes from the northern Philippines language of Ilokano. It is a term of affection and respect best translated as “older brother” or “honored elder.” In the name of the Manongs from Delano, CA, this park honors their history, memories, and contributions.

Many Filipinos were migratory farm workers, following the seasonal crops in California. This includes grape fields of Delano in the Central Valley of California. In Delano, Filipinos suffered low wages, poor living conditions, and long hard hours.

In protest for better working conditions and wages, the union Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) formed under the leadership of Larry Itliong, agreed to go on strike. On September 8, 1965, over 1,500 Filipino American farm workers stopped work in protest. This act was the start of the Delano Grape Strike. 

Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, Pete Velasco, Ben Gines, Andy Imutan and other Manongs were pivotal to the strike. On September 16, 1965, these Filipino American organizers of AWOC invited the Mexican American union National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) to join the strike. Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta led NFWA to form the United Farm Workers of America (UFW).

This movement for labor rights reached across the country for the boycott of grapes. The strike lasted five years, one of the longest in history. By 1970, the strike was a success and the first union contracts granted farm workers better pay, benefits, and protections.

We thank the Manongs of Delano for starting the Grape Strike as part of the greater struggle for economic and social justice. Delano Manongs Park honors them for taking those first bold steps to reach across the aisle.