San Jose State students want recognition for Filipino farmworkers
SJSU students want the university to recognize Filipino farmworkers who contributed to the farmworkers rights movement. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Filipino students at San Jose State University said honoring a key leader in the farmworkers rights movement is long overdue—and they staged a rally to make their intentions known.

    With signs reading “Cynthia Teniente Matson Act Now” and “Campus Planning Board Act Now,” Students for Filipino Farmworkers protested today at the Arch of Dignity, Equality and Justice. They are demanding an art installation for Filipino farmworker leader Larry Itliong be placed on campus, in addition to recognizing Filipino farmworkers as a significant part of the United Farm Workers movement.

    “We want dignity, equality and justice for the Filipino farmworkers,” said SJSU graduate student Kayla Taduran at the rally. “Their story has been all but erased from history. We want our history to be told.”

    Mark Serrano, a member of the Filipino American National Historical Society of Santa Clara Valley and Filipino Youth Coalition, said recognizing Itliong’s fight for farmworkers is of paramount importance for Filipino Americans.

    “These people paved the way for us today,” he said.

    SJSU graduate student Kayla Taduran was shocked Larry Itliong was omitted from art honoring the farmworkers rights movement. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    The Arch, commissioned by the university in 2008, commemorates Mexican American labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez, who fought for better working conditions for farmworkers. Its imagery doesn’t include Itliong, who initiated the Delano Grape farmworkers strike in the 1960s.

    The first time Taduran, who is Filipino, came on campus and saw the Arch she was shocked not to see Itliong mentioned.

    “It was very jarring to me,” she told San José Spotlight. “There is a monument for Cesar Chavez, but nothing for Larry Itliong, leader of the farmworker’s union.”

    Taduran said honoring Itliong with a statue would give Filipinos a sense of place.

    “Growing up as a Filipino American, I didn’t see myself represented in a lot of spaces,” she said. “It would be really cool to have that art installation here on campus so Filipino Americans could personally identify with it. Seeing that representation on campus would allow you to be proud of who you are and the generations that came before you.”

    According to the National Park Service, Itliong and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee rallied 1,500 Filipino farmworkers to strike against grape growers in Delano, California. Itliong convinced Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who led the National Farm Workers Association, to join the 1965 strike. In 1967, the two unions merged to become the United Farm Workers with Chavez as director and Itliong as assistant director.

    By protesting, students want to show university President Teniente-Matson there is support for the new monument. They are meeting with her on May 15, following a meeting with the campus planning board on May 9.

    Taduran said working with a new university president may be in their favor.

    “President Cynthia Teniente-Matson has interacted with us on social media,” Taduran told San Jose Spotlight. “She aims to be different than our prior presidents and we’re optimistic that she works with us.”

    SJSU spokesperson Michelle Smith McDonald said a group of students met with staff from the Division of Student Affairs to share their idea for the monument, with staff expressing an intent to follow-up. She said an official request for the statue submitted to the university would receive “appropriate consideration.”

    University sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton told San José Spotlight it will be interesting to see how Teniente-Matson responds. She said she’s dedicated to equity and highlighting campus and local history. He said the arch cost $300,000, so a new monument would likely cost about $100,000.

    While attending a mass and vigil at Cesar Chavez’s house on Sunday for the 30th anniversary of his death, students spoke with Maritza Maldonado, executive director of Amigos de Guadalupe. 

    “It’s extremely important to lift up the Filipino community that fought side by side with Cesar Chavez in the movement for justice for farmworkers,” she told San José Spotlight. “We are proud to honor Larry and all other Filipinos that helped in the struggle. He should be recognized.”

    SJSU student Raymond Daniel Goni appreciates the community’s support.

    “We’re learning that change is possible,” he said. “When everybody works on ideas and it’s something they’re passionate about, you can make a difference.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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