How These Filipino "Manongs" of Delano Led the Farmworker Revolution in America

Jhemmylrut Teng
Filipino farmworkers in California(Source: Library of Congress)

In celebrating the Asian Pacific Americans' Heritage Month, let us remember the significant contribution of Filipino "manongs" of Delano, California. These men came to the United States in the early 20th century for the promise of attaining the American Dream. However, that dream turned into a nightmare when the nation they moved into didn't welcome them with open arms.

Nevertheless, through resilience and optimism, these manongs contributed to one of the most vital revolutions in America that led to social and economic justice for the people of color in the U.S.

Arrival in America

After the Philippine-American War in 1902, around 200,000 Filipinos died in the Philippines. The U.S. government, under William Howard Taft, launched a pacification campaign to win over support from Filipino elites in 1900. This ultimately helped contribute to the defeat of the Filipino independence forces, and the war officially ended in 1902. And the country was formally colonized by the United States.

Following the U.S. annexation of the Philippines, Filipinos began to emigrate to the United States. In 1903, the first documented group of Filipinos emigrated to the United States. The majority of Filipino immigrants were single males who came to work in agricultural jobs in California and Hawaii.

They were called the "manongs" a Filipino word that means "old men." However, the manongs who moved to the U.S. were far from old; they were very young.
Filipino manongs in California(Source: ABS-CBN)

In 1917, the U.S. Congress passed a law barring migrants from Asia. Before that, only the Chinese were forbidden. The Immigration Act of 1924 entirely limited the number of immigrants entering the U.S. from any country. But not the Filipinos, as technically, they were considered citizens of the U.S. territory.

Therefore, West Coast's farm owners hired many manongs to tend to their fields. As a result, many young and single Filipino males in the Philippines' countryside were lured to move to the United States to augment a stable workforce. Thus, these manongs were a good source of cheap labor.

So, from the 1920s to 1930s, about 100,000 Filipino young males were recruited and shipped to the U.S. to be farmworkers. These adventurous lads left everything behind and braved the long voyage to America.

Banned to Marry White Women

These manongs had a vision of what America would be like. It's the land of equal opportunities where race doesn't matter. That anyone can make it big in the United States by sheer determination and perseverance.

These were the ideals and learnings the Thomasites (American teachers) taught the Filipinos in their classrooms in the Philippines.

Compared to the Spaniards who ruled through racial bureaucracy, these manongs believed that the Americans were different. Besides, they have seen many White American men dating Filipino women in the Philippines. So they were looking forward to meeting and dating White American women in the U.S.
Filipino manongs were frequently present in clubs and danced with Caucasian women - the taxi dancers(Source: Wikimedia)

However, the increasing numbers of manongs in California threatened the Caucasian male population for two reasons: getting their jobs and getting the affection of American women.

These manongs being new in town, were always present in nightclubs in California. They dressed pretty snappily to impressed the women. During that time was the height of the taxi dancers, where ere women were being paid 10 cents per dance.

The tension between the manongs and White American guys escalated, which led to the Watsonville Riot in January 1930.

The violence even spread to Stockton, San Francisco, San Jose, and other cities. The five days of the Watsonville riots profoundly impacted California's attitude toward imported Asian labor.
Filipinos pose before the ruins of their bombed-out clubhouse in Stockton, California in 1930.(Source: Filipino American National Historical Society)

In 1933, through Roldan v. Los Angeles County, California's legislature explicitly outlawed Filipino-white intermarriage. Such a decision was even supported by Gov. James Rolph when he signed two bills that retroactively invalidated all-white marriages with non-whites. The law specifically mentioned the Malay race for exclusion under section 69 of the anti-miscegenation law.
Bachelors’ club dinner parties were occasions for manongs to attend with their girlfriends and dates.(Source: FANHS Stockton, Pangasinan Association of Los Angeles)

By 1934, the federal Tydings–McDuffie Act restricted Filipino immigration to fifty people per year. As a result, Filipino immigration plummeted, and while they remained a significant part of the labor in the farm fields, they began to be replaced by Mexicans.

Farmworker Movement

Many Filipino manongs after the riot left the United States. By the 1960s, those remaining manongs in California were already in their twilight years.

These manongs already endured so much in America, but most of them didn't fulfill the so-called American dream. Their life in the U.S. didn't pan out the way their recruiters painted it would. Worse, most of these imported laborers were stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Filipino manongs working in vineyards in California(Source: ABS-CBN)

Because even though life was extremely hard in America, it's the same back home. And because of pride, shame, need to send money back home, or for whatever personal reason, they stuck it out. These manongs endured back-breaking work in the worse of conditions. And worst, they were oppressed from all sides.

Compared to their Mexican counterparts, the manongs' wages were much lower.

Generally, with no wives, no descendants, no contracts, no properties, no health plans, no retirement plans, these men decided to fight for their rights. The unfair treatment, unjust legislation, and racial discrimination of the American society forced them into situations where they regularly needed to stand up for themselves and for what is right.
Filipino Manongs in their twilight years, still working in California farms(Source: Wayne State Library)

The Filipino workers were no strangers to strikes and other forms of organized labor actions as they were forced to labor organizing since the 1930s. They needed to, and besides, most of these men had only themselves, so they have to stick together like one huge clan.

In one of these strikes, the manongs working in Delano, California, decided to stop working and demand a pay hike they know they deserve and have been discriminated against for decades.
Larry Itliong, Asst. Dir. of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, Delano, California. 1969(Source: Wayne State University)

Among the most vocal Filipino organizers were Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, leaders of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC). On the Mexican side, there were, among others, Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA).
Cesar Chavez (left) and Larry Itliong (right)(Source: New York Times)

Delano Grape Strike

On October 18, 1965, the manongs went on strike as they came to a point in their lives that they believed they had nothing to lose anymore.

However, the Mexican workers were tapped in to break the manongs' strike, Larry Itliong dialogued with Cesar Chavez and they urged his fellow Mexican workers to join them.

After deliberations and pleadings and a week into the strike, the Mexicans joined hands with the Filipinos and then the fight went full blast. The farm owners of course did not like this at all and fought back hard. The strike and the accompanying boycott and the picketing went on for years.

In 1966 the AWOC and the NFWA merged and created the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) which is now the United Farm Workers (UFW).
Delano Farmworkers Strike(Source: National Archives)

After several years after the Filipinos first started that legendary strike, the farm owners and the UFW finally reached a collective bargaining agreement and signed a landmark union contract for farmworkers in 1970.

This opened the way for other farms and other deprived workers to fight for their own rights. This continuing fight became part of the larger Civil Rights Movement in America.
Agricultural Revolution in America(Source: United Farm Workers)

Despite starting and leading that strike and helping join the racial divide which separated the farmworkers, the UFW became an organization focused on the Hispanic Movement. The UFW slowly turned into an organization that was all about Chicano Nationalism. This pushed the Filipinos in the background, and they received little benefit from the actions they have produced.

Each year the UFW Hispanic leadership gained distinction while the Filipinos faded and soon forgotten.

Delano Manongs' Park in San Jose

In April 2021, a new park in San Jose, California, will be named “Delano Manongs” to honor the Filipino American community in the city. Delano Manongs Park will be the first park in San Jose to honor Filipino-Americans after the city council unanimously approved the naming on April 13.

San Jose recognized the contribution of the Filipino population in the city and the country. And honoring their ancestors gives honor to the Filipino roots in America.
San Jose, California names park in honor of Filipino farmworkers, 2021(Source: Manila Bulletin)

“The recognition of the Filipino farm workers and especially those who stood for equality, justice, and human rights in Delano of 1965 is overdue,” - Ben Menor, National Federation of Filipino American Associations

The Delano Park will be located in a ZIP code with one of the highest populations of Filipinos in San Jose.

Based on the census data, Filipinos make up 5.6 percent of San Jose’s population and over 13 percent of the residents in the park’s ZIP code.

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I am a PR officer and a professional journalist with a master's degree in international development. I write history, geopolitics, food, and culture. Since I am a member of the API community, I make sure to highlight our stories to promote diversity and create awareness for cultural understanding.


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