UNION CITY, Calif. - As part of Filipino American Heritage Month, Governor Newsom issued a proclamation declaring October 25 "Larry Itliong Day" in honor of the Filipino American labor leader.
Itliong Vera Cruz Middle School in Union City is the first to be named after Larry Itliong in the country. For students, Monday was about celebrating their namesake.
Teacher Aileen Pagtakhan read poems written by her middle school students after a day celebrating Filipino American trailblazer Larry Itliong.
"This is a big special day for us because we get a chance to teach our students about what their namesake comes from," said Heather Thorner of Itliong Vera Cruz Middle School Principal.
Roughly 10 years ago, the school formerly Alvarado Middle School in Union City renamed Itliong Vera Cruz Middle School after Larry Itliong and another Filipino labor leader Philip Vera Cruz who were instrumental in organizing the Delano Grape Strike in 1965 that led to a nationwide boycott.
"The owners figured out very quickly to pit the Mexican workers against the Filipino workers," said Thorner. "Filipinos would ask for more benefits and working conditions. Instead of giving it to them they would say nope and hire Mexican workers instead."
Working side by side with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta (all pictured on a mural at the school), they stood up for farmworkers rights and fair wages.
Out of 1,300 students at the school, roughly 40 percent are of Filipino descent.
"Yet a lot of our textbooks and history books never highlighted who Filipino Americans are in the fabric of American history," said Pagtakhan.
Lessons for the day centered around Itliong’s work and journey for justice throughout the school are tributes, books and posters of Itliong.
"I think how he was outgoing and bold and how he stood up for what he thought was right and even something so small created something so big," said Eighth Grade Student Miguel Rodriguez.
Students watched music videos like one created by AJ Rafael on Youtube. They are now more inspired and empowered to take on the same ideals of their namesake.
"Learning about Larry Itliong has told me to be proud and tell your own story, make sure people can't tell your own story and make sure you fight for what you believe in," said Eighth Grade Student Amado Viray Santos.
Azenith Smith is a reporter for KTVU. Email Azenith at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @AzenithKTVU or Facebook or ktvu.com.