Untold History: Filipino Movement and Cesar Chavez - Denise Mosso Ruiz

Published March 22, 2021
Updated Oct. 18, 2021

Welcome to the Community-Driven Archives (CDA) Initiative blog! We continue this semester’s CDA blog with a submission from Denise Mosso Ruiz, another one of our amazing student archivists on the CDA team who is currently a senior at Arizona State University (ASU) studying Sustainability. Denise’s post is a powerful reflection on farm workers movements and how some people within movements can be erased from a historical movement. Please enjoy Denise’s post below.


Power to all oppressed people because solidity matters now more than ever.

March 31st is considered a US commemorative holiday to Cesar Chavez. He is known to be a civil rights and labor movement activist, plus a farm worker and labor leader. This day focuses on the legacy of Cesar Chavez, Chicanos, and Mexican Americans’ efforts. However, only celebrating Chavez is ignoring the actions of Filipinos workers. Therefore, I dedicate this post to the Filipino community and undocumented farmworkers as the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), who walked out the grape vineyards two weeks before the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), Chicanos, and Mexicans who joined in. The NFWA was under the leadership of Cesar Chavez. To honor the collaboration of both unions, in the end of their group meetings, farm workers would do a unity clap ending in a unison clap with a chant of “Isang Bagsak”, to symbolize that we are down with each other in solidarity in Tagalog. The Filipino farm workers union known as Delano Monongs and the Mexican farm workers union in Delano, California came together for the Delano Grape Strike.

“Larry Itliong was an organizer with the AFL-CIO-sponsored AWOC (agricultural workers organizing committee).  Larry was the one who organized the Filipino workers to go on strike in the middle of September 1965 during the harvest of Delano area table grape.
“Larry Itliong was an organizer with the AFL-CIO-sponsored AWOC (agricultural workers organizing committee). Larry was the one who organized the Filipino workers to go on strike in the middle of September 1965 during the harvest of Delano area table …
Their goals were to secure rights for farm workers and to organize and make collective agreements with their employers.
The United Farm Workers, Delano California
The United Farm Workers, Delano California

However, Cesar Chavez’s anti-immigrant sentiment is rarely talked about. Leaders of the union have been viewed as immigration reformists which sadly is just not true. He would refer to undocumented folks as “wetbacks” and believed in the rhetoric that unions could not win a strike due to undocumented migrants, which they later on took the strikes around the city. Chavez was not quiet about his stance on undocumented people which lead to a split in the movement. Another part of Chavez’s complex history on immigration was that he would encourage union workers to join “wet line” along the Arizona-Mexican border to prevent Mexicans from coming into the United States, which lead to many people who were striking to think that unions should not support rights for undocumented people. 

Many also believed that immigration was the cause of high unemployment among citizens and opposed unions which are false claims. This is not the fault of migrant workers; unemployment is due to employers wanting to pay the lowest possible wages and extract the maximum profit from the worker. Although Cesar Chavez is a political idol, it does not mean we can’t be critical of his actions that lead to violence and state repression towards undocumented folks. I want to acknowledge undocumented people and Filipino farm workers that were not mentioned in United States history when it comes to these movements as we approach March 31st. 

Farm workers picking citrus, July 1984
Farm workers picking citrus, July 1984





Thank you, Denise, as always, we appreciate you and your contributions to the CDA blog. 

Contact me, Jessica Salow, with feedback at Jessica.Salow@asu.edu as I would love to hear from you your thoughts regarding the work, we here at ASU are doing in community archiving around Arizona. We also want your feedback on what you would like to see from us in future blog posts. And if you would like regular updates from the CDA team please follow our CDA Facebook page or the CDA Instagram page to keep abreast of the virtual events we do monthly. We have some amazing events coming up in February 2021 so please check out our social media pages for more information. And please visit our website and our connect page for more information regarding the work we are doing around community-driven archives at ASU Library and with our community partners in Arizona. 

See you soon!


Resources for further reading: