Manong Larry for the Kids

“Larry was Filipino like me, Mama?” asked Aya. “Yes he is, Aya,” I answered.

Today, I brought a little Filipino American history lesson in my backpack to teach preschoolers. I didn’t know if they’d get it. Or if they’d like the story. But, I tried. With the help of “Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong”, published out of the Stockton-based publishing house Bridge + Delta, the first nonfiction illustrated children’s book about Filipino American history and the first book ever written about Larry Itliong, I learned so much about the capacity of children (including my own daughter, Aya) to understand the plight of farmworkers, past and present.

Manong Larry, the oft forgotten United Farm Workers (UFW) cofounder, migrated to the United States, worked in the fields of the Central Valley of California and devoted his life to fight for a farmworkers union. In the above photos, I engaged in a project of watercolors and a coloring page of Larry Itliong’s portrait out of the book as a way to tell the story Manong Larry. What were the conditions under which he led the Delano Grape Strike, united across racial divides in the fields and created national attention to the plight of farmers in the Central Valley? I asked the 3-4 year olds who were painting Manong Larry’s portrait, what they thought farmworkers would need to be healthy and strong. They replied with: “rest”, “food for energy”, “sleep”, and “snacks”. Although, the demands of the Delano Grape Strike was much more complex, much of what the strike was about was the issues of lack of rest and poor working conditions, low wages or the inability of farmworkers to support themselves.

Penned by late San Francisco State University professor and historian, Dr. Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, with Gayle Romasanta and illustrated by Andre Sibayan, this book is a exemplary case of FAHM as it is about, authored and illustrated by Filipino Americans. And as I’ve written in a past post, an exciting opportunity to reveal to younger generations of Filipino Americans that they belong to a proud lineage of trailblazers, risk-takers and rabble rousers.

Through this book, and simple coloring pages like these, families could possibly talk about Larry’s leadership in his community and his courageous cross-cultural partnership with Mexican farmworkers to achieve equity. (Here’s a quick video about Manong Larry and why his story is a part of the American story.) During this Filipino American History Month, with this exciting book soon to be released, we all have another tool in our shelves to ensure that young people, of all backgrounds, can be part of the positive change that Manong Larry was a part of building.

An awesome bonus of this FAHM lesson was the conversations I had with other Filipino American parents and grandparents about who Larry Itliong was and why they never heard of him. It was great to hear that we were all learning together with our kids.


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