Capturing the “Delano Manongs”

In her film, The Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the UFW, director Marissa Aroy sheds light on one of the often overlooked groups in the history of the farm workers’ movement: the Filipino farm workers. The film examines the history of Filipino farm workers from their initial immigration to the U.S., to the formation of the Agricultural Worker Organizing Committee led by Larry Itliong. These workers catalyzed the very California grape strikes that became synonymous with Cesar Chavez and his cause and that of the United Farm Workers, recently portrayed in the Hollywood biopic, Cesar Chavez.

Filmmaker Marissa Aroy.
Filmmaker Marissa Aroy.

A collage of old photos, rarely seen archival footage, and previously unheard audio recordings of Itliong are seamlessly woven in Delano Manongs to create a comprehensive, yet intimate, narrative of the manongs. Not only does Delano Manongs: Forgotton Heroes of the United Farm Workers honor the legacy and contributions of the Filipino farm workers, it gives another perspective and voice to the history of the farm workers movement. Delano Manongs premiered at CAAMFest 2014 to a sold out crowd at the New Parkway Theater in Oakland, CA. The film will screen at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest on Friday May 9th, 7:15 pm, and at the Manilatown Heritage Center on May 10. See below for more information. I sat down with Aroy to discuss her film and what she’s learned from making it.

Could you explain what the word “manongs” means?

Manongs is sort of an Ilocano term—a Filipino term—for older brother or uncle. So the translation here would have been uncle. A lot of the manongs in Delano I called uncle. It’s a way of getting around when you don’t know someone’s name or you’ve forgotten their name. (laughing)

Why did you decide to make this film?

It is a personal story. I was around that history and to find out that you’re around a certain history that’s important to Filipino Americans it makes you curious to find out more about it. Since I’m a documentary filmmaker I just want to film it and gather as much archival footage as I can about it and discover it. It’s important to me, personally, to have a connection to the Filipinos who came before me here in the U.S. and to realize “Oh! I do have a history.” I didn’t find this out in my California History class in 5th grade. I only really discovered a little bit about it in college when you take that elective about Asian Americans and I definitely wanted to understand more about it.

What would you say is the thing you learned the most from making this film?

I learned that I have a lot of support from the community. That people are really hungry to know more about their history. That maybe they’ve been touched a little bit by it. It’s brought me closer to this community of people. It’s nice because I think our community of Filipinos can be sort of fractured because there are so many islands and they have different dialects and we have become so assimilated into American culture. So it’s nice to feel that you have support and you have a community out there and I’m really happy about being able to give it back to them now and allow them to use it to show the next generation of Filipinos.

– Ashlyn Perri. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. Delano Manongs: Forgotton Heroes of the United Farm Workers was funded by the Center for Asian American Media.

Upcoming Screenings:

The Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival will screen the film on Friday May 9th, 7:15 pm at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum.

San Francisco’s Manilatown Heritage Foundation will hold two screenings on Saturday May 10th at 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm at the International Hotel’s Manilatown Heritage Center.

Main image: Larry Itliong, a leader in the farm workers movement, spent long hours driving from farm field to farm field to organize workers of all ethnicities. Even before the United Farm Workers, Itliong had been in numerous labor unions for the cannery workers, asparagus workers and grape workers. Photo by George Balis courtesy of Image Works.