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My father, a migrant worker, sacrificed to make the world better, Johnny Itliong says


It's Friday, which is when we hear StoryCorps. Johnny Itliong grew up in California's grape fields in the 1960s. His father, Larry Itliong, was one of many Filipino migrant farm workers who worked for less than minimum wage. Now, in 1965, Larry helped lead what was called the Delano Grape Strike. Johnny Itliong came to StoryCorps to share stories about his dad with his own son.

JOHNNY ITLIONG: One of his nicknames was Seven Fingers, because when he was up working in Alaska, he lost three of his fingers. He was small in stature, but he was a very, very strong man. He always wore pocketed shirts, thick Ray-Ban glasses. And he would always have his cigar, his Cubanos. I remember I would have to get up at 3 o'clock in the morning. And we would jump in the back of his truck, load it up full of boxes. And you stack them maybe 10, 12 feet high. I could carry about eight of them stacked up.

There were so many good men living in box carts, sheds, whatever they can make out of the elements. And I remember maybe one guy had one suit, and whoever would get a date would wear that suit. So they would share the suit - 20, 30 guys. You know, that's the brotherhood. And when they would pass, they didn't have family in the United States. They had no one to say goodbye to them. And it was just us - me, my father and my brother. The only time they ever received flowers was at their funeral, men who worked the fields. They fed the United States.

ALEKS ITLIONG: What memories do you have of the picket lines?

J ITLIONG: At 5 years old, I remember running around getting the sticks. You know, I would bring sticks to the ones who were nailing the picket signs. I think that was probably, like, my earliest memory. You know, my father stood up for the people who need help. He sacrificed a lot of his family time to make a better world for us. We have big shoes to walk in, man (laughter).

A ITLIONG: Oh, yeah.

J ITLIONG: I don't feel like I'm even close. But your demeanor reminds me of him because he was very calm. He always listened. When it was time for him to speak, what he said was important. And already you follow those footsteps.

INSKEEP: Darn it. Johnny and Aleks Itliong remembering Johnny's father, Larry. Their conversation is at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jey Born