Chasing the Harvest editor Gabriel Thompson speaks to Delano community members.
Two years ago, California officially recognized October 25 as Larry Itliong Day, honoring the Filipino-American advocate who was instrumental in advancing labor rights for farmworkers throughout the state. This year, 220 people gathered on this day at Robert F. Kennedy High School in Delano to celebrate Chasing the Harvest: Migrant Workers in California Agriculture, a collection of oral histories from multiple generations of farmworkers. Delano is a historic site for the farmworker movement, and the connections still remain strong in the community today.
The bilingual event featured book editor Gabriel Thompson, narrator Heraclio Astete, and local farmworker Jovanny Ramirez, moderated by Bakersfield College professor Octavio Barajas. Alex Edillor, president of the Delano chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society, gave opening remarks and captured the significance of celebrating Larry Itliong by giving a platform to those who continue his fight.
Local Delano families and students fill up the high school auditorium.
Gabriel spoke about his motivations for capturing the stories of farmworkers in California, and the decision to bring this book back to Delano. Heraclio shared his experience being a solo sheepherder, as well as his journey to Sacramento to directly engage state senators in improving conditions for workers on H-2 visas. Jovanny discussed the unique difficulties learning multiple languages, and the sacrifices his siblings made to keep him in school while they worked in the fields.
My job was a twenty-four-hour-a-day job. On a typical day, I’d get up at 4 or 5 a.m. and check on the animals. Then I’d go around and work on the fencing―we worked with fencing that could be moved depending on where the sheep were grazing. Then in the evening I’d be back with the flock again. Even at night, I’d have to stay alert.
―Heraclio Astete, Chasing the Harvest
As the panel opened to questions from the audience, the community connections to these stories became even clearer. One audience member spoke about her parents who were braceros, and asked Heraclio if he instilled the same value of education in his children as her parents did. He spoke with pride as he shared the professional careers his oldest two children have accomplished, and said he considered himself very lucky to have children that took advantage of their opportunities.
The last question came from a local who asked how Heraclio and Jovanny found the strength to keep going, especially in uncertain times, and when there was no guarantee that change would come. Heraclio stressed a need to keep fighting so that next generations will benefit from their efforts. Jovanny, the youngest panelist, named his family as his inspiration to keep going, in hopes that he will one day be able to give back as much as they have given him.
Chasing the Harvest narrator Heraclio Astete speaks to local Delano folks in Spanish.
The next day, Gabriel visited a 10-person seminar at Bakersfield College that was led by Olivia Garcia, Assistant Professor of History. The students were selected from a pool of 65 applicants and were required to write a compelling essay describing their personal connections to the farmworker community. Each one had time to share part of their personal story, as well as ask a question related to Chasing the Harvest and the oral history process.
As the class came to an end, one student shared her personal experience as a farmworker before returning to continue her education:
“I’ve pretty much done it all,” she said, “and my parents too. That’s life here. But I really appreciate seeing it in a real book.”