Larry Itliong was the voice of Delano’s Filipino-American farm workers. With over a million people following him on youtube, singer / songwriter and Filipino American, AJ Rafael uses his voice to carry on Heliong’s legacy.
“There’s one unsung hero we don’t know, and that’s Larry Itliong,” Rafael said.
So, American Filipino singer-songwriter AJ Rafael picked up his guitar and began to literally sing along to him. “Our friend Larry Itliong,” is his original song about the Filipino-American labor leader who played a central role in triggering the Delano Grape strike and boycott in 1965.
Rafael even filmed part of the clip, a project commissioned by Theatreworks USA, in Delano. Kern County may recognize historic sites for Filipino-American farm workers, or Manongs, such as the Philippine Community Hall and Agbayani Village.
“The community of Delano and all the Filipinos who know Larry Itliong were so proud of this story. That’s what I got by being there, ”Rafael said. “Everyone was so grateful. I can not believe it. They [even]stopped by Filipino Hall as we were shooting. A bunch of people were like, “I heard you were here! Can we take a photo? “
The singer / songwriter, who said he didn’t know much about Itliong before, initially did extensive research on the character himself. The biggest inspiration for the lyrics, he said, was Dr Dawn B. Mabalon and Gayle Romasanta’s book, “Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong.” Fortunately, Romasanta gave him his blessing.
“I listened to a lot of Hamilton and a lot of rap growing up, which helped me phrase the lyrics so that I could also talk to the kids and be really descriptive about these things,” Rafael said. . “So I wrote the lyrics, but again, the influence of Dr. Dawn and Gayle’s book is heavy and heavy.
Rafael added that an educator is already creating a program around his song with the plan to introduce it to elementary and middle schools in California. He remembers the panel Romasanta invited him to speak on that led a professor at San Francisco State University to come up with a lesson plan that breaks down his words. He said it gave him chills.
“I consider myself a good songwriter, but when it’s something like that that’s bigger than me, I tell myself it was God or something,” Rafael said.