In memoriam: JOHN DELLORO, labor and thought leader

In the few months that elapsed since my last post, a few major personal life events have occurred. One, in fact, just happened yesterday, June 5, 2010 — the passing of a great friend, John Delloro. As the news of his untimely death reverberates through the ethernet and the communities he touched, I am reminded of the man and student I had the privilege of calling a friend.

John gave me boxes of longganiza — some I bought, others his family generously gave as gifts — while I was a starving student; his family owned a business making this Filipino sausage and he gladly shared what they made. We met at the height of the campus activism around curricular reform at UCLA in the early to mid 1990s: the Chicano/a Studies Hunger Strike and the campaign to save the instruction of Tagalog language courses.

After a rally for Committee for Pilipino Studies (CPS), he wanted to know more about the why behind the Save Tagalog campaign. So we sat and talked by Campbell Hall. Did so for hours. We covered the forgotten history of the Manongs — Filipino American pioneers of the 1920s; the lost history of Little Manila, Los Angeles; and the irony behind UCLA resources flowing to fund the teaching of Afrikaans (the language of apartheid) and the dead language of Latin, while Southeast Asian languages that not only commanded student interest but also warranted new scholarship in applied linguistics faced termination. He saw the insanity behind it all, and more importantly, he wanted to know more about his roots.

It was an even exchange. That day, John taught me all about Saul D. Alinsky and alternative ways to engage in community organizing. I hit the jackpot; we planned for next rallies and outreach events for CPS.

John became part of CPS Core shortly thereafter, where he first met Jay Mendoza, Gina Inocencio, Joe Penano, Arnold Serrano, Nate Santa Maria, and countless other Asian American student activists that my memory now offends by forgetting their names. He became a regular in the Asian American Studies scene at Campbell Hall, scheming with Allysa Kang, Sarah Chee, Maria Ventura, Julia Lau, Emily Lawsin, Dawn Mabalon, Ryan Yokota, Tony Osumi, Darryl Mar, Sunny Le, Quynh Nguyen, Lauren Tseng, Levin Sy and many other friends. And as the Save Tagalog campaign rolled on, we saw more of John.

He wrote thinking man’s poetry and began writing more about his identity as a Pilipino American. He shared his poems at rallies we held, and became a fixture of the band, Tribung Ligaw, in which he played percussion and did spoken word.

John loved the power of words. The way words arrested attention captivated him. He was a regular at the many spoken word events organized by campus groups. He went with Tribung Ligaw to different campuses with similar curricular reform campaigns not to agitate, but to enlighten.

John was never shy. His willingness to lead chants became very apparent to everyone. The blue bandana and black trench coat he favored never got old. (The bandana was to hide a bad hair day, which unbelievably happened everyday for him; so it quickly became a uniform, of sorts). His chants were engaging, and we all followed his lead. We had a name for him: Asian American James Brown, a name that would stick throughout his early years as a labor organizer.

One of the many mentors John had while at UCLA is Glenn Omatsu, whom our batch back then affectionately called “Yoda” for the wisdom he readily bestowed and the mannerisms (e.g., flick of his wrist, deliberate sentences, chill affect) he often made when teaching us. Glenn had a sage-like command of argumentation. We were all his students, and John was one of his most committed and successful proteges. Glenn then taught the Asian Pacific American Leadership class; in fact, I believe he originally designed it. John took over the teaching of this very popular class sometime after Glenn moved to CSUN, and made it even more engaging from what I can now gather.

John showed us the possibilities of blogging; he reviewed one of my very first blog posts (http://feudart.com/2008/03/19/sen-obamas-speech-on-race-in-america-a-rare-moment-to-build-on/). His encouragement kept me trying with blogging, ultimately leading to this post. The irony does not escape me.

After losing touch over the past few years since graduation, I read one of John’s blog posts about the labor movement getting behind one its sons, Barack Obama, sometime in mid to late 2008. It was then when we began reconnecting by email, random calls, and of course by Facebook.

His blog, Burning Cane, was an inspiration and a great platform for his growing interest to write. One of his most moving posts was about his first heart attack, and how it made him vow to focus on his health and family after recovery. His posts on Burning Cane and on his Facebook Notes numbered so many that, in hindsight, they make me think he was in a race against time to give the world everything his mind and his heart had to offer.

I went through his Facebook page all of last night with my girlfriend, perhaps secretly to borrow her strength. He laid out his whole life history before us there: his birth place, his high school past, his years at UCLA and the many friends he made, his early years in Vegas, the culmination of his professional career as a valued professor and esteemed labor leader, and the family he loved very much.

John lived a full life that any thinking person interested in making life significant should envy. We all should take time to mourn his untimely death. My heart will forever break knowing he is gone. But because I cherish the friend I got to know in John, I will celebrate his life, too.

John Delloro was the Executive Director of Dolores Huerta Labor Institute. He was also a visiting lecturer at UCLA, where he taught a regular course on theories of leadership development and strategy in Asian American/Pacific Islander communities and was a faculty member of the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College Labor Studies Center. He taught labor studies courses at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College and classes on “Asian Americans and Affirmative Action” and “Asian Americans and the Garment Industry” at UCLA, as well as trainings and seminars on labor history, workplace issues and organizing at various trade unions and community organizations.

Good bye to a great friend!

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