SABINO LOPEZ | Irrigator to Organizer
1966 / Irrigator
I was 17 years old, working in the fields, really isolated. I felt that I had no future. I looked at the older guys in my crew, and I just expected to end up like them. My father told me, ‘I just hope you can do better than me; I spent all my life doing this.’
The first time I heard about the union was when I was doing my income tax, here in Salinas, right on Main Street. I brought in all my check stubs, and the guy said, ‘I can’t believe it, you work so many hours…’ I was working basically from 6 to 8, every day, seven days a week. He said, ‘This is an injustice. But, I know someone who is going to come to help you.’ This is the first time I heard the name, Cesar Chavez. I was really excited. Who is this guy? Where is he? When he said union, I liked it. In my home town, in Jalisco, my relatives were in the union. They were the people who lived better than anyone else.
1970 / Striker
The rumors about the union kept growing and growing. Then the growers start inviting the Teamsters to talk to us, to persuade us not to join the UFW, to support the Teamsters union. We didn’t like that option. So we went on strike in 1970, at the end of the season. It was really fast, that strike.
1971/ Freshpict, UFW Ranch Committee member
There were a couple companies that signed a contract with the UFW in 1970, one was Freshpict. I went to the union hiring hall and got a dispatch to go to work as an irrigator. Donato Lopez was the union crew rep. He was a really energetic leader who wanted to change things – but it had to be his way. I watched him closely, always listening, listening. Going to meetings, learning how to fight grievances. I think that was when I started learning the skills of organizing. From
the beginning, I loved it, to be involved in those kind of discussions. Every event the union organized, I was there.
1973 / Interharvest, Crew Rep
Every day after work I went to the office. Every day. After I finished my job in the fields.
The other thing I loved when I joined the union were those meetings. Long meetings. People would complain, ‘these guys are boring, talking and talking.’ And I said, ‘No, I love it.’ I feel really, this is part of me. I love to hear these guys, their stories, their knowledge. They shared different things I hadn’t heard before. Man, I was having a really good time. I really enjoyed the time I spent in those meetings.
I was representing my coworkers, my people, the farmworker community in general, not only my crew. I felt I brought a voice from the fields. I was really proud to be there, to be discussing the future of our community, our people. I felt like it was very important and I was very lucky to be part of that movement and part of those discussions, and dreams, and ambition, and the future. It was so big.
Interharvest was one of the biggest companies, and a lot of good leaders in the fields came from Interharvest. At one point Interharvest was the leading company not only in membership, but also in leadership. On any campaign, we had a lot of support, and a lot of talented people, mobilizing a lot of people, so we had a lot of power to have impact.
1975 / Organizer
We were in conflict with the ALRB, and we took over their offices in Sacramento and asked for a meeting with the governor. We occupied all the offices and we wouldn’t move. He was in meetings. We said, it doesn’t matter what time you finish, we’ll wait. We met around 1 am in the Capitol. I took a picture, I put my jacket on the governor’s chair, and I took a picture of my jacket. So I had something to prove that I was there. I couldn’t believe it. That was something I never expected in my life, to be in the governor’s office, meeting him face to face, and challenging him. I couldn’t believe it.
To vote in those elections, it had a lot of meaning. It was bringing back our voice. Because we lost the voice when we left Mexico; that part of our voice was gone.
The movement gave us a lot of hope. That we can make changes, in our lives. In other lives. And have an impact. And also change other people’s expectations of us. When I went to cash my check, it didn’t matter that my boots were muddy. I was making good money. I felt really proud. That I was doing something for justice. For a lot of people, it changed everything. I felt I was allowed to dream and to struggle and to expect better things — that we could do it if we all got together.
2000 / Deputy Director, Center for Community Advocacy
I have six girls. I never got them involved in big things for the union. Honestly, my wife didn’t like it. She never was opposed to me doing what I did, and I thank her for that support. She saw it was something good for the whole family. But she didn’t want to get involved. I took my daughters, when they were little, I took them to knock doors, walk with me in the streets and get the vote out sometimes. Because the union wasn’t only organizing in the fields, we were organizing for change in the political system. I tried to engage them in that kind of process to see those things I was doing, to motivate them to be involved. But the union stuff, not so much.
But they were looking at me all the time. I had the flyers all the time in my car, all the things I was carrying. They knew what I was doing, they saw me everywhere. I didn’t know how much, until they grew up. My older daughter went to San Jose State, and then she decided to become a social worker. At one point we were talking and she was talking about people’s needs, and I said, why are you doing this? She said, ‘Papi, you don’t realize it, but we’ve watched you, and you had an impact on us. We were influenced by what you had done with your life. So without you saying anything, or telling us what to do, and even though we didn’t say anything to you, we have seen all that you did. And that motivated me to do something, on a different level, but similar in that it is also about helping people.’