Fighting for La Causa
Here are the stories of some of the farmworkers whose lives were transformed by the movement they embraced in the summer of 1975.
"Many of us are volunteering because we see the necessity to organize and empower ourselves in order to move forward, to continue the fight. Because this is the first time in the history of the United States that we had a good law – a law that gives us the right to organize, without fear that we will be fired or mistreated at work. So we have to take advantage of this opportunity.”
The Amezcuas met Cesar Chavez when the union marches began. The three oldest sisters grew up marching, picketing, and knowing Cesar as a family friend and mentor..."I think what Cesar had, I think my dad had in him too, that he wanted to help people. Not just his family, but his community. Because he never said no to anybody. If somebody needed help, they would come to the house and ask him for whatever help they needed."
"It’s one thing to be a farmworker. But if you’re a lettuce worker, you’re high...the cream of the workers. They were the most militant. I saw that in the 1970 strike. I said, hmm, I want to be a lettuce worker...I told my dad and he said, ‘Are you crazy? You have an easy job! You’re going to cut lettuce??’ ... When the union gets stronger, I want to be there with the group that’s going to be in front, not behind."
"So I was driving the bus, taking farmworkers who were breaking the strike. One day I saw my dad, picketing at Mann Packing. My dad was holding a picket sign. I saw a sheriff knock him down, take away his huelga flag. He just threw him down. I said, ‘You don’t have to do that. All he’s doing is holding a flag – and you attack him.’ I thought, there’s something wrong with this picture. I felt pretty bad; they didn’t need to treat farmworkers like that."
"Really, my father was the one who organized us... My father worked at D’Arrigo, and he had decided to fight, to join with the D’Arrigo workers and fight for a union contract. When my father asked us, ‘What have you decided?’ my brother and I decided that we, too, would join the strike at Merrill farms, where we worked. United, we would we could try to win a contract.”
Alberto Magallon first came to work in the California fields from Jalisco, Mexico, as a bracero in 1946. One year, Chavez asked Magallon if he had voted in the past election. Magallon said he couldn’t vote; he wasn’t a U.S. citizen. In this country, Chavez told him, we exert power through voting. If you’re not a citizen by the convention next year, don’t come back. Magallon became a citizen.
"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 hours 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.”
Celestino worked as a lettuce cutter for companies in Salinas and experienced the poor wages and conditions. In the summer of ’75, he worked as an organizer for the UFW. "For the last 85 years we have had no protection, none. Farm work is the most important to society, yet it is the only job where there is no union, where there is no one to help us. And now this law has come, with which we can help all the workers in the camps. For me it is a form of liberation, a freedom that we finally have as workers."
The Teatro Campesino was born on the picket lines of the grape strike in Delano in 1965 when Luis Valdez returned to his hometown and began teaching farmworkers to improvise skits that educated and entertained. A decade later, the theater troupe had achieved international acclaim and settled in its long-term home, San Juan Bautista. Though independent of the UFW, the Teatro continued to support la causa and performed frequently at union rallies.
Like most of the organizers, Ricardo Villalpando had come out of the fields, and he knew them well. He worked tirelessly to persuade others that supporting the UFW was the path to a better life. He went wherever he had to in order to talk to workers in small groups: On buses that took them to the fields. In labor camps and apartments. He could always be counted on to pitch in.
They are all people who were working or living in the Salinas Valley in the summer of 1975. Some worked for the UFW as organizers, some worked in the fields, some attended union marches and rallies. In some cases, we have a name, without any more information. For most, not even that. Look at the many faces and click in to write us if you recognize them.