Higher Education Region:
Daniel Bañuelos Teacher:
Mary Ann Pacheco Chapter:
Rio Hondo College Faculty Association
In the year 1962 the United Farm Workers of America was born. The UFWA became the voice of thousands of migrant farm workers who sought social justice. Workers who sought a decent and dignifying living condition. Water, a break, high wages and a toilet were all denied to farm workers by land lords. The fight to achieve social justice for farm workers was inevitable. This fight was driven by the desire to improve living conditions for farm workers families, for the improvement of working conditions and above all to gain their dignity and respect that was stripped away by unfair and advantageous land lords.
The UFWA worked soberly to achieve social justice for farm workers. “La Causa” as César called the farm workers movement, was dedicated to achieve basic human needs and basic living conditions which were denied to farm workers. Social justice is what “La Causa” sought for its members. Social justice is achieving what is best for society as a whole and benefiting every member of society equally to achieve a fully functional coexistence. Every member of society has the same value. Farm workers were seen as mere farming tools and nothing more. UFWA fought to give the farm workers their dignity, comfort and value as human beings. For this movement achieving social justice for farm workers is basically giving them basic living conditions in the work place so they can achieve a better life not only for the workers but also for their families. This would help the farm workers families to be part of an equal society. César Chávez and the farm workers fought to achieve social justice, and at the end they obtained it, now they are an example that justice can be achieved and it is more than just a philosophical ideal.
Among the heavily oppressed farm workers a leader rose, his name was César Chávez. He united the powerless, unheard and disenfranchised; the farm workers. The UFWA was born to fight and represent and fight for farm workers. César Chávez along with Dolores Huerta united farm workers from the grapefruit industry. They formed alliances along the way with other unions, the general public, the church, students and high profile political figures like Robert F. Kennedy. César Chávez organized nonviolent protests in front of the grapefruit fields and recruited the incoming scabs. He led numerous nonviolent protests, and when tensions rose between land lords and protestors, he fasted to get his message of nonviolence across the UFWA members. He also led a 340 mile march from Delano to Sacramento California. As the march went on and passed through other towns more followers joined the cause. But they also faced strong opposition and criticism. At the end of the 340 miles, thousands of farm workers and supporters arrived at the steps of Sacramento’s Capitol Hill. This march brought attention to the treacherous struggles and issues of the farm workers faced every day. As people became aware of the struggle the numbers of members of the UFWA rose dramatically. UFWA became aware that people still went into stores and kept buying products from grape growers, the union decided to call for a boycott. They turned to media, public and support from other unions. First they boycotted table grapes. The movement began to expand throughout all of California. Then all of a sudden the whole country and parts of Canada had taken the side of the farm workers. Then the union decided to support fellow workers who worked in other farm industries. The union decided to expand boycott to all wines and grape products that were produced in California. The movement gained momentum like never before seen with the help of public support from students to political figures. By this time the UFWA became United Farm Workers AFL-CIO. The boycott lasted for five years and caused the grape growers a total loss of over $27 million dollars. Growers felt the pressure from the boycott and from the general public and decided to finally sign a contract with the union. Finally, in 1970 the fight was over the growers agreed to sign a contract with the UFW. This was a great victory for the farm workers they finally obtained what was righteously theirs. This new and revised contract provided fresh cold water in the fields, higher wages, breaks and toilets but the contract also provided something that was deprived from farm workers; not as workers but as human beings and individuals, they gained their pride, dignity and self-respect. Farm workers discovered the political power which was completely an unknown feeling for them. Farm workers became humans and not tools or farming equipment; as their land lords saw them.
The movement was extremely important because of the political power that farm workers gained and discovered. None thought that simple migrant workers could have such an impact and that they were able to rise and organize such a fierce fight against the mighty and powerful land lords. The issues that the UFW addressed have been always ignored. Because of this movement farm workers from this generation have a better, decent living. Even though injustices in the plantation area still exist today; César Chávez paved the way for organizations to continue and fight for the disenfranchised farm workers. One of the most important issues that farm workers today still face is that pesticides are sprayed on them while they are working on the fields. Farm workers were able to obtain better working hours with breaks, better wages, fresh water and toilets on the fields. Women no longer have to cover each other with blankets to urinate. Also child labor was a great issue, children often worked to help their parents. César Chávez went through this situation after he dropped from school. Today we still have to support what César Chávez started, we must defend farm workers and help them obtain a decent standard of living and fiercely fight all the injustices that migrant farm workers face today.
Even though we live in a modern and mechanized age the desire to obtain more blinds completely. When this occurs we tend to step on others to obtain what we desire so badly. One of the first things stripped from us are our human rights. This keeps us constantly in the fight to keep our human rights, which are given to every single human at the moment they are born. We also constantly fight to achieve social justice to become equal and have a leveled field in every aspect of everyday life. The UFW and César Chávez did not only help the migrant farm workers he also inspired high school students from East Los Angeles. The protests in Los Angeles are known as “walkouts” they were organized by a group of students that intensely pursue an opportunity for better education for Latino students. These students inspired by César’s bravery and desire for change and equality laid a path for future generations to have open doors to achieve higher education. This door is open for all students but is up to them to be able to reach this door. Courage, perseverance and desire to triumph are necessary to be successful in reaching the doors towards a better education and a great future.
Finally, I have come to understand the impact, importance and meaning behind César Chávez, the UFW and all the farm workers that fought for a better living not only for him but for future generations. César was a strong influence for the “walkouts” he might not have done intentionally but he did. Thanks to César Chávez and the students who organized the protest in East Los Angeles many of Latin students like me are able to pursue their dreams of achieving a higher education and be successful in the United States. He gave students that courage to pursue justice and they successfully achieve a better education. During my first year in high school and in the United States I saw pictures of César Chávez and the UFW flag and I had no clue of what it was or it’s meaning. Now I am able to understand César’s impact on the Latin American community and also in education for he inspired others to pursue dreams. I have not encountered situations as harsh as César did in his life but now I know that it takes tremendous amount of courage to stand up for yourself, family and community. And for that I admire César’s bravery and iron will. I am thankful towards César for his inspiration, he opened the doors of opportunity for the Latin American community.