On Saturday, March 31th 2012 organizations and individuals from across the Rio Grande Valley marched in celebration of the birthday of our renowned founder, César E. Chávez and the 50th anniversary of the United Farm Workers, the organization he helped found, build and lead.
Close to one thousand people marched, rallied, and even danced in celebration of 50 years of victories in the farm worker and immigrant rights movement.
50 Years of Victories
The march brought together union members of past and present. Old farm workers who marched alongside Cesar in their youth, on Saturday marched alongside youth preparing to pick up the mantle. Mothers brought out daughters and granddaughters. Four generations of union members marched for immigration reform, just wages and dignified living conditions.
The Rio Grande Guardian writes about one particularly special moment during the event:
Many speakers at the rally received strong applause for stressing the need for immigration reform… However, the biggest cheer was afforded 96-year-old Macario Villanueva of Alamo when Valdez-Cox introduced him during her speech.
Villanueva worked in the fields in California in the 1960s and joined the UFW soon after it was formed. He marched with Chávez and went to jail with him. With his large family, Villanueva also prayed for Chávez when he was in jail.
“Macario Villanueva, Alamo was very, very, active in the farm workers union,” Valdez-Cox said. “He had seven or nine kids and they were heavily involved in the union. He retired under a union contract so he gets his pension every month because of the work he did in the fields all those years ago.”
Macario and his fellow generation of Union members are the giants on whose shoulders the organization stands. Their generation brought national and international recognition to the plight of farm workers throughout the nation. And their hard work and dedication made the Union’s victories possible.
Antonio Carrizales, another union member of Macario’s generation, read a list of those victories to the applauding crowd. Under the leadership of Rebecca Flores, State Director for South Texas, UFW victories included:
- 1981: Ban of the Cortito
- 1983: Clean Toilets & Drinking Water in the fields
- 1984: Inclusion under Workers Compensation law
- 1985: Unemployment Compensation for farmworkers
- 1985: Minimum Wage improvement
- 1987: Pesticide Controls
- 2001: Resident Tuition for Undocumented Students
Since then, the victories for farm workers have continued largely outside of the fields, where LUPE, founded by Cesar Chavez in 1989 and coming to Texas in 2003, has engaged colonia residents in employing organizing and civic engagement to create improvements in their lives. Recently, as a result of LUPE’s organizing, 13 colonias received streetlights, an historic victory for Rio Grande Valley colonias. While we continue to work to bring streetlights to new colonias, this year we will focus on access to parks and walking trails.
It was the first time Blanca Alcaraz, member from San Juan, attended the march. Her colonia is working toward getting a nearby park open for her children and neighbors. For her it was a very powerful and exciting moment. Seeing all the people who came to march, Blanca says she now knows “I'm in the right place.”
“Sometimes you feel alone or that all the work we are doing is not right,” she said. But after seeing so many people marching, she said “I know we have a backing, that many people support the union and the work we are doing.”
The annual march shows everyone who is watching that our work in the community has strong support. It is not only the close to one thousand community members marching who support the cause of the union, but many local and small businesses, student groups, and even politicians as well.
LUPE’s victories have increased thanks to our work with the Equal Voice Network, the network of ten community-based organizations funded by the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and committed to creating a movement of social change through the civic engagement of the more than 25,000 individuals who are the constituents of the different organizations in the Network. In the past year, colonia residents organizing with the Equal Voice Network have won $14 million dollars for colonia drainage improvements as well as $122 million to repair homes damaged by Hurricane Dolly.
We Have Seen the Future…
The march provided occasion to reflect on the victories we will work toward in the next 50 years of our movement.
Blanca said she was marching for immigration reform and “justice for many people, many workers really. We are people who have come to this country to work and raise our families. And many have really suffered, but they deserve the same rights as citizens. We do the work that makes this country grow and deserve [just] wages.”
The call for immigration reform was met with much applause, as was the call to end wage theft and provide just wages for all workers. Ralliers called for public lighting in all Valley colonias as well as access to parks and walking trails, adequate and affordable housing, and a primary role in the decision-making process on issues that affect our lives.
In looking to our past 50 years of victories in the farm worker justice movement, we see the future. We see the commitment and leadership of every-day people that it takes to create another 50 years of victories. We see that when we are organized, unified, creative and dedicated, no victory, large or small, is out of reach. Standing at this juncture in the history of our movement—looking back on our victories, at the strength of our current commitment, and forward to our future, Cesar’s words ring truer than ever:
“We have seen the future and the future is ours!”