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The unacceptable conditions in the fields that sparked a revolution
For more than a century, farmworkers had been denied a decent life in the fields. Communities of California’s agricultural valleys, essential to the state’s biggest industry, but only so long as they remained exploited and submissive, farmworkers had tried but failed so many times to organize the giant agribusiness farms that most observers considered it a hopeless task.
Grape pickers in 1965 were making an average of $.90/hour, plus ten cents per “lug” (basket) picked. State laws regarding working standards were simply ignored by growers. At one farm, the boss made the workers all drink from the same “cup” (a beer can) in the field. At another ranch, workers were forced to pay a quarter per cup. No ranches had portable field toilets. Workers’ temporary housing was strictly segregated by race, and they paid two dollars or more per day for unheated metal shacks-often infested with mosquitoes and no indoor plumbing or cooking facilities.
Farm labor contractors played favorites with workers, selecting friends first, sometimes accepting bribes. Child labor was rampant, and many workers were injured or died in easily preventable accidents. The average life expectancy of a farmworker was 49 years.
And yet by the early 1960s, things were beginning to change beneath the surface.
Source: United Farm Workers
Snapshots of how the movement compares from the early days to the present
|1966: Farm workers block the U.S./Mexico bridge in Roma, Texas, as part of the Casita Melon Strike|
Photo 1: Irene Chandler and Daria Arredondo Vera lay on the Roma international bridge in protest on October 24, 1966 | Courtesy of Daria Vera
Photo 2: Farmworkers on strike block traffic on the international bridge in Roma, Texas, in 1966 | Courtesy of AFL-CIO
|2018: La Unión del Pueblo Entero protests President Donald Trump’s forced family separation policy at the border
Photo 1: At Archer Park in McAllen, Kerry Kennedy (fourth from the left), daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, joined labor activist Dolores Huerta (third from the left) to announce #BreakBreadNotFamilies, a 24 day, 24 hours fast and prayer chain that honored the more than 2,400 children separated from their parents by former President Donald Trump's “zero-tolerance policy”. The fast began on June 23, 2018.
Photo 2: LUPE community leaders Marcela Alejandre, María Romero, and Alberta Ramírez share bread on July 18, 2018, the last day of the fast at Archer Park.
|Early 1980s: Farm workers targeted with gun violence by Anglo ranchers in South Texas|
Mural at LUPE headquarters in San Juan, TX, marked by gun shots caused by hostile ranchers in the 1980s. Former McAllen Mayor Othal Brand, Sr., was widely known to use gun violence against farm workers and at least once directly injured advocates and workers at a field near San Juan, according to first-hand accounts of people who witnessed the incident.
|2019 - 2023: Protesting the hyper-militarization of the Texas-Mexico border
Photo 1: Community members protesting a visit by former President Donald Trump and his push to build a border wall through the Rio Grande Valley
Photo 2: LUPE members protesting a Department of Homeland Security Field Hearing that aimed to criminalize asylum-seekers and immigrants.
|1980s: Texas farm workers claim victories over pesticides controls, access to clean toilets and drinking water in the fields, workers’ compensation, and minimum wage improvements|
Photo 1: Hidalgo County Health Department demonstration for field toilets, 1980 or 1981; Juan Molina (Col Balboa), Lalo Abitua (Col Small #2), Sra Espiricueta, San Juan | Source: UTSA Digital Collections
Photo 2: Women demonstrating at Hidalgo County Courthouse for field sanitation regulation enforcement, Isabel Solís (Alamo) on right | Source: UTSA Digital Collections
|2020: Advocating for equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution for colonia residents, undocumented immigrants, and farm workers
Photo 1: Community Organizer Joaquín García distributing COVID-19 vaccine information to farm workers in Hidalgo County.
Photo 2: Residents of Donna, TX, at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic organized by LUPE at a park in their neighborhood.
We honor those who came before us
The legacy of the farm worker and Chicano/Latino civil rights movements is thanks to the thousands of people who committed their lives to advancing the cause for working families everywhere. LUPE honors their lives, sacrifices, and fearless vision to make the world a better place. We also honor those who lost their lives because of state-sanctioned violence and discriminatory laws.
Lupita Alaníz, Ed Aparicio, Lalo Avitua, César Chávez, Helen Fabela Chávez, Linda Chávez, Richard Chávez, Guillermo De La Cruz, José De La Cruz, Librado De La Cruz, Anita Delgado, Alfonso Flores, Juan Angel García, Maria García, Rey Gill, Fela Guerrero, Jorge Gónzalez, Marcelo Guerrero, Estela Gonzalez, Olga Hernandez, Pablo Hernández, Larry Itliong, Josefa, Guadalupe Lechuga, Joaquín Luna, Jr., Maria Lozano, Pepe Lozano, Guadalupe Martínez, Rudy Moreno, Eugene Nelson, Antonio Orendain, Guadalupe Oreste, Gracela Ortiz, Francisco Ortiz, Alfredo Pacheco, Irma Peña, Pablo Peña, Rosa Peña, Fred Ross, Santiago Peña, Felipe Peña, Genoveva Puga, Baltazar Saldaña, Agustín Serratos, Martha Tovar, Elvira Tobías, Manuel Valdez, Peter G. Velasco, Daria Arredondo Vera, Macario Villanueva, Elia Reyna Villarreal, Domitila Zamora
…and many others whose lives we honor. ¡Qué viva la causa!
The movement’s use of independent media and mainstream press to share their stories
Since its foundation, movement organizers understood the importance of creating independent media and building relationships with mainstream reporters to share their stories with the world.
Independent publications such as Sons of Zapata, El Cuhamil, and El Malcriado served as critical methods of communication for farm workers and supporters. The indie publications provided bilingual news articles, political education, and a medium for artistic expression.
Today, LUPE continues to create its own digital media content, movement art, and murals that stand at the historic headquarters in San Juan, TX. Additionally, LUPE manages a local, state, and national media strategy to challenge xenophobic narratives about the Texas-Mexico border.
A snapshot of the foundation that led the United Farm Workers to the La Unión del Pueblo Entero in the Río Grande Valley
|1962||The National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), was formed in Fresno, California, with César Chávez as its first elected president and his former Community Service Organization colleague, Dolores Huerta, as the Union’s first vice-president.|
|1960s||César E. Chávez visited Texas routinely. In the 60s, he visited with the striking workers at the Economy Furniture Strike in Austin. He marched with, and in support of, Texas farm workers to the state capitol on various occasions.
|1965||The NFWA joined the Agricultural Worker’s Organization Committee (AWOC) of the AFL-CIO in the first successful grape boycott, which lasted five years. This boycott coincided with the Union’s first march. Led by Chávez and Larry Itliong of the AWOC, about 70 members started a march in California from Delano to Sacramento. By the time they arrived in Sacramento their numbers had swelled to 10,000.
|1966||The United Farm Workers (UFW) set out to organize farm workers in Texas in 1966 when Río Grande Valley farm workers launched a wildcat strike to raise wages from 40 cents to $1.00 an hour during La Casita Farm’s melon harvest. That summer, they organized a historic 400 mile march from the Rio Grande Valley to Austin.|
|1971||César Chávez and Antonio Orendain visit Pharr, Texas, to attend the funeral of Alfonso Flores, who was killed by police while they brutalized Mexican-Americans protesting police abuse. The incident became known as the “Pharr Riot”.|
|The UFW received its charter from the AFL-CIO and became the United Farm Workers of America.|
|1970s - 80s||During the 70s and 80s the Texas United Farm Workers focused on passing protective legislation and improving job site conditions for farm workers. Some of the legislation and standards include banning the use of the short handled hoe; unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation; raising the minimum wage from $1.25 to $3.25 an hour; providing clean toilets, cool, clean drinking water with disposable cups, and hand washing facilities in the fields.
In 1975, Antonio Orendain established Texas Farm Workers Union, a separate organization from Texas UFW.
In 1977, dozens of farm workers led the Texas Farm Workers Human Rights March from San Juan, TX, to Washington, DC.
In 1979, farm workers in Raymondville organized a 7-day strike against low-wages and mistreatment by Anglo ranchers.
|1985||The Texas Legislature passed a law that mandated that workers be informed of pesticides used in the workplace. However, this law excluded farm workers. The UFW filed a lawsuit charging discrimination. In 1987, a Right-to-Know bill for farm workers was passed and became a law.|
|1989||La Unión del Pueblo Entero is founded by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta.|
|2003||The LUPE office opens in San Juan, Texas. In 2003, LUPE assumed the responsibility for UFW operations in South Texas and Juanita Valdez Cox was named to lead the efforts.|
|2007||LUPE in San Juan, Texas, becomes the last-standing office after chapters in Washington, California, Arizona, and New Mexico close. Over the next decade, LUPE in South Texas would gain national recognition for its community organizing along the Texas-Mexico border.|
How the organizing model of La Unión del Pueblo Entero was born
César E. Chávez and Dolores Huerta established LUPE in 1989. The vision behind LUPE was to create a community union rooted in the belief that members of the low-income community have the responsibility and obligation to organize themselves in order to advocate for the issues that impact their lives.
Through grassroots community organizing, LUPE builds stronger, healthier communities to enable working families to use the power of civic engagement for social change. LUPE provides leadership development programs and social services to help families address their immediate needs as they work for social change.
The power of LUPE comes from a membership base of more than 8,000 people who contribute to the campaigns and programs of the organization. While a majority of their members live in the Rio Grande Valley, LUPE has members who reside across Texas and the United States.
Leadership transitions from United Farm Workers to LUPE
The inspiration and organizing model of La Unión del Pueblo Entero was born from civil rights leaders César E. Chávez and Dolores Huerta.
In 1969, the UFW assigned Antonio Orendain to organize farm workers in the Rio Grande Valley. It was during this time period that protests spread across the region and sparked the South Texas farm worker movement.
In 1975, Rebecca Flores became State Director of the United Farm Workers Texas chapter. Under Flores’ leadership, UFW Texas saw historic victories to protect farm workers, including workers’ compensation and raising the minimum wage. Flores also expanded the reach of the UFW in South Texas by developing a network of colonia committees. It was during Flores’ tenure in which Juanita Valdez-Cox would learn the ropes of community organizing.
In 2003, the farm worker movement in Texas formally evolved from organizing under the UFW to LUPE, and Valdez-Cox became the Texas State Director of LUPE. At the time, LUPE also had offices operating in Washington, California, Arizona, and New Mexico. But in 2007, the offices in South Texas became the only ones to remain active, making Valdez-Cox the executive director of LUPE.
Under Valdez-Cox’s leadership, LUPE radically expanded the rights and community power of immigrants and working families in South Texas. She retired in December 2022 after serving the movement for more than 45 years.
Today, LUPE is led by Tania A. Chávez Camacho. She is a pioneer in the modern immigrant rights movement in the Rio Grande Valley and spent over 10 years learning under Valdez-Cox’ leadership.
We are cultivating a movement that will stand for generations to come.
Today, LUPE’s advocacy expands across a broad range of social issues. From neighborhood infrastructure to defending immigrant families and fair access to the polls. LUPE’s 8,000 members remain committed to continue pushing for the interests of working families in South Texas.
True to its roots, the organization still works alongside workers in South Texas to defend them against exploitation. The community organizers continue using the original house meeting model (juntas caseras) to win neighborhood improvements and other policy changes to help working families achieve a better quality of life.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency in 2016, LUPE was one of the leading organizations along the US/Mexico border to challenge President Trump’s political and cultural attacks against people of color, particularly immigrants and border residents. In 2018, more than 2,000 people participated in a fast organized by LUPE to protest the forced family separations at the border.
Today, LUPE is responsive to the rise of anti-democratic policies and white nationalist extremism. For example, LUPE is a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s discriminatory voting bill (Senate Bill 1) that he signed into law in 2021. Additionally, LUPE is suing Texas state officials over newly adopted redistricting maps that violate the federal Voting Rights Act and dilute the voting strength of Latino/Latinx voters. Both lawsuits are represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), among other legal organizations.
The launch of LUPE Votes— a sibling organization of LUPE that adds political power by focusing on civic engagement and political organizing— in 2022 signals the intent to increase the electoral power of working families in South Texas for generations to come.
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