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UFW links present-day farm worker activism with historic 50-year commemorations

UFW links present-day farm worker activism with historic 50-year commemorations

As the United Farm Workers marks historic 50-year milestones around the movement and Cesar Chavez in 2016, it continues making progress improving farm worker lives through both proactive union work and exciting new initiatives across state and national borders. Events climax as hundreds of farm workers and supporters gather for the UFW 20th Constitutional Convention May 19-22, 2016 in Bakersfield, Calif.

Honoring the past

Delano Grape Strike & march to Sacramento: milestones for U.S. Latinos

September 2015 saw the 50th anniversary celebration of the start of the five-year Delano Grape Strike and boycott observed by 1,000 strike veterans and supporters at the farm workers’ historic “Forty Acres” property outside Delano, Calif. See:

March and April 2016 witnessed the 50th anniversary of the grape strikers’ landmark 25-day, 340-mile peregrinacion, pilgrimage or march, from Delano to Sacramento led by Cesar Chavez—the march that first placed the farm workers’ plight before the conscience of the nation. Attracting national attention, a core group of 77 peregrinos (pilgrims) left Delano on March 17, 1966, and were greeted by 10,000 people at the state Capitol in Sacramento on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1966. The march was a milestone that inspired a movement, a people and a nation. See: and

Robert F. Kennedy in Delano: a classic ‘60s civil rights faceoff

One of the great civil rights face offs of the 1960s took place during Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s first visit to Delano on March 16, 1966, for a U.S. Senate hearing on the grape strike. He heard Kern County Sheriff Leroy Galyen testify about arresting peaceful strikers because grower foremen threatened them on vineyard picket lines. As the hearing took a break, Kennedy replied, "May I suggest that during the luncheon period of time that the sheriff and the district attorney read the Constitution of the United States?” Robert Kennedy was the first national political figure to embrace Cesar and the grape strikers.

South Texas melon strike & march sparked Chicano movement in Texas

Two 50-year anniversaries this year mark events in Texas that triggered the Chicano movement there: the UFW melon workers’ strike in South Texas began in Starr County in June 1966, and the march by a core group of strikers left Rio Grande City on July 4, 1966, and arrived on Labor Day at the state Capitol in Austin. Events this year will honor the strikers and marchers in Starr County, along the march route and in the state capital of Austin. See:

Founding a movement as well as a union

After 100 years of failed farm worker organizing, Cesar Chavez and the other early organizers knew things had to be done differently if there was a chance of success. They recognized workers are not just workers. They knew only a union could remedy injustices in the fields. But when workers returned home, they faced other crippling dilemmas in the community: miserable housing; lack of educational opportunity; and prejudice because of race and language. They knew it would take more than a union to overcome those grievances; it would take a movement.

So with encouragement from Robert Kennedy and United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther, UFW leaders founded the National Farm Workers Service Center, today the Cesar Chavez Foundation. The Chavez foundation has evolved into building or renovating and managing 5,000 units of high quality affordable housing for families and seniors at 44 communities in four states, most with social services; owning and operating a nine-station educational Spanish-language radio network with 500,000 daily listeners in four states; providing after-school and summer academic tutoring for needy students in California and Arizona; and improving communities across the U.S. by promoting the legacy of Cesar Chavez. Events later this year will mark 50 years since the Chavez foundation was founded.

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