AZ Farmers Market Nutrition Coordinator
At my public bilingual school growing up, one of the biggest celebrations of the year was César Chavez Day. The entire K-8 school – every student, teacher, staff member, and even parents – came to our César Chavez Assembly. We spent weeks preparing for the event, and everyone had different roles to contribute to the day of remembrance for the líder de los campesinos.
First graders worked on acrostic poems, coming up with tributes to Chavez’s life starting with each letter to spell out his full name. Fifth graders performed on their recorders De Colores, a classic folk song that was sung at the United Farm Workers union meetings. Middle schoolers decorated large banners with the movement’s symbols and cries, which were hung up across the school. They re-created the red flags with the stark black eagle and painted posters that read ‘¡Huelga!’ ‘¡Viva la Causa!’ and ‘¡Sí se puede!’.
Our music teacher led us in singing El Corrido de Cesar Chavez, ¡Viva Dolores Huerta!, and Nosotros Venceremos (We Shall Overcome).
Even in his brilliance as a grassroots community organizer, Chavez did not lead alone. I want to fully recognize two pivotal co-organizers in the movement for farmworkers rights, Dolores Huerta and Larry Itliong.
The Filipino-American story has been largely erased from the farmworkers narrative, but let us uplift the immeasurable contributions of radical labor activist Larry Itliong. In 1965, Filipinos were the first to walk out of the fields and launch the now-famous Delano Grape Strike.
At the meetings of the predominantly Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, led by Itliong, they practiced the Unity Clap and cried in Tagalog the phrase Isang bagsak – when one falls we all fall.
Dolores Huerta came and spoke at my school’s Cesar Chavez Assembly when I was in the first grade. I wish I could better remember her words from that day, but I remember her impact. I felt the excitement that reverberated through my schools halls that Huerta, a conspirator for justice for those exploited, was coming to speak to us. We had just concluded singing the lyrics that Huerta is the pride of the people, and I understood that our heroes are not just in the past, and that their living legacies and La causa have spanned generations.
In a few weeks on April 10th, we will celebrate Huerta in her own much-deserved day of honor. Her decades of activism have reached far beyond farmworkers rights, including fighting for women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, and advocating tirelessly to lift people out of poverty.
As I reflect on the lives of Chavez, Huerta, and Itliong, the impact is wide. It feels even more profound when we consider that the farmworkers movement was not carried out entirely by one charismatic organizer, but was sustained by a multi-racial, cross generational, multi-lingual movement with deeps roots in faith and music. Yet even in their combined fortitude organizing against the powerful landowners of California’s Central Valley (and beyond), Chavez, Huerta, and Itliong were humans who did not always agree about the right strategies that would ultimately bring fair wages, union contracts, and safe working conditions to long-maltreated farmworkers.
Fast forward to today, here’s what we cannot disagree on: those directly impacted by systemic injustices have the solutions and it is imperative that the rest of us follow their leadership. Collectively at Pinnacle Prevention, an organization working to advance food justice, we commit to continually centering the lived experiences of our neighbors who are most marginalized by the current food system. The work continues. Luckily, Dolores Huerta has already coined a salient slogan for perseverance: Sí se puede, compañeros.
Pawel, M. (2015). The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography (Reprint ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing.
Pasion, A. (2020, October 25). From “Isang Bagsak” To #FilipinxForBlackLives, Filipino Identity Has Always Been Political. One Down. https://www.one-down.com/articles/from-isang-bagsak-to-filipinxforblacklives-filipino-identity-has-always-been-political
For readers to engage further:
Support: The United Farm Workers’ active campaigns
Watch: A Song for Cesar in theatres in Scottsdale and Tucson March 2022.
Watch: “Dolores” Documentary Film | Dolores Huerta Foundation
Read: A Journey for Justice: the Life of Larry Itliong
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