We picked this dispatch as today's "Best." Lupe Rodriguez remembers a time when her people labored in the fields of California from dawn to dusk for less than $10 a day. She remembers how they died at young ages from diseases that could easily have been controlled or prevented. She remembers how their bosses mistreated them, denying them fresh drinking water, shade, rest breaks, and bathrooms.
Lupe Rodriguez remembers a time when her people labored in the fields of California from dawn to dusk for less than $10 a day. She remembers how they died at young ages from diseases that could easily have been controlled or prevented. She remembers how their bosses mistreated them, denying them fresh drinking water, shade, rest breaks, and bathrooms.
"I was tired of all the misery and living in misery and never getting out of misery," Lupe, now in her late 50s, said. "I was tired of the discrimination in the fields. I used to say that if someone came and declared a Huelga (strike) one day, I'd be the first in line."
And that's exactly what happened. When the call to Huelga sounded, Lupe was one of thousands of migrant workers who walked off the fields. Over the next 20 years, her involvement in the United Farm Workers Union would earn her so many death threats, police once had to keep guard in front of her house. Her car was bombed. She lost her job four times. Friends and neighbors told her that her six children would never amount to anything. But Lupe never once regretted her participation in the Huelga.
This is the story of how an impoverished group of laborers took on one of the biggest industries in the United States -- and won. If you still don't believe that a single person can alter the course of history, read on!
It dawned on a migrant worker named Cesar Chavez and a community organizer named Dolores Huerta that if anyone was going to tackle the injustices they faced, it would have to be them. So they set about the daunting task of uniting tens of thousands of people with no real home base, money or resources.
Under the leadership of Chavez and Huerta, the United Farm Workers launched a series of boycotts that placed their plight further in the limelight. In 1965, they asked Americans to stop buying grapes until growers treated its workers more fairly. The campaign quickly spread across the nation, and within five years, a significant number of Americans had stopped buying grapes, devastating the fruit market. Growers finally gave in to the public's demands and accepted the union contract.
Lettuce was next on the farm worker's agenda. The UFW asked America to boycott lettuce to protest growers' decision to contract with another union. Chavez was thrown in jail for refusing to obey a court order to stop the boycott, but that only amplified his cry for justice. Supporters held a 24-hour vigil outside his cell, and Coretta Scott King and Ethel Kennedy (the widows of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy) were among his many visitors.
By this point, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta had become major forces in the Civil Rights Movement. Cesar practiced the philosophy of nonviolence. He held three widely publicized hunger strikes that protested everything from the denial of free and fair elections to the crushing of farm worker rights. His hunger strike against pesticides lasted 36 days and was continued by a series of politicians and celebrities, including Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, and Whoopi Goldberg.
"During the past few years I have been studying the plague of pesticides on our land and our food," Cesar said in 1988. "The evil is far greater than even I had thought it to be. The solution to this deadly crisis will not be found in the arrogance of the powerful, but in solidarity with the weak and helpless."
"She once told me that to be a community organizer, you have to give your entire life. That is what it takes, but that is what it deserves," Currillo said. "And that's what Dolores Huerta has done."
Lupe Rodriguez, meanwhile, has a message for those who doubted her when she walked off the fields back in the 1960s.
"They used to say to me, 'Lupe, you are a very smart woman. Why do you want to join a union? Your children are never going to make it if you do that.' I would tell them: 'I am fighting for the children. I am fighting for humanity. What we are fighting for, we will get in the future. Si se puede.'" Lupe remembered.
"Today, I would say all of that and add that all six of my children went to college!" she laughed.
And remember: Next time someone tells you it can't be done, just say "Si, se puede!"- Stephanie
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