Si, se puede!
Lupe Rodriguez remembers a time when she worked as a migrant farm worker in the California fields under terrible conditions, and for very little pay. Lupe was only 15, but she remembers it very well.
When a Huelga (strike) was called one day, Lupe joined thousands of workers to strike. Her car was bombed, and she lost her job four times for protesting. But Lupe was proud to be part of the Huelga.
If you still don't believe that a single person can alter the course of history, read on!
In the 1960s, people were fighting for the rights of African Americans, but the migrant farm workers, mostly Mexicans and Filipinos, got no help at all. Eventually, a farm worker named Cesar Chavez and a community organizer named Dolores Huerta decided that they had to stand up for themselves.
"My father really had faith in what he was doing. He felt deeply that he could change things without having to resort to violence," said Anthony Chavez, Cesar's son.
In May of 1962, Cesar and Dolores met with farm workers and started the National Farm Worker's Association (soon to become United Farm Workers). Their motto was Si, se puede (Yes, it can be done). To get the state's attention, they marched to the State capital -- 340 miles away! On March 17, 1966, 70 farm workers in Delano, California, headed toward Sacramento.
"Even Cesar didn't think we would make it all the way to the capital in the beginning," said 85-year-old Manuel Delgado, a retired migrant worker. "But every time we got to a new town, people would give us food and a place to sleep. When we would leave, even more people would join us. By the time we got to Sacramento, there were thousands of us." In the end, farm workers were given permission to form a union, and they sent a strong message that they would stand up for their rights.
Under Chavez and Huerta, the United Farm Workers asked Americans to boycott (stop buying) fruit when workers were being treated unfairly. They boycotted grapes and lettuce, and eventually, the farm-owners had to accept the union's demands because no one was buying their fruits and vegetables.
This is Shangrila! / My good friend Pistolera...
Believing in nonviolent protest, Chavez held hunger strikes, protesting pesticides and poor treatment of workers.
He said, "The solution to this deadly crisis will not be found in the arrogance of the powerful, but in solidarity with the weak and helpless."
Sadly, Cesar Chavez died in his sleep five years later. Nearly 50,000 people went to his funeral. Today, bridges, parks, schools, museums, and streets are named after him.
Dolores Huerta put her energy into feminism and helped create laws for Spanish-language driver's license exams and voting ballots.
Lupe Rodriguez is proud to say that all six of her children went to college, even though many people said they would never amount to anything. To them she says, "Si, se puede."
But the lives of migrant farm workers today are still very hard. Many face lousy working conditions and discrimination. Fortunately, we now have a way to help. UFW's website lists farm-owners that respect the civil rights of its workers. You can support these companies by buying their produce or dropping them a thank you note. Other companies are not so good, and the website will tell you what you can do to help change their behavior.
And remember: Next time someone tells you it can't be done, just say "Si, se puede!"
Please email me at:
Links to Other Dispatches
Nick - It's ours so we're taking it back! Get off of our island!
Stephanie - Si! Hablo English, German, French, Portuguese, Swedish and Greek