I first became involved with the United Farm Workers as a 14-year-old volunteer handing out leaflets and picketing in from of Hills Supermarket in 1972. At age 15, I had graduated from timid leafleter to picket captain, calmly keeping the police from arresting my mother, who accompanied me on the picket line to make sure nothing happened to me! (My mother, who was Filipino, eventually gained the admiration of Dolores Huerta, and the friendship of Philip Vera Cruz, with whom she corresponded until his death.)
At age 16, I left high school (with my parents’ permission) to work for the UFW full-time. From 1974 - 1978, I worked primarily on the boycott staff, which often meant working 24/7, and changing gears and assignments with the 2 a.m. calls from La Paz, sometimes trekking 3,000 miles within 8 hours of receiving the call. I worked on the boycotts of non-UFW grapes, lettuce, Gallo Wines, and a host of other consumer goods, insurance companies, and supermarkets, as well as worked on the Prop. 14 campaign (in San Diego, where I first met a young Arturo Rodriguez).
In the nearly 5 years of full-time involvement with the UFW, I worked with Cesar many times, though never very closely. Still, his philosophy - the notion of sacrificing for others and that economic justice requires a different set of priorities than bosses, and the mass media, and the culture of consumerism encourage - has stayed with me to this day.
When I left staff, it was with trepidation, but I was still very young, and knew I still had a lot to learn about myself, and how better to understand social, political, and economic forces and events. I went on to major in Labor Studies in college, which led me to work as a labor journalist for a brief time, and eventually an adjunct professor in labor studies and sociology.
Through those teaching jobs, I sought to organize students into activism, or influence them to work for change. In most of my classes, I had opportunity to talk about Cesar and the UFW, and the issues that affect farm workers (as well as most other workers).
As an adjunct professor, I became an academic migrant worker, working seasonally, and stringing together four or five part-time teaching jobs at minimal pay, no raises, no benefits, and no job security. My history with the UFW and my education mandated that I be part of, or initiate, union organizing drives at all the places where I taught. We succeeded in three of the four places I worked on organizing. The fourth campaign is another story, which is far from over.
I am now disabled and unable to work, but I still try to do what I can, support union organizing efforts, and influence my own children to work for change. Hopefully some of Cesar’s legacy will continue with them.