Celebrating Latino Conservation Week (July 18-26): Timeline of Latino Farmer Movements in the U.S.


Lessons Learned From My Beloved Father

As we celebrate Latino Conservation Week (July 18-26), I have been reflecting on my own experiences as a Chicana and of people who helped shape my views of the conservation movement. For me, conservation means stewarding our lands to preserve and respect all living things. The history of the conservation movement as we know it, is rooted in the destruction of the environment and cultural groups. The indigenous people who preserved and respected the land and the environment, were attacked. Their experiences and voices were ignored and silenced.

My father recently passed away, but he left me the most valuable lessons about people and nature. He believed that people, like plants, need to be cared for and respected.

“At an early age, I learned about the impacts of environmental injustice on our essential agricultural workers. I also learned how to hold a plant in my hand and admire its value and beauty”.

My father, Daniel Morales, was a farmworker and a dedicated environmental justice advocate. In the late 1940s, my father immigrated to California from Durango, Mexico with his parents and siblings in pursuit of the American dream. Growing up as a migrant child, he faced many hardships and his family struggled to make ends meet. At the age of eight, he worked picking prunes, tomatoes, topping garlic among other crops. Back in the ’50s, my father, and many farmworkers like him, experienced discrimination while working in the fields; there were no age restrictions to protect children, no breaks, no clean drinking water, no bathrooms. Today, farmworkers continue to be amongst the most vulnerable in our country; living in substandard housing, subjected to hazardous and inhumane working conditions, experiencing greater health disparities – including high rates of COVID-19, and are denied some of the most basic workplace protections.

Marisol and Dolores Huerta

My father’s rough life made him strong and resilient in the face of adversity. He transcended challenging times by becoming a life-long advocate for social justice. He devoted over four decades of service to the Center for Employment Training (CET) collaborating with the United Farm Workers (UFW). The farmworkers’ movement of the 1960s was a collective effort of diverse voices committed to social and environmental justice. They fought against discriminatory labor laws and advocated for workers’ rights, improved housing conditions for agricultural workers, and better wages for farmworkers. My family was honored in 2019, when California State Assemblyman Ash Kalra awarded my father the Latino Legacy Award for being, “ A staunch civil rights and social justice advocate.” In addition, he acknowledged his contributions to the farmworkers’ struggle for basic human rights.

Ten years ago, my father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was invited to participate in a Stanford research study on farmworkers. Researchers were looking at the long-term effects of early pesticide exposure and the correlation to high rates of cancer in adults. After several tests, the results showed that he had DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) deposits in his body – the insecticide that was sprayed while he was working in the fields as a child. Similar studies have also shown that migrant children with high exposure to pesticides have significantly higher cancer rates. With more urgency than previous years, he fought for farmworkers’ rights.

I am forever grateful for my father’s compassionate leadership in the community that helped shape my understanding of conservation, advocating for justice for people and our natural resources. He understood the intersectionality between environmental justice, economic justice, and health on our relationship with nature. The memory of my father’s advocacy guides me in my pursuit of justice for communities of color within the conservation movement. Throughout his life, he embodied and shared the view, “Sí Se Puede!” (Yes You Can!). He believed all people can and should live with dignity. He worked with others to help create a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities. Conservation begins with self-respect and preservation of people. Conservation of the whole environment is fighting for justice for people and the protection of our land.


Timeline of Latino Farmer Movements in the U.S.

I had the honor this summer to work, grow, and be inspired by Soul Fire Farm located in Grafton, New York. Soul Fire Farm ia family farm committed to the dismantling of oppressive structures that misguide our food system. I was a co-facilitator for the 2015 Black and Latino Farmer Immersion Program (BLFI) which was an incredible experience for me as a Latina, food justice advocate, and educator.

I had the honor this summer to work, grow, and be inspired by Soul Fire Farm located in Grafton, New York. Soul Fire Farm ia family farm committed to the dismantling of oppressive structures that misguide our food system. I was a co-facilitator for the 2015 Black and Latino Farmer Immersion Program (BLFI) which was an incredible experience for me as a Latina, food justice advocate, and educator.

https://i1.wp.com/latinooutdoors.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/BLFI-session-1.jpg
BLFI Session 2

As a Latina Environmental Educator, I had the pleasure to research and learn about the Latino Farmer Movement and History in the United States. This information was gathered to teach two 1-hour sessions in conjunction with Leah Penniman, food justice educator and farmer at Soul Fire Farm. The class was titled: “Black and Latino Farmer Movements”. The information below is a small portion of the great historical presence Latino had and continue to have in the U.S. Food system. The information that has been gathered includes farmer movements and historical anecdotes that are related to Latinos and farmland.

Latino Farmer Movement  Timeline

1903: More than 1,200 Mexican and Japanese farm workers in Oxnard, California organized the first farm worker’s union called the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association (JMLA). “Later, it will be the first union to win a strike against the California agricultural industry” (Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project, n.d.).

 Source: United Food and Commercial Workers 324. (n.d.) 1903 Oxnard Beet Sows of Seeds of Diversity. Retrieved from: https://www.ufcw324.org/About_Us/Mission_and_History/Labor_History/1903_Oxnard_Beet_Sows_the_Seeds_of_Diversity/

Source: United Food and Commercial Workers 324. (n.d.) 1903 Oxnard Beet Sows of Seeds of Diversity.

1933: Possibly the largest agricultural strike called El Monte Strike, was led by Latino unions in California. The strike was lead to protest the declining wages rate for strawberry pickers. By May 1933, wages went down to nine cents an hour. Growers agreed to a settlement in July including a wage increase of twenty cents an hour or $1.50 for a nine-hour work day (Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project, n.d.).   

1942: The Bracero Program starts. This program was created by executive order to allow Mexican citizens to work temporarily in the United States. The work for the braceros were low-paying agricultural work. A total of 4.6 millions people signed the Bracero contract. The program ends in 1964 (Bracero History Archive, n.d.).

1950: Agreement Governing Employment of Puerto Rican Labor came into place to hire Puerto Ricans for season agricultural employment in the United States (Missouri Farm Labor Bulletin: Division of Employment Security, 1950).

1965: Cesar Chaves and Dolores Huertas funded the United Farm Workers Association (UFWA) in Delano, California. Huertas becomes the first woman to lead such a union. They joined a strike started by Filipino grape pickers in Delano. They organized the Grape boycott in the U.S. and Canada. The grape boycott became one of the most significant social justice movements for farm workers in the United States (Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project, n.d.).

1965: Luis Valdez, American playwright, actor, and film director, funded the world famous theater called “El Teatro Campesino”. El Teatro Campesino was the first farm workers theater in Delano, California. Actors entertained and educated farm workers about their rights (Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project, n.d.) 

Source: San Francisco State University. (2007). Cultivating creativity: The arts and the Farm Worker’s movement during the 60’s and 70’s. Retrieved from: http://www.library.sfsu.edu/exhibits/cultivating/intropages/teatrocampesino.html

1993: Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Immokalee, Florida comes to place to raise 1 cent per tomato pound for farm workers (Keshari et. al, 2014). The Coalition of Immokalee Workers successfully created the Fair Food Program which growers, buyers, and corporations signed up to raise one cent per pound. Other sections of the Fair Food Program include: industry-wide implementation of a 24-hour complaint hotline and rapid complaint investigation, worker-to-worker education on worker rights and responsibilities,  human rights-based Code of Conduct with enforcable zero tolerance policies for forced labor, child labor, violence, and sexual assault, and industry-wide monitoring of the Fair Food Program (Fair Food Standards Council, 2014).

1995: Acequia farmers in San Luis Valley in Colorado joined other local activists-driven organizations to oppose and successfully defeat corporations and mining companies. If not stopped, the corporations and companies would have redeveloped land in San Luis Valley. The major concern was land take over and contamination of water supplies. Acequia farmers also joined protestors to secure a ranch in San Luis Valley (Peña, 2005).

2006: The Great American Boycott took place by immigrants, including Latinos. The boycott was a protest against a legislative proposal which did not go to Congress, however, it was a high vote from the House of Representatives (The Library of Congress, 2005). The bill would have made residing illegally in the U.S. a felony and impose stiffer penalties on those who employed non-citizens. What stood out in the Great American Boycott was that some California’s politicians and religious institutions urge people to not partake in the boycott. Three major companies were supportive of the protestors. The first company was Cargill Meat Solutions which closed 5 U.S. beefs plants and two hogs plants. 15,000 workers from Cargill attended the boycott. The second company was Smithfield Food of Virginia who stated on their press release it will take time during the boycott to help employees write to U.S. Senators and representatives demanding change of immigration laws.The third company, Tyson Food, shutdown meatpacking plants to have workers attend the boycott (Lendon, 2006).

2009: After a dead tragedy of a farm worker in Burlington Vermont, the organization Migrant Justice- Justicia Migrante, comes to light to build the voice, capacity, and power of the farmworker community and engage community partners to organize for economic justice and human rights.  Migrant Justice-Justicia Migrante, has been working on building networks of farmer workers, farmers and allies to pass legislature in Vermont to provide access to licenses regardless of immigration status (Migrant Justice, 2014).

Source: Migrant Justice. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.migrantjustice.net/

2014: Migrant Justice-Justicia Migrante created the Milk with Dignity! Campaign to improve the livelihoods of dairy farm workers and farmers by enlisting participating retailers to purchase and provide premiums to dairy farms that comply with Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct. Migrant Justice-Justicia Migrante’s farm worker leaders have been engaged with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to learn their process in regards to the Fair Food Program (Migrant Justice, 2014).

References

Bracero History Archive (n.d.). About the Bracero Program. Retrieved from: http://  braceroarchive.org/about

Fair Food Standards Council. (2014). Fair Food Program Annual Report. Immokalee, FL: Justice Safer Espinoza. Retrieved from: http://www.fairfoodstandards.org/reports/ 14SOTP-Web.pdf

Keshari, S, Rawal, S, Longoria, E, and Fish, H. (Producers), & Rawal, S. (Director). (2014). Food Chains (Motion Picture). United States: Screen Media Films. 

Lendon, B. (2006, May 1). U.S. Prepares for ‘A day without an Immigrant’: Organizers plan massive boycott on Monday to stop business as usual. CNN. Retrieved from:

http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/04/28/boycott/index.html

Migrant Justice (2014). Milk with Dignity! Campaign. Retrieved from:

http://www.migrantjustice.net/milk-with-dignity

Migrant Justice (2014). Photo History Timeline. Retrieved from: http://migrantjustice.net/sites/default/files/2014-11%205%20anos%20de%20lucha%20%282%20paginas%29.pdf

Missouri Farm Labor Bulletin: Division of Employment Security. (1950). Recruitment of Puerto Rican Labor for Seasonal Agricultural Employment. (Bulletin No. 5). pp. 40-42  Retrieved from: https://www.vec.virginia.gov/vecportal/employer/pdf/ FarmPlacementHandbookPT2.pdf

Peña, D. (2005) Mexican Americans and the Environment: Tierra y vida. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 

Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project. (n.d.). Latino Civil Rights Timeline, 1903-2006. Retrieved from: http://www.tolerance.org/latino-civil-rights-timeline.

The Library of Congress. (2005). Bill Text 109th Congress (2005-2006) H.R.4437.RFS. Retrieved from: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:H.R.4437.RFS:

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