Found 26 Resources containing: dolores huerta
Chicana artist Barbara Carrasco made this portrait in homage to Huerta. Carrasco became a supporter of the farm workers’ movement in the 1970s and served for decades as a volunteer staff artist for the UFW. Carrasco, who considers Huerta her mentor and a close friend, explained her motivations for this portrait: “There are so many icons of men, and icons of women painted by men, that I wanted (as a woman) to create an iconic image of Huerta to recognize her as an equal of César Chávez and, historically, the most important negotiator for the United Farm Workers.”
Con su ejemplo como líder laboral y defensora de los derechos civiles, a la vez que desafió las reglas que restringían el papel de la mujer en sociedad, Huerta se convirtió en uno de los primeros símbolos del poder femenino para los movimientos chicano y feminista.
La artista chicana Barbara Carrasco realizó este retrato en homenaje a Huerta. Carrasco fue simpatizante del movimiento de los trabajadores agrícolas durante los años setenta y trabajó por varias décadas como artista voluntaria para la UFW. Considera a Huerta su mentora y amiga, y explicó así lo que la motivó a hacer este retrato: “Existen tantos iconos de hombres, e iconos de mujeres pintados por hombres, que quise [como mujer] crear una imagen icónica de Huerta para honrarla como figura a la altura de César Chávez y como la negociadora más importante en la historia de la Unión de Trabajadores Campesinos”.
Barbara Carrasco (nacida en 1955)
Galería Nacional de Retratos, Instituto Smithsonian; adquisición posible gracias al apoyo del Latino Initiatives Pool, administrado por el Centro Latino del Smithsonian
Los sindicatos se valían de las huelgas como táctica básica de presión contra sus patronos. En septiembre de 1965, varios meses después de una exitosa huelga en el Valle de Coachella en la que los recolectores de uva lograron un aumento de salario en cuestión de una semana, el Comité Organizador de Trabajadores Agrícolas (AWOC), de matrícula en su mayoría filipina, decidió irse a la huelga por mejores salarios en el pueblo de Delano. Allí los rancheros parecían menos dispuestos a ceder rápidamente, dado que la cosecha duraba más tiempo en el Valle de San Joaquín. Además, muchos de los trabajadores del valle estaban afiliados a la Asociación Nacional de Trabajadores Campesinos (NFWA), en su mayoría mexicana, y no con el AWOC. Buscando más apoyo, Larry Itliong, presidente del AWOC, solicitó la colaboración de César Chávez y la NFWA. El 16 de septiembre, Día de la Independencia de México, la NFWA votó unánimemente por irse a la huelga junto con el AWOC. El grupo que allí surgió era diverso étnica y culturalmente, e incluía también a afroamericanos, puertorriqueños y árabes. La huelga duró cinco años.
George Ballis (1925–2010)
Impresión en gelatina de plata, 1966
Galería Nacional de Retratos, Instituto Smithsonian
Fred Ross y Dolores Huerta
La vida de Huerta tomó un giro decisivo hacia el activismo cuando conoció a Fred Ross (1910–1992), fundador de la Organización de Servicio a la Comunidad (CSO) en California. La CSO fue una de las primeras organizaciones del país que propulsó iniciativas de autoayuda para los mexicano-americanos. Promovió la participación ciudadana entre las comunidades hispanohablantes a través de campañas para registrar votantes y cursos de naturalización, y ejerció presión ante las autoridades gubernamentales por mejoras de los servicios públicos. Cuando Ross llegó a Stockton en 1955 para establecer un capítulo de la CSO, Huerta empezó a trabajar con él como voluntaria y fue así que encontró su propósito en la vida. Gracias a su dedicación y capacidad, fue designada cabildera de la CSO en Sacramento, donde respondía directamente al director ejecutivo César Chávez, quien trabajaba para la organización desde 1952. Tanto Huerta como Chávez consideraban a Ross su mentor. Cuando cofundaron la Asociación Nacional de Trabajadores Campesinos (NFWA) en 1962, Ross permaneció cerca como consultor de la organización.
Cathy E. Murphy (nacida en 1943)
Impresión digital de un negativo original escaneado, 1975 (impresa en 2014)
Cathy Murphy Photographer
Huerta hablando en un mitin
En 1962, cuando César Chávez y Dolores Huerta cofundaron la Asociación Nacional de Trabajadores Campesinos, acordaron que él sería la cara pública del sindicato y ella manejaría la logística. Chávez se convirtió en el carismático presidente de la unión, la figura en quien se concentró la atención de la prensa y, a fin de cuentas, la historia. Huerta tuvo también mucha visibilidad, aunque obviamente en una función vicepresidencial. Oradora articulada y enérgica, Huerta dirigía las relaciones públicas del sindicato, comunicando los valores y objetivos del movimiento ante el amplio público en la prensa escrita, la radio y la televisión. También fue fundamental a la hora de levantar la moral de los trabajadores en la líneas de piquete. Su grito de lucha, “¡Sí se puede!”, revelaba su fe en el cambio social y su determinación de lograr el empoderamiento de los trabajadores agrícolas.
Rudy Rodríguez (1936–2001)
Impresión moderna de un negativo original, 1974 (impresa en 2014)
The Farmworker’s Champion Dolores Huerta Receives Her Due, Even as the Struggle for Justice Continues
In the lyrics of his song, “La Peregrinación,” or The Pilgrimage, the acclaimed Chicano musician and composer Agustín Lira captures a pivotal moment in this country’s labor history—the 1965 Delano Grape strike and the subsequent 1966 farm workers’ march in California.
“From Delano I go to Sacramento/ To Sacramento to fight for my rights,” Lira wrote, breathing lyrical voice into his life as a community activist and former farmworker.
Spearheaded by Mexican American and Filipino field laborers whose leaders had joined to form what would soon become the United Farm Workers (UFW), the effort forced major grape growers to sign landmark contracts with the UFW.
Lira, a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow, mobilized farmworkers into action:
And what should I say?
That I am tired?
That the road is long and the end is nowhere in sight?
I did not come to sing because I have such a good voice.
Nor do I come to cry about my bad fortune.
Today, the singer/songwriter continues to chronicle the experiences and little known histories of Chicano, indigenous and immigrant communities integral to California’s cultural fabric. His headliner performance this summer at the Smithsonian’s annual Folklife Festival—accompanied by his own group, Alma, and the Los Angeles-based Viento Callejero, an urban-style tropical music ensemble—was a wild success.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the farmworkers movement, when the San Joaquín Valley of Central California became ground zero in the struggle against exploitation and oppression. There in the fertile fields, the prodigious table grape crop became the symbol of the workers’ struggle, when grape-pickers from the Delano area refused to collect the ripening fruit to protest their poor wages and abysmal living conditions. The strike lasted five years, fueled by wide national and international support from consumers, students, activists, unions, religious institutions and other public sector entities. (As a product of the Chicano Movement, I spent many hours in picket lines during the grape and subsequent lettuce boycotts.)
It is important to appreciate the multicultural nature of the farmworkers movement. The United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC)—which later became the UFW—emerged in 1966 from the consolidation of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, led by Filipinos Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz and Pete Velasco, and César Chávez’s National Farm Workers Association. The merged union later affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Unfortunately, the role of the Manongs (Filipino term of respect for an older man) in forging the farmworkers movement is not well documented, despite the fact that it was 1,500 Filipino farmworkers who first walked off their jobs and actually launched the strike. The UFW, under the leadership of Chávez, tended to overshadow—one can argue, unintentionally—the Filipinos’ role, as well as the participation of other ethnic farmworkers. The half-hour documentary Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers, made by Marissa Aroy and Niall McKay in 2014, has recently been screened across the country and is bringing new light to their important role.
Playing a tactical counterpart to the charismatic César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, a fearless, persuasive and pragmatic woman, marched to Sacramento in 1966 with the farm workers. (The pair had cofounded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962.) This summer, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery cemented her legacy with the opening of the exhibition, One Life: Dolores Huerta, highlighting the decisive role Huerta played in the farmworkers movement. Organized by Taína Caragol, the museum’s curator of Latino art and history, the show features photographs, original speeches, UFW ephemera and Chicano art.
“Dolores Huerta has not gotten her due for the pivotal role she played in the farmworker movement, especially when compared to César Chávez’s notoriety,” notes Caragol. “Featuring her as part of the Portrait Gallery’s One Life series allows us to shed light on the life and accomplishments of this extraordinary American,” she says.
Huerta realized her vision of a better day for farmworkers, leaving her distinct fingerprints on each major UFW victory. Throughout her career, Huerta, mother of 11 children and now 85, continuously embodied new models of womanhood, inspiring generations of women activists.
With the coupling of the Agustín Lira and Alma concert and the opening of the Dolores Huerta exhibition, Smithsonian audiences are being introduced to this important chapter in U.S. labor history with a celebration of two of its notable leaders.
At the same time, these programs serve to remind us that the struggle is not over.
Today’s farmworkers, still mostly composed of Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, compose 60 percent of all farm labor in this country and are subject to challenging working and living conditions. Despite previous labor victories, they are still under-employed, underpaid and poorly educated—only 28 percent have the equivalent of a high school education and seasonal workers average just $9.13 per hour.
According to the Wilson Center’s Migration Policy Institute, demand for labor-intensive fruits, nuts, vegetables, flowers and other horticultural specialties will continue to rise, thus further impacting the lives of these workers for the foreseeable future. Currently, the estimated value of these commodities exceeds $50 billion annually.
The Institute’s 2013 study, Ripe with Change: Evolving Farm Labor Markets in the United States, Mexico, and Central America, notes that while many workers would like to move up the agricultural job ladder, “the job pyramid in agriculture is steep, offering relatively few opportunities for those who begin as seasonal workers to move up to year-round jobs in agriculture or to become farm operators.” The situation is exacerbated by the workers’ limited access to capital in these capital-intensive agricultural sectors, an impediment to becoming operators themselves.
And, the situation is further complicated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal’s recent decision to deny the Department of Justice’s request to stay the temporary injunction of implementation of the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which included the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).
Nearly 50 percent of all farmworkers are foreign born, mostly Mexican and Central American. Farmworker Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, estimates that 700,000 farmworkers and their spouses could be eligible to come forward to apply for temporary protection from deportation and work authorization under these deferred action opportunities. The uncertainties around the future of President Obama’s executive action, issued last November, further cloud the future of these workers and the operations of farm operators, not inconsequential when you consider the financial impacts and human factors hanging in the balance.
Americans depend on the hard work and sacrifices of farmworkers and their families for large portions of our food supply. Farmworkers work grueling days. Their tasks are tedious and backbreaking. Their pay has them at or teetering at poverty levels. Agricultural employers are exempted from some key employment law protections, and current enforcement levels are less than desirous, leading to widespread violations in some sectors.
While we acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of the past, we would do well ethically to maintain a high level of awareness of present-day agricultural production and labor practices, understanding that the continuing struggle of farmworkers and our own sustenance are intricately connected. Let conscience be our guide.
La Marcha no ha terminado. The march is not over.
The exhibition “One Life: Dolores Huerta” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. is now closed. The documentary Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers is available on DVD and BluRay. The music of Agustín Lira is available through Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.
Encouraged by the civil rights movement, labor organizer Cesar Chavez began in the early 1960s to protest the unfair treatment of farm workers in California and the Southwest, the majority of whom were Mexican or Mexican American. In 1963 he and Dolores Huerta founded the forerunner of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), which launched a boycott of California table grapes in 1965 as part of a movement to improve working conditions for field laborers. This eventually resulted in a national boycott of grapes by many sympathetic Americans. This painting links modern-era activists Chavez and Huerta to historic figures Miguel Hidalgo and José María Morelos (leaders in Mexico’s War of Independence) and Emiliano Zapata (Mexican revolutionary and champion of agrarian reform), who shared their Mexican heritage and a commitment to justice. The painting’s title refers both to the mythical homeland of the Aztec people and to the cultural realm of greater Mexico.
Nacido en North Gila Valley, cerca de Yuma, Arizona
Incentivado por el movimiento en pro de los derechos civiles, el sindicalista Cesar Chavez comenzó en los años sesenta a organizar protestas por el tratamiento injusto que recibían los trabajadores agrícolas de California y el suroeste de Estados Unidos, que eran en su mayoría mexicanos o mexicano-americanos. En 1963, Chavez y Dolores Huerta fundaron la organización predecesora de la United Farm Workers of America (Unión de Trabajadores Campesinos de América) y en 1965 iniciaron un boicot de las uvas de California como parte del movimiento para mejorar las condiciones de los trabajadores rurales. Este acto terminó por generar un boicot nacional por parte de muchos estadounidenses solidarios. Esta pintura vincula a los activistas modernos Chavez y Huerta con las figuras históricas de Miguel Hidalgo y José María Morelos (líderes de la Guerra de Independencia de México) y Emiliano Zapata (revolucionario mexicano y defensor de la reforma agraria), quienes compartían la herencia mexicana y el compromiso con la causa de la justicia. El título de la obra alude a la mítica tierra ancestral de los aztecas y a la cultura mexicana en general.
And what should I say?
That I am tired?
That the road is long and the end is nowhere in sight?
I did not come to sing because I have such a good voice,
Nor do I come to cry about my bad fortune.
From Delano I go to Sacramento to fight for my rights.
These lyrics from “La Peregrinación” (“Pilgrimage,” 1965) by acclaimed musician and composer Agustín Lira capture a pivotal moment in this country’s labor history: the 1966 march from Delano to Sacramento, California. Spearheaded by Mexican American and Filipino agricultural workers, the movement’s leaders would eventually join to form the United Farm Workers (UFW).
In the song, Lira—a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow—breathes lyrical voice into his life as an activist and former farmworker. He contributed significantly to the movement by producing music that mobilized the workers into action. Now a Smithsonian Folkways Recordings artist based in Fresno, he continues to chronicle the experiences and little-known histories of Chicano, Indigenous, and immigrant communities in California.
Lira will perform at the 2015 Smithsonian Folklife Festival’s annual Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert, accompanied by his group, Alma. The lineup also includes Los Angeles-based Viento Callejero, an urban-style tropical music ensemble. The concert is Sunday, June 28, at 5 p.m. on the National Mall, in front of the National Museum of the American Indian.
Curated with the Alliance of California Traditional Arts, the concert honors the memory and legacy of Ralph Rinzler, co-founder of the Folklife Festival. Rinzler’s support for performances by “citizen artists” was unwavering and forms the backbone of the event’s commitment to promoting public engagement, fostering social awareness, and building bridges among communities. The performance is also part of the Smithsonian’s pan-institutional Our American Journey/Immigration-Migration Initiative.
The Delano Grape Strike
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the September 1965 Delano Grape Strike launched by the farmworkers movement. Delano—located in the San Joaquín Valley of Central California—became ground zero for the movement. Its prodigious table grape crop became symbolic of the farmworkers’ struggle when grape pickers from the area walked out of the fields and refused to collect the ripening fruit, protesting their poor wages and abysmal living conditions.
During this strike, Lira and Luis Valdez co-founded El Teatro Campesino, an organization that performed on picket lines and at union meetings to energize and bring attention to the experiences of farmworkers. The grape strike lasted five years, buffeted by national and international support from consumers, students, activists, unions, religious institutions, and other public sector entities. The effort forced major grape growers to sign landmark contracts with the UFW. As a product of the Chicano Movement, I spent many hours in picket lines during the grape strike and subsequent lettuce boycotts.
A Multicultural Movement
“Some of the songs I sang for the Filipinos came from the Filipinos themselves, because they sat and worked with me and taught me the verses. And we worked out the music and sang it with them together before I would go up on stage to sing.”
— Agustín Lira
It is important to appreciate the multicultural nature of the farmworkers movement. The United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) emerged in 1966 from the consolidation of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee—led by Filipinos Larry Itliong, Philip Vera Cruz, and Pete Velasco—with César Chávez’s National Farm Workers Association. The merged union later affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Unfortunately, the role of the Manongs (the Filipino term of respect for an older man) in forging the farmworkers movement is not well documented or celebrated. In fact, 1,500 Filipino farmworkers were the first to walk off their jobs, thus launching the 1965 strike. The UFW, under the leadership of the charismatic Chávez, tended to overshadow (unintentionally, one can argue) the Filipinos’ role, as well as the participation of other ethnic farmworkers. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend watching “Delano Manongs: Forgotten Heroes of the United Farm Workers,” a half-hour documentary by Marissa Aroy and Niall McKay.
Remembering Dolores Huerta
There was a special woman who marched from Delano to Sacramento in 1966: Dolores Huerta. Huerta was the pragmatic counterpart to the charismatic Chávez. The pair co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, which became the aforementioned UFWOC in 1966 and eventually the UFW. Fearless, persuasive, and tactical, Huerta realized her vision of a better day for farmworkers, leaving her distinct fingerprints on each major UFW victory. Throughout her career, Huerta embodied new models of womanhood, inspiring generations of women activists. Today, at age eighty-five, the mother of eleven children is no less inspiring.
On July 3, 2015, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery inaugurates One Life: Dolores Huerta, an exhibition that highlights the decisive role she played in the farmworker struggle and serves to further commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike. The exhibition features forty objects, including photographs, original speeches presented by her to the U.S. Congress, UFW ephemera, and Chicano art.
“Dolores Huerta has not gotten her due for the pivotal role she played in the farmworker movement, especially when compared to César Chávez’s notoriety,” curator Taína Caragol says. “Featuring her as part of the Portrait Gallery’s One Life series allows us to shed light on the life and accomplishments of this extraordinary American.”
Continuing the Fight
In coupling the Agustín Lira & Alma concert with the Dolores Huerta exhibition, the Smithsonian is able to acknowledge an important chapter in this country’s labor history by celebrating two of its notable leaders. At the same time, these programs serve to remind us that the farmworker struggle is not over. Today’s farmworkers compose sixty percent of all farm labor in this country. Despite previous labor victories, they are underemployed and subject to challenging working and living conditions. Most are seasonal workers performing tedious and back-breaking tasks, yet their pay still has them at or teetering at poverty levels (averaging $9.16 per hour). Only 28 percent have the equivalent of a high school education. According to the Wilson Center’s Migration Policy Institute, from which the above statistics were drawn, demand for labor-intensive fruits, nuts, vegetables, flowers, and other horticultural specialties will continue to rise, further impacting the lives of these workers. Presently, the estimated value of these commodities exceeds $50 billion annually.
Americans depend on the hard work and sacrifices of farmworkers and their families for large portions of our food supply. Agricultural employers are exempted from some key employment law protections, and current enforcement levels are less than desirous, leading to widespread violations in some sectors.
While we acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishments of the past, we would do well ethically to maintain a high level of awareness of present-day agricultural production and labor practices. It is important to understand that the continuing struggle of farmworkers and our own sustenance are intricately connected. Let conscience be our guide.
La marcha no ha terminado. The march is not over.
Agustín Lira will perform at the 2015 Folklife Festival’s Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert on Sunday, June 28, at 5 p.m. Festival visitors are also encouraged to visit the One Life: Dolores Huerta exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition opens July 3 and will be open through May 15, 2016.
Eduardo Díaz is the director of the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Photographed at his headquarters in California, Chavez stands in a doorway bordered by Aztec eagles—the UFW’s symbol, which Chavez helped to design.
He was the first baseball player to hit 60 home runs in a single season and later his record of more than 700 career homers made Babe Ruth seem nearly superhuman.
In fact, researchers at Columbia University became so entranced by his knack for setting records that they conducted an efficiency study on the Sultan of Swat and found that he was actually more productive and powerful than the average person—working at 90 percent efficiency compared to the average 60 percent.
By the end of his career, he held 56 records and was among the first five players inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
This summer a new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery chronicles Ruth’s professional and personal life as part of the museum’s “One Life” series, which has delved into the lives of such luminaries as Martin Luther King Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor, Elvis Presley, Walt Whitman, Dolores Huerta, Ronald Reagan and Katharine Hepburn.
“He could be loud and brash and overbearing, but the old players I talked with invariably smiled when they remembered Ruth and spoke fondly of him,” wrote Ruth’s biographer, Robert W. Creamer for Smithsonian magazine in 1994. “Once, probing for an adverse opinion, I asked an old-timer, ‘Why did some people dislike Ruth?’ ‘Dislike him?’ he said. ‘People got mad at him, but I never heard of anybody who didn’t like Babe Ruth.’”
Ruth’s unprecedented athletic prowess pushed him into the public’s consciousness in a way never seen before. He was one of the first to be famous enough to require a publicity agent to handle his affairs. The agent, Christy Walsh, was responsible for arranging the efficiency studies at Columbia that were eventually published in Popular Science in 1921.
Walsh was also involved in leveraging the Babe’s fame into fortune. In one of the first contracts of its kind, Walsh secured Ruth’s permission to tack his name on a ghostwritten sports column. Later, he further commodified Ruth’s name and image in some of the first celebrity-endorsed product marketing. A box of “Babe Ruth Underwear” and a wrapper from “Ruth’s Home Run” chocolate are both on display in the exhibition.
While the Babe’s athletic achievements were known around the world, his life outside the stadium remained unreported. Unlike the ubiquitous tabloid coverage of today’s celebrities, Babe’s personal life was just that—personal. In that era reporters met Ruth, who led a tabloid-worthy life wrought with affairs and an illegitimate child, at the baseball field and let him leave in peace.
“He wouldn’t have lasted in this day and age,” says historian and curator of the exhibition James G. Barber, noting today’s media obsession with celebrities and their personal lives.
Although little is known about Ruth’s life outside the stadium besides his penchant for beautiful women, Barber aimed to paint a near-complete picture of Ruth—one as family man, philanthropist, and, of course, enviable baseball player.
“My great interest with Babe Ruth is his personal life. That’s something that’s hard to capture, it’s hard to recreate,” says Barber. But the show's prints, photographs, memorabilia and advertising materials deliver a compelling narrative.
A photograph of Ruth with his wife and daughter shows Ruth’s softer side, though it was later revealed that the young child in the picture was that of one of Ruth’s mistresses.
In another photograph from 1926, Babe Ruth poses with a group of children at an orphanage called St. Ann’s Home. A young child in the photo holds one of those “Ruth’s Home Run” chocolate wrappers.
Few studio photographs exist of the Babe, but in one sepia-toned image from 1920 Ruth wears his signature Yankees uniform and poses with a baseball bat. Just under his knee is his signature in perfect script, a skill for which Ruth took great pride.
“His life was a mess but his signature was letter perfect,” says Barber.
In addition to the photographs of Ruth on the field, and the products marked with his round face, the exhibition features a baseball bat he once gifted to the mayor of Chicago.
At the end of the exhibition are images and paraphernalia from Ruth’s funeral, which in 1948 attracted tens of thousands of fans to St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York. Other photographs feature baseball players who eventually broke some of Ruth’s records such as Hank Aaron, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford.
“He was the best player who ever lived. He was better than Ty Cobb, better than Joe DiMaggio, better than Henry Aaron, better than Bobby Bonds. He was by far the most flamboyant. There’s never been anyone else like him,” wrote Creamer.
“One Life: Babe Ruth” continues through May 21, 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery.
“The distance, watching you in its black cloak, will not have the strength to separate us. . .” These wistful words, written in Spanish, appear in a 1927 poem entitled “La ausencia,” or “The Absence.” The author, Blanca Rosa López Rodríguez, was a 20-year-old news reporter in Mexico City, who had left her rigidly patriarchal Guatemalan homeland in search of a way to impact the world around her in her own right. Within three years, she would change her name to Luisa Moreno, cementing for the rest of her life la distancia between her and her disapproving family back home.
Rodríguez moved from Mexico City to New York City in 1928, seeking a fresh start in the so-called land of the free. What she found upon joining the labor force at a bleak industrial garment factory was that the United States had a long way to go before it could rightfully claim that title. Wages were paltry, hours were long and discrimination against nonwhites ran rampant. As the Great Depression took hold in 1930, Rodríguez rechristened herself and joined the roster of the Communist Party. Dedicated to workplace reform and women's rights, the Party, whose name would be irrevocably tarnished amid the paranoia of the Cold War, was at the time a perfect fit for an up-and-coming workers' rights champion. A woman on a mission, “Luisa Moreno” rose to become one of the most prominent and impactful labor activists in the nation.
Moreno’s story is the focus of a new installation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, a display case with interactive touchscreen panels that was added to the “American Enterprise” exhibition last week. The exhibition, which opened in 2015, unpacks the growth of industry in the U.S. since the country’s foundation. Yet behind the history of every business is the history of its workers, and curator Mireya Loza, who oversaw the installation of the new Luisa Moreno display, believes passionately that labor leaders in Moreno’s mold deserve inclusion.
“I think Moreno’s life story is a wonderful story—this is squarely American history of union organizing and civil rights,” Loza says. “In an exhibition on American enterprise, I thought it would be fantastic to think about workers. And she represented the interests of workers.”Agricultural workers in the Depression Era exerted themselves all day long for meager wages. Immigrants had it especially hard, and Luisa Moreno sought to secure them the respect they deserved. (OSU Special Collections, Wikimedia Commons)
Having participated in several strikes at the garment plant, Moreno quit to become a full-time advocate for immigrant laborers everywhere, signing on with the American Federation of Labor as an organizer in 1935. Traveling south to Florida, she rallied underpaid workers in the state’s sun-beaten tobacco fields. This was just the beginning.
Moreno soon pivoted to the Unified Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA), a group closely affiliated with John L. Lewis’s Congress of Industrial Organizations (the AFL and CIO would not merge until 1955). Moreno became both the first woman and first person of Latin descent appointed to the CIO council, and in the early 1940s journeyed westward to help Californian food processing employees coalesce into unions.
“I think the biggest splash she made in terms of long-term impact was probably in Southern California,” Loza says, “not because she didn’t do fantastic work in other places, but because there she actually starts to create the Spanish-Speaking People’s Congress, which was a nice dovetail between her labor activism and civil rights work.” El Congreso de Pueblos de Hablan Española, as it was known in Spanish, was born at Moreno’s urging in 1938, and went on to become a vital outlet for Mexican-American voices, who used the organization efficaciously to lobby for protective legislation and reforms in housing and education.
Loza recounts Moreno’s run-in with contemporary labor leader Emma Tenayuca, a Mexican-American cut from the same cloth. On her way west, Moreno made a noteworthy stop in Texas. Having learned of Tenayuca’s efforts to protect migrant pecan sellers, Moreno lent a hand with activism in San Antonio.Many supported Luisa Moreno when she came under federal fire for her Communist leanings (above, a pamphlet produced by her advocates), but their protests were to no avail. Moreno saw no option but to flee the country with her daughter and husband. (NMAH)
“Tenayuca is a homegrown Tejana,” says Loza, who herself called the Lone Star State home for a time, “and you have Luisa Moreno, a figure from Guatemala, and Moreno assists Emma Tenayuca in her labor activism. And you have this moment where there’s two dynamic women leading this labor movement who collide in San Antonio, Texas.” Loza’s wide smile and rapid speech make her own admiration for these heroines readily apparent. “I just wish I could be a fly on the wall at that moment,” she says.
Moreno’s commitment to immigrant laborers endured across World War II. But in the postbellum “red scare” that marked the onset of America’s Cold War with the Soviet Union, Moreno’s workers’ rights campaign was tragically truncated. Increasingly unsympathetic toward activist immigrants, the federal government in 1950 concocted a warrant for Moreno’s immediate deportation, citing her association with the Communist Party as a threat to national security.
Rather than subject herself to the humiliation of forced removal, Moreno left the U.S. that November, returning to Mexico with her daughter Mytyl and her second husband, Nebraskan Navy man Gary Bemis. In time, the family made their way back to Moreno’s point of origin, Guatemala. When her spouse died in 1960, Moreno relocated temporarily to Castro’s Cuba. But it was Guatemala where the fiery labor leader passed away in November of 1994, the distancia between her and her birthplace finally erased.
“Often, when I think about her departure,” Loza says of Moreno’s expulsion from the U.S., “I think about all the talent and expertise, and all of that dynamic vision, that left with her.”
Moreno paved the way for the United Farm Workers, but is today nowhere near as well-known as those she inspired. “Oftentimes, we attribute Dolores Huerta and César Chávez as the beginning of labor activism and civil rights work,” Loza says, “but in fact, there are a lot of folks like Luisa Moreno” who made their successes possible. Moreno is an especially powerful example, Loza adds, in that she, unlike Huerta and Chávez, was not a U.S. citizen.The newly unveiled Luisa Moreno display at the American History Museum includes a book of her poetry and the shawl she wore in the last years of her life. (NMAH)
American Enterprise’s new display contains intimate mementos of Moreno’s life, artifacts donated to the Smithsonian by the labor activism historian Vicki Ruiz, who had herself received them as gifts from Moreno’s daughter, Mytyl. The display includes the book of poetry Moreno published in 1927, back when she was still Blanca Rosa López Rodríguez. It also features a widely distributed pamphlet railing against the prospect of her deportation, and an elegant white shawl that Moreno wore about her neck in the last years of her life.
Loza is looking forward to sharing these treasures with the American public, and in particular those of Central American heritage. “Moreno’s story shows us that the Latino civil rights story is not only a Mexican story, but that Central Americans also played a role,” Loza says. “And the aspect that she’s a woman, a woman from a different country, really makes me hope that the Central American community can see how they contributed to Latino civil rights.”
Most great men have one. Malcolm X has one. Gandhi has one. Mandela got one last year. And now, Cesar Chavez has his.
The biographical film or “biopic”—like Cesar Chavez, which came out this past weekend—lends itself to the creation of legends. In the case of Chavez, the legend is complicated by the fact that his story did not exactly lead to the liberation of the people he represented. Great strides were made during the heyday of the farm workers movement—namely the first contracts for farm workers and a California law that recognized their right to unionize. But field workers today suffer indignities familiar to those who worked in rural California prior to Chavez starting a union in 1962.
These facts are not the concern of Diego Luna, the Mexican niño prodigio turned director of the new film. In a recent appearance at UCLA, Luna told his audience, "We have to send a message to the [film] industry that our stories have to be represented. And with the depth and the complexity they deserve."
Fair enough. As a Mexican American and a historian, I too long for dignified cinematic portrayals of Latinos—if for no other reason than to impart histories to my students that convey the struggles for equality our people have initiated. College professors can only show John Sayles’ terrific 1996 film Lone Star, about a Texas border town, so many times. 2011’s A Better Life, about an undocumented gardener in Los Angeles, is a welcome but all too rare addition to the genre.
Farm workers cheering in the new film about the life of Cesar Chavez. (Photo: © Copyright Pantelion Films 2013)
My yearnings, however, should not come at the expense of historical accuracy, as they do in Cesar Chavez. Having recently published a book on the United Farm Workers and Chavez, I could easily get very particular about the details. (Pointing out, for example, that Luna situates the 1973 picket-line murder of farm worker Juan de la Cruz prior to 1970.)
But in the new film, Luna’s omissions and alterations are really historical subversions and go well beyond the poetic license we should permit filmmakers. His interpretation, I suspect, is a product of his unsophisticated handling of U.S. identity politics. He rejects the multiethnic community that made up the farm workers movement in favor of a simplistic notion that Mexicans did all the work. Creating a hero comes at the expense of depicting an entire social movement.
The Filipino American National Historical Society has rightly come out against the film’s misrepresentation of labor leader Larry Itliong, and the erasure of others such as Philip Vera Cruz and Pete Velasco. They’ve also questioned Luna’s failure to acknowledge the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee--an organization made up largely of Filipinos--which initiated the 1965 grape strike. The strike functions as a turning point for the union’s formation in the film.
Similarly, any mention of white volunteers and organizers beyond Fred Ross, Cesar’s mentor, and Jerry Cohen, the talented leader of the UFW legal team, is absent. Several white ministers and students played a critical role in launching and sustaining the movement, including Reverend Jim Drake, who came up with the winning strategy of the boycott, not Chavez. As the film lumbers toward the epic signing of the first contracts in 1970, Luna’s most egregious distortion of history comes when he shows Chavez boarding a ship to London. In the film, the labor leader walks the wharf on the Thames River, lobbies dockworkers not to unload grapes, and appeals to consumers not to buy the fruit. Although this work actually happened, it was a young Jewish American volunteer, Elaine Elinson, who almost singlehandedly convinced the British and Scandinavian unions to keep the grapes out of Europe.
The film even fails to represent accurately the supporting cast of Mexican American activists in Cesar’s orbit. Gilbert Padilla, played by Yancey Arias, and Dolores Huerta, played by Rosario Dawson, come off as nothing more than a yes-man and yes-woman to Chavez when, in fact, they were distinguished organizers in their own right and effective innovators of new strategies, including the boycott. Only Helen Chavez, Cesar’s wife, is presented as a character with her own mind and story, a tribute to America Ferrera’s standout performance.
Leader of the Migrant Workers Union, Cesar Chavez speaking in 1970. (Photo: National Archives/Cornelius Keyes)
But the film probably does the greatest disservice to Cesar Chavez himself. The director opts out of the 1970s altogether, a period in which Chavez struggled with personal and professional demons, lost interest in organizing farm workers, and became invested in creating a community rather than solidifying gains made in the previous decade. Such a storyline would have done little to burnish his credentials as a civil and labor rights leader, but it would have made for a more dramatic and compelling film. More importantly, it would have made for a much more accurate portrait of the depth and complexity of the real man.These omissions reflect the limitations of the genre and the hero-making project of this film in particular. With rare exception, biopics elide complexity and avoid overt criticism of their subjects. This is why the most extraordinary and entertaining renditions of historical figures have often come via fictionalized characters, whether it be Orson Welles’ Charles Foster Kane based on William Randolph Hearst (Citizen Kane), Roman Polanski’s Noah Cross based on William Mulholland (Chinatown), or P. T. Anderson’s Daniel Plainview based on Edward Doheny (There Will Be Blood).
In fairness to Luna, Chavez was delivered to him with decades of historical baggage, thanks to hagiography and political stamps of approval from Robert Kennedy, Jerry Brown, and most recently, Barack Obama. Although new histories are now being written, including Miriam Pawel’s impressive biography, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, it will take time for the public’s perception of the hero to catch up with the all-too-human Chavez. Sadly, Luna’s film does almost nothing to assist this move toward a new understanding of Cesar Chavez’s life and the successes and failures of the movement he led.
Matt Garcia is the director of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. His most recent book, From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement (University of California Press), won the Philip Taft Award for the Best Book in Labor History, 2013. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.