I like to say I’ve been protesting injustice for over a decade. When I was 10, my family and I joined our Watsonville community in marching for livable wages and adequate working conditions in the strawberry fields. It was my first time out on the picket line, as part of the United Farm Workers’ “Five Cents for Fairness” campaign in 1995. If I recall correctly, the UFW was calling for growers to raise the price of strawberry containers five cents to benefit the workers, many of whom were living in substandard housing conditions and migrating back and forth from Mexico. The experience affected me profoundly; the children of these farm workers were my classmates; the workers were the mothers and fathers I saw everyday. I marched out of love for my community and out of commitment to the principles of respect and dignity. Being there made me feel like I was on top of the world, like I was being swept away by something bigger than me. I was astounded by that feeling of power, and I’ll never forget it.
Later, as a college student at UCLA, I had the opportunity to volunteer for the UFW with Irv Hirshenbaum. We worked on the Gallo wine boycott, and eventually put together a massive “human billboard” of students and community members standing together to send the message loud and clear that Gallo needed to do the right thing. We also hosted a teach-in at the UCLA campus, attended by hundreds of students.
The UFW will always be dear to my heart as I continue to live in Watsonville and witness the hard work and struggle of farmworkers every day. I am now an organizer for Unite-Here, the Hotel Workers Union, and have a UFW button with a strawberry on it hanging on a string in my car. Never forget, si se puede!