Back in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s, I volunteered with the U.F.W. right here in Miami, Florida. Of course, I boycotted grapes, iceberg lettuce and Gallo Wine, but that only the beginning of it. I also told everyone I knew, especially those co-workers who joined me for lunch to boycott those foods and explained why. I told them about the horrible working conditions that farm workers had and that Cesar Chavez and the UFW were trying to better those conditions.
I took petitions around and gathered lots of signatures for the UFW. I even spent one night at their dorm. That way, I could tell everyone that it was true that the union workers didn’t even live in Middle Class housing, let alone lavish housing. The union workers were paid very little, because they didn’t want to rip off the farm workers.
Cesar Chavez came to Miami for two Farm Worker Fiestas. One was on Watson Island (next to MacArthur Causeway) and the other was at Carrollton School for Girls in Coconut Grove. Both events were magnificent successes. We had thousands of people at both events! It looked like a sea of people. I’ll never forget it and that was over 40 years ago.
I’m pretty sure Chavez also came to Miami Beach for the Democratic Convention in ‘72. We had huge banners at the convention telling everyone to boycott grapes, iceberg lettuce and Gallo Wine. Sen. Ted Kennedy even gave a speech about the boycott!
I cherish the time I spent volunteering with the U.F.W. I was never a full-time volunteer, but I did spend a lot of time in the movement.
About a year ago, I went with a group from my temple (Temple Israel of Greater Miami) to Immokalee to find out what’s happening with the tomato workers. They actually have a Coalition of Immokalee Workers that are doing great things for the tomato workers. They don’t have a boycott, but they’re urging different food corporations to raise the price of their tomatoes by a penny a pound. That cent goes to help the farm workers. The coalition has done a lot of good things to help those farm workers. Many companies have agreed to join them in their quest. We still have to convince Publix Super Market to join, as well.
The work goes on, but some things are getting done here in Florida. I’m glad I was able to meet Cesar Chavez, because he was one of my heroes!