It was a lucky day when I accepted a leaflet in downtown Denver, Colorado, in the early ’70s. It was a no-brainer to realize that the movement it explained was a very good thing, and soon I had joined the boycott staff as a full-time community organizer. Richard Longoria was our fearless leader, and others on the staff were Jerry Ryan, Seymour Joseph, and Laurie Ehrman. Later on Barbara Tuttle, Carol Schaff, Maureen Monahan, and Elaine Graves joined us. We hosted two families of farmworkers, the Valderramas and another whose surname I can’t remember, and Koro Korukawa, a Filipino farmworker. They were wonderful.
We spent countless hours on the picket line for the lettuce boycott, spoke at countless community meetings (churches, labor unions, organizations like NOW), and steeped ourselves in the farmworker movement. It was a complete and very satisfying life.
The supporters were priceless. They were loyal to the core and never failed to help whenever we needed them. Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic church was our home away from home. Father José Lara was our spiritual guide and always a source of a good meal (his cook, Mrs. Mondragon, didn’t appreciate our eating everything she had cooked for him, but we couldn’t help ourselves—it was that good!). The guys of Guadalupe Security always made us feel safe.
One thing that impresses me to this day was the way that the Chicano supporters in Denver accepted us gringos without reservation simply because we were giving our all for la Causa. I’ve never felt more a part of any community than with them. Their warmth and acceptance were very moving.
Leafleting and picketing were an unforgettable experience. Mostly the people we encountered were receptive and went out of their way to shop elsewhere when we asked them to. It seemed that all they needed to hear was the unvarnished truth about farmworkers. Once they understood the connection between our goals and their shopping, they were only too happy to drive to a store that was not being boycotted.
The high point of my three years with the UFW was when Cesar came to Denver for an appearance. I remember Richard Ibarra and Cesar’s guard dogs, Boycott and Huelga. All of us on the staff got to meet Cesar, and when he was turning to go, he blew me a kiss. I’ll never forget that.
Another memorable experience was when Dolores Huerta came to Boulder for a public event. At one point during the day, she and I excused ourselves for a few minutes to go to the ladies’ room together. I was thrilled by this mundane event! : )
The whole staff drove to Phoenix to be there when Cesar broke his fast. While there, we had a chance to visit the fields where farmworkers were toiling away.
To this day I still remember the words to my favorite Spanish and labor songs and sing them to myself from time to time.
Marshall Ganz and Jessica Govea were our contacts at La Paz. Richard and I visited La Paz once on the way to the UFW Convention. We spent the night in one of the on-site trailers.
My deep feelings for the UFW have never wavered, and in my mind Cesar stands solidly with Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.