Cesar Chavez, California, Mexico discussed on HISTORY This Week
History this week. September sixteenth nineteen sixty five I'm Sally Helm. The word had gone out through local deejays on Spanish language radio and through notices in the newspaper of the National Farmworkers Association. On Mexican Independence Day at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. In Delano California. There's GonNa be a big meeting. Something important to discuss. So five hundred farmworkers and families have shown up. There sitting in pews and on balconies waiting to hear whatever there is to hear. Everyone knows that tensions are brewing in California's Central Valley about a week earlier of Filipino farm workers walked off the job. There led by a man named Larry IT Leong and they're protesting bad working conditions and low wages. There are a lot of Filipino American farm workers in Delano and the surrounding towns, but the majority of workers are Mexican and Mexican American. So if the strike is really gonNa work, these groups need to come together. And the striking Filipino workers have asked for support. They've come to the national farmworkers association. A group of mostly Mexican American workers led by Dolores, Huerta and Cesar Chavez. Chavez later said quote. Was Oh God, we're not ready for a strike. There was only about one hundred dollars in the bank to support striking workers, where to and Chavez, and other leaders Gilbert Padilla they've been organizing and preparing, but they thought they had more time. Now they have to make a decision and. quickly. So on September sixteenth. In Our Lady of Guadalupe. Church, they put it to a vote and the workers decide unanimously to strike. With that, a new phase begins in what will become a five year struggle on the farms where much of America's produce is grown. And, that struggle will reach far beyond the farms, two grocery stores in New York City and shipyards in London, and even the battlefront of the war in Vietnam. Today, how did a small group of activists organize a strike? And then expand that strike to a national boycott of grapes. And what can their work teach us about how to build a successful multi-ethnic movement? Thank you to homedepot dot com for supporting this episode of history this week, our producer Julie explored their collections of home decor and will tell us about her homedepot dot com purchases later on. So stick around. On September eleventh to won the world changed, but there were warning signs, it's always easy in hindsight to say a big mistake I'm Jim agreed I'm a reporter in the WNYC news room and I'll be revisiting the evidence to understand why we didn't see it coming I'm troubled even to this day that we miss something blind spot the road to nine eleven a new podcast series from history and WNYC Listen wherever you, get podcasts. Professor Matthew Garcia is an expert on labor movements and Latin history. He now teaches at Dartmouth. And when he was growing up, you would not find a grape in his household I love graves. didn't eat grapes growing up because I grew up as a good Mexican American southern California observing the great boycott. My family are Mexican Americans and my grandparents were farm workers, and so it was very conscious of the boycott. Garcia ended up studying this moment later in life an academic and he eventually did start eating grapes again but he never saw them the same way. Grapes are a strategy for social change and that was impressive to me and I felt like in all the history I learned I hadn't learned exactly how the boycott worked and how Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and Gilbert Padilla, and all these people that I learned of since made it happen. Chavez and where the and Padilla and others did their work in California's Central Valley much of the country's produce is grown asparagus almonds, walnuts and Avocados citrus growing there, and of course. Grapes. Grapes were really popular and there was expanses large expanses of acres that you could grow on a almost like a plantation type setting many of the workers on these huge farms are Mexican American and they had deep groups in this region. Mexican people had been coming to the American southwest or ill North Bay to them before there was a line separating that area and so it is a kind of native lands in some ways. Farmers knew the land and how to work it. After Mexico's nineteen, ten revolution, many rural farmers were displaced by the tumult. And number of them moved north. They came north because it was familiar to them and they also came north because their labor was of great value to that. Virgin, Nina content they were recruited they were wanted and they really found themselves useful. They found themselves comfortable and so many of them state. By nineteen twenty at least seventy, five percent of farm workers in California were Mexican or Mexican American. Many also stoked the racist idea that these workers were biologically suited to difficult farm labor, which often involved stooping down close to the ground. Is the so-called short handled Ho it created incredible back pain and back problems because you're bent over the handle this short they presumed that Filipinos and Mexicans were biologically predisposed to using those instruments and so there's this way in which racism is built into the kind of technology that is imposed on workers to use in farming. Men Great Depression brought many poor white farmers to California anti Mexican sentiment really grew and between nineteen, twenty, nine and nineteen, thirty, nine, the US government began mass deportations repatriating Mexican Americans to Mexico. Even, though many of the people deported had been born in the united, states had never been to Mexico. But then in the nineteen forties will work to meant that there was a new shortage of labor on farms in California. and. So the Roosevelt Administration started something called the bracero program. It brought guestworkers from Mexico to the United States but these workers would only stay for a short period of time. They could be paid a lot less and that if they became a problem could be shipped back to Mexico this undercut the ability of Mexican Americans to organize unions because the growers could just go to the guest worker by the nineteen fifties and sixties other labor unions are well established across the US organizing miners, an auto workers and others, but farmworkers are a real bind. Labor laws don't protect them. The work is often short term and far-flung so it's hard to get organized. Plus the program means workers have even less bargaining power. But there is a real need for them to band together. Because farm workers are getting paid really badly and living conditions are often terrible shanties and. Structures, there was a lack of running water oftentimes, there is a lack of sanitation, but organizing has proved really tough. Until some new activists come on the scene..