I recently finished reading "Dark Sweat, White Gold: California Farm Workers, Cotton, and the New Deal," by UCLA history professor Devra Weber, and I was reminded of the times I spent interviewing Spanish-speaking farmworkers and listening to their stories of struggles, dreams, fears and hopes.
Although the book focuses on migrant agricultural workers in the cotton industry from 1919-1939, some of its themes -- familial and social networks, unionization and living conditions -- remain a focus of conversation for many farmworkers today, and such topics will likely be shared May 18-19 when the United Farm Workers will hold its convention, marking its 50th anniversary, in Bakersfield.
The annual convention has been previously held in Fresno, but UFW President Arturo Rodriguez told me Friday that it made sense to move the convention here.
"First of all, doing it in Kern County means a lot to us," Rodriguez said. "This is where our roots are."
The merging of two organizations, the UFW formed in Delano in 1962, but today is headquartered in Keene in the Tehachapi Mountains where the late Cesar Chavez sometimes conducted personal and unpublicized fasts and meditations. The Keene location also served as the channel for Chavez to focus on his work.
"He worked there long hours, seven days a week," Rodriguez said.
About 1,500 farmworkers throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and Texas are expected to attend the convention, and Rodriguez said the local response has been welcoming.
He said it will be an opportunity to reflect on the labor organization's future goals and its past for farmworkers over the last half century, including the 2002 binding mediation law signed in California, the first in the country that reduces contract mediation (negotiation) to commence after six months; the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975; new union contracts; the 1986 immigration reform or amnesty for farmworkers; and the heat illness regulation signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005 that mandates shade, water, prevention training and emergency procedures.
On the UFW legislative agenda in the future are immigration reform for farmworkers; expansion of organizing rights; and overtime legislation at the state and federal level.
The convention also is likely to draw some celebrities closely associated with UFW or Chavez. However, it has also sparked significant involvement from local community leaders, including Kern County Superior Court Judge Robert Tafoya, attorney H.A. Sala, former state Assemblyman Ray Gonzales, Bakersfield City School District board member Lillian Tafoya, and Jack Brigham, executive director of the Bakersfield College foundation Center for Kern Political Education.
Judge Tafoya added that the anniversary is a perfect time to reflect on Chavez's contributions and spark a community dialogue about the contributions of farmworkers and UFW.
"What does Cesar Chavez and his legacy mean to us?" asked Tafoya, who met Chavez as a young college student and was later among the 30,000 people who attended his funeral in 1993. "What did Cesar teach us about race relations, compassion for the fellow man? What did he teach us about courage, the importance of literacy and humility? (Even after his death), his lessons are still continuing to reverberate."
With the June primary around the corner, one of the most closely watched local races, the 5th supervisorial district, is heating up with community forums. Jay Tamsi, president/CEO of the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said he is excited that KCHCC, Univision 39 and Cal State Bakersfield have partnered to host a forum next week, featuring 5th District Supervisor Karen Goh and challengers: Arvin Mayor Tim Tarver and Leticia Perez, a staffer for State Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter and former Kern County public defender.
"This is a great opportunity for constituents living in the 5th District and the community to educate themselves on candidates vying for supervisor," Tamsi said.
The forum will start at 7 p.m. May 8 at the CSUB Student Union. Tamsi said the forum is a project of the KCHCC Government Relations Committee, and the hope is it will encourage voter turnout on June 5.
"Exercise your right to vote," Tamsi said. "Every vote makes a significant difference."
I couldn't agree more.
These are Olivia Garcia's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.