OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

United Farm Workers co-founder to speak at OSU

04/09/1998

CORVALLIS - United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta will be the keynote speaker for an Oregon State University tribute to farm labor leader Cesar Chavez on the fifth anniversary of Chavez's death on April 23.

Huerta, 68, was one of the initiators of the grape, lettuce and Gallo wine boycotts in the early 1970s.

The event, "The Fight in the Fields," is free and open to the public and begins at 6:30 p.m. in OSU's Memorial Union Ballroom. The event will include dinner, followed with a performance by Aztec dance group Mixtitlan. Huerta's talk will end the evening.

When Chavez died in 1993 at the age of 66, the farm workers union he had created with Huerta was in decline. Most growers had refused to renew their contracts with the UFW and successive administrations in California weakened farm labor laws passed in the 1970s.

Membership in the UFW fell from a high of about 80,000 in 1970 to about 20,000 at the time of Chavez's death. But in recent years, the union has returned. Union membership has grown to about 26,000 and the UFW has won more than a dozen straight representation elections on previously non-union ranches.

"The purpose of this event is to educate the community about Chicano history. We feel that too often the great leaders of our community are overlooked, and, by hosting this event, we hope to educate others on our history, as well as pay tribute to one of the most important leaders of Mexican-American history," said Eva Galvez, coordinator of OSU's Centro Cultural Cesar Chavez (Cesar Chavez Cultural Center), which is sponsoring the tribute.

Chavez traced his interest in workers' rights back to 1938, when his family lost their Arizona farm and were forced to move to California and become migrant workers. Chavez said the exploitation and racism he encountered during his youth helped forge his dedication to non-violent change.

His United Farm Workers resulted in the first collective bargaining agreements and union hiring halls for migrant workers. Chavez's efforts were recognized as he became the second Hispanic ever to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a posthumous ceremony in 1994.

"Cesar Chavez, along with Dolores Huerta, our keynote speaker for the event, changed the lives of farm workers by organizing the United Farm Workers union, the first union to protect the rights of migrant farm workers," Galvez said. "However, Chavez was a leader and advocate for all civil rights for Chicanos."