AGRICULTURAL WORKERS ORGANIZING COMMITTEE (AWOC-UFW) AFL-CIO
March 1960 – October 1960 (8 months)
FARM LABOR UNION ORGANIZOR
During the 1930s my grandparents, (Abuelos) Alberto y Francisca, my mother Petra and my three uncles, Tío Cándido, tío Ysmael y Tío Beto were all migrant farm workers. My mother was the camp cook when I was born in a farm labor camp near Chico CA. My father was a farm labor contractor. After my father left, my Mother and I continued to work in the Camps and harvest fields until World War II started. My three tíos were drafted into the U.S. Army and sent overseas to fight in the Europe and the Pacific wars, and my mother and I moved to Stockton, CA. I can still remember setting the long benches and putting the plates on the long tables for the workers in the Camps; and even before I even was old enough to go to school I was getting on the trucks and buses with my family and going out to work in the fields to work cut asparagus, cut grapes, top onions, pick tomatoes, pick cherries and all the other crops in the great salad bowl that is the Central Valley of California.
After graduating from high school in 1955 and serving two tours of duty overseas in the Military I was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 1960. There were very few jobs in the 60s. I went to work for AWOC under the supervision and training of Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) Director Norman Smith as a farm labor union organizer in the San Joaquin valley. From the AWOC Office in Stockton, CA, I would get on the trucks or buses that were going to the harvest fields along with the other migrant farm workers early in the mornings. During the Trip and when we arrived at the harvest fields would speak in Spanish and English to fellow migrants to get them to stand up for the benefits of unions, social justice and their civil rights in the fields and try to get them to sign up and join the AWOC AFL-CIO Union.
This is where I came to know the work of César E. Chávez and Dolores Huerta who were always in and out of Stockton and talking with Norm. AWOC, later in 1962, became the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee or UFWOC, and then became what we know today as the UFW. In the mid-960s, when the grape and lettuce boycotts came and the later strikes, marches and organizing drives, I participated and helped the UFW where I could in San Francisco and later, when I went to Washington, D.C., as an attorney for the Federal government, I would contribute money when I had some to spare. I was mentored in community organizing by Herman E. Gallegos, Fred Ross, Saul Alinsky, Evelio Grillo, Bert Corona, Jimmy Delgadillo and attorneys Cruz Reynoso, Jess Hernandez, John Riordan and Louis Garcia. They convinced me to go back and finish college and to on to law school at the University of San Francisco.
I also worked with the Mission Band Priests of the Archdiocese of San Francisco under Archbishop Joseph McGucken. During the agricultural harvest season in California’s Central Valley I would accompany one of the priests such as Fr. Eugene Boyle, Fr. Ralph Burke, Fr. McDonald and other Spanish speaking priests on their visits to the farm labor camps and help provide Spanish speaking religious and social services - such as contacts with their families in Mexico and their civil rights as legal or undocumented workers - to the ‘Braceros” – (the term used for the contract farm laborers legally in the United States on contract from the Mexican government).
Donato Tapia, J.D. 415-486-5560
U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, 50 BEALE STREET, SUITE 7200, SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94105, 415-486-5560; fax 415-486-5570
White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans - MEDIA CONTACT, REGION IX.