In 1966, farmworkers in the Rio Grande Valley and across Texas grew tired of the mistreatment they underwent on a daily basis from the landowners they worked for, and decided to capitalize on the momentum of ongoing strikes in other regions of the Southwest.
They organized and took a stand against those landowners and their manipulative practices by taking to the highway in a manner similar to César Chávez, and marching from Starr County all the way to Austin to raise awareness and support to their mission. Stopping along the way in various cities – including San Antonio – helped their numbers grow.
Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) on San Antonio’s Westside is adding to the traditional Farmworker’s Movement narrative by highlighting this historic local movement with an event that started as an idea back in April.
On Friday Oct. 21, the university is hosting a one-day symposium titled La Cosecha: Legacies of Farmworkers in Movements for Social Change in Tejas. The event is free and open to the public.
La cosecha means “the harvest,” so it is easy to see the correlation between the title and the topics being discussed. We don’t often consider the dangerous environments the workers who pick our food are exposed to. The Farmworker Movement gained attention through stories of César Chávez and his exploits in California. Without studying this movement in depth, it seems as if it took place in isolation without ever having impacted the rest of the country. La Cosecha demonstrates what the farmworker struggle looked like here in Texas.
When prompted on the significance of the event by the Rivard Report, Aimee Villarreal, Ph.D., assistant professor and program head of the Comparative Mexican-American Studies program at OLLU, and one of the organizers of “La Cosecha” said:
“It is important to highlight Mexican-American labor histories and our legacies of resistance and political activism. This symposium brings together the living legacies of the farmworker movement – those who actually participated in the 1966 strike and minimum wage march – and scholars, activists, artists, and performers (who will) provide a more nuanced and empowering perspective on Mexican-American labor movements.”
In order to do this mission justice, OLLU has loaded the program with a number of exciting speakers and events.
A panel titled Living Legacies includes three of the original strikers from that 1966 demonstration: Daría Arredondo Vera, Efraín Carrera, and Guadalupe Guzmán will discuss their involvement in the strike, their participation in the farmworkers movement, and how that day impacted their lives.
In addition, there will be scholarly presentations by renowned academics in the field of Mexican-American Studies. Anthropology professor Martha Menchaca, Ph.D., and history professor Emilio Zamora, Ph.D., from the University of Texas at Austin have been intimately involved in documenting stories like these and making them available to the public. They will discuss labor histories and the social justice/labor activism as well as the organization of those movements both past and present.
While striking and/or marching for a cause can certainly bring attention to any issue, art offers another platform of delivery – one that was heavily utilized during the Farmworker’s Movement to deliver messages to the rest of the world. An artist panel will discuss how art was a driving force behind keeping Mexican Americans informed and motivated during these trying times.
Chicano art expert Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, famed Chicana artist Santa Barraza, and Juan Tejeda, professor of Mexican-American Studies at Palo Alto College, member of the musical group Conjunto Aztlán, and founder of the Tejano Conjunto Festival, will all partake in the panel discussion. The event will conclude with a poetry reading by Neftalí De León, a Teatro Campesino act directed by OLLU graduate student and playwright Marisela Barrera, and music by El Tallercito de Son.
Farmworker strikes have been a major point of discussion when examining the Mexican-American experience in the United States. The most prominent narratives revolve around the efforts that took place on the West Coast involving César Chávez, whereas Texas’ stories often go unmentioned – a point of contention for many scholars. While lack of data is often cited as a reason for excluding Mexican-American narratives from textbooks, many argue that conservative politics only allow “white-washed” narratives into the Texas public school curriculum.
As a society, we want to trust that the things our children learn in school, especially in their history classes, are a complete and accurate representation of events that transpired. However, as we learned with the recent proposal of the discriminatory textbook Mexican-American Heritage to the Texas State Board of Education – which will be up for a vote Nov. 15 – inaccurate or incomplete stories threaten to make their way into our children’s education.
The truthfulness of oral histories has long been critiqued by historians in the field but those narratives have gained stature in recent decades. Villarreal said “the real reason” she and her co-organizers put the symposium together was to “honor and celebrate the living legacies of the 1966 Farmworker Movement – the original strikers and marchers, who against incredible odds were able to rise up and change the conditions of their existence.”
Though oral histories are a major sources of information, scholarly publications and experts in the field are a beautiful complement to those lived experiences. In speaking to the importance of recent scholars, Villarreal connected La Cosecha and the previously mentioned textbook.
“With the Mexican-American Heritage textbook issue, Mexican-American Studies continues to be marginalized and cast as illegitimate knowledge,” she said. “The authors of the textbook actually completely ignored over 40 years of scholarship. The younger generation of scholars are building on this work and taking it in new and exciting directions with an emphasis on transnationalism, gender, and political economies.
“This symposium provides a space for interdisciplinary and intergenerational dialogue while also featuring the brilliant work that Mexican-American scholars and activists have done and continue to do.”
On the heels of Latino Heritage month, La Cosecha complements many of the other events that have recently taken place at local campuses like Palo Alto and San Antonio College. The symposium is part of a long string of events that commemorates the 1966 strike and march, including one that OLLU hosted on Labor Day that consisted of a special Mass and march to Plaza de Zacate, as well as a push to establish historical markers along the march route. Once those are in place, there are plans to have commemorations at those sites.
Comments on social media regarding the lack and inaccuracy of Mexican-American history in contemporary discourse ranged from “Why have I never heard about this?” to “I always knew Texas took part in the strikes, I just never knew how.”
There are a lot of explanations for this but the biggest one can be laid at the feet of Mexican Americans not being reflected accurately in Texas’ history, if at all. La Cosecha aims to change that today.