Gloria Serda Rodriguez
We were a people hungry for a change . . . . . . a change in a Farm Workers daily lives. Our lives. We had long yearned for a better life, with decent wages, health insurance, a pension plan, safe working conditions, better housing, and a voice to represent our interests. Something that others enjoyed in their line of work . YES ! We were ready. The time had come to stand up and scream loudly ! A time to stand up and be heard ! A time to protest ! A time to walk picket lines ! And do whatever it takes to alert the Nation about the hardworking farm workers who were often underpaid, overworked, exploited and forgotten ! . . . . . . Yes, forgotten ! We did not exist. No one even thought about who picked the food they enjoyed on their table But they soon found out ! It wasn’t long before Farm Worker became a household word.
My sister, Helen Serda, was the first one to start the chain of change within our family. She was attending San Fernando Valley State College, Northridge, where she engaged in encouraging other Chicano students to get involved in the farm worker movement. She did a good job of organizing students to get involved and picket Safeway, and protest and hold marches and rallies to help spread the word that there was a Farm Workers Movement going on! . . . . . along with the other Movements at that time - the Chicano, Civil Rights, and Womens Movements to name a few.
Apparently my sister Helen had met Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and in their conversations, they discovered that our dad, Joe Serda worked at the DiGiorgio Camp “Campo Sierra Vista where the Union was at the time trying to organize the workers. My dad was a Foreman there at the time. Between the three of them, my sister Helen, Cesar and Dolores, they enlisted the help of my dad to organize and get information and report his findings to the farm worker Union. DiGiorgio was very influential politically and economically. DiGiorgio was the largest agriculture corporation of fresh table grapes and hired hundreds of farm workers in Tulare and Kern Co. and owned properties in other parts of the State. They also owned S&W products. My dad also participated in the 1st election at Di Giorgio. It was the very first election for the U.F.W.
My dad, Joe Serda, and my mom, Carmen Serda, had a conversation about where their lives were going to go from here and deep down inside their souls, they both knew what they must do. They came to the agreement to get involved and join the Movement full time. My mom, had a strong personality, was very outspoken and not afraid of anything. Despite not having much of an education: “farm worker children because of moving from place to place, often do not graduate from high school, and sometimes not even 8th grade.” My mom was very smart in the ways of the world. My dad, on the other hand, was a very shy, quiet, softspoken and not a very aggressive person. That all changed when they started working for the Union. My dad lost all his inhibitions, and started going to Colleges and to other Organizations giving speeches, and radio interviews about the Farm Worker Movement. My mom also did her share of the many many duties involved within the structure of the Union. One of the many duties that my Mom was responsible for, which was very important, was feeding the many volunteers that arrived daily from all over. A person has to be able to cook for large crowds, and my mom did that well. She was a very good cook. Anyone can attest to that. She organized the volunteers in the kitchen as they often were assigned kitchen duty.
My mom and dad were among some of the first Farm Worker families from Delano to go to New York on the boycott. My dad often talks about the big new bus that was donated to them by a Denver teachers’ Union and he drove that bus all the way from Delano to New York, but he adds that he had help driving, from many of the young volunteers on the bus. Along the way to New York, they dropped off U.F.W. volunteers all over the country. They also stayed for a brief time in Cleveland and in Detroit Michigan. While in Cleveland my mom wrote a cook book with Mexican recipes, so as to raise money for the boycott. I have a copy of the booklet tucked away somewhere. They would often tell me stories of all the sacrifices they had to endure and being from California, they had to learn to cope with the cold New York weather.
Throughout their years with the U.F.W. my dad coordinated the L.A. boycott offices where part of his job was to gain Union support and to ask for clothing, food and shelter for other U.F.W. volunteers. While in L.A. around 1969, my dad and Chris Hartmire participated on a 21 day “water only “ fast in front of Safeway. My dad started getting bad stomach cramps, and my mom got scared so they ended their fast. My mom and dad also managed the Lamont field office at one time. In the Selma field offices my dad was a contract administrator.
I would often hear my sister Helen on her visits home from college, talk about all the rallies, picket lines and protests she organized with the help of the Chicano Students from Northridge. She was always so full of excitement, as she spoke. After hearing her speak over and over, I knew that I too must do something. After all this was a cause dear to my heart . . . . . Why not ? I had been born in the Sierra Vista Labor Camp in 1945, in a box car, where we had to endure the cold of winter, and the sweltering heat of summer and all my life, all I knew was poverty. I often heard my parents and grandparents and other farm worker families complain about how were they going to survive until the next pay day, and about the harsh working conditions among many other problems. We also had to buy our groceries from the company store, which was very overpriced. Farm Workers like ourselves were a very hardworking and proud people, but we barely existed on what little money we made. So I decided to join the struggle, and put my little grain of sand in the making of this Movement that was so dear to my heart.
My mom, Carmen Serda, who was working for the Kennedy Plan, under the leadership of LeRoy Chatfield, would often tell me that he needed volunteers. So, one day I made up my mind and told her I was interested, so she talked to LeRoy, and I was hired. I learned a lot working under LeRoy Chatfield. I had and still have a lot of arespect for him. I saw him as a quiet person with a lot of passion for confronting injustices and making them right. He always took care of any problems in his own calm quiet way. He taught me to not be afraid of those in higher positions and how to confront and solve problems. As part of my duties at the Kennedy Plan I typed all the payroll checks and health benefits checks for the farm workers health insurance claims. I was taught how to work the claims by Maria Robles and later on I would ride with her and Esther Uranday to work with the Kennedy Plan in La Paz where the Corporate office had been moved. I worked taking care of the contributions that were coming in daily and was responsible for processing them and making the daily deposits. I worked at the Service Center, where I learned to help farm workers with their business matters and other related issues.
My real passion was to work at the Rodrigo Terronez Memorial Clinic. My reason for that was because all thru life I witnessed people that were unable to speak English, have a real difficult time communicating with the Receptionist or the Physician at their medical office. At that time in the early 50’s and 60’s, there were very few Spanish speaking employees. I would often feel bad for them and at times would offer to interpret for them. So that is why I wanted the position of Receptionist, to help people. I was told that I had to talk to Cesar about the position I wanted and I did and he said that my reason for wanting the job was a good reason and reminded me that I had to be a reliable, responsible employee, meaning not calling in and being to work on time. Working at the Clinic was challenging. Sometimes I had to be up and ready by 4 a.m. to go picket, then home around 7 a.m. to get ready for my duties at the Clinic, then after the Clinic closed, I and a co-worker Jeff Solinas, who was a Pre–Med student at the time and volunteering for the Clinic would go to the labor camps and make contact with the farm workers where we would sometimes register people to vote, or talk about Prop.22 or whatever proposition we were working on at the time, then grab something to eat and finally home. My day would start at 4 a.m. and end at about 12.00 p.m. That’s how dedicated we were. Some of us poured our heart and soul, and sometimes tears into our work with the Farm Worker Movement because we believed !
I also worked with Tino and Jennie Vasquez at the fundraiser dances that were often held at the 40 acres. We always did real well at those dances and we helped raise lots of money for the Union. I did that for a long time, about 12 years.
I got to know a lot of people in my few years with the Union. Some with a lot of education and some that were self educated. Most were very passionate about their involvement with the Union and a few not so dedicated. In my final observation and thoughts about the Movement, I have witnessed and heard some bitterness about how the U.F.W. administration has handled certain situations involving volunteers, and/or paid staff. I question how and why so many good people were forced or pushed out. I know so many good hardworking staff whose hearts were ripped to pieces, just because they were doing their job and getting more recognition than the leader of the Farm Worker Movement. I know some that were forced out because they did not agree with certain policies and asked too many questions. Some of the staff, organizers and volunteers were hired by the U.F.W. to unionize farm workers to make sure that they were not being mistreated. How ironic is that !! when the U.F.W. itself mistreated its own volunteers and organizers
I could name so many people who were pushed out, but in respect for their privacy, I am not. I do know that many of them have a bitter taste in their mouth, as I do. Some have voiced their opinions and thoughts, and some prefer not to talk about it, because of too many hurt memories of their struggles. No one is going to argue that Cesar Chavez starting the Farm Worker Movement was not a good thing. It was time, and it was a very good thing. Cesar however, was not the Union. The Union are the farm workers that joined. What is the U.F.W. administration doing now ? Why aren’t they in the fields organizing the farm workers ? Whatever happened to Radio Campesina ? I hear that question asked a lot by veteran Huelgistas, and farm workers, and former U.F.W. volunteers. At one time Radio Campesina was really popular. If I remember right, its purpose was to organize farm workers and to educate them about their rights and inform them of any events pertaining to them as farm workers. Its program “ Despierta Ya Campesino was very popular with the farm worker community, numerous times people were more interested in listening to its emcee “El Primo” Pablo Espinoza, than Cesar. I know, I was volunteering at a Rally in Hanford when people gave Pablo a standing ovation and clapped and clapped when he spoke. Pablo Espinoza had a knack for speaking the language of the people . He had charisma. The people put him on a pedestal. When he spoke, they listened. Then……he was also pushed or forced out. To this day people still ask about him and his program. He could have done so much more good work organizing using the radio as a tool. Pablo was also very good at fundraising. People still remember his Menudo fundraisers in the Lamont / Arvin area. They raised a lot of money, I know . I volunteered during that time. That man truly gave his heart and soul to the movement that was so close to his heart, as did a lot of other volunteers.
I think that more recognition should be given to the unsung heros of the U.F.W. No one ever mentions all the Martyrs. I would like to see more recognition given to all the Joe Serdas, Carmen Serdas, and the unheard of people that gave their souls, in the making of this Union, because they were all equally important.
I think that too much recognition and emphasis is given to the wrong people. I say we give recognition to those that put their lives on the line. Those that lost their homes, and whose families fell apart. Those that put every ounce of sweat, blood and tears into our movement. I know that this probably won’t get published, but as a former volunteer with the U.F.W. I feel that I needed to voice my observations and my thoughts and I speak for myself.
The great majority of us that joined the the Farm Worker Movement, joined because it was time . . . . . . we joined because We Believed !!