Farm Workers in Washington State History Project

Chapter 6

The Fusion of El Movimiento and Farm Worker Organizing in the 1960s

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by Oscar Rosales Castañeda

Throughout the United States, Chicanos organized to overcome centuries of racial discrimination, economic exploitation, and political disenfranchisement. In southern Texas, la Raza Unida Party activities dominated the Chicano/a Movement or el Movimiento.  In Denver and Colorado, the Crusade for Justice dominated el Movimiento.  In Eastern Washington, the United Farm Workers dominated activist strategies during el Movimiento to such an extent that, for many people, the Union and el Movimiento had become synonymous, interchangeable terms.[1]  In Washington State, to support the Chicano/a Movement or el Movimiento was to support the efforts of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and vice-versa.[2]  

Many factors paved the way for the fusion of the Chicano Movement and the UFW movement. In Washington’s Yakima Valley, justice for farm workers would be aided by federal “war on poverty” programs. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed off on the “Economic Opportunity Act of 1964,” effectively initiating the “war on poverty,” as well as the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), with the aim of alleviating the harsh conditions encountered by many populations that had been previously institutionally neglected.[3]

The role of the war on poverty’s Yakima Valley administrative entity, the Yakima Valley Council for Community (YVCCA), was to train a group of Chicana/o leaders that would organize independently of the YVCCA.  The YVCCA thus ushered in the organizational framework of el Movimiento by training its leaders. 

Prior to war on poverty efforts, the Catholic Cursillo Movement in the Valley trained individuals to take leadership positions within the community.[4]  The Cursillo movement began in the U.S. in 1957 as a Catholic ministry designed to train members in community leadership and engagement via weekend retreats. One organizer, Ricardo Garcia, noted that Cursillo activity existed around 1964-65, while others contend that Cursillismo didn’t necessarily have an impact until 1967.  The movement stressed unity and action to better the lives of others.  At the peak of Cursillo and YVCCA action, organizers helped establish centers throughout the valley to aid many of those in need, especially farm workers.

However, what really catalyzed the UFW in Washington during el Movimiento were the 1966 visits from California United Farm Workers Organizing Committee’s (UFWOC) organizers. The UFWOC traveled to Washington to search for workers involved in strike activity.  These visitors found two students engaged in leading the "war on poverty:" Guadalupe Gamboa and Tomas Villanueva.  The California UFWOC visitors invited Gamboa and Villanueva to travel to Delano, California to meet Cesar Chavez.  Gamboa and Villanueva, both students from Yakima Valley College and YVCCA organizers, drove to Delano upon invitation. As Gamboa states, “[b]y that time both Tomás and I were pretty fed up with the War on Poverty, because they never talked about organizing workers or forming unions or forming political power - just nothing but services….”[5]  

Villanueva and Gamboa drove all the way to Delano and met Cesar Chavez. They were surprised when they met him. As Gamboa states, “because I had been so conditioned by living in an Anglo world, Cesar Chavez was a going to be a light-skinned, tall, debonair-looking guy in a suit, with a fancy car….eventually Cesar Chavez showed up—this small, dark-skinned, Indian-looking guy with jet-black hair, dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, in the middle of a bunch of workers.”[6]  They were instantly impressed, not just by Chavez but more importantly by the power of El Movimiento. In California, they witnessed a farm worker’s movement led by a charismatic leader, who had transformed beaten-down workers into determined strikers.  As Gamboa reminisces, “It was an incredible transformation, and it had a really lasting impact on me. It showed the possibilities of what could be done.”[7] 

UFW Co-Op, the Mexican American Federation, and Community Activism 

Upon returning to the Yakima Valley, Gamboa and Villanueva continued their organizing work.  Gamboa finished his studies at Yakima Valley College and transferred to the University of Washington, helping to initiate the urban Chicano youth movement in Western Washington. Villanueva spearheaded additional organizing initiatives, including the establishment of a farm worker clinic in the Yakima Valley and the creation of the United Farm Worker’s Co-operative (UFWC) in Toppenish, Washington, which was modeled after some of the entities created by the early National Farm Worker’s Association (NFWA) in Delano.[8]    

Founded amid several “War on Poverty” efforts in the Valley, the UFWC was completely non-governmental.[9]  Villanueva created it as a farmer’s cooperative, to defend laborers when growers did not pay their wages, when they were injured, or when they needed food stamps.  The UFW Co-op also served as a community center, facilitated Chicana/o student enrollment at the University of Washington, and laid the organizational groundwork for struggles that would emerge.  At the time, this UFW co-op had no direct connection to the California UFW.  As Villanueva states, “everybody viewed the United Farm Workers Co-op and the United Farm Workers Service Center kind of as the counterpart of the UFW in California--that we were a part of it.  We had no connection at that time.”[10] Though the UFW helped organize workers during the wildcat strikes in the hop fields of Yakima County in 1970, the organization would not receive official recognition until the mid 1980s, when it became the United Farm Workers of Washington State.

Another organization that would emerge during this time,in the city of Granger, was the Northwest Rural Opportunities (NRO).  An advocacy organization funded by the state, NRO advocated for farm workers’ rights.  Primarily organized by Mexican-Americans, the group provided the migrant community with social and health services.  Eventually outliving the UFW Co-op, NRO would be instrumental in the founding of Radio KDNA in 1979 and would continue much of its work until the organization’s own demise in the early 1980s.  

The Mexican American Federation (MAF) also emerged in 1967, the same year as the UFW Co-op.[11]  This organization was one of the first groups to advocate for community development and political empowerment in the Yakima Valley. The organization established chapters in many areas throughout the state.  As historian Jerry Garcia noted, “the initial organization of the MAF was divided into five areas:  Puget Sound, Moses Lake, Tri-Cities, Bellingham-Lynden, and the Yakima Valley.”[12]  Unfortunately, MAF overextended its resources and eventually dissolved, with its core restructured into the Washington State Commission on Mexican American Affairs.  

ACLU Summer Project of 1968 

In the summer of 1968, the UFWC and MAF solicited the assistance of the Washington American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a project to provide legal aid to people of farm working background. [13]  The report that emerged from the project underlined the conditions of working people in the valley, conditions that had forced Mexican laborers into a state of political and economic subjugation. According to the report written by Charles E. Ehlert of the Washington ACLU, “A United States Department of Agriculture study ranked the economic status of the rural population of Yakima County among the lowest two-fifths of rural populations of all counties in the United States.  Yakima farm workers suffer from low wages, lack of job security, poor health, high mortality and injury rates, inadequate nutrition, education and housing, discriminatory exclusion from the benefits of social welfare legislation enjoyed by others and a lack of political power.”[14]  At this time, thirty-nine percent of the population in Yakima county lived below the poverty level.[15] 

In addition to lack of opportunities within the larger society, farm workers in the Yakima Valley also risked injury in performing job duties. “While the average life expectancy for a person in the United States is about 70 years [according to 1970 census figures], a child born to a Chicano migrant family has a life expectancy of only 38 years. Death at time of birth among the migrant newborn is 36 percent; this due solely to the lack of medical attention during birth.”[16] 

Ehlert noted that in “the cycle of poverty in which farm workers and their children are locked...governmental neglect and discrimination are both causes and effects of one another, and operate to continue the cyclical blight of poverty in their lives.”[17] It was under these circumstances that the UFW Coop brought in the ACLU, in Ehlert’s words, because, “farm workers [were] not able to obtain justice and decent lives for themselves and their children through the normal political process.”  As a result of various lawsuits filed through the ACLU, Yakima County was forced to take measures to ensure that Chicanos acquired equal voting rights through the removal of the English literacy requirement.[18] 

The Chicana/o Youth Movement:  UMAS and the UW Grape Boycott 

The Fall of 1968 was characterized by social upheaval throughout the nation and the world, with universities serving as hubs for political activity and discourse.  Mexican-American students at the UW, few as they were, organized in ways that reverberated widely.[19]  No longer satisfied with the second-class status they had experienced with their families as laborers, students began to radically reconceptualize their identities.  They began to write their own histories from their own perspectives at the university, renaming themselves Chicanos, a Nahuatl term that expressed their self-determination, strength, and pride in their heritage.   

Having already possessed an understanding of the plight of farm workers from their communities, Chicano/a students could not separate their student struggles for representation, respect, and empowerment at the university with the exploitation of farm workers in their communities.[20]  Soon after setting foot on the UW Campus, thirty-five Chicano/a students, led by Jose Correa, Antonio Salazar, Eron Maltos, Jesus Lemos, Erasmo Gamboa, and Eloy Apodaca, among many others, formed the first chapter of the United Mexican American Students (UMAS) in the Northwest.  Modeled after the group that was founded at the University of Southern California in 1967, the UW UMAS worked to establish a Mexican-American Studies class through the College of Arts & Sciences.  This class would educated others about the history of Mexicans in the U.S., a history which before had always been told from a white male perspective. 

UMAS also engaged in a campaign to halt the sale of non-union table grapes at the University of Washington.  Working alongside other activist organizations such as the BSU, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and members of the Associated Students of the University of Washington’s Board of Control and the Young Socialist Alliance, the group first petitioned the dormitories to stop selling grapes in their eating facilities, quickly securing an agreement with the dorms.  However, efforts to persuade the Husky Union Building (HUB) to cooperate proved more difficult.[21]  Nevertheless, on February 17, 1969 the UW Grape Boycott Committee was victorious, as the HUB officially halted the sale of grapes. [22]   The victory made the University of Washington the first campus in the United States to remove grapes entirely from its eating facilities.  At the national level, the grape boycott organized by the UFWOC achieved success in 1970, when the union finally won a contract. 

Even more notable was the UMAS’ skill at building coalitions among other activist student groups, especially the Black Student Union, as evidenced by the diverse array of student groups on the boycott committee.[23]  In fact, the BSU was the reason why Chicanos were on campus in the first place.  Through minority recruitment programs, black students went to the fields of Yakima valley to recruit ethnic Mexicans to the university.  As the University of Washington Daily mentions, “In all of these activities, UMAS has the full support of the BSU.  The Chicanos are fully aware that most of them wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the BSU’s successful drive for and execution of a minority recruitment program.  The UMAS-BSU alliance is fairly tangible.  The BSU welcomes a UMAS representative…And three BSU officers attended the UMAS conference held in Toppenish during vacation.  The Chicanos say, ‘The two groups give each other mutual help—time, effort, funds and active support.’”[24]  The struggle for farm worker’s rights would eventually become a coalition effort, uniting the energies of members from nearly every racial and ethnic group. 

In addition to the grape boycott, UMAS also called a conference in Toppenish to generate support for the creation of Chicano youth groups at the high school and college levels.  With the assistance of UW faculty, UMAS created “La Escuelita” in Granger in 1969, which in turn led to the creation of the Calmecac (Aztec school) project, a program that taught history and culture to Chicano youth in Eastern Washington. [25]   

Meanwhile, the Chicano/a student movement spread to other Washington college campuses.  Following the lead of UW UMAS, Chicano students at Yakima Valley College formed a chapter of the Mexican American Student Association (MASA) in 1969.  MASA, like UMAS, had its roots in southern California, originating out of East Los Angeles College.  Chicano/a students who had made their way to Washington State University in 1967 via the High School Equivalency Program in Los Angeles had organized the first Washington state MASA chapter in Pullman.[26]   

Like 1968, 1969 was a watershed year in Chicano/a activism.  The Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, hosted by Corky Gonzalez’s Crusade for Justice in Denver, Colorado, laid the framework for a national youth-initiated Chicano Power Movement.  The conference produced one of the key documents of the period, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, which rejected the earlier stance of most Mexican-American organizations and instead advocated a separate, third political space away from both the political mainstream and the white-dominated student Left.  The conference also urged cultural revitalization, the negation of assimilation, and Chicano/a self-determination.  This emphasis on cultural nationalism persisted well into the late seventies, until the concept of activism sin fronteras (without borders) and Marxist critiques of empire led the Chicano Left to unite with the Third World cause by supporting struggles throughout Latin America.[27] 

The spread of the Chicano/a student movement resulted in the formation of many organizations that focused on education. A council of students organized a conference at the University of California at Santa Barbara, where activist Chicanos formulated “El Plan de Santa Barbara.”[28]  This plan laid the framework for a master plan related to curriculum, services, and access to higher education. It became a blueprint for the implementation of Chicano/a Studies and EOP programs throughout the West Coast, including the EOP at the University of Washington.  The conference also transformed the way Chicano students organized themselves.  The delegates decided to merge the many activist organizations under the umbrella of El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (The Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan) also known as MEChA.[29]  MEChA soon became the primary vehicle for Chicano/a student activism on campuses throughout the United States.  As in other struggles in the southwest, youth would play a vital role in organizing for farm worker justice.   

The Yakima Valley Brown Berets 

In January of 1968, the Yakima Valley Council for Community (YVCCA) adopted a new image and uniform, and became known as the Brown Berets.  As historian Ernesto Chavez argues, “Law enforcement abuses had transformed them from moderate reformers into visually distinctive and combative crusaders on behalf of justice for Chicanos.”[30]  By 1969, La Causa, the Beret’s newspaper, reported that the Brown Berets had approximately twenty-eight chapters throughout the West Coast and Midwest. Two of these chapters were in the state of Washington.[31]  According to former student activist Pedro Acevez, it was Carlos Trevino, Trevino's brother, and Luis Gamboa, who first "came up with this Brown Beret thing.”[32]

The organization was a bastion for motivated, militant university students and youth from Seattle’s Chicano community.  Rogelio Riojas recalls that the Seattle chapter was a “group of men and women that wanted to work at the community level.”[33]   Much like the groups in Southern California, the UW Brown Berets donned their distinctive headgear and brown military fatigues as a symbolic statement of their willingness to fight for their communities.  They sought to bring attention to the war in the barrios against racial discrimination, poverty, and police brutality.  Following the lead of the Black Panther Party, they also instituted breakfast programs and community clinics.   

The Brown Berets participated in a number of programs targeted to meet the specific needs of the local community and farm workers in general.  According to Jesus Lemos, “in the winter of 1970, the Seattle chapter organized a ‘Harvest for Peace’ drive to gather food, clothing and money in order to make and distribute Christmas baskets to the Chicanos in the Yakima Valley who were in the most need.”[34]  The UW chapter also engaged in other activities such as the creation of a legal defense fund for Chicano activists and active involvement in support of UFW activities, such as the grape boycott. As Riojas recalls, “we were raising money for UFW, going to Olympia, and helping [in the] community.”[35]  The Brown Berets financed most activity through collection drives and by requesting money from sympathetic staff and faculty at the University.[36]  

The Brown Beret chapter in the Yakima Valley also emerged as a strong force agitating for an end to Chicano/a oppression in Central Washington.  According to Lemos, “In the early part of 1970 they organized a five-mile march to the welfare office in Yakima to protest the abuse of the Chicanos who were often ridiculed and treated with great disrespect and insensitivity by the welfare authorities.”[37]  Along with this activity, the Yakima Valley Brown Berets also played a supportive role in La Escuelita in Granger.[38]  It was perhaps the Brown Beret’s participation in La Escuelita which led to the programs demise.  Though a strong program, La Escuelita closed due to pressures from growers.  The parish of St. Patrick’s Church opted not to allow La Escuelita further use of the building.  

The Yakima Valley Chapter of the Brown Berets, the first of two major chapters to emerge in Washington State, had a profound impact on the collective consciousness of people in the Valley.  Their continued insistence that authorities treat ethnic Mexicans equally proved their greatest asset.  Additionally, this chapter of the Brown Berets was part of the committee that invited Cesar Chavez to the lower Yakima Valley and even coordinated his security and protection while he was in the area.  Beyond this activity, they were a visible force within the movement, providing security and defense against discrimination and violence from the authorities.  On the other hand, their confrontational tactics put them at odds with some members of the Chicano community itself, which was not accustomed to the group’s militancy.  In fact, by 1970, the Yakima Valley’s St. Patrick’s Church forbade members to put flyers inside of the church building.  Though having a strong presence, the Yakima Valley chapter of the Brown Berets had trouble maintaining consistent membership.  It became inactive a few weeks after the march on the welfare office in Yakima.[39]  

Guerrilla Teatro 

Much as the Brown Beret and Chicano/a youth movement infused the larger UFW movement with a youthful, more militant edge, the arts, and in particular, Guerrilla-style theatre collectives visually dramatized the struggle.  Of these, the most prominent was El Teatro Campesino.  The formation of El Teatro Campesino in California set the stage for many other theater collectives, some making their way to the Pacific Northwest. Inspired by El Teatro Campesino,  El Teatro del Piojo developed under MEChA UW.  Established in 1970 with the help of former UW professor Tomas Ybarra-Frausto and Elda Cisneros Mendoza, a counselor for Chicano students, the theatre collective reflected the reality most Chicano students encountered growing up in rural Central Washington. [40]  The UW group was comprised of students involved in both Las Chicanas and the Brown Berets, including Epi Elizondo, Bea Maldonado, Rita Trujillo, Esteban Sambrano, Genaro Apodaca, Sid Gallegos, Art Gallegos, and Cathy Cantu, among others.[41]   

El Teatro del Piojo was the first “guerrilla theatre” group in the Northwest.  Many of its short skits, or “actos” emphasized struggle in the fields as well as the experience of alienation from the dominant power structure.[42]  Throughout its existence from 1970 to 1979, the group performed all over the West Coast and became a member of Teatros Nacionales de Aztlan or TENAZ (National Theater [Collectives] of Aztlan).  As Garza Martinez and Martinez note, “though stationed in Seattle, los Piojos were often seen en los campos and community halls, in picket lines, prisons, colleges, or universities.”[43] Theater groups were instrumental in publicizing the struggle, so instrumental that they drew the attention of the FBI’s COINTELPRO Program. 

The FBI started scrutinizing farm workers in general when it investigated the UFW’s underground newspaper, El Malcriado.  Irate Delano farm owners and townsfolk brought the newspaper to agents’ attention, demanding an investigation of the UFW in 1965.  Unknown to Chavez, at first, the agency began looking into his background. The name of the FBI file was “COMINFIL: Communist Infiltration of the National Farm Workers Association.”[44]   

In spite of continued oppression from the government and agribusiness, farm workers and Chicano/a student activists organized one of the largest and most financed campaigns in U.S. Farm Labor history.  The mass support at the national and international levels were unprecedented and would be key in the victories that would yield contracts for workers.  In the Yakima Valley, it would only be a matter of time before el Movimiento would precipitate the first coordinated efforts in he valley to unionize farm workers since the IWW efforts in 1933, via the hop strikes of the 1970s.

Next: Ch. 7 -- UFW's Yakima Valley Hop Strikes, 1971

"A History of Farm Labor Organizing, 1890-2009" includes the following chapters:

  1. Toward a History of Farm Workers in Washington State
  2. The IWW in the Fields,1905-1925
  3. The 1933 Battle at Congdon Orchards
  4. Asians and Latinos Enter the Fields
  5. Mexican-American Struggles to Organize, Post-WWII
  6. El Movimiento and Farm Labor Organizing in the 1960s
  7. UFW's Yakima Hop Strikes, 1971
  8. Radio KDNA: The Voice of the Farm Worker
  9. Resurgence of the UFW of WA State in the 1980s
  10. The Struggle Continues, 1997-2006
  11. Bibliography

Copyright (©)  Oscar Rosales Castañeda 2009

 

[1] Jesus Lemos, “A History of the Chicano Political Involvement and the Organizational Efforts of the United Farm Workers Union in the Yakima Valley, Washington,” Master’s Thesis, University of Washington, 1974, x.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The organization of the Yakima Valley Council for Community Action (YVCCA) allowed for these programs to be administered in the Yakima Valley.

[4] As Miller wrote, “[t]he cursillo en cristianidad, translated as workshops in Christianity, sought to inspire Catholics to transform the tenets of Catholic teachings into participatory social action.  Cursillistas, both men and women, would spend three intensive days of prayer, song and rededication.” Margaret Miller, “Community Action and Reaction: Chicanos and the War on Poverty in the Yakima Valley, Washington,” Master’s Thesis, University of Washington, 1991, 27.

[5] Tomas Villanueva Interview, by Anne O’Neill and Sharon Walker, 11 April 2003 and 7 June 2004.

[6] Guadalupe Gamboa Interview, by Anne O’Neill, 9 April 2003.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Lemos, 54.

[9]  For more on Chicano activism in the Yakima Valley during the 1960s, see: Margaret Miller, “Community Action and Reaction: Chicanos and the War on Poverty in the Yakima Valley, Washington,” Master’s Thesis, University of Washington, 1991.

[10]  Tomas Villanueva Interview.

[11] In addition to MAF, other small groups organized throughout the state.  Although many were largely social organizations, one notable exception was the Progressive League of United Mexican Americans (PLUMA), which had chapters in Quincy, Moses Lake, Othello, and Warden.

[12] Garcia, Mexicans in North Central Washington, 90.

[13]  According to Charles E. Ehlert, “In March, 1968, the United Farm Workers requested the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington in organizing a legal assistance program for farm workers in the Yakima Valley.  The ACLU agreed to participate." Charles E. Ehlert,  Report of the Yakima Valley Project (Seattle: American Civil Liberties Union, 1969), 17.

[14] Ibid.

[15]  U.S. Bureau of the Census, “Census of Population: 1970,” Vol 1, Characteristics of the Population, Part 49, Washington, pp. 322-3.

[16] Lemos, 45.

[17] Ehlert, 14.

[18]  Some of the lawsuits include:  Mexican American Federation-Washington State v. Naff, class action brought against the Yakima County Auditor that eventually forced the removal of the English literacy requirement for voting; Gutierrez v. Riel, action against a grower who did not compensate workers whom he provoked and forced to quit. Changed the way the ‘bonus’ system was used for paying laborers; Buttrey v. Housing Authority of Yakima County, brought forth by workers living in a labor camp; and many others.

[19] 1968 was a year emblematic of global social upheaval associated with the turbulent decade of the 1960s. See: Elena Poniatowska, Massacre in Mexico, trans. Helen R. Lane (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1992);  Kieran Williams, The Prague Spring and its aftermath: Czechoslovak politics 1968-1970 (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1997); Mark Kurlansky, 1968: The Year that Rocked the World (New York:  Random House, 2005); Kristin Ross, May '68 and Its Afterlives (Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2002); W.J. Rorabaugh Berkeley at War: The 1960s (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1989); Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage (New York:  Bantam Books, 1987). .

[20]  See: Charles E. Ehlert's analysis of the conditions faced by Chicanos in the Yakima Valley.

[21]  John Greely, “Hub Board Recommends Stoppage of Grape Sales,” University of Washington Daily,  6 February 1969, 1.

[22]  According to Jeremy Simer, on Wednesday, January 29 1969, students formed a formal grape boycott coalition and a steering committee was chosen from representatives from UMAS, SDS, BSU, YSA, Black and White Concern (BWC), the Student Assembly (precursor to the ASUW Student Senate), members of the ASUW Board of Control, and the University YMCA Boycott Committee.  Simer also notes that Erasmo Gamboa (now a professor at the University of Washington) was appointed chair of the committee. Jeremy Simer, “La Raza Comes To Campus” Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project. 2004-2006 <http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/la_raza2.htm>

[23]  Ibid.

[24]  “Mexican-Americans Tell Opposition To Grapes,” UW Daily, 21 January 1969.

[25]  Lemos, “History of the Chicano Political Involvement,” 56-58.

[26]  Gilberto Garcia, “Organizational Activity and Political Empowerment: Chicano Politics in the Pacific Northwest, in The Chicano Experience in the Northwest, ed. Carlos Maldonado and Gilberto Garcia (Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1995), 75-80.

[27]  According to George Mariscal,  “[a]lthough still embedded in a capitalist framework, Third World and even cultural nationalist agendas in the United States promoted what Samir Amin has called a ‘social and national’ vision that placed the rights and demands of working-class and racialized people at the forefront of political change.” See: George Mariscal Brown Eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement, 1965-1975 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005).

[28]  In addition to the formulation of El Plan de Santa Barbara, On March 3, 1968, more than 1,000 students aided by members of UMAS and the Brown Berets, peacefully walked out of Abraham Lincoln High School in East Los Angeles. The student strike, known as the L.A. Blowouts, would result in over 10,000 high school students walking out by the end of the week. The event remains one of the largest student strikes at the high school level in the history of the United States.

[29]  Of the organizations present at the Santa Barbara conference were the United Mexican American Students (UMAS), the Mexican American Student Association (MASA), the Mexican American Student Organization (MASO), the Mexican American Student Confederation (MASC), and the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO), among others.

[30]  Chavez, Mi Raza Primero, 45.

[31]  According to Ernesto Chavez’ notes, in May 1969 the Beret newspaper La Causa reported that the organization had twenty-eight chapters in cities including San Antonio, Texas; Eugene, Oregon; Denver, Colorado; Detroit, Michigan; Seattle, Washington; and Albuquerque, New Mexico; along with many cities in California. (see La Causa, 23 May 1969); Chavez, 132.

[32]  Pedro Acevez Interview, Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, 27 January 2006 by Edgar Flores and Oscar Rosales.

[33]  Rogelio Riojas Interview, Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, 19 January 2006 by Francesca Barajas, Michael Schulze-Oechtering, and Trevor Griffey.

[34]  Lemos, 57.

[35]  Riojas Interview, 19 January 2006.

[36]  Ibid.

[37]  Lemos, 58.

[38] Miller, “Community Action and Reaction,” 81.

[39]  The Brown Beret chapter in the Yakima Valley became inactive in 1970 after a key leader lost credibility in the Chicano community.  Despite severing ties to the former leader, the group was unable to regain the community’s trust because of past ties to the disgraced former co-founder.  Lemos, 61. 

[40]  Frank Martinez and Blanca Estela Garza Martinez, “Teatro del Piojo: Un Recorrido Historico,” in Metamorfosis: Northwest Chicano Magazine of Art and Culture (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979).

[41] Initiated as a farmworker group, El Teatro Campesino was established by Luis Valdez in 1965.

[42]  Many of the actos performed by the ‘Piojos’ were Zapata for Mayor, Las Tres Uvas, El Gran Baile de Las Calaveras, as well as many others, including works written by El Teatro Campesino.

[43]  Frank Martinez and Blanc Estela Garza Martinez “Teatro del Piojo: Un Recorrido Historico,” in Metamorfosis: Northwest Chicano Magazine of Art and Culture.

[44] Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval, The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers Movement (Orlando: Paradigm Productions, 1997), 82.

(Click images to enlarge)

MEChA and Brown Beret protestors in this early 1970s image could not separate themselves from the farm woker cause. For more on this fusion, see Timeline: Movimiento 1960-1985 and the online oral history interviews with former activists at the Chicano/a Movement in Washington State History Project (below).


Chicano/a  Movement in Washington State History Project

For more on the Chicano Movement in Washington State, click on the link above. In this special section we have video interviews with movement veterans and hundreds of photographs, newspaper articles, and documents.


Lupe Gamboa was one of the two farm labor activist students to initiate Washington State involvement in the UFWOC in 1966. Photo from the Sharon Walker Collection. To see his oral history interview CLICK HERE

Tomás Villanueva, 1987.


Oral Histories

Tomas Villanueva is one of the narrators in our video oral history page. Active in the UFWOC, he would become the founding leader of the UFWOC in Washington State at the request of Cesar Chavez.

Click here to view a transcript interview with Tomas Villanueva

Click here to view a transcript interview with Guadalupe Gamboa.


From Right to Left: Tranquilino Vijarro, Frank Hofman, Conrado Flores and Tomás A. Villanueva signing the articles of Incorporation of the United Farm Workers Cooperative in Toppenish, Washington in 1967.

Cesar Chavez called the famous grape boycott as a result of farm grower's unwillingness to recognize the UFW and its demand for social change. UW Daily, May 1, 1973.

The UFW helped to organize workers during the wildcat strikes in the hop fields of Yakima County in 1971. UW Daily, May 11, 1971.

ManyUW students came from the Yakima Valley, linking Chicano/a activism to the United Farm Workers campaigns in Seattle and Yakima. UW Daily May 9, 1972.

Crusade for Justice leader Corky Gonzales spoke on the UW campus in May 1969, urging students to identify as "Chicanos" instead of as "Mexican-Americans." A national conference of Chicano student leaders later launched El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan. In October, the UW UMAS chapter reorganized as MEChA de UW. UW Daily Oct 23, 1969.


1969 was a watershed year in Chicano/a activism. Click here to see our Chicano/a Movement Newspaper Collection for 1969.


This photo from the January 28, 1969 edition of the UW Daily carried the caption: "Four members of the United Mexican-American Students group (UMAS) display their Huelga banner. This flag is used to symbolize the cause of the Mexican American farm workers throughout the country. The UMAS members are from left to right, Jose Correa, Antonio Salazar, Eron Maltos, and Jesus Lemos, the president of the group."

A student assembly not only voted on student officers, but also on grapes. A university grape boycott committee spoke against the sale of grapes at the event in the HUB. UW Daily, January 21, 1969.

Students and United Farm Worker leaders boycotted the Seattle Safeway to prevent the sale of grapes.

1969 supporters of the Grape Boycott picket in front of the Safeway store in Toppenish, Washington.

MEChA was not just concerned with campus or local affairs. In 1970, many of their activities focused on the Yakima valley, especially on the creation of La Escuelita, a school for the children of farm workers. UW Daily, January 20, 1970.

The Seattle Brown Beret chapter organized a ‘Harvest for Peace’ drive to gather food, clothing and money in order to make and distribute Christmas baskets to the Chicanos in the Yakima Valley in 1970.

Cesar Chavez came to Washington in support of the UFW at UW on December 19, 1969. Soon after his visit in support of the grape oycott march, he also traveled to the Yakima Valley to dedicate La Esuelita, a school for Chicano/a children. During Chavez' visit, the Yakima Brown Berets coordinated his security.

The guerilla theater group, El Teatro Campesino, influenced the creation of El Teatro de Piojo at the University f Washington in 1970.


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