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Tomás Villanueva

Founder, United Farm Workers of Washington State

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Founder and past President of the United Farm Workers of Washington state, Tomás Villanueva was 14 when his family immigrated from Mexico. After following the crops for three years, the family settled in Toppenish, Washington in 1958. Tomás spent the next several years working various jobs, then decided to pursue the education he had been denied as a child. Earning a high school GED, he enrolled in Yakima Valley College.

Hearing about Caesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers movement, Villanueva and fellow YVC student Lupe Gamboa travelled to California in 1967 to learn about organizing. Returning to the Yakima Valley, they founded the United Farm Worker Cooperative, which may have been the first activist Chicano organization in the state of Washington.

From 1967 to 1974, Villanueva devoted himself to farm worker organizing and Chicano movement activism. Out of these efforts came the Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic, the United Farm Workers Service Center, a wave of hop harvest strikes in 1969, 1970, 1971, and an increasingly successful grape boycott.

In 1974, he switched gears, starting a construction company with his father and brothers, but in the 1980s he was back in the union movement. In 1986 he became the first president of the newly formed United Farm Workers of Washington State. In 2006, he ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate as a Democrat from the 15th district. Villanueva continued to be an active community member.

Tomás Villanueva discussed his years of activism in a pair of interviews conducted by Anne O’Neill on April 11, 2003 and by Sharon Walker on June 7, 2004. The full transcript can be read here. To the right are streaming-video excerpts of the first interview. Video editing by Michael Schulze-Oechtering.  Work on this interview was made possible by a grant from 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax.