Central Coast Farm Labor Organizing Collection, MS 098
The California farm labor movement started in the early 1960s with the unionization of the migrant farm workers. In 1962 César Chávez and Dolores Huerta founded a union for the farm workers of the Central Valley of California, the National Farm Workers Association. This organization joined the Filipino American Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) in 1966 to create the United Farm Workers of America (UFW). The farm labor movement in the San Joaquin Valley, known as "La Causa" ("The Cause"), grew due to dissatisfaction with unfair pay, unsafe living conditions, and lack of pensions of Valley farm workers. With the growing support of the public César Chávez called for a grape boycott in 1966 and started the 5-year Delano grape strike. In 1975 the California legislature passed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act giving farm workers the "right of collective bargaining."
The farmlands of the Santa Maria Valley, Oceano and Guadalupe switched from vegetable farms into over 5,000 acres of strawberry fields by the 1980s. Migrant farmer workers, including Mixtec Indians from Oaxaca, Mexico, and laborers from Michoacán, Mexico, and from the Philippines, migrated to work the seasonal strawberry crops with the hopes of finding work in other fields when the season ended. The strawberry is considered "la fruta del diablo" ("the fruit of the devil") to migrant workers because strawberry picking is the "lowest paid, most difficult, and least desirable farm work in California."
The photographer Manuel Echavarria was born in 1940 in Lorraine, Texas. His father was a former military cadet originally from Michoacán, Mexico and his mother was from Texas. Echavarria was three years old when his mother died, and when he was six the family moved to Guadalupe, California to find work in the fields. They worked in the fields of Oceano and Guadalupe until Echavarria was almost fifteen, when he dropped out of school. In 1969 Echavarria organized for the UFW and in 1999 Echavarria served as a board member of Federacion Unida En La Reserma ze Servicious y Abogacia (FUERZA), advocating for better treatment of strawberry pickers.
In the 1960s, over the span of ten years, Echavarria took photographs of the Santa Maria Valley farm workers laboring in the conditions that would drive them to join the United Farm Workers (UFW). Although he was an untrained photographer the photographs brilliantly illustrate the struggle for farm worker rights, and depict UFW president César Chávez, UFW supporters, picketers, and the local farm workers and their families. The film for these photographs was not developed until Victor Valle's preservation efforts in 1999. Valle said ¡Viva la Causa! A Decade of Farm Labor Organizing on the Central Coast is the first photographic history of Central Coast Valley farm workers to "commemorate and give meaning to their collective experiences."
Victor M. Valle
Victor M. Valle, Professor of Ethnic Studies at California Polytechnic State University, has written several books including Recipe of Memory: Five Generations of Mexican Cuisine, Latino Metropolis, and most recently City of Industry: Genealogies of Power in Southern California. Valle won a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for an "in-depth examination of southern California's growing Latino community by a team of editors and reporters" from the Los Angeles Times. Valle interviewed Manuel Echavarria and later collaborated with co-curators Catherine Trujillo of Special Collections, Kennedy Library at Cal Poly and Pedro I. Arroyo to create a traveling exhibit of Echavarria's Santa Maria farm worker photographs entitled "¡Viva La Causa! A Decade of Farm Labor Organizing on the Central Coast." Valle also spearheaded the project to bring the preservation prints to Cal Poly.
Columbia University. "Winners and Finalists, 1984." The Pulitzer Prizes. Web. 5 Apr. 2010 http://www.pulitzer.org/.
Drake, Susan Samuels. Fields of Courage: Remembering César Chávez & the People
Whose Labor Feeds Us. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Many Names Press, 1999.
Ferris, Susan. The Fight in the Fields: César Chávez and the Farmworkers Movement. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1997.
Shaw, Randy. Beyond the Fields: César Chávez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.
Trujillo, Catherine J. and Pedro I. Arroyo. "¡Viva La Causa! A Decade of Farm Labor Organizing on the Central Coast." San Luis Obispo: California Polytechnic State University, 1999.