Marching through the streets of Salinas

More than 700 Latino farm workers, undocumented individuals and allies took to the streets of East Salinas for the annual César Chávez March on Sunday, April 8. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death of civil rights activist César Chávez. The march, organized by United Farm Workers (UFW), honors Chávez legacy and the labor of agricultural workers. The movement has expanded into an intersectional one that is inclusive of the voices of undocumented individuals and Latinos against President Donald Trump.

The agricultural industry rakes in $4.25 billion a year to Monterey County’s economic output, according to the Monterey County Farm Bureau. One in four households in Monterey County rely on agricultural work as a main source of income. Monterey County farm workers feed the nation by doing back-breaking labor, and are oftentimes treated as disposable. Some undocumented farm workers fear reporting abuse because of the looming threat of deportation. According to UFW’s website, available in English and Spanish, the organization fights for farm workers by calling for higher wages and improved working conditions, as well as educating them on social justice issues.

Arturo Rodriguez, President of UFW, said, “Everything we organize is non-violent, much like how everyone conducted themselves today. We really appreciate it. The important part of all of this is that the fight will continue. Following César’s example and everything he’s done, we’ve made several accomplishments.” One of UFW’s recent victories is pushing California to adopt a law that gives farm workers a paid half-hour break after 9.5 hours of work, according to Rodriguez. “This is a critical period of time. This is a time where we have an administration that is very anti-immigrant in this country. They are against all the immigrants who have fought so hard. We are the men and women who daily do the work that is most needed in this world. We harvest fruits and vegetables. We ensure that everyone in this nation has something to eat on their tables,” said Rodriguez. Rodriguez believes the Trump Administration is working against the UFW, rather than working with them.

President Trump’s rescinding of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) this past September shook Monterey County, as there are 900 students at Hartnell College in Salinas alone who are DACA recipients (Dreamers) according to The Californian. Trump’s reason for ending the DACA program is because he views Dreamers as lawbreaking, illegal immigrants who hurt Americans by stealing their jobs. DACA’s nullification created a surge of student activists who are either allies or Dreamers themselves.

Protester carries sign that reads, “No human is illegal” in Spanish. Photo by Samantha Calderon.

Estefania Miranda, a Dreamer at Hartnell College, said, “I know this is one day less where I can achieve my dreams legally in this country. It feels like a nightmare I can’t wake up from. I know I’m not the only one. I know the new laws passed by the current Administration are provoking fear, and are waking up our insecurities yet again.” Miranda said each time she watches the news, she hears another story about ICE separating families. “I know Dreamers who are afraid of being separated from their parents. I know kids who fear going to school and returning back home to the sight of their parents being deported. They are scared that their parents will not come back home from work,” said Miranda, fighting back tears. Miranda said it is absurd that her future depends on a document, and she feels that her days in this country are numbered.

Citlaly Lopez, a student at Hartnell college, said, “I am at this march in support of the campesinos (field workers), all Native people and I am an ally to the Dreamers.” Lopez said it is important to stand against the injustices that people of color are subjected to, and for citizens to stand up to ICE if they see them rounding-up undocumented individuals.

Indigenous dancers, some
barefoot, perform traditional dances on the streets of East Salinas for the César Chávez March. Photo by Samantha Calderon.

Local organizations, such as California Rural Assistance, Democrats Fight for Immigrants, Stop Racism and Monterey County Food Bank tabled at the rally in support of farm workers and undocumented individuals. Local Latino artists showcased their art, hand-made pins and buttons and handmade jewelry. Farm workers carried the red UFW flag with a black, Aztec eagle as they chanted Chávez’s slogan, “¡Si se puede!” or “Yes we can!” Mexican restaurants tossed free water bottles at the protesters as they marched past their businesses.

The UFW’s website offers a “Know Your Rights” page for both undocumented individuals and farm workers to use as a resource. There are also links to help people register to vote, and a “Take Action” page for allies to inform themselves on the issues impacting these communities.

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