Latino labor: Six leaders to remember this weekend
1. Dolores Huerta
A founding member of the National Farmworkers Association (which later became the United Farm Workers), the 85-year-old today continues her activism — helping the unaccompanied minors at the border, urging legislators to set aside partisan bickering and do their jobs; and prompting Latino voters to enact "an electoral revolution." The dynamic octogenarian has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was the first Latina featured in the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery.
2. Cesar Chavez
There is no Latino civil rights activist and labor leader more beloved than Cesar Chavez. So beloved, in fact, that in 2014 a Republican candidate running for a U.S. congressional seat in Arizona changed his name to Cesar Chavez in an attempt to capitalize on the labor activist's popularity. Along with Huerta, Chavez (who died in 1993) was a founding member of the National Farmworkers Association, and at his urging strikes, boycotts and hunger strikes became an integral part of the struggle to secure rights for farmworkers nationwide. Listen to him (in English and Spanish) here.
3. Ernesto Galarza
In addition to his renown as an author, Galarza was a union organizer with the short-lived National Farm Labor Union. He was involved in no less than 20 strikes and union actions during his time with the American Federation of Labor. His book, Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story, is credited with helping shut down the program by highlighting abuses within the Bracero Program. His memoir-novel, Barrio Boy, which traces Galarza's life from a small town in Mexico to a Californian barrio, is assigned reading in many high schools and colleges across the nation. Hear an excerpt of Barrio Boy by clicking here.
4. Linda Chavez-Thompson
Linda Chavez-Thompson served as the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO from 1995 to 2007, the first woman, person of color and Latina elected to an officer position within the union. She is credited with having radically changed the union's stance on immigration reform. The San Antonio native ran for Lieutenant Governor of Texas in 2010, but was defeated by her Republican opponent.
5. Santiago Iglesias Pantín
American Federation of Labor president Samuel Gompers appointed Santiago Iglesias Pantín the AFL's labor organizer for Puerto Rico and Cuba in 1901. As part of his organizing, Iglesias Pantín traveled extensively to New York City to organize Puerto Rican workers there. His efforst to link workers on the mainland and island came to fruition in 1916 when approximately 200 Puerto Rican cigar makers in New York City rallied in support of cigar strike in Puerto Rico.
6. Gilberto Gerena Valentín
Gilberto Gerena Valentín is a key figure in Puerto Rican labor organizing on mainland United States, and had a central role in the 1964 boycott of New York City schools. According to Centro Voces, he had a part in the founding and development of "all the major Puerto Rican organizations in the postwar period, including the Congreso de Pueblos, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, the National Association for Puerto Rican Civil Rights, the Puerto Rican Folklore Festival and the Puerto Rican Community Development Project." In 2013, Gerena Valentín published his memoirs, Gilberto Gerena Valentín: My Life as a Community Activist, Labor Organizer and Progressive Politician in New York City.