By Jennipher Vasquez
Youth involvement and activism were emphasized by Teresa Romero, President of the United Farm Workers of America, on March 28 at Riverside City College.
“We work on changing laws that would protect farmer workers not only under contract but throughout the state of California so it is important to me to get the young people involved in our struggle and our moment,” Romero said.
Romero delivered a speech that was part of the Celebrate Cesar Chavez event held at RCC.
The event brought awareness to how consumers receive their food and how those that picked the food out are treated in the process. Although some of the details highlighted negative aspects of the agriculture system, the celebration that followed brought light to how farm workers have come so far in their struggles.
Romero addressed working conditions of farm workers, her role as the first woman president of the UFW and how the younger generation can get involved in improving labor rights for farm workers.
She shared a story about a woman that nearly died after being kicked by a cow and another about a woman who had been sexually harassed in front of her husband but feared reporting the incident because she thought she’d be fired.
Romero emphasized the importance of young people and general consumers engaging themselves in the fight to help farm workers gain their rights. She said struggles that farm workers faced fifty years ago are still prominent today.
“Young people can get involved by creating these types of events, spreading information through social media and by signing our petitions online at our UFW website,” she said. Romero shared that she is very proud to be a woman in her role as president and to be in the same position that Chavez once held.
“Cesar Chavez was a civil rights leader who we still remember and honor in every contract we negotiate, every time work is done,” Romero said. “I still pinch myself and it’s an amazing honor because a lot of lives depend on the work of the UFW.”
“I’m an immigrant. I came from Mexico. I came here an adult so I understand the struggles of many of our people that we represent, our farmers and members. The fact that I’m the first woman in this position, I think it can bring awareness to how women that came as immigrants and had the same struggles can make a difference.”
The event demonstrated a diverse campus culture and many were excited to be able to attend, experience and share Latinculture. Nachos, aguas frescas, churros and other treats were served to attendees.
“It’s nice to get to experience it after hearing about it and getting to hear the guest speakers and watch the dances,” RCC student Xenia Rodriguez said. “It shows diversity because we get to see multiple perspectives of their experiences, it’s interesting. And sometimes you don’t know much information but that’s why I decided to come.”
Gabriela Pineault, director of Leyenda Dance Company, was very excited to share what her group of folklorico dancers had prepared for the event.
“This helps us understand each other and where we come from. It’s about understanding one another,” Pineault said. “When we present a cultural event like this and we share our insides and our feelings and the feelings of our parents, our grandparents and our ancestors, it helps to open our eyes to see ‘oh, that’s why they’re like this.’”
On stage in the cafeteria, while saying a few words before her dancers went up to perform, she shared how the Mexican folklorico dances tell stories of their ancestors and that it is important to her to take part in these events because she has relatives that were also farm workers alongside Chavez.
“Understanding is unity, right? I think it’s a very inclusive celebration because everybody is invited and at the end of the day it’s like a kumbaya moment,” Pineault said.
Miguel Arias, campus groundskeeper, was also very proud to share on stage that his granddaughter, Julisa Veron, sings a song at the event every year about a few immigrants, who were insultingly referred to as “deportees” in a news report, that died in a plane crash over Central California.
“After the event we like to take copies of the story and take it to the fields to share with the workers, that’s why we like to do these events because I can see that people are interested,” Arias said.
He said he hopes others will hear of the conditions farm workers work through and about the fight for their rights and be encouraged to help them just as Chavez did.
The attendees all waved red UFW flags that were passed around as they enjoyed the performances. The celebration was highly informative. Coordinators of the event were already discussing plans for a grander event next year.
“Si, se puede!” could be heard being shouted around the event from beginning to end, unifying everyone with the three famous words by Chavez himself.