VENTURA COUNTY (California) STAR
April 2, 2017
March in Oxnard recognizes farmworkers' hard work
Claudia Boyd-Barrett, Special to The Star
More than 400 farmworkers, labor activists and their supporters marched Sunday through the streets of Oxnard to commemorate the life of civil rights leader Cesar Chavez and call attention to the role of field workers in sustaining the country’s food supply.
The march, organized by the United Farm Workers’ Oxnard chapter, was one of more than a dozen marches held across California and other western states including Arizona, Washington and Nevada. Participants carried signs and chanted slogans in defense of farmworkers and against President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, which they said have created an atmosphere of fear in the Latino community.
“Our jobs, our labor, our hands feed America,” local UFW organizer Roman Pinal said. “If it wasn’t for the workers who touch every berry, touch every stalk of celery, who touch every lemon, it would be impossible to bring those fruits and vegetables to our nation’s retail stores.”
Teresa Romero, secretary-treasurer for the union, said farmworkers deserve respect for the hard work they do. Romero, who traveled from the union’s headquarters in Keene, Calif., said the federal government should provide undocumented farmworkers with a path to legalization and citizenship, instead of threatening them with deportation.
“We need them,” she said. “Without these men and women working in the fields, we wouldn’t be able to feed America."
Marchers kicked off the event at Colonia Park, walking more than a mile along Third Street and into downtown Oxnard, finally stopping at Plaza Park for entertainment and speeches. Groups of Aztec and traditional Mexican dancers led the parade, while hundreds of farmworkers, their families, and supporters marched behind them waving signs and red UFW flags. Some shouted “Viva Chavez” and the labor leader’s famous rallying cry “Si se puede,” Spanish for “yes we can.”
Chavez, co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association — which later became the UFW — once organized protests and boycotts in the Oxnard area demanding better wages and working conditions for farmworkers. He passed away in 1993.
Despite Chavez’ and the union’s subsequent efforts, farmworker Hector Cruz said laboring in the fields often remains brutally hard. He described picking blueberries under tarps where the temperature can reach up to 120 degrees, frequently without adequate access to water, clean bathrooms or health insurance.
“We never see any Americans in the field working with us,” he said in Spanish. “They wouldn’t do it for those wages.”
Cruz and other marchers said they felt compelled to join the march this year to show solidarity for fellow farmworkers. Amid news of stepped-up deportation efforts under the Trump administration, many are terrified of being detained while on their way to work, at home, or while dropping their kids off at school.
“You feel worried because you don’t know what day it’s going to happen to you,” said farmworker Manuel Bonilla, who marched with his wife and two young sons. “You don’t know if, when you go to work, you may get arrested and never get home.”
Shannon Lopez, a middle-school teacher in Ventura, said children are coming to school worried about their parents being deported. She said community members need to stand up for farmworkers even if they don’t do that kind of work themselves.
“They’re part of our community,” she said. “We want to speak power to those people and let them live with dignity and not with fear.”