YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLIC

April 8, 2018

 

Marchers take to Sunnyside to honor Chavez

 

By Kaitlin Bain

 

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. -- The sound of United Farmworkers flags flapping in the wind, the crunch of gravel under marchers’ shoes and chants of “si se pueda” echoed through the streets of Sunnyside Sunday as some 200 people marched in support of farmworkers everywhere.

The event was part of the “Cesar Chavez Day” celebration declared statewide on March 31.

Yet, organizers said Sunday’s march was more than simply a nod to that festivity. Rather, it was history in the making, said Victoria Ruddy, United Farm Workers of America Pacific Northwest coordinator.

“Farmworkers are demonstrating that they have a voice and they will be heard,” Ruddy said to the crowd in Spanish. “Someday this will be our history. Right here. All of us. This moment.”

Rhetoric by the current presidential administration that has caused many farmworkers to fear for their jobs and their ability to come home to their families every night made Sunday’s show of unity — that included farmworkers and non-farmworkers; white and Latino people alike — even more important, she said. But Ruddy doesn’t want the movement to stop there.

“People need to understand that immigrants contribute so much to our communities,” said Ruddy, explaining signs displaying the words #WeFeedYou.

Without farmworkers, many of Washington’s crops — that contribute billions to the state’s economy each year — would go unpicked. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates Washington’s 2016 agricultural production totaled $10.6 billion. And, many of the farmworkers who pick those crops are immigrants, according to state farm groups.

Without those farmworkers, many people wouldn’t have the healthy, local food they eat every day, said 33-year-old Erika Ramirez. She attended the march with her boyfriend and three children to support her father, a farmworker.

Jacqueline Rios, 18, said she too attended the march and led chants as a way to support her father — a United Farmworkers organizer — and her friends and family who also are farmworkers.

Rios hopes Sunday’s demonstration of support will soon spread to people whose lives may not be as closely tied to farm work.

“When I see people I know, who are teachers or work at stores I go to, here marching with us, it makes me feel we’re all united in one way or another, even though they may not even know somebody who works in the fields,” she said. “It’s important that we stay united and have people support us at all times.”

Demonstrations of unity are vital to continue work to improve conditions for farmworkers that Chavez started decades ago, Ruddy said.

Among changes that still need to be made are ensuring higher salaries with medical insurance and benefits for farmworkers, safe working conditions and overtime pay, Ruddy said.

To advance those goals in the coming years, state Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, said Washington should work to ensure its minimum wage increase and paid sick leave legislation is carried out across professions, including farm work.

She also plans to participate in a work group, along with Central Washington state Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, to determine the extent of the problem of pesticide exposure for farm workers and how to combat it. Saldana also said in the future she’d like to determine how to implement paid overtime for farmworkers.

But it will take a united front to ensure that work is done, Ruddy said.

“Today we decide what our history will be,” she said. “And I hope when we begin writing that history, we ensure that all farmworkers in the state of Washington have the same benefits and protections as everyone else in this country.”