By Mary Janet Ramos
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the 50th Anniversary of the Delano Grape Boycott, a non-violent nationwide movement that not only unified Filipino and Latino farm workers, but also brought together other ethnic groups who fought for justice, dignity, and respect. Under the leadership of Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers became the first farm worker union in the country. Through their persistent efforts and perseverance they achieved historic union contracts that included better working conditions, a living wage, and access to healthcare. This triumph could not have been possible without the endless sacrifices, dedication, and commitment of the farm workers, their families, and lead organizers such as Larry Itliong, Gilbert Padilla, Dolores Huerta, Fred Ross Sr., and Cesar Chavez. It was an honor for me to celebrate and commemorate a historic moment alongside former strikers who continue to remain active in their communities. Seeing the congregation of diverse leaders who succeeded in moving a cause that initially seemed impossible, has inspired me to work on social justice issues and to continue to have hope. At the end of the day, anything is possible when you set your mind and heart to do it.
TOLA has helped me see leadership through a different lens. I have learned that in organizing, a leader is not the spotlight of attention or someone who gives orders, but someone who has the capacity to empower and unite a group of people for a common cause.
TOLA is teaching me how to become an effective leader. My experience has been both challenging and rewarding. Even though I came into the program with experience in student organizing and worked on immigration and workers’ rights issues, TOLA has taken my organizing experience to a whole different level. I have learned in just ten weeks that organizing is indeed a lifetime commitment that requires passion and devotion. It is a career that is physically and emotionally exhausting, yet it is the most fulfilling work anyone can undertake.
Being in Delano made me realize how important of a role young adults can play in addressing the current needs plaguing our communities and the value of constructing generational bridges to learn from the wisdom and experiences of older community organizers. The Delano Grape Boycott teaches us a valuable lesson, which is that one person can truly make a difference but a movement cannot be built overnight by one person alone. It requires the determination, collaboration, and commitment of an entire community. The fight for justice still continues and it needs the courage of young individuals like me who are willing to assume the responsibility to become the leaders of tomorrow. After TOLA, I am motivated to pursue a career that will allow me to make a difference while also engaging and encouraging others to become involved in creating a positive impact for a cause they truly believe in. As Cesar Chavez once said, “the fight is never about grapes or lettuce, it is always about people.”