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Carmen Lomas Garza and the 1966 Farm Workers March

Author: Carmen Lomas Garza and James Klein

ARTIST CARMEN LOMAS GARZA (born 1947 in Kingsville, Texas) – TEXAS ARTIST


I grew up with a lot of discrimination and racism though we were in South Texas it was still very prevalent and I had to deal with a lot of it in the public school system. In the elementary school, we were punished for speaking Spanish, physically punished for speaking Spanish. So you’re made to feel ashamed. When the farm workers came through Kingsville on their march to Austin, the capital of Texas, we were very excited. The most obvious issues that were being discussed were the violence against the Mexicans and the farm workers, anybody who wasn’t the right color was subject to being arrested, to being beaten up by the Texas Rangers.

Farmworkers Arrested

It was at that point that I made the decision that no matter what it took from me I was going to be a Chicana artist, no matter what! Because here was this whole population of my people who were being unfairly treated and if I could use my artwork as a vehicle towards bringing a greater understanding as who were as a people: our culture, our language, out customs, our mannerisms. Everything about our lives needed to be brought out in a fine art format.

I remember my mother painting loteria tablas–handpainted, pen and ink. And we played with these loteria tablas. So when I decided to try to figure out what I would do as a Chicana artists, I asked my mother to give me those old loteria tablas, I wanted to make modern versions. As soon as I finished the loteria tablas, I did a scene of my grandfather and myself in the garden. That’s how I got started with these scenes from my memory of my family and my community. So my artwork was not overtly political, but the impact that it was making was on a subtle level, the level that I really wanted to have an impact was on the personal level, the more intimate level, because the imagery is about our personal lives, the home life, the family life.

"50th anniversary of 1966 farm workers march" (Kingsville Record and Bishop News) Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2016 3:00 am by James Klein

Labor rights are human rights.

Never has this been more apparent than in the summer of 1966 when South Texas farm laborers engaged in the simple act of walking to raise awareness of the blood, sweat and tears that were spent providing fruits and vegetables for families. In June, 50 years ago, Starr County agricultural workers went on strike in protest of the 40-85 cents per hour they were paid (the national minimum wage was $1.25/hour) to perform this back breaking work in the South Texas heat for 10 hours each day.

Eugene Nelson, of the National Farm Workers Association, organized the Independent Workers Association and led the farm workers’ strike.

Receiving no satisfaction from the growers and enduring threats of violence, the farm workers began a 380-mile march to Austin to convince the state to create a state minimum wage of $1.25/hour. The group started from Rio Grande City July 5 on their two-month journey, walking five to 20 miles each day, resting at supporters’ homes at night, and resuming their trek the next morning. The 100-degree heat forced some to quit. Completing the march were Jesus Laurel, Elvira Lopez, Valdemar Garza, Roberto Arredondo (from Rio Grande City), Reyes Alaniz and Candida Rosa (from Garceno), Gregoria Ramirez Villareal and Julia Ana Ramirez (from La Joya).

They marched through Weslaco, McAllen, Falfurrias, Premont, Kingsville and Robstown, attracting supporters in each community they entered. They marched along Highway 44 into Corpus Christi, spurred on by hundreds of supporters.

Their fundraiser rally on the Peoples Street T-head on Saturday, July 30, drew 800-1,000 people. The farm workers proceeded on to Gregory, Taft, Beeville and San Antonio en route to Austin.

They invited Gov. John Connally to attend a Labor Day rally at the state capitol where they intended to publicly ask him to call a special legislative session to consider a state minimum wage bill. Gov. Connally refused. Undaunted, the farm workers and supporters marched into Austin on Sept. 5 and held a rally at the capitol that drew 20,000 to hear remarks by Cesar Chavez of the National Farm Workers Association, Dr. Hector P. Garcia of the GI Forum, and Reverend Emerson Marcee of the Texas Conference of the NAACP, among others.

In January 1967, Representative Lauro Cruz (Houston) introduced a bill calling for a $1.25 per hour statewide minimum wage. The bill died, amid significant opposition from the Texas Farm Bureau. The impact of the march, however, went far beyond a legislative bill. Combined with the state officials’ lack of support, the march awakened the Tejano community to the importance of voting. The political landscape of Texas began to change in subsequent years as Hispanic participation grew. The Mexican-American presence in the Texas legislature increased from five in 1965 to 20 by 1979. The total number of Hispanic office holders in the state grew as well, totaling 540 by 1974 and 2,536 by 2015. Social activism also increased following the march: the Mexican American Youth Organization formed in 1967 and La Raza Unida in 1970.

Labor organizing efforts continued following the 1966 march. Workers formed the United Farm Workers Committee No. 2 and subsequently the Texas Farm Workers union, strove for better treatment in the fields, won a civil rights lawsuit against the Texas Rangers, and organized marches to Austin and to Washington, D.C. in 1977.

This political and labor activism was rooted in the efforts and desires of those involved in the 1966 farm workers march, which stands as a testimony to the indomitable human spirit and simple dignity of those who provide food for our tables.

The 50th anniversary commemoration of the marchers’ arrival in Corpus Christi will be held July 31, 2016, 1-3 p.m., at Old City Hall Park on Shoreline Drive at Kinney Street in Corpus Christi. The public is invited.

James Klein is Associate Professor of History at Del Mar College.

DMU Timestamp: October 31, 2017 04:01

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