I mention the Dixon Farm Labor Camp and the Yolo County tomato strike of 1974.
Cesar’s cousin Manuel Chavez mobilized a series of strikes in 1974, starting with asparagus in Calexico in January and ending with lemons in Yuma in December. In the summer, he hit Stockton and pulled off a large, sustained strike of tomato workers. Al Rojas piggybacked off that strike, and led a shorter, smaller strike of tomato workers in Yolo County.
Al ran the grape boycott in Pittsburgh in the 1960s. In this photo, Cesar is visiting Pittsburgh in 1969. Al Rojas is standing just behind Cesar’s right shoulder. Marion Moses is the woman at the top left. She organized me into the boycott in 1967 and got me accepted to work for the UFW in Delano in 1968.
The Trachtenberg family welcomed Al and Elena Rojas to Pittsburgh. Three generations of the family are part of my life today: Mitzi and David and Sam. Small world!
In this photo, Manuel Chavez (left) huddles with Al Rojas (right) at the 1973 UFW Constitutional Convention. Manuel died in 1999. He was often referred to in the press as a criminal, a goon, a foil to Cesar’s saintliness. I worked with him a lot. I see no purpose in examining what he did wrong. I remember him with fondness.
Anyway, though –
I worked the Stockton and Yolo strikes for the legal department, as did my friend Gabby.
I had worked with Al significantly in the fall of 1972.
Al was the director of our Poplar field office. White River Farms, a wine grape grower, had refused to renegotiate its contract. We went on strike on August 28th, 1972. Most of the workers who then became most of the strikers were Yemeni. The shit got real. Hundreds were arrested for contempt of court – Penal Code Section 166.4 – willful disobedience of the terms as written of a court order lawfully issued by a court.
UFW attorney Steve Engelhardt and I were busy with jury trials in Pixley for weeks. In this photo, I am on the left, Steve in the center holding his son Josh, and dear friend and mentor of the ages Doug Adair on the right. Al worked with us on all the trials.
But I digress. It’s all about me!
Back to Dixon. Where I worked with Al Rojas and Gabby and my best friend Cres Fraley.
Gabby sent me this entry from his journal about the Dixon Farm Labor Camp. He calls Cres “Cody” and he calls me “the Dazzler,” which was my UFW nickname.
After our group effort as junior lobbyists in Sacramento and my visit with Young Emily that I’ll get to in a minute, Lance shipped me off to first the Stockton and then the Davis tomato strikes. In Davis, I was a one-Gabby show for a couple weeks, coordinating the efforts of some volunteer Bay Area lawyers and otherwise running things myself – no lawyers. Look at proud me! Cody and the Dazzler were there for at least a week, and we had a glorious time most evenings at the Dixon Farm Labor Camp with the extended Ramirez/Quezada family – such a humble corrugated metal small house, many family members, great dignity and humor and so generous with us. We almost lost Cody to the heart of daughter or niece Maria Elena Ramirez – he took her to San Francisco for a day and they went to a dance and he was pretty far around that corner.
They were seven in the small house in the camp, a dollar and some a day. Many trips there, just loving to be with the family for two hours each night and watch the joking, the happiness of the family with not even a radio and deriving the joy just of each other, of cooking dinner, homemade corn tortillas and frijoles without lard and cheese and guacamole and my Spanish growing a couple feet every night, enjoying that feeling so much, watching Cody and Elena eye flirting, her eyes flashing and my goodness she works up a head of steam in Spanish when she is fully engaged in the conversation, as in when her uncle asks why it is that why she, who never wants to cook and clean the dishes is now all of sudden cooking and washing the dishes with her new American friend Mr. Cody there? Or when the crazy man in the house near theirs comes over and says that all those who don’t join the strike should be shot, for that was the way that Zapata did it.
I too have fond memories of the camp.
I remember it looking a lot like this, which is a Dorothea Lange photo of a camp in Contra Costa County.
This Facebook photo shows it more or less as it stands today.
The 1974 tomato strikes met their goals. We mobilized thousands of workers for strikes in a perishable crop. We won wage increases for the workers. We kept the spectre of farm labor unrest alive and well as we navigated the halls of Sacramento, positioning ourselves for a post-Reagan-as-Governor farm labor law.
Carlos Legrette recently sent me this photograph of my friend Cres (left) and me (right) from that summer and that strike. I find no photograph of Gabby from that summer.
I am not absolutely certain, but I believe that this is a photograph of Maria Elena Ramirez at a rally in Davis. I could be wrong, but I think that this is her, she who briefly stole Cody’s heart.
When I drive by Dixon or go to Davis, there is a little tug in my heart. It was more than 40 years ago, I know. But they were good hot summer nights in Dixon.
My friend met up with Cres and Maria Elena at a bakery in North Beach when Cres drove her to San Francisco for a day visit 1974. I think I saw him wipe a tear from his eye when he read this. “Just kids” he said looking at the photo of Cres and me. About this post?