Editor’s Note: This is a repost of an article first published on March 31, 2013 in the blog End 1492 by its author, Pakal Hatuey. With his permission, we’re sharing it in full.
March 31st has been designated as a state holiday in places like California to pay homage to Cesar Chavez, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers. We should take the time to take a close look at the organizing tactics and language used by Chavez and the UFW in the 1960’s and 1970’s to see if we really want to celebrate his legacy. In studying their newspaper El Malcriado from 1965 to 1972 we will see that the UFW, to a certain extent, had a working relationship with border patrol. That was because the UFW wanted border patrol to deport the Mexican migrant farm worker who crossed their picket lines. Another tactic used by the UFW, though not mentioned in El Malcriado that were studied, was their ‘wetline’ tactic. This was a tactic where the UFW would go down to the U.S. and Mexican border to camp out and to notify border patrol where ever they seen our people crossing the border “illegally”. In regards to the language used in El Malcriado, we see that woven into their articles is the racist term “wetback” (wb) and “illegal immigrants” to describe the Mexican migrants who were brought in some cases by the farm owners to do the work of the strikers. It is definitely shocking and upsetting to see some of the UFW’s leadership embrace racist stereotypes like wb to describe our people. Some of this information might be common knowledge to academics, but to the majority of us Mexicans, Central Americans and beyond, these facts are brand new and extremely disturbing.
In the June 15th, 1968 volume II, number 8 page 16 of El Malcriado there is an article titled “Union Vice President Speaks out : The Union and the Green Carder.” The Vice president was a “documented” Mexican named Julio Hernandez who was asked questions on the stand the UFW had against the Mexican migrant worker who crossed the picket line. One question that he is asked is “Why is the Union cooperating with the Immigration authorities to get Mexican citizens into trouble?” Hernandez responds, “The Immigration authorities have a responsibility to see that the regulations are enforced. Since there are reported to be many illegal green card and wetback scabs working for Giumarra, we are cooperating with the authorities to have these illegal workers removed from the fields.” We can see that Hernandez as vice president of the UFW freely uses the derogatory term of wb to describe our people. He further is pushing for border patrol to carry out their “responsibility” to deport the Mexican migrant and which in this case was a strikebreaker.
Another article from El Malcriado titled “Attention! Important Notice” written in May 15, 1968, before the interview with Julio Hermandez, it becomes apparent that the UFW had already began to take the names down of strike breakers to submit them to border patrol. In the article it stated that “Every day UFWOC is submitting lists of green card strikebreakers to the Immigration Service. The Union is keeping close tabs on every scab and on each man who is investigated to see that justice is done. If a man with a green card visa is working at Giumarra and he wishes to keep his green card and avoid deportation, he need only quit Giumarra and find other employment.” The article also mentions the names of more than forty Mexican migrant workers who were going to be deported.
Before Hernandez was interviewed and the article above was published in 1968, El Malcriado had reported in issue June 7, 1967 p. 6 in an article titled “Scabs Can’t Cross Border” that: “The United States department of Justice ruled this week that green card holders may not enter the United States to work at a ranch where there is a strike. This rule applies immediately to the La Casita Farms strike in Texas…El Malcriado says: We will report on the enforcement of this new rule. If it is enforced by immigration officers, as is their duty it will be a revolutionary development for south Texas and for the Imperial Valley of California. This rule was passed because the Farm workers are becoming a power in Washington. We want to see that power grows and creates true economic and social justice for all people.” Again this article shows how the UFW was cheering for border patrol to do their job, and how the UFW would assist by reporting “on the enforcement of this new rule.”
In Trampling Out the Vintage, Frank Bardacke points out that in 1974 Chavez had sent out a memorandum to all UFW “entities in California, Arizona, and Florida’ announced ‘the beginning of a massive campaign to get the recent flood of illegals out of California…We consider this campaign to be even more important than the strike, second only to the boycott. If we can get the illegals out of California, we will win the strike overnight…we expect all Union entities to cooperate to make it successful.” And so the campaign against “illegals” began in places like the San Joaquin Valley where “field offices tracked down illigals where they worked and lived” informing local INS officials. Bardacke notes that by “mid-July the union reported to the INS the addresses of more than 300 illegals in Arvin-Lamont, more than 500 in Delano, and more than 1,200 in Porterville. By mid-September, the Selma field office had reported 2,641 illegal alliens to the Fresno Border Patrol office, which, the union volunteers complained, resulted in the arrest and removal of only 195 people.” (p. 488-89).
To most academics the actions of Chavez and the UFW is common knowledge. George Mariscal is a historian who documents the working relationship that Chavez and the UFW had with border patrol in his book Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun. He notes that the organizing tactics of the UFW were in opposition to the Chicano movement because the UFW advocated for “strict immigration controls and a closed border policy…”(P. 158) Historians Arnoldo De Leon and Richard Griswald del Castillo, in North To Aztlan second edition, mention that “the UFW relied on a variety of techniques to counter the growers’ importation of strikebreakers. In 1966, for example the union organizers in Texas worked with Mexican unions to gain support among border crossers for their strike. The Mexican union, the Confederacion de Trabajadores Mexicanos, organized a picket on the Mexican side of the border opposite Rio Grande City to discourage Mexican green-card holders from crossing to work as scabs, and several UFW supporters joined them.” (p. 161). The two historians also point out that in 1974 in Yuma Arizona during a citrus strike “the union stationed members and supporters- many of them Mexican immigrants- along the border to convince illegal crossers not to work as escuiroles (scabs).” (p. 162).
In response to what the UFW did in 1974 at the Yuma Arizona border, we should keep in mind what Epifanio Camacho, a former UFW member, said about such actions. Camacho stated “By 1973, Chavez had established what came to be known publicly as the ‘Wet Line’ in the area of Yuma, Arizona. It consisted of a number of army tents along the border with a group of men in each tent. Chavez’s cousin, Manuel Chavez, was in charge of assisting the immigration agents in detaining whoever tried to cross the border into the U.S. illegally. If men like Chavez are the leaders defending the workers, what do we need enemies for?”(p. 46-47 in “The Autobiography of a Communist: Communists Are Made, Not Born”). Camacho could not be more correct in his description of Chavez and by extension the UFW. Bardacke also touches on the “wet line” and mentions that the “County, state, and federal officials gave the UFW a free hand in this wilderness. No judge’s order put any limit on what the union’s night patrol might do to people it caught, nor did Mexican authorities in the cities of San Luis, Sonora, or Mexicali provided any protection to those who tried to cross illegally. If you got picked up by the UFW, you were on your own.” (p. 495).
Picture of Epifanio Camacho
What has been shared with you is information that is not common knowledge amongst most people outside of the institutions of the university. In reading El Malcriado, articles like “The Wetback Game”, “Wetbacks Flood California”, or “La Migra Shapes up…We Hope”, the reader can feel as if they are reading a newspaper belonging to a neo-Nazi or Minutemen organization. It is scary, extremely offensive and unacceptable when we realize that these articles were written by a newspaper that represented an organization that was supposed to be non-violent. Chavez and the UFW’s leadership approved and exercised tactics that only terrorized our communities by relying and pressuring immigration to deport Mexican migrants. The UFW can be respected for going to the border to speak with their brothers and sisters, and convincing them to not cross their picket lines and to honor their demands. But the UFW crossed a bigger line when they called on and submitted names and addresses to border patrol of migrants to be deported. And on top of that for their leadership to use wb to describe Mexican migrants and to have articles in El Malcriado with wb included shows that white supremacists come in brown skin.
Below are two articles that include the racist term wb in its titles:
El Malcriado, Friday November 15, 1968, Volume II, Number 18.
This article below has the w-word being used in the text.
El Malcriado, Friday November 15, 1968, Volume II, Number 18.
In this article below Cesar Chavez is quoted how as a youth his family was terrified by “La Migra” but then goes on to admit how the UFW has given the names of “illegal strikebreakers” to Border Patrol. And is disappointed with border patrol for not taking action.
Below is the article where the vice president Julio Hernandez was interviewed by El Malcriado, where he uses the w-word to describe our migrant workers. I have also typed out the article so you can read it all.
El Malcriado: The Voice of the Farm Worker
Saturday, June 15, 1968 Volume II, Number 8.
“Union Vice President Speaks Out: The Union and the Green Carder”
El Malcriado has received many questions from farm workers who want to know exactly what is the union’s policy toward “Green Card” worker, Mexican citizens working in this country with form 1-151 permits. El Malcriado presented some of these questions to UFWOC Vice President Julio Hernandez, who is a citizen of Mexico and works in the United States under a green card permit. Here are some of his observations.
Question: Is the United Farm Workers Union opposed to Mexican citizens working in the United States under a “Green Card” permit?
Hernandez: No, definately not. What the Union opposes is scabbing. There is a federal regulation which prohibits the importation of foreign workers for strike-breaking purposes.
I have a green card myself. and so do nearly half of our members. We welcome green card workers who come to work in California as honorable men, but when they come to break our strike, we have no choice but to do everything we can to get them out of Giumarra’s fields and the fields of other struck growers.
Question: Why is the Union cooperating with the Immigration authorities to get Mexican citizens into trouble?
Hernandez: The Immigration authorities have a responsibility to see that the regulations are enforced. Since there are reported to be many illegal green card and wetback scabs working for Giumarra, we are cooperating with the authorities to have these illegal workers removed from the fields.
Question: What happens to green card workers who continue to work for Giumarra?
Hernandez: After we have explained our cause and the laws to the workers, a few will continue to be scabs because of thier own personal greed or other reasons. We consider all farm workers, Anglo, Negro, Filipino, Mexican, to be our brothers. But a scab is a scab, regardless of his race or citizenship. The names of scabs will be turned over to the Department of Labor. We do not like to take this action against someone who should be our brother, but a man who breaks the strike has betrayed his brothers and all farm workers. He has declared war on us, and we must defend ourselves, our families, and our jobs.
Question: How does the Union help green carders?
Hernandez: Well, the most obvious way is through better wages, such as we have won at Schenely, DiGiorgio, and the other ranches where we have contracts. There are many green carders working there.
The Union helps Mexican citizens with immigration problems and helps them arrange to bring their families to this country. We help them on legal problems; we have notary publics to serve them; and we help them get driver licences. We provide assistance with tax returns and other peperwork. These and all the other benefits of Union membership are available to green carders on the same basis as any other members. We do not oppose immigration. We oppose scabbing.
Actually, the Union is the best friend the green carder has in this country. I think all green carders should join the Union. And all green carders working in Kern and Tulare Counties should come into the Union offices at 102 Albany (or 10913 Main St.) and find out how the Union can help you, and where it is legal to work.”