César Chávez and UFW’s Use of Racist Language Against Their Own People

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. Read more here.

When you have a conflict, that means that there are truths that have to be addressed on each side of the conflict. And when you have a conflict, then it’s an educational process to try to resolve the conflict. And to resolve that, you have to get people on both sides of the conflict involved so that they can dialogue. - Dolores Huerta

Along with Cesar Chavez, Huerta co-founded the National Farmworkers Association, which eventually became the United Farm Workers (UFW), in order to unite farmers into a union that fights to protect their rights. She is a labor leader and civil rights activist who has also advocated for immigrants’ and women’s rights, earning her the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and Presidential Medal of Freedom.