EDINBURG, RGV – Several strikers and marchers from the 1966 Starr County Melon Strike were honored Friday at the commemoration of the 50th anniversary.
The celebration was hosted by United Farm Workers (UFW), La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), Cesar E. Chavez Foundation, the County of Hidalgo, the City of Edinburg and the UTRGV Mexican American Studies Program.
The 1966 Melon Strike began in Rio Grande City where farmworkers were earning less than the minimum wage of $1.25. Hundreds of men, women and children marched over 300 miles from Rio Grande City to Austin in protest of their working conditions and hourly salary.
Arturo Rodriguez, president of UFW, said the march was an opportunity to let the world know the difficult conditions men and women of all ages faced such as no water, no bathrooms and barely surviving on a salary less than minimum wage.
“It was a tremendous sacrifice that they made and a tremendous risk that they took as individuals because nobody knew who they were – nobody cared about farmworkers,” Rodriguez said. “It was a really critical and important time for farmworkers here in the state of Texas and the Latino community as a whole. [The strike] just demonstrated that we were determined to make the sacrifices necessary to bring about change for farmworkers in the state of Texas.
Rodriguez and Rebecca Flores both attended college at the University of Michigan in the 1970s. There, they both met Cesar Chavez, an iconic American civil rights activist.
“You need to give back because this world has been good to you. You need to be good to this world and to your people,” Chavez is said to have told them.
Flores, who went on to become state director of UFW in Texas, said when she heard the 50th anniversary was approaching, she needed to gather the Chicano community to share the history and celebrate.
“I just hope people remember this, because what I heard a lot from the huelguistas, [or strikers,] was that nobody remembered this, nobody talked about it,” Flores said. “But in terms of Chicanos in the state of Texas, it was the beginning of the Chicano movement. And the Chicano movement really created a lot of the changes that we have today that benefit all of us Chicanos and everybody else – all of labor.”
The organizations hosted celebrations in other cities such as Rio Grande City on June 1, Corpus Christi July 31, San Antonio Sept. 5 and the final one will be in Austin Sept. 11.
A plaque was presented honoring those who marched in 1966. Rodriguez said it is a very important historical piece that tells the stories of the strikers.
“The plaque shares with other generations of people and ensures that people know that this just didn’t happen,” Rodriguez said. “It’s important for people to understand, know and appreciate that history so that we never forget it. [The plaque is a reminder that will] continue to inspire us to do more today and to do more in the future to continue to improve the situation for farmworkers as well as for the Latino community. “