SAN JUAN, RGV – When Juanita Valdez-Cox was growing up in South Texas there was no drinking water in her home, no paved streets in the colonia, no mail delivery and no bus service.

Most of these basic amenities are now in place but that does not mean that work to raise the quality of life of colonia residents is complete, she says.

“A lot of Infrastructure has been invested in the colonias, but we are still not there yet. Today, you would be hard pressed to find a colonia that does not have drinking water, does not have paved streets. But, we are still dealing with drainage issues. There is still work to be done but a lot of it has been done,” Valdez-Cox said.

UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta is pictured in Dolores Huerta Avenue in Weslaco last October. On Thursday, Huerta will speak at LUPE's 10th Anniversary Gala.
UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta is pictured in Dolores Huerta Avenue in Weslaco last October. On Thursday, Huerta will speak at LUPE’s 10th Anniversary Gala.

Valdez-Cox has led La Unión del Pueblo Entero since it relocated from California to Texas ten years ago. On Thursday, the non-profit group celebrates its 10th Anniversary with a gala at the Valencia Event Center in McAllen. The event is a sell out in part because the keynote speaker is civil right icon Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Worker union with Cesar Chavez.

Valdez-Cox is delighted Huerta has agreed to speak about the history of the United Farm Worker movement and the concept of a community union like LUPE. She said when she and other leaders in LUPE began discussions on how to celebrate the organization’s first ten years they thought about connecting back to California. Cesar Chavez started LUPE in California in 1989.

“Dolores Huerta is 83 years of age and still going strong. She is inspiring so many people and so many women. Even with 11 children, she was always leading and is still leading the fight against the forces that negatively impact our families. We are delighted she is coming to talk because she is very busy,” Valdez-Cox said.

“Who else has lived the history she has? We are honored Dolores is coming to talk to us about the early years and the struggle to found the United Farm Workers union and to create LUPE. We are honored she accepted the invitation and we hope the people of South Texas join us and take the opportunity to learn from Dolores Huerta. As we say, a lot has been done but much remains. She serves as an example to all of us so we should take this opportunity to be there and welcome her and continue to learn from her.”

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian and KMBH 88 FM, Valdez-Cox said there is a clear difference between the work LUPE does and the work UFW does.

“The United Farm Workers union deals with grievances in the fields, such as wages and working conditions, the use of pesticides, etc. But, at the end of the day, when the farmworkers went home to their communities, to their colonias, they had to deal with issues like housing, health, education and immigration, the infrastructure in the colonias, parks, street lights, drainage, all of those issues were better dealt with under a community union. That is what LUPE is,” Valdez-Cox said.

“Therefore, it was with that in mind that Cesar felt there was a need for LUPE. We were under the UFW since before my time here, back in the 1970s. But the switch from the UFW over to LUPE happened ten years ago. We saw such need in our colonias, in our communities.”

Asked what successes LUPE has had in its first ten years, Valdez-Cox listed working with other non-profits in the colonias, the campaign to get the legislature to approve in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants, and the addition of vital infrastructure in the colonias. Among the issues currently in the forefront are drainage issues, the push for immigration reform and efforts to once again allow undocumented immigrants the opportunity to obtain a driver’s license.

On drainage, Valdez-Cox said: “It is not completely solved but we are getting close. There are a lot of issues in the colonias that impact negatively on the families that LUPE along with other non-profits has worked on. We have moved on those colonia issues so they are not forgotten, so that those who represent us realize that there are thousands of people who live in the colonias that need their assistance also.”

LUPE has over 7,000 members. Its annual membership dues are $40 for an adult, $60 for a couple, and $20 for a student. Valdez-Cox said it is important that colonia residents who want to join LUPE make a payment to the non-profit because it shows they are investing their hard earned wages. “It speaks to our philosophy of self-help. If we need this organization so much in South Texas, which we do, then the community has to be willing to step up not only with their money but also with their time because it is an organization that requires much participation from our members. We need a very active membership, just because we have so many issues that we need to deal with.”

Valdez-Cox added that LUPE is very much guided by Cesar Chavez’s principles, which is that people must be able to help themselves. “We work with the philosophy that Cesar always had about self-help, people doing things for themselves, people looking at what the issues are and then working on solving them. Because, if we live in a colonia without street lights or without parks, at the end of the day it is our children and it is our families who have to live with that. So, it is our responsibility and obligation to get involved and that is why LUPE came into South Texas ten years ago.”

For more information about La Unión del Pueblo Entero’s 10th Anniversary gala and silent auction, contact Tania Chavez at [email protected] or 956-648-0786.