In the previous video, we learned that following the floods of 1958, the welfare agencies were refusing to provide emergency food to farmworkers. They had a policy that denied aid to anyone capable of working. But, after the floods, the fields were unworkable. Every day that able-bodied workers couldn’t work was another day they lost the daily wages they needed to feed their families.
Maria stepped forward to offer an emotional testimony, or personal account, of the impact on her family. Her efforts helped reverse the agencies’ policies, so that people could get food.
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So I got something that really proves and I want somebody to read it before I go a little farther because I cannot read very good English.
Man reads news article:
Police Chief Gus West of Woodlake reported a 19-year old boy starved himself so his 11 brothers and sisters could eat. He collapsed and had to receive medical aid.
That's my son, 19 years old. After we passing that big starving he went plumb blind. He was blind for three days and that’s causing because he hadn't eaten anything. After they opened the doors, I got something to eat. We start feeding him while he get his eyes back.
My mom, I guess, started talking to people. Where is the justice in the United States, the richest country in the world. We need help and we can't get it. Maybe that's when things started happening.
Maria’s testimony created such a stir that the welfare agency reversed its policy and offered food assistance to the farm workers. This was Maria’s first victory, and it brought her to the attention of AWOC, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee.
AWOC was the latest effort in a decades long struggle to unionize farm workers, who had been excluded from the rights won by industrial workers in the 1930s. One of the biggest obstacles to organizing had always been the segregation of camps and work crews that pitted one ethnic group against another.
AWOC at the time was a pioneering thing. They hired Filipinos, they hired Anglos—so-called Okies—African Americans, and hired her.
Although a handful of Anglo women had worked as professional organizers in the fields, Maria Moreno was the very first farm worker women to be hired as a union organizer.
Maria Moreno speech at farmworker house meeting:
Así es de que no nos queda más que organizarnos, y llamar a la gente a esta organización y decirles que quieran o no quieran, tendrá que llevarse a cabo esta lucha. Y no vamos a dejar de pelear hasta no tener la victoria. APPLAUSE
English Translation of Maria’s Speech:
Our only option is to get organized and call on everyone to join our organization. Like it or not we’ve got to struggle and we won’t stop fighting til we’ve won.
I believe I was about thirteen when my mother started to work for the union. My mother sometimes would leave to different meetings. And we wondered what are all these meetings for?
Sometimes I see the people that buy delicious apples, bananas, all kind of a good foods. And then I take a look at my table: beans and potatoes! Just imagine, how do you think that I feel seeing my son blind only because we don’t got nothing to eat, while some other tables are full and wasting food.
We would go to different places and sometimes we would go with her because we were kind of curious. But the first time that I understood that she was somebody different, she was doing something different, was when she went to Berkeley. That I realized who my mother really was. Not just a woman, you know, trying to make things better for the agricultural workers, but for everybody. I said, Wow, here's my mother, second grade education and she's doing this. It was just like wow, it blew me away!
Meanwhile, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) recruited Maria to help organize farmworkers for better wages and working conditions. It was a major step in a career that would take Maria to speak on behalf of farmworkers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. A mother of 12 with a second-grade education became a powerful history maker.
As you watch this video, consider Maria’s experiences and what she decided to do about them.
After viewing the video and reading the transcript, respond to the following questions in the chart below.