United Farm Workers focus of ASU Barrett lecture

By

Nicole Greason

In September 1962, the National Farm Workers Association convened its first convention in Fresno, California, initiating a multiracial movement that would result in the creation of United Farm Workers and the first contracts for farm workers in the state of California.

Led by Cesar Chavez, the union contributed a number of innovations to the art of social protest, including the most successful consumer boycott in the history of the United States. Chavez often referred to the boycott as “capitalism in reverse,” for its power to turn ordinary shoppers into union allies.

In a presentation titled “Capitalism in Reverse: The United Farm Worker’s Grape Boycott and the Power of Inter-racial Organizing,” Matt Garcia, director of the Center for Comparative Border Studies at Arizona State University, will discuss the accomplishments of the movement, including benefits gained through the formation of a diverse organization that welcomed contributions from numerous ethnic and racial groups, men and women, young and old.

The presentation, which is part of the Honors Lecture Series presented by Barrett, the Honors College at ASU is slated for 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Jan. 27, in room 101/103 of the Cottonwood Building at Barrett, on ASU's Tempe campus. The lecture is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is required.

Garcia, author of the new book "From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement" (University of California Press, 2012), discusses the accomplishments of the movement, including the benefits gained through the formation of a diverse organization that welcomed contributions from numerous ethnic and racial groups, men and women, young and old.

For a time, the United Farm Workers was the realization of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s beloved community. Garcia demonstrates that the community became increasingly difficult to maintain for Chavez as the state of California became more involved in adjudicating labor disputes in the mid-1970s. Although Chavez and the United Farm Workers ultimately failed to establish a permanent union, the boycott offers important lessons to those wishing to build a new food justice movement today.

Garcia is the director of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at ASU. He also directs the Comparative Border Studies Program. He previously taught at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the University of Oregon and Brown University. His book, "A World of Its Own: Race, Labor and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970," won the award for the best book in oral history from the Oral History Association in 2003. His most recent book, "From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement," won the Philip Taft Award for the Best Book in Labor History, 2013.

Garcia was also the outreach director and co-primary investigator for the Bracero Archive Project, which was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant in 2008, and the recipient of the Best Public History Award by the National Council for Public History in 2009-2010. He completed his doctorate in history at the Claremont Graduate University in 1997.