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UNIFYING MOVEMENTS THROUGH ART

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

BY JESSICA ZUBIA CALSADA | THE NEST COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER

 

As a student in elementary school, I was taught the history of Cesar Chavezand his work on the historical grape boycotts. But these protests for workers rights’ were not a one-man-show. To make this labor movement successful they utilized art to spread their message. The work of Larry Itliong, from the Filipino led organization Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), spearheaded this boycott. In this essay I will share some forgotten history of the organization’s origins and art work that helped spread the message of the boycotts.


The grape boycotts in the 1960s and 1970s brought together two major labor organizations to protest the working conditions of agricultural workers at Delano Farms.


A History of the workers movement

The National Farm Workers Association (N.F.W.A.) and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) played crucial roles in the 5 year long grape boycott against Delano Farms. The AWOC was led by Filipino organizer, Larry Itliong. Itliong initiated the grape protests and asked for the support of the Mexican farm workers. He asked Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and they were hesitant at first, unsure if their organization was ready. The Mexican farm workers at the (N.F.W.A.) unanimously voted to go on strike. One year later these two organizations were working together in one of the most impactful boycotts in US history.


Art and Activism

These organizations worked together and their art represented their unity. While this pin may be simple, the messaging is clear. These two organizations were united in the boycott of grapes from Delano farms. The simple grapes graphic along the two acronyms showcased the unity between the Filipino led group, AWOC, and Mexican led group, NFWA.



It was important to spread the message of the grape boycott to gain popularity and support for the workers. As seen in the image below, people place bumper stickers with a message of “Don’t Eat Grapes” and a skull made out of grapes. Without a union contract, the farm workers would continue to be exploited for their labor. This clever skull and grape symbolism represented the life and death situation the farm workers faced.

The artist, Xavier Viramontes made this poster, Boycott Grapes, Support the United Farm Workers Union, in 1973. It shows an Aztec warrior squeezing grapes with the juice of the grapes as blood. This is incredibly symbolic of the tactics from the farms to squeeze out profits wherever they could. This meant underpaying and overworking their employees. Viramontes created this poster for the United Farm Workers to sell and raise money for the boycott.






The Aztec eagle, created by Cesar Chavez’s brother, Richard Chavez, is an eye-catching white and red flag. This eagle in the middle is meant to symbolize the Mexican descent of the farm workers. But it is important to remember that many original organizers of the farm worker movement were not Mexican. Looking further into the details of the flag, we see a white circle and a red background. This white circle is said to symbolize hope and aspirations and the red background for hard work and sacrifice the union members have made.


As an elementary school student, I was taught about the history of Cesar Chavez and his work on the historical grape boycotts. However, these protests for workers' rights were not a one-man show. To make this labor movement successful, they utilized art to spread their message. The work of Larry Itliong, from the Filipino-led organization Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), spearheaded this boycott. In this essay, I will share some forgotten history of the organization's origins and artwork that helped spread the message of the boycotts.


A History of the Workers' Movement

The National Farm Workers Association (N.F.W.A.) and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) played crucial roles in the five-year-long grape boycott against Delano Farms. The AWOC was led by the Filipino organizer, Larry Itliong. Itliong initiated the grape protests and asked for the support of the Mexican farmworkers. He approached Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, though they were initially hesitant, unsure if their organization was ready. However, the Mexican farmworkers at the N.F.W.A. unanimously voted to go on strike. One year later, these two organizations were working together in one of the most impactful boycotts in U.S. history.


Art and Activism

These organizations worked together, and their art represented their unity. While this pin may be simple, the messaging is clear. These two organizations were united in the boycott of grapes from Delano Farms. The simple grapes graphic alongside the two acronyms showcased the unity between the Filipino-led group, AWOC, and the Mexican-led group, NFWA.


It was crucial to spread the message of the grape boycott to gain popularity and support for the workers. As seen in the image below, people placed bumper stickers with a message of "Don't Eat Grapes" and a skull made out of grapes. Without a union contract, the farmworkers would continue to be exploited for their labor. This clever skull and grape symbolism represented the life-and-death situation the farmworkers faced.

The artist, Xavier Viramontes, created this poster, "Boycott Grapes, Support the United Farm Workers Union," in 1973. It depicts an Aztec warrior squeezing grapes with the juice of the grapes resembling blood. This symbolism is incredibly powerful, representing the tactics used by the farms to squeeze out profits wherever they could, often at the expense of underpaying and overworking their employees. Viramontes designed this poster for the United Farm Workers to sell and raise money for the boycott.


The Aztec eagle, created by Cesar Chavez's brother, Richard Chavez, is an eye-catching white and red flag. The eagle in the middle symbolizes the Mexican descent of the farmworkers. However, it is important to remember that many original organizers of the farmworker movement were not Mexican. Taking a closer look at the flag's details, we see a white circle on a red background. The white circle symbolizes hope and aspirations, while the red background represents the hard work and sacrifices the union members have made.


The artwork born from this struggle not only conveyed a message of solidarity but also represented the cruel work conditions. Larry Itliong's leadership within the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) and the collaboration with National Farm Workers Association (N.F.W.A.) changed the history of farm workers in the United States. Looking through this history we can remember the importance of art in story telling.


Sources



JESSICA ZUBA CALSADA

COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER,

THE NEST


 



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