Hundreds of people packed San Fernando Cathedral on Labor Day to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Starr County Strike and March. In 1966, thousands of melon farmers, inspired by the stories of César Chávez, walked from Starr County on the Texas-Mexico border to the state capital in Austin – about 400 miles. The workers went on strike to fight for a minimum wage of $1.25 per hour. They were making 40 cents per hour at the time.
Five of the original huelguistas, or strikers, attended the Mass alongside Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, City Council members Roberto Treviño (D1) and Rey Saldaña (D4), District Attorney Nico LaHood, and other City and State officials.
Before the Mass, Treviño told the Rivard Report that it's important to remember those who worked for a better future.
"There's a lot of history regarding the rights and dignity of certain folks," Treviño said. "It's important that we champion those causes. We hope to remember the people who improved our community in many ways."
Treviño is from the Rio Grande Valley and takes great pride in the work and reputation of farm workers from the area, he said.
During the Mass, Archbishop García-Siller called the five members of the Starr County march "models of charity," urging those in attendance to emulate them and take up similar causes.
While we celebrate the work done in the past, we can't forget about the work that still needs to be done, Saldaña told the Rivard Report after the Mass.
"This is commemorating 50 years of a fight that will probably continue 50 to 100 years after this, which is for workers' rights and essentially people's rights," Saldaña said. "This is something that people have thought (of) as a romantic fight that happened in the past, but it continues into the present and that's what this is celebrating."
Local advocacy organizations have asked City Council and Bexar County to raise the pay of their lowest-wage employees to a minimum of $15 per hour, up from the current $13. City Council will consider a "path to $15" in its fiscal year 2017 budget discussions over the next two weeks, which could include an increase to $14. The County's proposed budget includes a 50-cent increase.
Joining the marchers were City Council members Alan Warrick (D2), Rebecca Viagran (D3), Shirley Gonzales (D5), Ron Nirenberg (D8), State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-123), State Sen. José Menéndez (D-26), and U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-35).
The crowd marched through closed-off downtown streets to their rally point at the Plaza de Zacate in Milam Park.
Along the way, members of the United Farm Workers of America led chants of "Sí se puede," calls for a higher minimum wage, and worker's rights.
At the rally, Our Lady of the Lake University Mexican American Studies Professor Aimee Villarreal called for the City to erect a plaque in honor of the strikers.
"In a few weeks, the Texas Historical Commission will erect a marker in Starr County designating Rio Grande City as the birthplace of the farm worker movement," Villarreal said. "The City of San Antonio needs to step up to the plate too and have a marker right here in the Plaza de Zacate."
Paul Chávez, son of César Chávez, said that his father always shied away from the praise that was given to him because the movement he started wasn't about him.
"So today's celebration is really honoring these heroes that my dad respected and thought about constantly," Chávez said.
Top Image: Lupe Salgado waves a United Farm Workers flag at Milam Park. Photo by Scott Ball.