March 19 in Santa Cruz-Watsonville
30 years after first concert for Chavez,
Peter, Paul, & Mary to perform UFW benefit,
visit strawberry workers in camps & fields
Posters from their first fund raiser for Cesar Chavez in 1968 at Carnegie Hall, reflect Peter, Paul & Mary’s support at a crucial time for the United Farm Workers. It was the third year of a bitter strike against Delano grape growers. Chavez had completed a 25-day fast to recommit his movement to nonviolence.
Posters from their March 19, 1998 UFW concert show little has changed in three decades for the legendary folk trio. They will perform in Santa Cruz to benefit the union’s organizing drive to improve the lives of California strawberry workers.
But first they will join Chavez’s successor, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, in and around nearby Watsonville–visiting with strawberry pickers in the fields and at a run-down farm labor camp, and breaking into song at a rally with 300 berry workers, community supporters and UFW organizers. Among other songs, the trio will sing "Nosotros Venceremos" ("We Shall Overcome").
The March 19 events mirror Peter Paul & Mary’s longtime conviction that music has the power not only to entertain, but also to educate, inspire and unite. Such commitment is at the heart of their remarkable 37-year career that has embraced the civil rights, anti-war and environmental movements.
The trio’s activism comes 30 years after the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, on April 4 and June 6, 1968, respectively, and 30 years after Chavez ended his 25-day fast for nonviolence on March 10, 1968.
The UFW faces stiff resistance from the state’s $650 million-a-year strawberry industry. Berry pickers laboring for growers connected with Driscoll, the largest U.S. strawberry corporation, face low pay, pesticide-treated fields, poor housing and firing or threats if they organize with the UFW.
"If Cesar, King and Kennedy were alive today, what would they say tell Driscoll?" asks the UFW’s Rodriguez. "They would say, let your workers organize!"
Peter, Paul & Mary Schedule
Thursday, March 19, 1998
Watsonville & Santa Cruz, Calif.
10 a.m. Arrive at UFW headquarters to join UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, organizers and strawberry workers; brief press opportunity (18 West Lake St., enter from parking lot behind Main St. in Watsonville).
10:45 a.m. Tour San Andreas Farm Labor Camp with Arturo Rodriguez; visit in the home of a strawberry worker family.
11:15 a.m. Visit a nearby strawberry field.
12 noon Rally and songs in the open-air courtyard of the UFW’s Watsonville headquarters with hundreds of workers, organizers and community supporters; press opportunity.
8 p.m. Benefit concert at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.
Story behind Woody Guthrie’s song
"Plane Wreck at Los Gatos"
One of the songs Peter, Paul & Mary will perform at their March 19 benefit concert for the United Farm Workers is "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos" by famed songwriter-activist Woody Guthrie.
On January 28, 1948, a twin-engine DC3C aircraft crashed in western Fresno County’s Los Gatos Canyon, killing all 32 people on board, including 28 Mexican farm workers being deported by the U.S. Immigration Service. Eyewitnesses saw at least nine people leap to their deaths. Twelve of the farm workers were never identified. The newspaper reported later that hundreds from "Fresno’s Mexican colony"–the local Latino community–wept during Catholic services at a mass burial.
Woody Guthrie learned of the disaster on the radio. The announcer commented, "It’s not such a tragedy since they were just deportees." Guthrie was so angry that he wrote a beautiful song called "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos" or "Deportees." The refrain from the song goes:
Farewell to my Juan, farewell Angelina
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria.
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be deportees.
Also hearing of the tragedy–and inspired by Guthrie’s response–was a veteran 20-year old farm worker who was then picking cotton around Delano, Calif. As a teenager during the late 1930s and early ’40s, he had met Guthrie when the songwriter visited dusty Central Valley farm labor camps. By 1948, the young man was also learning about labor history and Papal Encyclicals on the rights of working people. Four years later he would begin his organizing career with a Latino civil rights group. Fourteen years later he would found what would become the first successful farm workers union in American history, the United Farm Workers of America. His name was Cesar Chavez.