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Serving others was farm worker leader Baltazar Aguirre’s passion

Baltazar Aguirre’s passion was serving others whether it was in the fields where he worked, at the church where he worshiped or in the community where he lived. “It was with a heavy heart” that the United Farm Workers learned Baltazar, 64, passed away from natural causes on Jan. 19, announced UFW President Teresa Romero.

He was born in 1956 one of eight brothers and sisters in the Mexican state of Guanajuato and came to the U.S. as a migrant worker following the crops in California. By the late 1970s Baltazar was working under a union contract at the Coachella Growers citrus ranch in Blythe, Calif. He became a crew representative, part of the UFW negotiating committee and a member of the ranch committee overseeing union affairs on the farm.

Baltazar was elected to serve as a delegate representing his co-workers at many UFW constitutional conventions. He joined countless marches, rallies, boycott, legislative and political campaigns. A large collection of union pins and buttons reflects the breadth of his activism.

He left his job in 1996 to spend four years as a full-time UFW organizer during the union’s Central Coast strawberry organizing drive based in Watsonville. Baltazar was “physically attacked by a mob of grower thugs, but he maintained his steady composure and commitment to nonviolence,” recalled UFW Legislative and Political Director Giev Kashkooli. “The next day he was meeting with berry workers by taking access in the fields and knocking on doors” at their homes.

He returned to work at the unionized HMS Agricultural Corp. in Coachella, where he lived his last 20 years. There, as an elected farm worker leader on the ranch committee he kept minutes of monthly meetings, managed finances and helped negotiate contracts. His leadership led in 2012 to winning Robert F. Kennedy Medical Plan coverage for all HMS workers. He advocated for the 2016 UFW-backed state law providing farm workers with overtime pay and for citizenship workshops run by the UFW Foundation.

Among his co-workers, Baltazar “was pushing from behind, leading from the front or sitting quietly as others took the lead,” Giev Kashkooli remembered. “His laugh lit up a room.” One of Baltazar’s proudest moments was when his son, Baltazar Jr., and daughter, Cassandra, received UFW college scholarships from funds union members contribute.

“He was always very passionate about organizing farm workers,” said UFW National Vice President Lauro Barajas, with whom Baltazar organized in the strawberries.

“Serving others was his passion,” affirmed Baltazar’s brother Gustavo Aguirre, who was also a leader in the UFW. “He was always willing to help others in any way he could without thought of personal gain. That is how he lived his life, whether it was with the union, the church or in the community.”

The church was another big part of his and his family’s life. For years he sang in the choir and played the guitar at his Catholic parish in Blythe. For 15 years he was a eucharist minister at Our Lady of Solitude Catholic Church in Palm Springs and Our Lady of Soledad Catholic Church in Coachella. “One of his dreams was serving the people as a deacon of the church,” said Baltazar Aguirre Jr. After years of preparation, his father was finally ordained as a deacon in August 2020.

Baltazar took part in the church’s Cursillo de Cristiandad movement, where being “in colors” is to be in God’s grace. Therefore, Cursillo participants greet each other with the phrase
“De Colores.” “My father lived in the spirit of De Colores and Si Se Puede,” his son observed.

Baltazar regularly helped organize the religious service honoring the union’s five martyrs—all killed during farm worker strikes—on the final day of UFW conventions.

Surviving Baltazar Aguirre are his wife, Rosa; their children Baltazar Jr., Cassandra and Jacqueline Aguirre; his brother Gustavo and sister Gema Aguirre.

Photo of Baltazar Aguirre (left), the late Bishop Richard J. Garcia of the Monterey Diocese and Rosa Aguirre during the martyrs’ service Baltazar helped organize at the 2016 UFW Constitutional Convention in Bakersfield, Calif. (UFW photo by Jocelyn Sherman.)