It was with much sadness that we learned Antonia “Tonia” Saludado Reading—a pioneering United Farm Workers member from a family of grape strikers and boycotters who dedicated themselves to La Causa—passed away on Dec. 21, 2021.
Born in Mechoacanejo, Jalisco, Mexico in 1944. She came to the U.S. in 1957 with her parents and siblings, and settled in Earlimart, Calif, just north of Delano. She went to school and learned English but would eventually stop attending classes to help her family earn money and in part from serious bullying over her accent, clothing, and immigration status.
She toiled in the fields with her family, experiencing inhumane conditions throughout her teenage years. In 1964, her parents hosted Cesar Chavez at their home for the first neighborhood “house meeting” in Earlimart by the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which served as an effective model for building a community-based union.
Antonia (known as “Tonita”) became a member of the NFWA. In September 1965, she voted to join a strike against Delano-area grape growers begun by the mostly Filipino members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. The two unions merged to form the UFW in 1966. In 1967, she helped organize the UFW’s grape boycott in Canada with Marian Moses and in Chicago with Eliseo Medina. Antonia joined the New York boycott under Dolores Huerta, Fred Ross, and Richard Chávez in 1968. Then she organized the boycott in Philadelphia. She and her sisters were hardworking, humble and whip smart farm workers who stirred the hearts and minds of countless communities to boycott grapes across North America through strategic campaigns and by singing songs they learned from their pro-union Mariachi father Lorenzo Saludado.
Antonia married and had two children. She would later train to properly care for elderly community members suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. Tonia was courageous but kind and was best known for both her unconditional generosity and for never being afraid to be the first one to step onto a dance floor.
Her family will always recall her spirit with the sure knowledge she is singing and dancing in the warm heavenly embrace of her loving Guadalupano parents, Lorenzo and Petra Saludado, her charismatic big brother Refugio Saludado and fearless older sister Dora S. Cisneros, and her Tia Amelia Cadena, another UFW legend. Que vivan Los Saludados! Que Viva Tonia Saludado Reading! Que Viva!
Tonia is survived by her son Arturo Reading, his partner Michele and their sons Scott and Thomas and her daughter Petrita Saludado Reading and her loving partner Mark. She will be greatly missed by her sisters Maria S. Magaña, Celia S. Determan, Petra S. Franco, Lupie S. Cavasos, Socorro S. Lapp, by her brother Francisco “Pancho” Saludado, all her devastated nieces and nephews, and their spouses and families.
A memorial mass will be conducted on Thursday, April 7 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Delano (time TBA) followed by graveside services at nearby North Kern Cemetery and a reception at the farm worker movement’s historic “Forty Acres” property on Garces Hwy. (at Mettler Ave.) just west of Delano.