It was with genuine sadness that we learned of the passing on September 13 of Elizer Vasquez, 84, an early United Farm Workers activist and a grape striker who selflessly devoted years to the movement—from organizing boycotts in five cities to service on Cesar Chavez’s security detail to years as a union mechanic at the UFW’s La Paz, Keene, Calif. headquarters.
Elizer Silva Vasquez was born in 1939, in Brawley, Calif., the youngest of eight children in a family living in a farm labor camp. When the Vasquezes moved north out of the Imperial Valley, they still owed money to the company store despite seven years laboring there. That inspired the later activism with the union. They settled in a Delano-area farm labor camp west of Earlimart, and later bought a small house in Earlimart.
All of the Vasquezes were early union activists. In 1965, Elizer’s brothers Manuel and Mike struck Delano grape growers under what became the UFW. Busy supporting a young family, Elizer’s main union involvement began when, as a tractor driver at Roberts Farms, he joined the bitter and bloody second grape strike in 1973. Elizer and his son, Elizer Jr., then 11, both worked on the Los Angeles boycott, thus beginning Elizer’s full-time service with the UFW, which lasted until 1987.
Cesar Chavez called Elizer at home in 1975, asking him to join his security detail. Elizer and his girlfriend, Terry Carruthers, lived at La Paz, where their three children were born. They married in 1977. The next year, Elizer graduated from the first auto mechanic training program under the Farmworker Institute for Education and Leadership Development (FIELD) that Cesar set up. It was a nine-month course at the co-op service station on the farm worker movement’s Forty Acres property in Delano.
Over the next nine years Elizer was a skilled mechanic at La Paz, with an affinity for working on the union’s fleet of 1960s-era Plymouth Valiants. Cesar liked the vehicles because their Slant-6 engines made them easy to repair. Elizer loved working on those cars. He also tended to Cesar’s late 1960s Ford Country Sedan station wagon that for years took the civil rights and farm labor leader across California, the Southwest, and into northern Mexico. Elizer would also accompany Cesar on the road—and guard him at La Paz—during tough times when federal agents were notifying the UFW about assassination plots.
Elizer’s mechanic duties were interrupted when he happily helped organize UFW lettuce boycotts in Seattle, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Detroit in 1979 and 1980.
In later years, Elizer returned briefly to the fields and then worked with the state mosquito abatement program until retirement in 2014.
Elizer Vasquez passed away on September 13, 2023. He is survived by his sons Augie, Raul, and Chris Vasquez as well as eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Son Elizer Vasquez Jr. and daughter Marisol Vasquez preceded him in death.
A visitation is set for 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, October 3, at Funeraria Del Angel Delano, 707 Browning Road, Delano 93215, with a rosary there from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial is scheduled at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, October 4, at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church, 1270 East Washington Street, Earlimart 93219, followed by a committal service at North Kern District Cemetery, 627 Austin Street, Delano 93215
.Photo taken by Cathy Murphy when Elizer Vasquez (far right with the walkie-talkie) was part of Cesar Chavez’s security detail during a visit to La Paz by Governor Jerry Brown (left), circa 1976. Also shown are Chavez aide Carlos LeGerrette, Cesar, and a Brown staffer.