The farm labor movement has lost one of its most respected voices with the death of Jessie De La Cruz, at age 93.
De La Cruz was recruited right from the cotton fields she worked in by Cesar Chavez back in the 1960’s. De la Cruz spent many years picking snap peas and cutting cotton starting at the age of five. She knew first hand the injustices many agricultural workers faced especially Mexicans. De La Cruz along with her husband Arnold were some of the United Farm Workers (UFW) first key members.
The mother of five is recognized as the first woman recruiter in the movement. She is also remembered for her political activism, boycotting strategies and for having the short-handled hoe outlawed in the fields. When not busy on the front line of the labor movement she taught English to migrant workers.
A mini-series was made about her life featuring Sonia Braga called “A Will of Their Own.” De La Cruz is often mentioned in history books about the farm labor movement and the key role she played. A biography by Gary Soto “Jessie De La Cruz: A Profile of a United Farm Worker” was published in 2002.
The UFW issued the following statement at the news of her passing:
“Jessie inspired thousands of people by drawing upon the same virtues Cesar Chavez (UFW founder) demonstrated, most notably her simple humility. She never sought the spotlight or public recognition for her many contributions, preferring instead to do the hard, grinding work on the front lines of the farm workers’ struggle.”