As Baldemar Velasquez reflects on 50 years of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, he can’t help but think about the organization’s future.
Author Sandra Cisneros joins Baldemar Velasquez to help celebrate ‘Remembering 50 Years of Struggle: Farm Labor Organizing Committee’ event at the Park Inn downtown.
As FLOC’s founder, Mr. Velasquez has spent the last five decades combating unsafe working conditions, child labor, tenant-farming systems, and other practices that exploit migrant farm workers across the world.
More work must be done to fight inequities in agricultural labor, he said, but at 70 years old he’s beginning to think about who will continue the work for the next 50 years to come.
“One of my main initiatives right now is to bring forth the young leadership that we have in FLOC,” Mr. Velasquez said. “I’m going to be around for a few more years and surround them with the help and support that I wish I had when I was their age.”
FLOC hosted a 50th anniversary celebration Wednesday called “Remembering 50 Years of Struggle: Farm Labor Organizing Committee” to both commemorate the organization’s history and look to the future. It featured the Aguila Negra band performing a variety of labor songs, a remembrance of pivotal events, and a presentation by author Sandra Cisneros, most famous for her novel The House on Mango Street.
Ms. Cisneros shares Mr. Velasquez’s belief that younger generations need to be educated and empowered to fight inequality, whether it’s economic, social, or political.
“I really do feel a spiritual mission to enlighten and empower with the stories we tell, to guide and direct, and to do work that I think is going to make the country greater,” she said.
The two met at a reunion for recipients of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He was a recipient in 1989; she in 1995. Ms. Cisneros formed Los MacArturos, a subgroup of Latino recipients of the fellowships that hosts its own reunions in different parts of the United States as often as the group can get together.
Ms. Cisneros became interested in FLOC’s mission through her longtime friendship with Mr. Velasquez, and she gets in touch with him whenever she’s near Toledo to see how she can get involved. She was last in Toledo in 2015 for an Authors! Authors! Event at the Stranahan Theater.
“Baldemar told me the story of his life, and it was one that stayed with me,” she said. “I just said, ‘How can I help? Here I am.’ ”
Ms. Cisneros said it’s especially important to advocate for the rights of minorities in today’s political climate, in which immigrants are more frequently feared or looked at as outsiders, even those who have ancestral roots in the United States.
“Our job is to unite those communities who are afraid of each other and are living in a climate of fear. You can’t trust politicians who act and react on fear,” she said.
Mr. Velasquez said he wants to teach young activists during FLOC’s 50th year to practice reconciliation rather than engaging in a power struggle to try to fight the injustices they find in their communities.
“We have to message those institutions, change them, reform them, so that all people can live in peace,” he said. “We’re trying to teach the young leaders coming up how to make that happen.”
FLOC will again commemorate its anniversary with a much larger event in September during its annual constitutional convention at the SeaGate Convention Centre in downtown Toledo.
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