The following is a speech by Professor José Calderón Clausura of the José Fernando Pedraza Institute, which was originally published in Popular Education Liberates.
The development of the National Day laborer Organizing Network, Radio Jornalera, and this Institute, are very close to my heart.
I was part of the start of the Day Labor Center in Pomona in 1997. At that time the City Council passed a law that, if implemented, would have fined each day laborer $1,500 just for looking for work on the street. We responded with a march and filled the Council with hundreds of people. Out of this organizing, the city council rescinded the unjust ordinance and agreed to help support the development of the Pomona Day Labor center.
I was also part of the beginning of the National Day Labor Organizing Network alongside twelve organizations at a conference held at Cal State Northridge in July 2001.
I have to tell you that my commitment – my passion – in support of these struggles came from the fact that I was an immigrant from Mexico, that came to this country when I was 7 years old with my parents – who were farmworkers their entire lives in Colorado and with my father who was a day laborer in the winters, waiting on the corners, even when there was snow, for a job so that we could eat. I never forgot – and when I graduated from college, I went to work for a while with the United Farmworkers Union of Cesar Chavez in Delano, CA – and when I returned to Colorado with my parents, I started a little school in the back of my parents’ house – and I have to tell you, I started teaching 18 students who did not know English in the same way that you are using the Paulo Freire and Popular Education method.
And I must also share with you today that there is no better way to honor the life of José Fernando Pedraza, than with the development of this Instituto, because truly, Fernando was an example of the development of a consciousness, of a day laborer who organized other day laborers – on a street corner – to respect each other in the search for work – and also to fight injustice. Fernando was part of the classes with some of my students on the street corner in Rancho where he was not only a learner but a teacher – and went beyond the learning to read and write – but to use his skills in organizing against injustices.
In 2002, when the city of Rancho Cucamonga passed a law against day laborers being able to look for work on the street, Fernando was not afraid and took the city to court to ensure that his comrades could continue to organize themselves on the corner. After that victory, Fernando continued the struggle to create a center for day laborers.
That is the way it was for Fernando, Don Gilberto, and other workers who, with the support of students, the Pomona Day Labor Center, and NDLON, developed a corner of struggle that, not only helped the workers in employment and education, but organized them to respond to monthly attacks, on the corner of Arrow and Grove, by such anti-immigrant groups as the Ku Klux Klan and the Minute Men. Hence, on April 2, 2007, a dozen of Ku Klux Klansmen wearing their Klan t-shirts and hats protested the day laborers on that corner. A month later, on Cinco de Mayo 2007 (a day celebrated in Mexican communities when the colonial French army was defeated in Puebla by a largely Mestizo and Zapotec force in 1862) dozens of Minute Men protested across the street from the day laborers. In the middle of the protest, two cars collided on the road and one of the cars landed on the sidewalk killing our leader Fernando.
Although his death hurt all of us deeply, Fernando is very much alive in the ongoing development of the Pomona Day Labor Center, the continuance of classes and leadership development at the corner, and in the annual organizing of an annual memorial attended by day laborers, students and the community. The example and spirit of Fernando is here today with all of you – leaders from all over the country- with the advancement of the National Day Labor Organizing Network (which began with a few and now includes hundreds in corners, centers and cities throughout the nation).
We are here in the spirit of Fernando, to use our skills – without fear – to defeat the walls of ignorance, racism, and scapegoating. At this time when the conservative right and the government use the frustration of workers– (many who don’t have livable salaries and benefits) to advance hatred against our immigrant communities – now, more than ever, it is necessary that we commit ourselves to fight and organize (in the spirit of Fernando) for justice, for fair wages and benefits, for the legalization of our immigrant communities (that contribute billions to the economy with our labor and the taxes that we pay).
We all know very well that this is what Fernando and all those who have sacrificed their lives across the nation would want. Their spirit is very much alive among us – and in that spirit – with the NDLON – with the development of the Jose Fernando Pedraza Institute – we can be sure that in the end we will win – and that a better future – as a result of our efforts – is on the horizon for our communities.