Antonio “Tony” Orendáin

Antonio “Tony” Orendáin

Tony Orendáin visiting from Texas, Delano, 1967. Photo by Emmon Clarke.

Antonio “Tony” Orendáin was born in 1930 in Etzatlán, Jalisco, Mexico. He migrated to the U.S. when he was 20, and worked as a seasonal farm laborer in Idaho, Oregon, and Montana before settling in Hanford, California, where he joined the Community Service Organization (CSO). Orendáin met his wife, Raquel Ramírez in 1952, and both worked for the CSO from 1953 to 1962. He and Chávez worked together at the CSO, lobbying lawmakers in Sacramento for better working conditions for farmworkers. In 1962, he co-founded with Chávez and others the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and became the first Secretary-Treasurer.

Tony Orendáin and an unidentified man eat together, Delano, 1967. Photo by Emmon Clarke.

In May 1966, he traveled to El Paso, Texas, to picket the Chamizal Labor Agency that was providing strikebreakers to farms in Delano. Following his success in convincing strikebreakers to join the strike, Chávez asked him to remain there to help Eugene Nelson in the strike against local melon growers in South Texas. Orendáin, Nelson, and Bill Chandler organized a protest against workers coming from Mexico and blocked their passage on the bridge of Rome, which ended with their arrest and led to a nonviolent hunger strike.

The union announced a national boycott of all products from La Casita Farms, one of the main agri-businesses. Padilla and Jim Drake were sent from Delano to help organize but after nine months of striking, the union in Texas had accomplished very little. In February of 1968, Chávez Anneounced a 25-day fast to underline the nonviolent nature of the movement and strengthen public opinion in the union’s favor, but Orendáin, who could not accept the religious nature of the fast and thought it would be detrimental to the union’s goals, boycotted the fast and refused to attend the mass when it ended.

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Dolores Huerta, vice president of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and principal speaker of the rally, speaks to a crowd in front of State Capitol on the last day of the march from Delano to Sacramento. California Governor Pat Brown refused to meet with the marchers that day and instead spent the weekend in Palm Springs. “We are no longer interested in listening to the excuses the Governor has given in defense of the growers, to his apologies to them for not paying us decent wages or why the growers cannot dignify the workers as individuals with the right to place the price on their own labor through collective bargaining,” said Huerta according to the New York Times.</p>
<p>Dolores Huerta, vicepresidente de la Asociación Nacional de Campesinos (NFWA) y oradora principal de la manifestación, habla ante una multitud frente al capitolio estatal el último día de la marcha de Delano a Sacramento. El gobernador de California, Pat Brown, se negó a reunirse con los manifestantes ese día y, en cambio, pasó el fin de semana en Palm Springs. “Ya no nos interesa escuchar las excusas que ha dado el Gobernador en defensa de los dueños, sus disculpas por no pagarnos salarios dignos o por qué los dueños no pueden dignificar a los trabajadores como individuos con derecho a poner el precio en su propio trabajo a través de la negociación colectiva”, dijo Huerta según el New York Times.

Tony Orendáin and Pedro Ríos organizing a picket, Río Grande City, Texas, 1967

Tony Orendáin and Pedro Ríos are among a group of strikers organizing a picket in front of La Casita Farms. Ríos is sitting on the bed of the truck and Orendáin is in front of him, standing on the street and wearing his usual black hat. Other vehicles are parked at the same intersection.

Photographer Emmon Clarke spent some time in Texas, documenting the activities of Texas farmworkers, organizers from Texas, and organizers sent to Starr County by the National Farm Workers Association from California. Texas melon pickers started their strike on June 1, 1966, demanding higher wages. Wages were often as low as 40-60 cents an hour. Following the successful march from Delano to Sacramento of Spring that year, workers in Texas organized a 400-mile march from Rio Grande City to Austin from July 4 to Labor Day, September 5, 1966. La Casita Farms, the largest melon grower, raised wages from 85 cents to $1.00 but refused to meet the workers’ demands for $1.25 and a contract recognizing their union.

In 1969 he and his family left Delano and moved to the Río Grande Valley following Chávez’s request. But the UFW gave the grape and lettuce boycott precedence over organizing and striking South Texas growers. After a brief time working on the boycott in Chicago, he went right back to the Texas Valley in 1975, against Chávez’s wishes. There he organized a strike in the melon harvest in the Río Grande Valley where marches and strikes turned violent.

Tony Orendáin and Franklin García visiting the El Malcriado office, Delano, 1967. Photo by Emmon Clarke.

Chávez condemned Orendáin and the Río Grande Valley farmworkers. Orendáin released a statement reiterating his commitment to nonviolence but eventually decided to officially step out of the UFW. In August 1975, he established the independent Texas Farm Workers (TFW) and kept organizing workers and strikes. When in September 1975 the citrus strike began in Mission, Texas, it was under the direction of TFW.

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