Gilbert Padilla

Gilbert Padilla

Gilbert Padilla and two other organizers talk during a meeting in Río Grande City, Texas, 1967. Photo by Emmon Clarke.

Gilbert Padilla was born in 1927 in the Hamburg labor camp in Los Baños, Merced County, where his family picked cotton. As a child, Padilla picked cotton in the fields with his dad and eight siblings. Like many children in the fields, he carried a small cotton sack around his waist. He was only six years old during the great cotton strike of 1933, but he heard the stories and absorbed the essential lesson of organized labor. Segregation and discrimination were common and shocking for him. Although whites and Mexicans picked cotton together in the same crews, the Mexicans lived in one camp and the whites in another on the Hamburg ranch in Los Baños. There was one elementary school for Mexicans and two for whites in Azusa. Housing was segregated, but also movie theaters and public swimming pools. 

Gilbert Padilla speaking during a union meeting, Delano ca. 1966. Photo by Emmon Clarke.

He was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1947, and like many, his perspective changed as he worked with whites and was a squad leader. He went to work for a dry cleaner and went back to the fields, where he met César Chávez in 1955.  When Chávez became the national director of the Community Service Organization (CSO), he assigned Padilla to the CSO service center in Stockton. There, Padilla secured a grant in 1961 from the Bishops’ Committee on Migratory Labor in Chicago to study housing conditions for local farmworkers.

In March of 1962, Chávez resigned as director of CSO, moved to Delano, and in September, established the Farm Workers Association with Padilla and Dolores Huerta among the founding members and part of the key leadership.  For 25 years since he met Chávez, Padilla played an important role in the success of the UFW and the farmworker movement. He resigned from the UFW in 1980.  

Gilbert Padilla posing in front of brick building, Río Grande City, Texas, 1967. Photo by Emmon Clarke.


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