Roberto Bustos

Roberto Bustos

Roberto Bustos standing at the picket line, Delano, ca. 1966. Photo by Emmon Clarke.

Roberto Bustos was a bilingual high school graduate from Earlimart, CA, and had been working in the fields when the grape strike began. He became a full-time NFWA activist and served as Captain (“El Capitan”) leading the 300-mile, 25-day march from Delano to Sacramento from March 17, 1966, to April 6, 1966. Bustos was part of a small crew of organizers that included Eliseo Medina, Ezekiel Carranza, Ruth Trujillo, and Alice Tapia.  

One day, while he was driving together with Eliseo Medina on a Sierra Vista Ranch property with a loudspeaker on top of their car, which was against election rules, they were attacked by a group of members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. After this incident, Chávez asked Bill Kircher if the AFL-CIO could provide people to protect NFWA organizers. Bustos, together with Gilbert Padilla, was also responsible for putting together a few UFWOC committees in Salinas, Hollister, Girley, and Watsonville in 1968 and 1969.

 

On behalf of the marchers, Roberto “El Capitán” Bustos receives the key to the city of Sacramento from Mayor Walter Christensen. April 10, 1966. Photo by John Kouns.

César Chávez and Roberto Bustos attending a NFWA meeting at Filipino Hall, Delano, 1966. Photo by Emmon Clarke.

“As long as I can remember”, writes Bustos in a document archived at the University of California, San Diego’s Farmworker Movement Documentation Project, “I will never forget a talk César [Chávez] told us strikers just before we went out to the farms to picket the ranches and talk to the workers about unionizing and joining the strike. He said guys get ready for a fight! And boy was it a fight! I did not know we took on the most powerful, richest, industry in the nation! They were the Delano grape growers of America! They had the money, the power, the politicians, the police on their side. All we had was our faith, our determination, and our picket signs! It was a long hard and suffering battle, there were times when things were getting desperate and bleak! At times, with the harassment, intimidation, beatings, and being thrown in jail every day, we thought this time around it would be over for us! But then support started coming in donations, food, clothes, other unions pledging their support, and people, in general, supporting us and encouraging us to give them hell! We bounced back and said: ‘Bring it on,’ we are not alone anymore. It took us 5 years to win the strike in Delano, but we made history! First time in history that farmworkers took on their employers and won with the help of one man who said ‘Enough is enough.’”

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