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Saturday, Apr 21 2012 09:00 PM

United Farm Workers to celebrate golden anniversary

BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

United Farm Workers of America is putting together an inaugural awards gala to kick off its yearly convention, and planning a series of other events highlighting the labor organization's 50th anniversary.

Most of the group's conventions have been held in Fresno, but this is a special year, said convention coordinator Tanis Ybarra, who serves as the UFW's special counsel to the president.

Related Info

UFW benefit concerts

* 8 p.m. June 15: Spreckles Theatre in San Diego - Kris Kristofferson and Mariachi Divas

* 8 p.m. June 16: Warnors Theatre in Fresno - Kris Kristofferson and Nydia Reyes with Trio Ellas

* 8 p.m. June 18: Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton - Kris Kristofferson and Ozomatli

* 8 p.m. June 19: Fox Theatre in Bakersfield - Kris Kristofferson and Los Lobos

* 7:30 p.m. June 21: Performing Arts Center in Oxnard - Kris Kristofferson and Los Camperos de Nati Cano

* 8 p.m. June 22: San Jose Convention Center - Kris Kristofferson and Los Tex-manias with Mingo Saldivar

Ticket prices vary by venue and seat location.

UFW Premios Aguila, or Eagle Awards

6:30 p.m., red carpet arrivals, 7 p.m. dinner, May 17, Rabobank Convention Center, 1001 Truxtun Ave., Bakersfield. Individual tickets are $100. Tables range from $1,500 to $5,000.. For information call 823-6105.

* Excellence in Leadership: The family of Robert F. Kennedy.

* Espiritu de La Mujer (Spirit of the Woman): Helen Chavez, widow of Cesar Chavez.

* Farm Workers Legacy: Rogelio Lona and Teresa Serrano, farm workers and activists.

* Humanitarian: Martin Sheen, actor and activist.

50th Anniversary UFW Convention

All activities are at the Rabobank Convention Center, 1001 Truxtun Ave. Admission is free.

* May 18: Officer elections and tour of La Paz for delegates and their families. Bakersfield City Councilman Rudy Salas will welcome the delegates. Office and Professional Employees International Union President Michael Goodwin also will speak.

* May 19: California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton will speak and veteran activists Dolores Huerta and Luis Valdez (Founder of El Teatro Campesino) will be honored. Appearances by Sen. Michael Rubio; Paul Chavez, president and chairman of the Cesar Chavez Foundation; Chris Hartmire, founder and former director of the National Farm Worker Ministry; and Maria Elena Durazo, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

* May 20: Morning Mass with Bishop Richard Garcia and several political and labor dignitaries honoring UFW activists slain during the upheaval of the farm worker movement's infancy.

"It's our 50th anniversary, and Kern County is our birthplace and where our national headquarters is," he said. "We wanted to bring it back home, and the community's very excited about it."

UFW founder Cesar Chavez resigned from civil rights group Community Service Organization on his birthday -- March 31, 1962 -- to devote himself full-time to organizing farm workers and providing them with basic health and social services. From those modest beginnings, the labor union has grown to 28,000 workers under contract in three states, and 100,000 associate members.

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez was out of town last week and could not be reached for comment, but Ray Gonzales, a longtime UFW supporter and former California state assemblyman, said the organization has come a long way from its acrimonious beginnings, when union activists and growers were fierce opponents.

The union has a good relationship with most growers today, Gonzales said, but noted that in the movement's early days, you were careful not to be too public with farm labor sympathies.

"Cesar Chavez once asked me what he could do to support (my campaign), and I told him, 'Don't endorse me. I need your foot soldiers and your support, but please don't endorse me.'"

This will be the first year an awards gala has been part of the annual convention. It was added in part to recognize some of the pioneers who backed the union's efforts when it wasn't popular to do so, organizers said.

Other organizations have presented honors and awards named after Cesar Chavez over the years, but the UFW has until now never had an awards banquet of its own with which to praise its members and supporters, said Teresa Romero, executive assistant to UFW President Rodriguez.

"We thought it was time to recognize the people who have been working tirelessly for us for years," Romero said.

The awards banquet, which the union hopes to make an annual event, will be May 17 at the Rabobank Convention Center. Honorees include the family of Robert F. Kennedy, actor and activist Martin Sheen, two farm workers who have been particularly devoted to the movement, and Helen Chavez, widow of Cesar Chavez.

Helen Chavez will receive the Espiritu de La Mujer (Spirit of the Woman) Award. After this year, the prize will be renamed in her honor as the Helen Chavez Espiritu de La Mujer Award.

"This lady has always been in the background, and we wanted to honor her contributions and sacrifice," Ybarra said.

Three days of convention speakers and workshops will follow the awards gala, and activities will continue throughout the year after the convention concludes.

Singer Kris Kristofferson will join various bands on a statewide concert tour in June to benefit UFW programs. The Bakersfield show is 8 p.m. June 19 at the Fox Theater. Tickets range from $25 to $100.

"Kris has been a supporter of ours going way, way back," Ybarra said.

There also are tentative plans for a huge, star-studded concert in October in Los Angeles. The show would be modeled after Willie Nelson's Farm Aid.

The union is in the process of firming up the venue and the lineup of acts. It's too early to make any announcements about the roster, Ybarra said, but some "big names" in Latin music have expressed interest.

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