McALLEN — The family of a Rio Grande Valley civil rights leader and activist was honored Friday with the presentation of an official congressional proclamation at the Doubletree Suites hotel.
Antonio “Tony” Orendain was born in 1930 in Jalisco, Mexico, and died in 2016 in McAllen. He was civil rights leader, co-founder and original longtime secretary-treasurer of the United Farm Workers and founder of the Texas Farm Workers Union. He was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and crossed over to the United States in 1950. Orendain was an agricultural laborer. He developed a goal that some day workers would be able to “put a price on the sweat of their own brow,” according to the proclamation.
In the 1960s he joined the United Farm Workers in California and worked with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. Almost a decade later he had a falling out with Chavez and in 1975, through the teachings of Chavez, Orendain returned to Texas and began the Texas Farm Workers Union.
After establishing the Texas Farm Workers, Orendain became a director and led members of the local United Farm Workers Organizing Committee on a march to the middle of the Roma Bridge. About two years later, he made a trip to Austin from San Juan, leading a group of 40 farmworkers on a march for basic human rights.
As the group moved from Austin on to Washington, D.C., the march grew from 40 farmworkers to eventually 10,000 farmworkers and supporters. He became a lifelong activist and his mission was calling for higher wages and better working conditions for farm workers, the proclamation states.
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said he was inspired by Orendain and wanted to honor him in Congress.
“I believe in a person of struggle and perseverance that was the story of my life, so I look up to people like this and when I found out that he had never been honored and not on the Congressional Record, I thought this story needs to be preserved for future generations and took upon myself to do it,” Gonzalez said. “It’s on the Congressional Record, so he can go down on the history books and be preserved in the Library of Congress and for future generations to be able to read about him, learn about him.”
Orendain had five children, four of whom became lawyers and one a doctor. While Antonio’s children were growing up, he always emphasized education and for them to succeed.
Orendain’s son Abel, an attorney, said he and his family were proud of him receiving the congressional recognition.
“It’s the greatest thing, we’re very happy,” Abel said about receiving the proclamation. “He (Antonio) wouldn’t have wanted this and wouldn’t have asked for this, but he would’ve liked it.”
“In 2009, the Texas Senate passed a resolution recognizing his work and the march to Washington D.C., so just a few years later, we’re happy for this acknowledgement,” Abel said.
Antonio Orendain was a man who will be remembered for his lifetime of dedication and commitment to equal rights.
“He fought for those who were systemically exploited. He gave a voice to those who had no voice,” Gonzalez said. “Antonio will be remembered for generations as a hard-working Texan, who was an unwavering advocate for equality and workers’ rights.”