SAN JUAN — Francisco Martinez remembers using a communal, rinsed-out aluminum oil tin to drink water out of an open barrel after a long day working in the fields.
The water was typically warm from being in the sun and portable restrooms were nowhere in sight.
Today, farm owners are legally obligated to provide those minimal necessities and a fair wage.
“We haven’t quite got there yet, but we’ve progressed a lot since we’ve started,” Martinez said in Spanish, standing in front of a pickup truck at the end of the 15th annual César Chávez March in San Juan.
He wears a yellow fishing shirt, a straw hat and thick sunglasses. The now 78-year-old gets around with a cane, but back in 1964 he was trusted to be a bodyguard for César Chávez.
“I’m already old. I can’t work any more but I still have the movement in my heart,” Martinez said. “César Chávez is still in my heart.”
Gregoria Gonzalez, an agricultural worker and member of La Union del Pueblo Entero, stood at San Juan Municipal Park, wearing a red shirt with the signature United Farm Workers logo, holding a portrait of Chávez over half her size.
Gonzalez was joined by roughly 1,000 people who marched from San Juan Municipal Park to LUPE’s San Juan office — a roughly 2-mile walk.
Gonzalez’ son, an art student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, painted the portrait for her. She’s worked in agriculture for 20 years and has had her share of obstacles, she said.
Her son’s painting is meant to represent the plight of the farmworker and “a leader who brought about change.”
“He always fought for human rights, especially of the workers,” Gonzalez said in Spanish.
Though now farm owners are legally obligated to provide fresh water and portable restrooms, that’s often still not the case, she said.
“I had problems with bad bosses before,” Gonzalez said. “It’s difficult, especially for the women.”
This year the march borrowed the support of activists from across the state.
In light of the recent approval of Senate Bill 4, a group of immigration activists are visiting Texas border cities to “inform Hispanic communities about SB4,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
SB4 would allow Texas law enforcement to inquire about immigration status and cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Opponents of the bill say it opens the door for racial profiling and could discourage certain individuals from reporting crime to law enforcement.
“It’s one of the most racist and anti-immigrant laws in Texas,” Garcia said. “Hispanic communities are going to be the target for SB4. Who are they going to ask for papers? A white, Anglo person or a Latino? What are the metrics of who they ask for papers or who they don’t? They’re going to ask those who look like recent immigrants, Mexican nationals or those who just don’t speak English very well and that’s discrimination and racism.”
The caravan of activists have been in the Valley since Friday. They’ve been meeting with local officials and providing “Know Your Rights” workshops and forums open to the community.
“What we found was that there’s a lack of information,” Garcia said. “People are afraid because of that; they don’t know how to react.”
SB4 is the latest of many “attacks against our communities,” Garcia said. The president’s rhetoric toward Hispanics and the plans to build a border wall are a few others he mentioned.
“SB4 is a part of a national narrative,” he said. “It’s a national aggression against Hispanics, Latinos and immigrant communities.”